The Car Circus

The last few weeks I find myself giving myself pep talks about getting through this season. Work has been really busy so I spent about two weeks bringing work home and working on the couch for hours most evenings. I can do this for a season, but it wears me out. I start losing sight of myself when this goes on too long and it feels like my life is spiraling out of control. Thankfully this week, while still crazy busy at the office, I’m back to leaving work at work.

I was super excited to get this beast of a pick up truck repaired and picked up from the shop. This was our survey truck at work for a lot of years and then as the economy tanked and we stopped having an in-house survey crew, the truck had some issues and so it has just been sitting there… for years now!! I told my dad I would either fix it up (if it was a worthwhile thing) or sell my CRV and get a pick up for my daily driver. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner but it is time for a pick up truck. I’ve cracked my windshield in the CRV one too many times and right now I need something bigger to haul things with.  My dad got it over to the mechanic and it wasn’t terribly expensive to fix and the mechanic glowed over how good the engine is still on this beast. I don’t want to build up any dreamy illusions — this thing is a beat up truck. Note the bent up hood, the fancy light on top, and if I could describe the musty, sat for years truck smell… 

Last Friday night I had plans with friends and just as I was a few minutes from their house, driving my trusty CRV, the speedometer and all the gauges went to zero and the battery light came on. Uh oh. I’ve driven enough cars to suspect an alternator problem. When I got to the friend’s house, I mentioned to my brother not to leave until we check to see if the car starts– just in case. Leaving there at 10.30 pm, the car did start! But the gauges were all still at zero and the lights got dimmer as I drove toward home. Not a great sign.

Sure enough, mid-intersection, the car died and wouldn’t start again. I called my brother who was minutes ahead of me and he came back to get me. While I’m sitting there, a lady in the intersection across from me rolls down her window “Don’t you hate it when that happens?”  I smiled and agreed and said my brother was just pulling in behind me. As Donal lines his car up with my bumper so we can roll it into a parking lot, just as her light changes, she jumps out of her car, runs across the intersection, hands me a CD and says “In case your CD player is still working!” Uh. Okay? Thanks?

For your edification, here’s a picture of the CD she gave me. And I’m pretty sure the lady running across the intersection is the acclaimed Katie Geddes on the cover. The CD was from 1999 and since my CD player wasn’t working, I have yet to listen to it. I hope it is as amazing as the artwork. Please tell me this stuff happens to other people.

So Donal pushes my car into the Busch’s parking lot, drives me to the office to pick up the recently repaired truck, and then heads home. What a guy!! The next morning he offered to help me get the CRV to the mechanic. So we set out in the beast of a pick up truck with the terrible smell — or at least a smell like it has been sitting for five years. I clearly have some work to do to get this thing smelling better. Thankfully it was the sort of day to drive with the windows down. We get to the CRV and charge it for awhile. Donal runs into the store for muffins and orange juice while I babysit the charging vehicles and move the tile backer board from the CRV into the pick up truck.

We get about 5 minutes up the road before the car dies — just before a busy intersection. So Donal pulls the pick up next to the dead CRV and we set up to jump it, taking up two out of three lanes. Nice. Donal turns on the truck flashers and the awesome strobe light on top as we flag cars around us. We jump the car – twice because it died again when we removed the cables. I probably should have been freaking out more, but it was all kind of funny and oh so very Cousino.

We make it another two miles and have to pull off to charge again. This time Donal jogs up to a nearby hardware store while we’re charging to get a tow strap – just in case. And since we now have a tow strap, this time we made it to the mechanic’s – with the car dying right as I turned into the driveway.

This sounds funny, but as I told Donal, it felt very adult of us to get a car there on our own, without my dad who is usually the car rescuer. Way to Cousino on through that! Clearly my dad has passed on some important life skills and the belief that tow trucks are an unnecessary luxury most of the time.

The good news is that the car is fixable, the bad news is that it is the alternator and battery and oil pump. Bah. There goes my entire tax refund and then some. So I drove the truck for the weekend and I gotta say, the smell not withstanding, I do love the feel of driving a big powerful vehicle. It may not be anything to look at but this thing has a great engine and gets you where you need to go. I’m pretty excited to have a hauler on site for my many and varied hauling needs.

