One year

It’s been a year.

For awhile, that was all I was going to write here. I didn’t know what to say. I’m still not sure what to say. I have many stories. Many thoughts. All of them feel small. Inadequate. How do you write about a person? All of them. How they feel, how they sound, what they do, how they act.

I struggle that what I share of Matt with Ellie will be small. She will not know him for who he is–for all he is. But I need her to know him, even if it’s just a small part. So I keep telling stories.

When we moved to the farm, herons became my talisman. It was always special when I spotted one at the pond or flying overhead. That’s one of the reasons I chose a picture of a heron to hang over my nightstand in our bedroom.

Audubon print of a heron in my bedroom

Herons took on even greater significance during Matt’s illness.

I saw herons more than ever.

Heron wading in the pond

Wading at the pond, flying over the fields, in the east field (where I had never seen one before), out hiking with my friends. Twice, we even saw a heron flying over the highway as we were traveling to the hospital. Surrounded by concrete, asphalt and traffic, no water in sight, we saw herons.

These sightings gave me a lot of comfort.

Heron wading in the pond

On Saturday afternoon, as Ellie played joyously in the leaves outside, I saw a heron flying overhead. It glided down and landed in the pond. And I knew Matt was with us.

It has been a year. But I have never felt alone. It has been a year, but we fill each day with love and joy.

Glam bench makeover from a 70s TV stand

I have a core group of 5 really, really close friends. Many of us met in grade 1 or 2. The history and the shared experiences are immense.

As the years have progressed, we have each taken different paths in life. Sometimes we don’t see each other very often or keep in touch the way that we feel we should.

When Matt died, all of my friends rallied around us, exactly the way that I knew that they would. They have been there for us in so many ways.

One friend started coming every Thursday night for dinner. The commute from her work was usually more than an hour, and she would often roll up the driveway just as I was putting dinner on the table (hungry toddlers are not to be messed with).

After a couple of weeks, she said to me, “You can stop inviting me. I’ll be here.” We would eat, and I would put Ellie to bed, and then we’d sit and talk. Sometimes another friend would join us.

When quarantine began, our Thursday dinners stopped. And oh I miss them. It felt like a huge hole in my week. Daily texts were not enough.

Desperate to connect, we came up with the idea to watch Celebrity IOU on HGTV together. Or as much as you can be together when you fear for your life during a global pandemic.

I would sit alone in the basement, the baby monitor by my side. My friend would sit in her condo with her cats. And we’d text commentary back and forth. It was fun. A connection. Casual. Someone who shared my delight in home stuff. Someone who shared my opinions and sense of humour… most of the time.

One episode was a more glam makeover. My friend texted, “Oh, I want that” at the same time as I wrote, “That would be perfect for you.”

So when I came up with the idea to redo this old TV stand, she was the first person I thought of. Something glam. Special. Fun. Feminine.

Vintage 70s TV stand

She–like me, like the rest of this special group of friends–is turning 40 this year. So the day before her birthday, I gifted her with this bench. She was really happy. It felt like her. It fit in with what she’s doing at her home–and has inspired her to do a few more updates to her bedroom.

Brass and white bench

Brass and white bench

Brass and white bench

Our furniture and our homes are so, so much more than just things and spaces. They represent the people who live in them and use them. For me, this bench represents 40 years of my friends and I figuring out who we are and how to embrace it. Nearly 35 years of caring for each other and helping each other.

It represents how we all–all six of us–work to give each other the love, peace and joy that we wish for each other.

Like dandelions in the wind

A couple of weeks ago, our two oldest nephews came up to the farm to help with the grass. The oldest one got the tractor and started mowing. The youngest one got balls and toys and played with Ellie while I ran the push mower.

At one point I looked over to see him blowing dandelions with her. My breath caught. The last person to do that with her was her Dad. And now, one of her “big cousins” was doing it with her, and Matt will never do it with her again.

Matt and Ellie blowing dandelions

Today, Father’s Day, I am sad. So, so sad that we don’t get to celebrate Matt and my Dad in person.

