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Remembering the Forgotten

As human beings, we want to be remembered when we are gone. We want to know that someone, somewhere will remember us. We cannot all be a Shakespeare or an Einstein, the world remembers those that left behind great legacies that cannot be surpassed. We settle for our friends and family remembering us and hopefully in a good way, for Death will visit us all.

This blog begins in a cemetery. A particular cemetery in Houston, Texas, The Houston National Cemetery, to be exact. My husband, Richard Kean, is a bagpiper and he plays his pipes all over the state of Texas and beyond. We’d gone out to the Veteran’s National Cemetery in Houston because he was going to play at a funeral there. We’d been there dozens of times before and I always had the intention of visiting my uncle’s grave but I never did, until a few months ago.

I looked for the location of his grave at the kiosk at the front and after Richard was finished playing for the funeral he was at, we went to look for Uncle Bill. It took me awhile, his grave was only marked by a footstone, no headstone. I found him but I’d forgotten to bring flowers or anything! I looked around for a stone to place on his grave but that cemetery is so well managed, not even a pebble could be found. I looked in the van, maybe I had left a rock in it, but I hadn’t. I promised myself to bring flowers the next time.

His name was Billy Gene Craker. He was born in 1928, the half-brother of my Grandfather. I don’t know much about his life. According to one of his nieces, he would come and go and no one ever really knew where he was, he was cursed by the family alcoholism. He did serve in the Navy during World War II though. My grandma always made a point of keeping up with her ex-in-laws though and Billy was no different from the others. My mother, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with any of her father’s people. Billy Gene moved to Houston sometime in the 70’s or 80’s and lived not far from my grandmother. He became a real-estate agent, got married and had a step-daughter. I remember him coming over to our house a few times, the memories are blurry though. That I met him, that was my memory of Uncle Bill, until I got a phone call in 1996, from a woman that knew Bill to tell me that he’d died and she was looking for my grandma.

Grandma was the only Craker in the city and she couldn’t find her phone number. Why? Because grandma’s phone number was under my dad’s name. She and my aunt lived alone together and they all felt it was safer that way. I do not have a clue as to how this lady found me. My name definitely wasn’t Craker and this was 1996 before we could find any information we wanted with a quick click of a button. I lived in a different county too. But she did find me. She told me that she needed to get ahold of grandma to find Bill’s nearest relative. I called grandma and she called the lady and found out the tragic story of Bill’s end.

Bill had been murdered. He was found in his apartment, with a screwdriver driven through his skull. My dad had said that he’d seen Bill selling newspapers on the street months before. I don’t remember if he did stop and talk to him. Something had happened, who knows what? The fact was that he was dead and there was no one to claim him. When things were sorted out, there was a funeral at the National Cemetery. I met his ex-wife, step-daughter and the same friend that had called to find grandma, at the funeral. I was the only blood-relative there. His coffin was basically a cardboard box.  It was so terribly sad. The story was written up in the local paper of his hometown, Monett, Missouri but I cannot find my copy and it isn’t online. If I ever come across it, I will include it in this blog.

Richard and I were at the cemetery again a few weeks ago. I brought flowers this time and I left them between his grave and the grave next to his because no one leaves flowers out in what is basically the pauper’s field section of the cemetery.  I remember Billie Gene Craker, I am perhaps the youngest person that does. His life was hard and his death tragic but he deserved flowers at least.

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Reclaiming my Birth

To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born.

“David Copperfield”, Charles Dickens

 

They say that you choose the hour of your birth. I most certainly did, it was something that was mine, I suppose that I knew that nothing would ever belong to me, even before my birth. But it was my hour, it was my hour of my birth. I shared my birthday with my twin, my wombmate, and an older sister but that time,that hour, that minute, it was mine.

An X-Ray, that is how they found me, in an x-ray. My mother was months pregnant with twins and didn’t know until then. My brother’s heartbeat and mine were in synch, that is all we would ever have in common. The day that Mama got that x-ray she brought it home, commanded my 4 oldest sisters to the big room and locked herself and my dad into their bedroom. The big girls, such sweeties, sent sister #4 to snoop. Jewell Cadell was all of 5 years old. She lay down on the floor in front of my folks’ door, peeked under, and saw mama display the x-ray to Daddy and tell him “I’m having twins”. Not, “We’re having twins, I’m having twins”. They’d found me. I didn’t want to be discovered and I was certainly in no rush to be born.