 

The Escape

After a month of dusty house demolition and dreary gray winter month of January in Michigan, it was time for a breather. Thankfully I know I will reach this stage and had scored a good deal on a flight before Christmas. The day finally arrived. My friend drove me to the airport very early and I boarded a plane and dozed on and off for a few long boring hours on said plane. I arrived to visit my cousin and her family in sunny Phoenix. Let me say this, a house with four rambunctious and delightful kids (ages 5.5, 4, 4, and 1) makes for a lively and somehow still relaxing weekend. We didn’t “do” a lot, per se, but there wasn’t a dull moment. There were books on the couch, early morning snuggles, lots of entertaining battles and games in the backyard, lively meals, and wonderful conversations with the adults. We went on some nice bike rides, did a project together (with all four kids helping– which is just as efficient as you might imagine) and played some games. We ate fresh grapefruit and oranges and lemons. We saw the sun. We laughed a lot. This is the good stuff in life, the very good stuff.

Just a few funnies, because there were too many to recount them all:

I was talking to Josiah, who will be 6 in April, about something and brought up Geno, my nephew. Josiah knows Geno because we all vacation together every year but I was trying to give him context.

Me: “You remember Geno, right? From Lorien? The big guy with the red hair? Well, I’m his aunt.”

J, puzzled look on his face, “Well you ARE Aunt Weenie!”

Right. I’m basically everyone’s aunt or practically their aunt. No wonder it is confusing when I use that to clarify how I’m connected to people.

I had a proud moment when I managed to convince the kids I was in their game while not moving off the rocking chair on the patio for a good 40 minutes. The way to do this is with convincing imaginary armies. For instance, J tells me he is a flying mouse and I’m the bad guy trying to get him. While not moving from said rocking chair, I issue an order for my army of flying cats to capture him. Racing through the yard, J turns into a flying dog with an army of flying cheetahs. Moments later, he returns and puts his hands out in front of me, “You captured me! You have to take me to the jungle jail (our favorite thing all weekend apparently).”  “Captain!” I called to my invisible captain. “Take this man to prison and make sure he doesn’t escape.” J goes willingly with said invisible captain, only to go tearing by a few minutes later, announcing that he killed my captain and escaped jail. More escaping of flying cat armies ensued,  all from my comfortable and relaxing spot on the rocking chair. Please don’t tell the kids I wasn’t actually physically chasing them the whole time.

   

The kids love a good story. “Tell us a stowy about me and Abby and you and Suzie and Daisy.” Seeing as they have spent exactly 20 minutes in the company of Suzie and Daisy in their whole life (and it was long ago they don’t even remember it), what they want is an imaginary story of what might be. You can start  with an actual story of some fascinating (or not) thing the dogs do, but then you have to weave the kids into the story. “Tell us a stoooowy!” My favorite was telling them about Stick Day, because now they believe Stick Day at Aunt Weenie’s to be a magical, unforgettable experience, even having never been there. (Muhahahaha)

“Once upon a time, there was an aunt who lived in a little yellow house…”

“AUNT WEENIE,”” they yell in unison. 

“When the snow all melted after a long winter, she went outside and looked around. There were HUNDREDS of sticks on the ground (I’m not making this up). “What am I going to do?” She said. “How will I ever pick up all these sticks by myself?!?!””

The suspense grows. The girls are wide eyed imagining the horror of poor Aunt Weenie faced with such trials. 

“So she invited her favorite kid friends to come over.”

“AND US!!!! WE WERE THERE!” 

“Yes, and Abby and Lydia were visiting.”

“AND ‘SIAH. AND CWARA!” 

“Josiah and Lydia and Abby and Clara were all there.”

WE WERE THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“First Aunt Reenie had all the kids line up and she divided them into teams.”

And I won?!?!?!?

No I won!

Wahhhh but I want to win! 

Thankfully, the wise Aunt Reenie in the story put all three kids on the same imaginary team.

