The Family Hero

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For Father’s Day

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Ralph, my husband and father of our children, is an unsung hero. Well, today I am writing his song of praise.

When Ralph became a father 26 years ago, he took on the challenge with aching, joyful love and trepidation. Three months after Mary was born, I went back to work at a bookstore. I came home one evening to find him sitting on the couch, white as a sheet. It was his first experience with an evening of full blown colic. Mary had screamed for three hours before she calmed down. After seeing the doctor to find out why she was screaming, he found ways to comfort her. He walked her outside back and forth for hours, while singing the song he made up for her.

Nighty-night time

Nighty-night time

Nighty-night time for my Mary

Nighty-night

Sleepy tight

I lo-ove you.

He was the one who developed a bedtime routine for our kids…bath, a story,  nighty-night song and tuck-in. The kids would read stories with me during the day, but at bedtime, they wanted their Daddy. For Ralph, they would settle down and go to sleep.

Ralph supported breast feeding by helping out around the house. He cooked dinner. He distracted the older one(s). He wanted to do what he could to ensure that our kids got the best start in life.  Without his support, our kids would not have been breast fed, for about a year each.

He cleaned up after the kids when they were sick.

He got on the floor and played with them.

When Ralph came home from work, he wanted to hear about our day. He listens, intently.

When our kids were in the process of being placed in special education, he was heartbroken. He has learning disabilities, so he blamed himself. Before the initial IEPC for Will, he didn’t want to go because, “I don’t want to hear what they say is wrong with my little boy.” He went anyway.

He worked to understand autism after we received the diagnosis. He encouraged me to go to conferences and workshops to learn more about autism so that we could help our kids. He helped with at-home therapy. He told me over and over how he appreciated the work I was doing with the kids.

When I told him that understanding humor, and differentiating between kind teasing and malicious teasing is difficult for people with autism, he used his joking and story telling talents to help them…for years.

He adjusted his work schedule so that he could pick them up after school or take them to appointments when I went back to school, and when I started working full time. For the last 12 years, he has been getting up at 3:00 a.m., so that he is available after 3:00 p.m.

He models faith. He shows his love by talking to them and playing games with them. We are a close family and Ralph is the anchor.

He has gone to nearly every one of Will’s concerts and band competitions. He took Patty to her art competitions.

He used his vacation time to be with the kids over Christmas break. He used his vacation to go with Will to band camp for three years, to go on youth retreats and spring break mission trips with Mary, Will, and Patty.

He has worked to support his kids even in the face of daunting health problems. His medication for his blood disorder makes him so tired. For two years, he had an very painful ulcer on his leg. He went to work anyway, to support his family.

When our kids went to college, he picked them up, and found additional opportunity to talk to them and influence their souls.

Now the kids are stepping toward independence, their own lives. Will left home and Ralph has worried and ached for him. Ralph put together furniture for Will. He taught Will his favorite recipes.

Will called Ralph for advice. Last week, he called Ralph to find out how to cook meatballs.

Ralph often praises me. He, however, is the family hero.

(This was published in Halo Magazine)

Life Without A Car

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“Where are you going to buy organic meat?” Mary stopped in the middle of reading recipes out loud to me as I drove her to work last week. She was reading out of one of the cookbooks I bought for my Whole30 diet plan. Organic meat, grass fed, no antibiotics, with no GMO food.

“Well, I bought organic chicken thighs, drumsticks, and ground beef at Costco this week.” I said. “But I don’t know where to buy organic meat anywhere else. Let’s look it up on the internet when we get home.”

That evening, we found a local meat market that sells “meat raised without the use of growth hormones, preservatives, dyes and antibiotics and raised in a humane way.” The prices were comparable to our local stores, even Costco. But then we noticed they shipped their products all over the United States.

“I wonder what the cost would be to ship meat to my apartment when I get one,” wondered Mary.

“Let’s look it up,” I said.