My mother’s pregnancy went amazingly well for a woman carrying twins in the late 1960’s. She carried us to term, no small feat in those days or even these days! Two weeks before we were born my mother was hospitalized and put on bedrest. I don’t know the particulars of the labor but I do know that my twin, William, was born at 4:49 am, September 7, 1968. His umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck a couple of times and the doctor slapped his bum twice before he made a whimper. Welcome to the world little one! Then it was my turn. Now, I figure that I’d spent 9 months cramped up in the womb of a short little woman and I had room, I was comfortable! I had room to move but I didn’t move down the birth canal.

My mother’s doctor, whom she trusted with her life, decided that I was taking too much time. Things were getting serious. ( I mean what if he was missing his golf game or something?) In all of his medical wisdom, he decided that my mother needed an episiotomy. A woman that had just given birth to a twin and had given birth 4 times prior needed an episiotomy. Genius! When he cut my mother, he cut an artery. She began to bleed to death. She bled and bled as I was being born. My mom died as I was being born. She says she remembered floating above the room and seeing and hearing everything but she was determined to live because she didn’t want the adoption agency to take my newly adopted sister away from the family.

My little brother once told me that we were both born killers. She also died giving birth to him. They revived her both times. Our dad said that he was glad that she lived. He had 5 little girls at home, the youngest having been adopted 6 months prior. When we twins were born, he said: “Well, I wouldn’t have believed he (my brother) was mine if he hadn’t come with a girl.”  That was me, the cereal in the box with the prize. The Toasted Oat pieces mixed in with the yummy marshmallows. If you want a boy, you have to take the girl with the package, sorry. From that day forward, for my mother, it was all about the boy that she’d named for her sainted grandfather, 6 girls faded into the background.me baby.jpg

William and I spent the first few weeks of our lives in the hospital, despite the fact that we were strong and healthy. Mother wasn’t leaving and we weren’t either.  Our first life experience was a cold and sterile hospital nursery of the 1960’s. We were also given cold bottles of formula. Mama told them to not warm the bottles as she had no intention of warming them at home. Cold hospital, cold bottles, cold mother, cold world. I still hate the cold!

To be continued…

 

Christmas Traditions

“Oh! All that steam! The pudding had just been taken out of the cauldron. Oh! That smell! The same as the one which prevailed on washing day! It is that of the cloth which wraps the pudding. Now, one would imagine oneself in a restaurant and in a confectioner’s at the same time, with a laundry next door. Thirty seconds later, Mrs. Cratchit entered, her face crimson, but smiling proudly, with the pudding resembling a cannon ball, all speckled, very firm, sprinkled with brandy in flames, and decorated with a sprig of holly stuck in the centre. Oh! The marvelous pudding!”
Charles Dickens, ‘A Christmas Carol’
     When I married Richard I wanted to incorporate new traditions into our family Christmas. Making a proper British Christmas Pudding is one tradition we have added. My Grandma Baah, would always buy a Collin Street Bakery Fruit Cake, https://www.collinstreet.com/ but no one in my family ever steamed a pudding. I did find a Christmas Pudding recipe in my Grandmother Macafee’s cookbook but I am not going to use Corn Syrup or suet. Sorry, Grandma. My recipe is a bit more modern and comes from the “Traditional British Cooking” cookbook that I bought a few years ago.
The recipe looks complicated and there are a lot of ingredients and steps, so here goes.
Ingredients
Serves 8
1/2 cup butter
1 generous cup soft brown sugar
1/2 cut self-rising flour
1 tsp. mixed apple pie spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
My secret ingredient: Bolillos toasted and grated into fine breadcrumbs 
2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs
2 cups golden raisins
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup currants
3 Tbsp mixed candied peel
1/4 cup almonds
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored, and coarsely grated
finely grated rind of 1 orange or lemon
juice of 1 orange or lemon mad up to 2/3 cup brandy, rum, or sherry
  1. Cut a disc of greaseproof (waxed paper) to fit the base of the basin and butter the disc and basin.
2. Whisk the butter and sugar together until soft. Beat in the flour, spices, and eggs. Stir the remaining ingredients in thoroughly. Don’t forget to put a clean penny into the mixture so that the person that finds the penny will have good luck in the new year.
3. Turn the mixture into the basin (I use a glass bowl);level to the top. Cover with another disc of buttered greaseproof paper.
4. Make a pleat across the center of a large piece of greaseproof paper, folding in both directions and cover the basin with it, tying it into place with string under the rim. Cut off the excess paper.
5. Pleat a piece of foil in the same way and cover the basin/bowl with it, tucking it around the bowl neatly. Tie another piece of string around the basin and across the top, as a handle. My steamer has a handle on it, so no extra string.
6. Place the basin in a steamer over a pan of simmering water. Steam for 6 hours if a large pudding, 2 hours if it’s a small pudding. Check the water level often and refill pan with hot water as it evaporates. When the pudding has cooked leave it to cool. Remove the foil and greaseproof paper. Wipe the basin clean and replace the paper with clean pieces, ready for reheating. Do not butter the new pieces of paper.
7. This pudding can be made a month in advance and stored in a cool-dry place.
8. Decorate the pudding with a sprig of holly for your Christmas table.
     I could not find any golden raisins or a mixed bag of raisins this year so I bought a mixture of raisins, dried cherries, and cranberries instead. I think it will bring a very nice flavor to the pudding. We shall see.
     Now the fun part. When you are ready to serve, you douse the pudding in rum, brandy, or sherry, and light it! This is fun for the kids and I admit, I like this part as well. Cut the pudding into serving size pieces and serve with custard sauce. You can find Bird’s Custard Powder (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird’…) in most grocery stores in the US.
Reference
Walden, Hilaire. Traditional British Cooking / The Best of British Cooking: A Definitive Collection. London: Hermes House, 2010.
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The Real Calamity