AND WE WON!!!!

The story continued … “Aunt Reenie gave each team a blue tarp and said “On your mark… get set… GO!”  She set her timer and all of the kids picked up sticks as fast as they could, putting them onto a big pile on their tarps.”

L: “I picked up sticks SO FAST so I COULD WIN and get socowate (chocolate)” makes her crazy eyes at me – clearly this is the second time she heard this story. 

J: “And I picked up sticks the FASTEST OF ALL!” 

A: “And I was pwetending I was a baby picking up sticks.”

“All of the children picked up sticks as fast as they could. The piles of sticks on the tarps grew larger and larger…”

L: “Bigger than me???” 

“They were even taller than Lydia!”

THE STICKS WERE BIGGER THAN ME!!!!!!!!!

Aunt Reenie looked very carefully at all the piles of sticks to see which one was the largest.

AND WE WON!!!!!

The children had all picked up a lot of sticks and ALL of the stick piles were very large.

Lydia’s eyes get very wide, nervous for the outcome.

“But in the end, the pile that Geno and Josiah and Ly…”

“WE WON!!!!! AND WE GOT TO PICK DA SOCOLATE OUT OF THE JAR!!” 

“The children played in the yard all day and at the end of the day, they made a bonfire with the sticks they had collected, and everyone roasted marshmallows. And that was the magic of stick day.”

With a long sigh, Abby says “I can’t wait for Stick Day.” 

“Me neither,” said Josiah, “I wish Stick Day was today.”

“I LOVE STICK DAY!” said Lydia.

They asked for the Stick Day story several times over the weekend, and with each telling, the magic of the day grew. I do believe Aunt Weenie may be having an impromptu Stick Day in August that coincides with their visit to Michigan.

The third telling when something like this:

“Once upon a time, in a little yellow house…”

AUNT WEENIE’S HOUSE! 

“After a long snowy winter, she walked outside…”

STICK DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And then it went much as the first and second telling. And in case you’re wondering, Stick Day IS magical.

I convinced Jeremy to do something halfway on the play structure kitchen we built, and gave myself some long overdue half ass points. It might be that I can only encourage that kind of thing on other people’s project, but I’m giving myself the points anyway. (Sorry Jer).

I arrived home late Monday night,  a good friend staying up way too late to get me home. I open the door to excited pups who spent the weekend with two of my cousins, who obviously took good care of them. I’m so thankful I got a few days away from the office, a few days away from the home project, and a few wonderful days with people I love. I am so blessed to have family that are such good friends.

And now on with regularly scheduled winter…

I saw Jesus

I was grocery shopping on Friday night – a tragically bad time to grocery shop. I’ve noticed I get a little road ragey in the grocery store after work. It is always a bad time because everyone else is there and somehow it is usually when I squeeze it in because it is convenient and on my way home. Tonight was no different.

Anyway, the aisles are filled with all sorts of people: Moms with kids in the cart, dad with the two shrieking kids that he’s taking down the candy aisle to bribe them into submission (no judgment, I almost had to do that for myself), people grabbing three things, people with carts full. And then I passed a guy who looked to be around 50 with an elderly man. As a person who helps care for caregivers, I see these people now in ways I’ve never seen them before.

I have taken my own Grandpa to the store many times (back when Gram needed an hour off in the apartment days). He was always confused and slightly nervous we wouldn’t find anything and cheerfully asking every passerby where to find the (fill in the blank). I wasn’t a caregiver per se, but a team member, an involved family member.  Confused grocery shopping is not for the faint of heart (and it can be a huge stretch for the introvert who doesn’t want to ask every other shopper where to find the milk).

Now when I grocery shop (and everywhere else I go), I see these people. In this case, this guy looked to be taking his elderly father shopping. Dad was confused. Not unpleasant, but it took a long time for him to make decisions. “Dementia,” I thought to myself, “the early stages. I remember those days.” I passed them a few times, and heard the son (presumably) say a couple of times “Didn’t we just get (fill in the blank) when we went shopping yesterday?” “Oh. Maybe we did.” Dad looks at the Oat Bran on the shelf for a long time, looks back at his son and says reluctantly, “I suppose we can put this one back.” He is clearly trying to remember but unable to recall. My heart hurts a little just watching, and the son kindly guides Dad down the next aisle.