It’s easy to let sadness be the only thing I feel today and to focus on everything that is missing.

But I’m choosing to be grateful. Grateful that her 18-year-old cousin is willing to blow dandelions with her, juggle balls and toss them in the air as high as he can, run up and down the barn ramp, collect pinecones to throw in the pond and spend a morning doing whatever a little two-year-old girl wants to do. Grateful for these two generous, helpful, kind young men. Grateful for the fathers and father figures in our lives.

Ellie has one Dad, and we celebrate and remember him every single day.

But today is Father’s Day, and we have many father figures. From cousins to uncles to friends to her Papa, Ellie is loved. And so am I. And that is what today is about for us: celebrating love of fathers and children in all their forms.

What ever this day means to you, Happy Father’s Day.

 

A Mother’s Day tree

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

You know those fantasies you have as you’re growing up, where you envision your home and your family and your life someday when you’re an adult?

One of mine was very specific. I think this was when I was a teenager, even before I met Matt.

I would live on a farm. There would be a big house, a big barn, beautiful property and trees. Lots and lots of trees. We would grow our own Christmas trees. And every Mother’s Day, we would plant a few new Christmas trees.

I had forgotten about this plan, but it came back to me the other day. Ellie was playing outside and I was digging a hole in preparation for planting a tree. I had come up with the idea that I wanted to transplant a tree for Mother’s Day. That it would be a fun, life affirming, long-reaching thing for us to do together.

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

As I was digging away, the memory of my childhood vision came back to me. I am so grateful that I got to make it real yesterday with our girl–and our furry children as well.

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

Planting a tree for Mother's Day

Ellie swinging on her playset with Baxter and Ralph behind the new tree we planted for Mother's Day

Matt was forever teasing me about my “sticks.” If a maple tree shows up somewhere I don’t want it, you can bet I’m going to transplant it, rather than dig it out and throw it away. This has led to a lot of spindly trees, but they usually survive their relocation and hopefully someday this stick will be a big beautiful reminder of this special time with our little girl.

How did you mark Mother’s Day?

 

The greatest gift

“You know what’s really wonderful about those fireflies?” he said finally, as if they had been having a whole other conversation. “Sure they live for just a few weeks. Not much at all in the grand scheme of things. But while they’re there, the beauty of them, well, it takes your breath away.” He ran a thumb over the ridge of her knuckles. “You get to see the world in a whole new way. And then you have that beautiful picture burned onto the inside of your head. To carry it wherever you go. And never forget it.”

 

Before he even said the next words Alice felt the tear begin to slide down her cheek.

 

“I worked it out sitting here. Maybe that’s the thing we need to understand, Alice. That some things are a gift, even if you don’t get to keep them.”

 

My Mom gave me The Giver of Stars for Christmas, and it helped me to read a beautiful story over the holidays and think of Matt.

Matt sitting on a fence at the farm

Matt did not want to live his cancer journey publicly. I shared a little bit here, but then I stopped.

I don’t want to open that up very much today.

But I want to share some of what happened and say that he is special and strong in ways that I could never imagine.

Matt and I in front of the farm

We had two clear scans following his uveal melanoma treatment. Then, sitting in a hospital room with our three-month old daughter, we found out that the melanoma had metastasized to his liver.

We went through immunotherapy, liver-directed therapy, chemotherapy and all of their side effects. We were evaluated for clinical trials. We spent weeks and days in hospitals and away from our baby, our dog and our farm.

Matt, Ellie and Baxter snuggling on the bed

We found hope in butterflies and birds and animals that we saw around the farm and songs that we heard on the radio.

We tried for normalcy by going to work, mowing the grass, shopping for groceries, walking the dog and playing with the baby. We ate vegetarian. Then we ate keto. Searching for something that helped.

We laughed and cried and were scared all the time.

Matt with Baxter

The Magnolia Journal that I mentioned last post connected with me in a lot of ways. There were two stories of people who had died from cancer.