This is a companion blog that goes with a prior blog, “A Woman’s Touch”. I am currently working on a website that will incorporate my love of History, our home, gardening, cooking, and whatever else suits my fancy. Cheers!

The movie, “Calamity Jane” is a travesty to any historian and my degree is in History. I overlook the travesty because well…Doris Day and Howard Keel. It was made in the 1950’s, historical accuracy in film was not a priority. It was entertainment. So, let’s talk about Calamity Jane, the real Calamity, not the Hollywood version.

Calamity Jane’s real name was Martha Canary. She was born in Missouri in 1852.  She was orphaned at the age of 14 and had to help raise her four younger siblings. The majority of what we know about Calamity comes from her own “autobiography”. It is a tale told by an aging woman creating a mythos around herself, as she traveled around the West with a dime museum. She writes of her adventures as a scout with the Army, yet no records exist of her working for the Army. It is more likely that Calamity worked as a camp follower and she did establish herself at a brothel near Fort Laramie in Wyoming. Calamity Jane knew Wild Bill Hickok but they did not marry. She married a man from Texas, named Clinton Burk. She claimed that they had a daughter together but even this is up for speculation. She might have had a daughter, she showed up in Deadwood with a young girl in 1895, but this little girl might have been Burk’s daughter from a former relationship.  The last years of her life were spent wandering through Montana and Wyoming. The newspapers printed news of her many arrests and bad behavior, usually due to her alcoholism. This was the real Calamity Jane. She died in 1903 and was buried in Deadwood, SD near Bill Hickok.

     The Calamity Jane that grew into a character of mythological proportions was due to the fascination with the Wild West, the frontier, and by Edward Wheeler, an author that wrote dime novels featuring Calamity Jane, while she was still living. Here was a woman that could ride and shoot as well as any man, a true citizen of the Old West. Yet, she was a flawed woman that became a literary character and she could not live up to the woman that had been created.

  So, go watch the 1953 movie, “Calamity Jane” and remember, sometimes it only takes a woman’s touch but we are not literary nor film characters and we are going to get dirty and sometimes hit our thumbs with hammers while we are cleanin’ and fixin’.

