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Preserving My Sanity


This fall I started exploring some new forest preserves and wild spaces in Chicago. Fullerton Woods Forest Preserve was near enough to Canyon’s school that I could drop him off in the morning, drive to the cheap gas Costco in Melrose Park and still have time for a good walk in the “woods”. I use the quotation marks because while I get trees and sky and the Des Plaines River I also get roads and traffic. I do my best to pretend I am alone.

This forest preserve is also on the way to Loyola Medical Center where my mother was. It was the perfect spot to stop and ground myself before my visits. It was hard to see her in the Intensive Care Unit and taking a moment from myself before my visits was a wise, wise choice.






Finding The Beauty In Everything

When I was with my mother in Indiana I had to spend the night and her house. It was my first night away from my children since they had returned home from the hospital. It was my first time spending a night alone in a house in I don’t know how long. It was scary. And sad. And lonely.

In the morning it was raining and foggy and depressing. I took my mom’s dog Lucky out for a walk in the backyard. And saw the fog and the trees and remembered that there is beauty and grace in everything. And went back for my camera.




I am having these enlarged and printed on canvas. A good friend shared with me how much she loved the one with the orange leaves and she may purchase a print. I think she was afraid that I might be offended that she asked, like the pictures might be depressing to me. But no, it made me happy. And the whole experience reminds me of this poem from Mary Oliver.

by Mary Oliver

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had his hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

Yep. It’s not the weight you carry but how you carry it. I like to think I carry it well.

And by the end of that long, hard day I was back home with my children in my arms.



Everything Changes

I’ve been a bit hung up on this post so I guess it is what it is. I will take one more stab at it before posting and moving on. I am torn between too much detail and not enough.

So there we were cruising through our holiday season and boom. Everything changed. On Wednesday, December 18 my mother suffered a severe stroke. Her husband Jack found her collapsed in the bedroom and called an ambulance. She was brought to her local hospital in Indiana and calls were made.

I didn’t quite understand how bad it was. Or maybe I wasn’t ready to understand yet. But I waited for more info and made plans to drive to Indiana on Thursday after Canyon’s school day was done.

My sister needed to drive to Northfield, MN to pick up my niece and her boyfriend for holiday break so I went alone.

This was the first time I have really been away by myself in years. I know it sounds crazy, but I have never spent a night away from River and Raven only brief hospital stays kept me from Canyon-and even then I would see him during the day.

The weather was warm and wet for December but the roads were clear. I listened to music and tried not to panic. But the closer I got to Plymouth the more anxious I became. I stopped at a Burger King to use the bathroom and fill up my water bottle. I took a paper crown to wear as inspiration.

A few miles from Plymouth and things started to take an ominious turn. Cruising along the divided highway, a pickup truck travelling the opposite direction lost control and came barreling down through the sloped grass median, kicking up snow and finally regained control just before crashing into traffic. I watched this all happening in what felt like slow motion, the sad news story already playing in my head-“Mother of three dies while trying to visit her own mother in hospital”.

A mile later a large, black wolf-like dog was eating a dead deer in the median. What the hell Universe???

And then I was at the hospital.

I took photos of my mother when I arrived. I know she would not appreciate my sharing them so I won’t. But I will post a photo of her lovely holiday nails.


The first few hours I was just happy to be there with her. She could recognize me and nod to acknowledge that she knew who I was. But she was unable to speak and her right side was paralyzed. It was scary.

The rest of the story is long and exhausting so I will fast forward.

We were not happy with the quality of the care we were receiving in Indiana and I made that clear. They also were not happy with the assertive, intelligent and demanding me so Mom was transferred to Loyola Medical Center in Chicago. This was great for everyone.

She spent a few weeks at Loyola-first in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit and then on a step down floor. Because she can not swallow she can not eat so she had surgery to implant a Gastronomy Tube (G-tube or Feeding Tube). Jenny and I had to then find a suitable care facility for her more long term care. I researched on the internet for a great Rehabilitation Center in my zip code. Lucky for us we found a great place near my sister and I with great ratings and a wonderful facility. And that’s where Mom is now.

While she is getting stronger and we are encouraged by her progress, there is still a long way to go. She is still paralyzed on her right side, can not eat or speak. But she is mentally aware and we get laughs, smiles and some vocalizations. She works hard in her therapy sessions. Recovery from a severe stroke is hard work with no guarantees. We hope for the best.

If you would like to follow along with her recovery please come over to her Caring Bridge site under Gloria Cummins. I post photos and updates.

And we welcome your prayers, mojo, blessings, thoughts, intentions, etc.



Gingerbread Houses and Classroom Fun

Thursday Dec 18

Canyon attends pre-school in the morning. The school does not do two separate morning and afternoon holiday programs so instead of Canyon getting up and “singing” a song or performing in an assembly the morning kids and their families made gingerbread houses. A fun compromise!





One of our homework assignments was to make a Gingerbread Boy for Canyon. I think even without the name you would guess it was his. Wild blonde hair, tie dye Yo Gabba Gabba t-shirt and lots of glitter!


We also made a house of our family traditions. I love these assignments! Reading our list of Holiday Traditions now I see that we did do all but one-Zoolights never happened for us this year. We hit a giant road bump this holiday season which I will share in the next post so I feel lucky that we experienced as much as we did.


After school Canyon played in the snow for a bit and then we were back home.



Our Annual Visit to Frank’s House

Dec 17 continued…

After the holiday program and the extremely long wait to see Santa we were all super tired. But, we were also all dressed and in the card so we headed over to one of the Major Must Do’s on our Holiday Priority List. Visit Frank’s House in Logan Square.

Frank’s House is this beautiful old house that goes completely over the top with holiday lights and decorations each year. The only reason we know it is Frank’s House is because one year WGN did a story on it and how they still had the decorations up in March. So we know it is Frank’s House and we know that we love it and we know that we have to go. So we went!





Nature added to the light show with a stunning full moon.












Santa. We Fear Him.





So I think we have established that River and Raven do not like being plopped down on the laps of jolly, bearded strangers.


Co-Op Christmas

Tuesday, December 17

It was holiday pageant time once again at the Christian Parent’s Co-Op. The night when all the kids-nursery to age 4 put on their holiday finery and parade up on stage to sing and ring jingle bells and entertains their friends and family who have gathered for the show. I love these pageants. Especially now that I have given up all hope that my children will ever enjoy them!

Canyon was never a fan of the programs but Canyon is Canyon. I thought maybe River and Raven would like them. Nope. They run away. Or scream. Or cry. Or all three. My sister Jennifer has been kind enough to volunteer at the last few special events so she can try to wrangle the twins so that John and I can watch from the audience. This year River started screaming for me right away so I just said, “so be it!” and hopped up on stage with her. Where she still tried to get away. And then she saw the microphone on the front pew and decided to bring that up on stage.





I wish I could say she turned that thing on and rapped some fat, freestyle beats along to “Jingle Bells” but no. She just turned her back on the audience and stared at her classmates. Still pretty funny!

Raven just wanted to get away.



Canyon was having a great time! He no longer attends co-op so he was just there as an enthusiastic spectator.



After the show everyone gathers for a potluck treats and social time. And here’s where our Christmas Miracle happened. All three of our kids sat still for like, fifteen minutes! Just ate treats, drank milk and hung out. It was awesome. Canyon even wore a cute headband!

IMG_9776 - Version 2

Then there was time for some running around while we waited to see a certain special someone.



Of course we were the last family to see him and by this time everyone was a little tired…