So we put in the zip code of her likely apartment location when she gets one next year. She could get about 20 pounds of frozen food shipped to her apartment for about $20. But then, she would have to be there to get it. She works full time during the week. It is shipped frozen, so it couldn’t just wait at the apartment complex office (well, it could for a little while).

Mary and I have been discussing issues surrounding her move to an apartment next spring. How she will get food, get to the doctor, the dentist, laundry, prescriptions, etc. Some of her answers have been to depend on us for a while for trips to the grocery store or the doctor, and that is reasonable. Who will take her to the doctor if she has bronchitis or the flu if we can’t? When Ralph was in the hospital last fall, I couldn’t provide transportation to her class. Our church family stepped in and helped us out. Maybe finding her own community of believers is part of the answer. The likelihood of us not being available to her in the future is certain.

Living without a car, being dependent on others for basic needs is going to be a fact of life for her. When I look up resources for living without a car on the Internet, the vast majority of articles are about people who have the option of driving but choose not to for some reason. I saw very few resources for people who have no option but to depend on public transportation, their own feet, and the kindness of others. Maybe she will use Uber for some of her needs, but oh my heart. My friend’s children use Uber without a second thought….but.

Much wisdom and prayer is going to go into her move toward independence. Sometimes serendipitous discoveries are one of God’s ways of leading. May we discovery the right apartment, near perhaps some of those business that will make her life easier and give us some peace of mind.

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30 Day Detox

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A few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with an inflammatory/autoimmune skin condition. I began to wonder what other parts of my body might be inflamed.

To Google, the source of great knowledge, I went looking for diets for people with autoimmune/inflammatory disorders. Paleo diets and The Whole30 popped up.

After doing some reading, I decided to do the Whole30, which in my mind is a detox plan.

For 30 days, I have to avoid all grains, alcohol, added sweeteners, legumes, and dairy, and industrial seed oils.

I am allowed to eat vegetables, fruits, protein, healthy oils, nuts and seeds.

This week was the perfect week to get started because Ralph and Patty are at Will’s house. They are house sitting while he is in Seattle. Really, they are there for his cat, Grant. Grant has congestive heart failure and needs to have his Lasix every other day. It also gives Ralph a chance to get out of the house and have a change of scenery. I feel better that Patty is there with him. However, while they are away they eat all sorts of foods that are not good for Ralph. But it’s out of my control, which may be a good thing for a week.

So while Ralph and Patty are away, I’ve started this diet. Within three days I noticed that my digestive distress is gone. I am rarely hungry for food not on the plan (although I did sort of want a chip when Mary was eating a small bag on the way home from work this week). I have avoided cupcakes, Panera bakery items, and On the Border Catered in meal at work, without much trouble. Because I am full, satisfied with the good food I have eaten.

Mary is very enthusiastic about this diet. She is enjoying the home cooked food. And since it’s just the two of us, we both have leftovers, delicious leftovers, to take to work each day. Mary is not on the diet, so she supplements her food with rice or noodles, and she is eating other snacks. It’s a lot better than Tyson chicken strips and tater tots.

Since Ralph is gone for the week, I am driving Mary to and from work every day, which adds about an hour of extra driving to my day. I have bought some paleo diet books (some of them bargain books). I have been bringing one of the books in the car each, and Mary has been reading recipes out loud, and suggesting what I should make next.

Today or tomorrow, Ralph is coming back. He won’t be on the diet, but I will give him the opportunity to eat the delicious things I am making, supplemented with whatever he wants to eat. Otherwise, he is free to cook for himself. I think/hope he will enjoy what I am eating.

Today, I am going to try roasting vegetables. I’ve never done that. I think I’ll be looking at garage sales for a dutch oven for roasting. I might make some bone broth. My cooking skills are very basic, but a lot can be done with spices, oils, and vinegar.

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(Chicken, sweet potato, and sauteed mixed vegetables – Yum)

PS: In other news, Mary’s story of employment is going to be presented to the House Ways and Means Committee in the next few months. :) She is a success story for Social Security Ticket to Work Program.