Resources

Cross, Merrit, and MERRIT CROSS. “BURK, Martha Cannary (May 1, 1852?-Aug. 1, 1903).” In Notable American Women: 1607-1950, edited by Edward T. James, Janet Wilson James, and Paul S. Boyer. Harvard University Press, 1971. http://ezproxy.stthom.edu:2048/login?qurl=http%3A%2F%2Fsearch.credoreference.com%2Fcontent%2Fentry%2Fhupnawi%2Fburk_martha_cannary_may_1_1852_aug_1_1903%2F0%3FinstitutionId%3D5190

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/490/pg490-images.html

Grandmother’s Best Bread

The house was freezing yesterday. Okay, it was 62F inside our home, for us that is freezing. Even the Canadian was cold! The furnace has not been repaired. We started a fire in the fireplace, but even that was not alleviating the chill. Richard said, “Why don’t you bake some bread”? I pulled my Grandmother Macafee’s Cookbook down from the shelf. I baked bread and thus, begins a new project.

My mother gave my Grandmother Macafee’s Cookbook to me sometime in the 1990’s. I have looked through it before but I have never ever used it. It is handwritten. These were her most important recipes.

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The Cookbook, coffee stain and all. I wonder who put their cup on the book?

These are the foods that she made for my dad and her family. Thumbing through Grandma’s cookbook is like looking into her life and that is a part of me that has always been missing. I plan on making one recipe a week until I get all the way through her cookbook. It won’t matter if it sounds unappetizing to my modern tastes. I want to experience what her family experienced by tasting her recipes.

A Little Bit of Family History

   Grandma Macafee died of cancer when my dad was 11 years old. Daddy didn’t talk about her much. His memories were hazy. He remembered her on the couch with a bloated stomach and not going to her funeral. She was an involved mom, a Scout leader, and a member of the PTA.  I have stories from her sister, Aunt Lois, about her. Mid, (Grandma’s name was Mildred) was a rebel. She was one of those girls that cut her hair short in the 1920’s after being told by her father that she was not allowed to do so. She graduated from High School at 16. She went on to Teacher’s College and lied about her age in order to get a job once she graduated.

daddy and grandma Macafee
Daddy and Grandma Mildred Krueger Macafee ca. 1937

I like to believe that Grandma Macafee was a lovely lady that adored her boys. Aunt Lois wrote about how when she would drop by their apartment, the dishes would be stacked up and the laundry needed folding but Mid and the boys would be putting a puzzle together or playing a game. That story influenced how I raised my kids. Time is precious and you don’t know when you might leave this Earth. Grandma was making memories even if Daddy didn’t remember or just couldn’t talk about her. 

  Back to the bread.

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The recipe is called “Grandmother’s Best Bread”. I don’t know which grandmother. Was it her mother’s mother, Bertha? Or was it her father’s mother, Augusta? So many stained pages, she must have used the book often.

Here is the recipe:

2 Tbsp Sugar

2 Tbsp Shortening

1 Tbsp Salt

1 3/4 Cup Milk, Scalded

1 Cake Yeast (or one packet of yeast)

1/4 Cup lukewarm water

6 or 7 Cups of Flour

Combine Sugar, shortening, salt and scalded milk, water, and yeast. Add about 2 cups of flour, mix and beat well. Let stand for 20 minutes. Add remaining flour and knead lightly. Put in a greased bowl, let rise to double in bulk. Punch down and let rise again. Punch down and shape. Make into 2 loaves or 16-18 pan biscuits. Let rise to double. Bake in a hot oven, 450 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake 20 or 30 minutes longer.

How did it go, you ask?

     I had to go to the store and buy some yeast. As you can see from the recipe, it calls for a cake of yeast. I had to look up how much yeast was in a cake of yeast because all that our grocery store carries is yeast packets. (It’s the same amount that is in a packet of yeast, by the way).  I remembered how to scald milk from when I was little. I remembered the smell of it when it was ready. Just hot enough to form bubbles, not boiling, about 180 degrees. My candy thermometer broke during our Thanksgiving celebration two weeks ago so I just had to go with my instincts.

The texture of the dough seemed tough to me as I mixed it, so I only used 5 cups of flour. It was a good decision. The first rise did not look promising. I put the dough in the oven with a pan of steaming water. I have always found that a little humidity is helpful when getting dough to rise. The first rise was fine. The second rise was perfect and the final rise was good as well. Baking was a little tricky. I thought that 450 degrees was a bit high for baking the bread. I kept an eye on it. The top browned nicely. After 15 minutes I tented it with foil and reduced the heat. In our oven, it took 20 minutes more to bake and it came out beautifully.