Reading Dennis Fullman’s words felt like all of the situations Matt and I faced and all of the things we said to each other. Making jokes about needing your spouse to get well because he’s the one who takes care of a specific chore around the house and goodness knows you don’t want to have to do it. Living your days with tunnel vision and making the choice to be intentional every day.

“We’ve chosen not to look too far ahead, not to get too overjoyed or stuck in sorry. We stay focused on the present day. We steady ourselves in the middle, committed to each other, living this life as well as we can, resolute in our desire to finish well, no matter how many days I have left on this earth.”

 

As time went on, the tumors grew, the treatments took their toll, and Matt suffered more and more. When I finally relented–fearful that any hospital visit would mean he would never come home–and took him to the urgent care clinic, I asked for a sleeping pill and some cough medicine. They put us in an ambulance and transferred us to the cancer hospital.

The tumors in his liver were so large that they had collapsed his lung.

Matt and me shingling the roof

We worked for a week to convince the doctors to let him come home. During that week there is nothing that Matt and I did not say to each other. And still, there is nothing we had to say to each other.

We know everything. We have absolutely no doubts about the love we have.

Matt came home on Friday afternoon. Our families were here and everyone got to sit with him. Ellie ran back and forth down the hall to see “Daddy!”

Matt and Ellie with the hay

In the middle of the night, Matt asked to be moved to the living room. The nurse and I walked him down the hall. He managed to make it to the couch, right in the middle of the living room, surrounded by windows looking out on the farm. There, on Saturday morning, as Ellie and I played on the floor beside him, he died.

Gabe Grunwald, also in Magnolia, mirrored Matt in so many ways. Young. Determined. Rare cancer. Metastatic liver failure. Fighting so, so hard. And then knowing it is the end. I know what her last days look like. I know what it means to bring the person you love home to die.

“While there is glory in the resolve to never give up, there is also glory to be found in the grace to surrender. To know when you have run the race well and fought the good fight. The grace and grit she demonstrated in her final days lives on as her parting gift–showing us all that amid even the heaviest of life’s tasks and the most uncertain of circumstances, there is never a situation so dark that light cannot shine through, never a scenario so bleak that hope has no place.”

 

Matt’s last moments were in the place he loves most, with the people he loves most. Ellie was laughing. The greatest gift he gave us was time. He hung on as long as he could and made it home. The gift we could give him was letting him go that November morning. We hold him with us in many ways and know that he will always be with us.

With love and joy

Matt and Ellie

On Nov. 9, my partner and husband, Ellie’s daddy, Matt died.

Our lives were filled with love and joy, even throughout this terrible journey that we’ve been on for the last two years. Our lives are still filled with love and joy.

All of the best things in my life happened because of Matt. Ellie. This farm. The fact that he asked me to go out on a date 21+ years ago. He has given me the most incredible gifts, and we have built a wonderful life together. He has an amazing legacy, and we are carrying that on.

In keeping with Matt’s wishes that “everything is for Ellie,” our family has set up a Go Fund Me campaign for her. People’s generosity has amazed me, and reading everyone’s comments has been very comforting.

All of the support and prayers that we have received over the last two years has meant so much. Thank you to everyone who has been part of that.

Embroidering with my great-grandmother

Embroidered fabric cutlery holder

I am one of those people who loves my “nice” dishes. I picked out a china pattern when we got married and I was grateful to receive crystal wine glasses as a wedding gift. I love pulling them out when we have a family dinner.

Some day, I hope I’m able to add a set of silver cutlery to my “nice” collection.

Even if I don’t have the silver yet, I have a place to keep them.

Rolled cutlery holders

I’m not sure what these are called. They have little sleeves for the various utensils, and then they roll up to tuck in the drawer. They protect the cutlery from scratches and keep them organized.

Rolled cutlery holder

These holders were made by my great-grandmother and me, which I think is so, so cool. (My great-grandmother died before I was born.)