These people move me to tears nowadays. These people, the caregivers among us, are the unsung heroes. In days gone past, it was normal to be caring for elderly parents and grandparents in people’s homes. Now it seems to be more normal to put them in a care facility. Don’t get me wrong, I think sometimes a nursing home is the right place for our beloved elderly. What makes me sad though is a cultural shift where we no longer consider them our beloved elderly. We consider them a nuisance. A distraction from our own (more important) lives. Something to work around. As I watch these men shopping together, I can’t help but think this is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen today.

I am just as guilty as the next guy of always having a to do list a mile long and trying to be super productive. Let me just say from experience, grocery shopping with an elderly relative is anything but productive or efficient. Being part of this tender journey toward the end of life with my grandparents has changed me for the better. I’ve had to learn to slow down to help care for Grandpa, to love on him. It has changed my perspective on what it means to accompany another on their journey at the end of their life. We can’t run from the suffering. We can’t medicate it away. We can’t solve it. We are all frail and our time here is passing. And we are all heading toward our own end — with no way to know what our own end is going to look like. Love is the only answer.
 

My grandpa hasn’t known my name in a long time but he knows me. He recognizes me as someone who loves him. I have no way of knowing when he won’t recognize me at all any more, but even that doesn’t change the mission.

“This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12
“Honor your father and your mother (and grandfather and grandmother) that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Exodus 20:12
Today, at the grocery store, I saw Jesus. I saw Him in the son caring for his father. I saw Him in the elderly man who was terribly confused about breakfast cereal. And I saw Jesus in the love between the two of them.
We all know that we live in a fallen world and we see sadness and tragedy around us everywhere we go. But if we look closely, we might just catch a glimpse of Jesus.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

Visiting my people and the sunshine

 

 

Ahhhhhh

Ahhhhhh

I spent this past weekend in Phoenix with my cousin and her husband and their four young kids. Last summer they talked me into visiting in February (the season I need to run away from in Michigan and a particularly lovely season in Arizona). Perfect. So I used some remaining frequent flier points I found from long ago and booked my visit.

My favorite pirate

My favorite pirate

It honestly could not have been better. Not a minute of it. A couple of times they asked if I needed anything, wanted to do anything particular. No. I am perfectly content. Truly. From the minute I stepped off the plane until I took off again, the visit was perfect.

 

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IMG_9868The weather was delightful – sunny, warm (high 80’s). The kids were hilarious and funny and snuggly and insane. The new baby is one of the sweetest little people I’ve ever met. And spending time with my cousin and her husband was just delightful. Jeremy humored me and let me go to Home Depot with him and the kids and we did some of the framing for a shed roof.  And they let me paint a dining room bench. (That’s right, projecting is my love language).

The kids and I played pirates, cowboys, doggies, and more. They are such an energetic, smart, questioning, and imaginative crowd – my favorite kind of people. Oh n15there were meltdowns and fights and broken hearts and scraped knees about every other minute- and it feels weird to say this- but that feels very much like real life. I am most comfortable and most myself in the midst of that kind of chaos. Watching my cousins as parents is also delightful. They do such a beautiful job of parenting – time outs, hugs, games, boundaries. Truly an inspiration. And then once the kids were in bed we talked work, politics, family, friends, community, church, and more.

IMG_9869On Sunday I went to the nearest Catholic Church which was a huge blessing. It was a large parish and the 11 am Mass was well attended, though not packed. I was struck by the diversity of the people there-  older people, middle aged, young people. Families, singles, men, women. The music was beautiful and the priest gave a wonderful homily about using Beauty to evangelize. That Beauty is one of the ways we can talk about God and a relationship with God with people who don’t understand it. We all experience Beauty and it leaves us with an ache. We don’t want to leave it or let it go. We want to stand in that beauty forever. And the gospel was the Transfiguration and he talked about Jesus allowing the apostles to see a glimpse of his glory and majesty to strengthen them for the journey ahead. So they would know and remember who he was. The whole homily left me wanting to just stand and cheer. Yes. Yes. YES!!  (You can listen to it yourself if you are interested: http://dev-staphx.org/podcasts/1LENT-02-14-2016-frb.mp3)

Little Clara might be the sweetest baby ever. I'm so in love.