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TADA!

The other loaf did not rise as much but it looked good too! The final test was tasting it. I wondered why Grandma had written that this bread could be made into 16 or 18 biscuits. I found out when I tasted it. It tastes like biscuits! It is a great breakfast bread, smothered in jam or honey with lots of real butter! Yum!

 

22

Twenty -two. That is how many American service members and veterans take their lives every single day. Twenty-two. 

My son lost another comrade today. He posted his farewell on Facebook and by the time the authorities got there, he was dead. A young man, serving our country, took his ew.jpgown life, like so many before him. Caleb came to me terribly upset moments ago. We shed tears together. He said, “You couldn’t tell he was sad, he was always so happy”.

That is how depression works. The world sees a person that is all right. Everything seems fine in their lives, but depression lies. It says, “Everything is wrong, you are worthless, you are insignificant”. Depression lies. Even when you do great things and succeed and earn accolades, it is there whispering in your ear…”you are worthless, the world is a bad place, you will never be successful, everyone is better off without you”… And the circle of negative thoughts and even suicide begin to turn once more.

I didn’t know this young man. I haven’t known any of the men that have killed themselves that have personally served with Caleb. That number is six. Caleb served for six years, that is one member of the Air Force each year of his service that took his own life. With all of the care out there, the resources for veterans and our men and women serving in the armed forces, this should not happen. I am heartbroken. I am heartbroken for his mom and dad, friends, and family. I am heartbroken for my military family.

If you are suffering, you are not alone. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! It is not weakness to ask for help, it is not weakness to fight the demon of depression! It is a battle and you are strong. You have gotten this far. Please call The Veterans Crisis Line  at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, if you are serving or have served. Or text, 838255. Someone is there to talk to you and help you.

If you are not a service member, then please help out by joining The Mission 22 Team. Help spread the word and help our service members. They serve us, it is the least that we can do.

 

 

Missing Max

     I am not only a mom to five pretty great kids, I am also a stepmom to another pretty great kid. Max came into my life as part of the Richard package. I met them both at a New Year’s Eve party back in 2009. Max was not even one year old. It’s funny, the friend hosting the party told me that she was anxious for me to meet Max and Richard. I thought she was friends with a gay couple and I was like, “okay”. No, it was the man and his son that would enter our lives and make our family even bigger and happier.

Max visits us whenever he is on break. He lives in Indiana with his mom, step-dad, and their son, and he has another step brother in Indiana as well. That kid went from an only child to one of eight in a matter of years. And now his grandparents have countless grandkids!

Max has been on airplanes many times; he has been flying since he was an infant. Now that Max is eight, he can take flights by himself, so we pick him up at the airport. It’s become easier and he always makes friends with the other kids on the flights. Sometimes he is the old pro, even when there is a twelve-year-old on the flight.

He got here at the beginning of June this summer and what a full summer we had! He had swimming lessons twice a week. We got to swim with some friends. He entered the library’s reading program and won all of the prizes easily. He made new friends at Vacation Bible School and they got to come over to our house and play. He and his dad went for many bike rides. And well…it was busy!

He went back to his mom last night. He was choked up on the ride to Houston but I know he was fine as soon as he was back with her and their family. I woke up this morning and as I passed his room, I looked in, the way I do every morning when he is here and he was gone again. I went about my morning routine with a sigh, reminding myself to straighten his room later on.

       This afternoon, I washed his clothes and was preparing to go straighten his room and Richard was in there putting things away. That made me sad but I think he needed to do that. He needed to hold onto Max’s things a little bit longer and remember the good times they had this summer. He needed to put things away and think about what we need to get for Max when he comes back in October and maybe begin to plan for that vacation. We always celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving when he comes home so the whole family is together, which we cannot do in November.

I love Max like my own. He is one of my kids and always will be. Sometimes he drives me a little crazy with his love of weird videos of people playing video games and I don’t know the names of the new Pokémon but I’m learning. I never planned on being a stepmom, I never thought I’d be helping raise another child, even if it is part-time, in my late 40’s but here I am. It’s exhausting at times but I cannot imagine our lives without the little scamp and cannot wait to see him again.

 

Expectations vs. Reality

     The working title of this blog post was “Damn You Doris Day”, but I love Doris Day. She is an amazing woman and actress, so I did not keep that title.