A few years ago I was helping my Mom organize some things in her sewing room, and we found these holders. The spoon and fork ones were done, but the knives was barely started.

I haven’t done embroidery in years, but I liked the idea of finishing the set. I also liked the idea of having a place to store extra cutlery. While we don’t have a silver set, we do have lots of cutlery for those family dinners, and my storage technique was not ideal.

Cutlery stored in plastic cups

I especially liked the family heritage.

I tried to pick colours similar to the ones my great-grandmother chose and mimic her stitch patterns, and I’m really happy with how the set turned out.

Rolled cutlery holders

 

Do you have a silver, china or crystal set? How do you store extra dishes? Any other embroiderers out there? What craft or organizing projects have you been up to?

 

The baby’s first build

Growing up, my parents always included my siblings and me in whatever was happening at our house. Maintenance, building, painting, renovating, cleaning–we were all involved. Some of it was chores. Some of it was just how our family rolled.

Looking back, I can see how these experiences gave us confidence, responsibility, skills, teamwork, work ethic, understanding and much more. This foundation set us up for our own homes and our own lives.

I don’t think my parents necessarily thought too deeply about the long-term benefits their approach would have. They liked doing things with us and wanted us to be involved. Or they needed help, and they had 8 extra hands hanging around. … Or, more likely, they had 8 extra hands and needed to keep them busy.

Today, a year into parenting, my sense is that most people spend a lot of time thinking–and worrying–about how to raise our children. What type of person do I hope my child grows up to be? How do I help her become that? I don’t think our aspirations are too much different than those of our parents. But I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and spend a lot of time reading different theories, trying different techniques and thinking about how to set our children up for success.

Admittedly, I’ve only been doing this Mom thing for a year. I have a long way to go, and I expect that we will face many challenges. However, I’m hoping that I can channel my own parents and remember how much I benefited from simply being involved in whatever they were doing.

Ellie and I did our first real build recently. You’ve seen her previously helping to make our invisible bookends and supervising some sanding. But this time she actually got her hands on some of the tools and materials. Of course, she also got her mouth on them too.

Baby playing with screwdriver and drill

My Mom gave Ellie a set of table and chairs for Christmas. I decided that since they were hers she should be part of putting them together.

Baby leaning on a box

I of course spent a fair amount of time making sure she didn’t drop the drill on herself, stick the screwdriver too far down her throat, cut herself on the scissors, or eat too much of the packaging. But we also had fun talking things through, finding the right pieces and putting it all together.

Baby excited to be holding a piece of wood

Fun is the best word I have to describe how it felt to build this little table and chairs with her.

Mom and baby sitting a child size table

I hope we have a lot more fun in the future. And I hope that she grows up to be a confident, capable, helpful woman, in part because of the things we do together.

Christmas stockings full of memories

Christmas tree in front of the fireplace

In the 1970s, my Dad got into latch hooking (or rug hooking, as he called it). He made a big wall hanging, a Christmas wreath and, when I was born, my Christmas stocking. He went on to make stockings for each of my sisters and my brother as well.

When Matt and I moved into our first house, I brought my stocking with me. Matt did the same. They don’t match. They’re not large. They are certainly not trendy. But they are full of meaning and memories for us.

When I realized Ellie needed a Christmas stocking, I wanted hers to have the same meaning. As she grows, it will take on more memories. But I wanted it to be special right from the start.

I’ve written before about how we’re trying to keep my Dad alive for her, so I decided that I would latch hook a stocking for her. I found a company online that had lots of kits, and Matt picked out the pattern–a puppy, of course.

Our Christmas stockings

It arrived at the start of December and I worked diligently (sometimes feverishly) every day to finish it by Christmas. Every time I sat down with the yarn and the hook and the mesh, I felt connected to my Dad. It feels so special to know she’ll have this stocking, chosen by her Daddy, inspired by her Grandpa and made by her Mama.

For the first time, we have three stockings hanging above the fireplace. It’s so special to mark this first Christmas with our new little family and add to our memories together.

I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday, filled with memories and family.