Little Clara might be the sweetest baby ever. I’m so in love.

I’ve been intentionally looking for those moments of beauty in my life: encounters with people, the beauty of silence, beauty in nature. This parish was such a wonderful experience of an engaged congregation, wonderful music, and it felt like home. It helped that they sang the Mass parts in Latin, just like my home parish and even prayed the St. Michael prayer at the end of Mass. But more than that, I’ve noticed that the older I get and the more I travel, the more I am convicted of truly being home and among my people when I’m at Church. Jesus is there and He is our true Home, our origin and our destiny.

 

n14Spending time with Naomi and Jeremy and their little people was a constant experience of Beauty. In the chaos of living with young kids – the tears, the fights, the corrections, the mealtime messes, the time outs, the absolute insanity of it—there was just this overwhelming sense of being part of this beautiful mystery of family. Of embracing the joy in this moment and letting it change me, comfort me, and delight me.

I wish I could take them home with me

I wish I could take them home with me

The whole trip was just a balm to my tired self. I am so very grateful for the gift of family who are also such dear friends. As Anne of Green Gables would say, Naomi and Jeremy are kindred spirits. They are my kind of people and I enjoyed every minute I spent with them.

After asking a lot of questions about my dogs, they played "Suzie and Daisy" for the afternoon

After asking a lot of questions about my dogs, they played “Suzie and Daisy” for the afternoon

One of my favorite kid quotes from 4 year old Josiah, who is fascinated with the natural world. We were talking about my mom’s free range chickens, particularly the scary roosters that chased Abby last summer. I said my parents butchered two of them themselves to eat them (large fascinated eyes from Josiah) and that I thought the remaining roosters met their end with coyotes. Coyotes? I explained that if the roosters don’t go into the pen, and coyotes are hungry and walking around, they will help themselves to chicken for dinner.  Completely serious and engrossed he asked, “May you please say more about that?”

 

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Here Suzie has caught a ball and clearly something very disappointing happened

Here Suzie has caught a ball and clearly something very disappointing happened

Golden halo while Abby digs in the dirt

Golden halo while Abby digs in the dirt

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Traditions

I love Christmas and I love Christmas traditions. I have to admit that our family traditions have morphed quite a bit in the past years as the family grows and changes. One of my current favorite traditions is our immediate family celebration: Cousino Fondue Fest. We’ve been doing it during the day on Christmas Eve. Everyone brings various fondue ingredients and dip-ables, we cook the fondues together, and then begin the long process of eating our meal. It is nice because we have other family parties with the big traditional dinners, so this is different and delicious.

This was the first year my sister and her family participated since they have been out of state when we started this tradition. I asked Ben (10) what he thought of it, “I wish we had been part of this tradition before.” If that isn’t a rousing endorsement, I’m not sure what is.

We set the big dining room table up with fondue pots in the middle, and dip-ables surrounding them. We label the fondue forks with names on labels, set out small plates, and just have at it.

Here’s the fondue round up:
Cheese fondue – adult version – wine, swiss, gruyere (AMAZING)
Cheese fondue – kid version – either cheddar or monterrey jack cheese
Meat fondue – turkey / chicken / beef broth, garlic, salt and pepper
Chocolate fondue

Dip-ables:

  • Bread cubes
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • asparagus
  • broccoli (pre-steamed)
  • carrots
  • apples
  • oranges
  • strawberries
  • pineapple
  • bananas
  • marshmallows
  • pretzels
  • pound cake cubes
  • cookies
  • anything else you can think of to dip!

Dinner takes a long time as everyone dips and munches but it is a lot of fun. Usually after the gift opening, round two happens where people graze through again.

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