     When we bought this house, I honestly believed that we’d have the wallpaper down and all the rooms painted in thirty days. I told Richard that I was not sleeping in a bedroom with a maroon ceiling that had a bubble in it. Here we are 43 days in and, well, the bubble is gone.

 

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Looking up from my bed at the ceiling. The maroon ceiling that now has nice shiplap wood where the bubble used to be.

 

     Where did I get the idea that three people, one with a full-time job and bagpiping gigs almost every weekend, could at least get 2,000 square feet of rooms painted in thirty days? I blame the movies and television. I’m a hard worker; I can do it all. I have all the tools. What don’t I have? Set directors, set designers, set decorators, or a set dresser. And dammit, I don’t have a wardrobe assistant. (By the way, there is a movie terminology glossary at http://www.imdb.com/glossary/A; it’s interesting).

I am a self-proclaimed cinephile. I love movies and I love old television programs. I cannot find a definition for someone that loves old television series, so I shall call myself a telephile as well. As I have scrubbed, dusted, sanded, painted, dug in the soil, and washed load after load of laundry for the past six weeks, a song from a Doris Day musical has been running through my head: “A Woman’s Touch” from the movie Calamity Jane.

     The scene opens with Doris Day as Calamity Jane and Allyn McLerie as Katie Brown, singing “A Woman’s Touch” and cleaning Calamity’s filthy hovel. Neither one of them gets a speck of dirt on them. The dust magically misses them! In two minutes, they have the place cleaned up, the bunk bed transforms into twin singles, and the front door with the rotted wood is whole, painted, and signed. I really want that paint! The dead roses are watered and are suddenly healthy. It’s like ET visited! The chintz curtains are perfect and the chairs have very 1950’s seat covers. By the end of the scene, Calamity is dolled up and the two are having tea in their cleaned and redecorated cabin. Four minutes. It took all of four minutes. This scene plays to my expectations as I work to restore this house but it is not to my reality. 

 

CJ4-womanstouch

 

My reality is dust so thick that I must wear a respirator. My reality is manky at times and sometimes I must bathe twice a day. My reality is paint stained clothes with tears in them from puppy teeth. My expectations have always exceeded my reality. Recently, I have given into my reality a wee bit. We began to put our pictures up on the ugly walls that cry for a coat of fresh paint. Yesterday, I unpacked my books – many which have been in storage for over two years – and I put them on the built-in bookcase that needs to be painted. My reality is messy and beautiful.

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Those black dots are a tarry adhesive that tarry adhesive remover will not remove. We have been chiseling them off. It is going to have to wait.

 

Each day brings us one step closer to having the home of our dreams. I just need to remember to take small steps because as my family knows, I will sprain my ankle if I take big ones. I also need to remember that my expectations will be better served by carefully working on each project and bringing the changes about slowly. It will all come together when it is supposed to come together.

A Trip to the Woodshed

I woke up this morning to the sounds of hammers. The roofer was finishing the bead board replacement on the porch ceiling. Thus my day began. With so much needing attention it is hard to decide which job to take on each day. We knew it was going to rain this afternoon, so any job that needed to be done outside needed to be completed before the rain began. Caleb was voluntold to paint the new bead board with primer. (A job he hates by the way). I chose to clean the woodshed. My biggest worries in cleaning the woodshed were that I was going to find a snake or that the armadillo that digs armadillo divets in our yard every night was living under the piles of wood that had been thrown in there. I found neither, (relief) but I did find numerous wasps and yellow jackets. Thank goodness for Raid wasp spray!

And so, this is kind of what my life feels like right now. Like a big pile of God knows what but some of it is definitely useful. My life has been so odd. I didn’t follow the rules. I quit university to join the Navy. I got out of the Navy and raised five children. I raised children, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, dogs, cats, vegetables, and even an odd duck on a ranch in the middle of nowhere for 15 years. Richard inspired me to start my own cleaning company in 2011 and that is what I did for four years.Then came the degree and I find myself wondering what is next. What will I do with this big pile of God knows what of my life experiences? Until I figure that out, I will continue to clean and tidy and know that the answers will come when they are supposed to, for forcing things never works and things usually break if you try to force them. Take the time to do the job right and see the results.