Taking Responsibility

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When Mary started her job, she told us that she wanted to pay us room and board. She set the amount. She also said she would pay us for her transportation to and from work, since it was easier for her and took much less time than taking the bus (an hour each way). The amount was less than the going price of room and board in our area, and the amount she pays for transportation covers the gas and a little toward car maintenance and insurance. We accepted.

A few weeks ago I had lunch out with my mother and my sister-in-law. My sister-in-law asked me how much Mary was paying for rent. I made the mistake of telling them. I also told them a figure that included cash that Mary asked me to get out of the check for her and her part of the cell phone bill.

“Don’t you think Mary’s rent is a bit high?” my brother asked me in an email two days ago. He accused us of taking advantage of her, and suggested what he thought was the correct amount. I spent the better part of two days defending our family’s decisions. When I told him that he was condemning me, he responded that I shouldn’t take it like that, and that I was making more out his words than I should. I call that not taking responsibility for his words. There were a lot of shoulds in his opinion.

Tonight we told her that someone in our family had suggested that she was paying too much for room and board and transportation. We also told her we weren’t going to tell her who it was. We asked her if she thought she should pay less.

“They want me to pay less just because I have a disability,” she said with angry tears. “I want you to accept the amount that I said I will pay you. It is far less than I would pay if I had my own apartment. And I don’t have to go out and buy my own groceries.

“Staying here, I can save money to get my own apartment. If I stay a year or two longer, I might have enough for a condo.”

My brother and sister-in-law feel that they are taking Mary’s side. Defending her. Keeping her best interests at heart. But Mary resents their interference. She feels her dignity is at stake. If other people without a disability can pay their living expenses, she feels that she is just as able as they are. Now that she has a good job. Getting her own place is still in her plan, but while she is getting established in her job, she plans to live with us and take responsibility for her own expenses.

There and Back Again

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We came. We saw. We snagged the right apartment, we hope.

When Patty moves in August to begin her masters degree studies, she has a tiny efficiency apartment to move into. A place to call her own. She chose to pay for a furnished apartment so that she would not have to buy furniture.

I struggled with whether we should make the effort and spend the money to travel 400 miles (one way) to the university to get our feet on the ground to make the all important decision regarding where Patty would live for the next year. I said to the Lord, “I need your help.” The next day, I suddenly felt that we should go. I can’t explain it. That evening I came home from work and a substantial check had arrived in the mail as the result of an overpayment in our escrow fund.

We made a hotel reservation and I took the the days off from work. I prepared my mind to be the only driver for an 800 mile trip. My friend lent us her GPS for the trip.

I had to trust the instructions of the GPS (“Tom”) to get us through multiple cities with many construction zones, merging and forking major highways. I also had to learn to trust Patty, who navigated the entire trip. I couldn’t look at Tom’s screen or her cell phone map. Listening to her directions was the only choice. We were very tired when we arrived, but we made it safely to our destinations. 11 hours there, and 9 hours back.

When we arrived in the college town, we found information  regarding housing we couldn’t see on online maps and Google Earth. The University is in mountainous country. The city and campus are perched on steep hills. We eliminated one complex based on its location on a steep hill. There really is no substitute for being there.

As we neared the end of our journey there, Patty became very quiet. I spoke about the way the mountains would be part of her experience. She said she was feeling sad about leaving home.

“You don’t have to go,” I said. “The decision is not set in stone.”

“Don’t try to minimize my feelings,” she answered. “I am allowed to feel sad about leaving home.”

Message heard.

My daughter is about to strike out on her own. On the second night, I could not sleep as I struggled with how she was going to make it on her own. I wanted to keep her safe. To make sure she had enough to eat. To get around on her own. After many sleepless hours, I said to the Lord, “I need your help.” I finally fell asleep.

The next day, she signed the lease for her first apartment. She didn’t need me to be a guarantor. Her award letter detailing her tuition waiver and stipend was enough. She has already shown her ability to provide her own way.

Our trip there and back again was essential, important. And part of the process of letting go and letting her find her wings.

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