      Oh, and this is what it looks like in front of the woodshed. A trailer rental and a day of trips to the dump will take care of it! Not scairt!

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Let’s Begin At the End

 

 

 

    Today I breathe. Of course, I breathe every day, but today is the first day in six-hundred-fifty-six days that I feel like I can relax just a bit. I even slept in for the first time in forever. In August 2015, I decided to return to The University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas to finish the BA that I had started in September of 1987. It was time to put value into myself after raising my five children and putting everything into them. My eldest son, Caleb, got out of the Air Force last month after six years of service and I graduated from UST with my daughter, Caprice, on May 20th. I can breathe.

When we moved to Houston we found a little bungalow in the Heights, just north of downtown. We could walk down the street and be on the feeder to I-45 and see the wonderful Houston Skyline only two miles away.  It was a world away from the small-town life of Ganado, Texas. Jackson County, Texas had been home since 1995; it was where my children had been raised and where my life was. Caleb was stationed in New Mexico, my eldest daughter, Cadell, had a good job and was living with her best friends. Clark, my second son, was going to be attending UST with my youngest daughter – child number 3 – Caprice, in the Fall of 2015, and my youngest, Craig, was moving to Houston with us.  My children had not objected to my attending university with them. I even had classes with Caprice, as our degree plan was the same. St. Thomas is a family and sharing classes with Caprice was a little odd at first. Then time passed and we became accustomed to the situation; there were the times when our professors looked at us and shook their heads as we laughed at some random thing that we found funny. St. Thomas is family.

As I began my last semester, my husband, Richard, and I began to look for a home. We called our realtor, Selena, and she was excited that we were ready to move on. She didn’t know what she was getting into! We had an idea of what we wanted. More than one bathroom for sure but after that, I don’t think we really knew what we wanted. The house was going to have to speak to us.

We looked at homes all over the greater Houston area for months. From Humble, Spring, the Medical Center, and beyond. Each home offered one or two things we liked but not one said: “This is home.” Then one day Richard called me into his office: “Come look at this”. I looked at the monitor of his computer, and on it was a large Victorian house in Bellville, Texas. I thought nothing of it. Bellville was too far from Houston as far as I was concerned, but the price…it was really good. The house also came with .70 acres. We had to see it, but Bellville? We called Selena, but it had already been put under contract. Oh well…

Then, not a week later, Selena was calling. The buyers had backed out, we could go see it the next day but it would be back on the market two days later. Richard could not go out with me but his parents were visiting from Alberta, Canada, where Richard had grown up. We went out, it was a mess of horrible wallpaper and junk left behind; the electricity was not on but the bones were good and it had amazing potential, plus it had 3 bathrooms and it had a one room cabin in the backyard!

Mum and Dad were ambivalent, Caprice’s boyfriend, Conor, was visiting from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Richard’s eight-year-old son, Max, had joined us for the walk-through. Conor saw the work that needed to be done and was like, “No”. Max, he hated it. I drove home wondering what Richard would think and if we would make an offer.

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Mum and Dad checking out the kitchen during the walk-through.

Richard and I mulled over what everyone had said, went over the photos and video that we’d taken and spoke to Selena. It was the house we wanted. It was historic – one-hundred-thirty years old – and it hadn’t been ruined by renovation and remodeling. The floors were original. All of the problems, they could be fixed over time.  I do not remember how it happened, I was busy writing my thesis and studying for exams, but we put in our bid and it was accepted. We had numerous problems with the former owners and the abstract company but that is another story.

What our parents had done at 25, we are doing. We are initiating a big, big project on the backside of forty. We are beginning a new life as our older children begin their adult lives.  We have purchased a one-hundred-thirty-year-old house, a house whose life would surely have ended in another twenty years without intervention. As we start our new life we are giving our new home a new life as well.

Join me as I begin my blog of our adventures in restoration. A week in and I’m exhausted. I don’t want to be twenty-five again but I’d go for forty. I need to lose what I call my “paperweight.” That is, the weight I gained sitting on my butt for the last two years writing essays and my thesis. It all needs to go into this house! Not only the house needs to be restored but so do I. And…we’re off like a herd of turtles!

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The current view from my kitchen desk. The wood was an old deck and Caleb is pulling it apart so we can build a new walkway from the gate to the back porch.