Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Back Where I Started...

A local beach in late afternoon.

"Traditions can help us grow and flourish; they reflect and inspire the way we parent and how we honor the passage of time, achievement, and meaningful moments in our lives. In a society that is increasingly chaotic, wired, and weird, they offer a way to connect with a spiritual dimension, a way to feel the embrace of a quieter world, and a chance to teach your children well. The search for meaning through ritual is ancient, though perhaps more important than ever before... Traditions are comforting and predictable. They involve a sense of history-- sometimes generational-- that affords a strong sense of self and one's place in the family and the world, both morally and spiritually. They ground us.

"Traditions are also a great way to make everyone in your family feel included. Inclusiveness is a key to comfort in any environment, be it at home, work, or in the community. 'Rituals foster a sense of belonging and provide comfort and security,' said Barbara Fiese, chair of the psychology department at Syracuse University and lead author of a study on family routines and rituals published in 'Journal of Family Psychology.' 'We know we can count on them.' Indeed, according to Fiese, rituals lower stress because they reassure us and add to our well-being. Certainly little kids revel in tradition, and as they get older, these memories can serve as anchors."

The Joy of Family Traditions by Jennifer Trainer Thompson

Hello, and thank you (again!) for your prayers and encouragement. I truly appreciate it. God is good and has given my family a strong assurance and peace that everything that has happened is part of His Sovereign plan. We know that Dad is in heaven, and we are glad that he will never suffer again. We're happy for him, but we miss him like crazy.

I've been at my mom's house for a month now. I was born on this part of the Oregon coast, and as I've driven around the area, visited the beach, and looked through photo albums, I've been soothed and strengthened by sweet memories of family traditions and rituals. Most of our traditions and routines have been simple and are usually very much connected to the particular area where I grew up. We never had a lot of money, but our parents gave us a sense of adventure and fun and gratefulness, and I am convinced that our family traditions, and the spirit in which they were done, made our family strong and close and loving.

Part of our family fabric is the beautiful coastal outdoors. My grandfathers, dad, brother, and brothers-in-law have all worked outdoors-- logging, driving tugboats, longshoring, working in log and lumber yards, working fishing boats, and a lot more. The men and women of this family have hunted and fished extensively over the years. we've been clam digging, fishing, and have gone out in the boat to set out crab rings. We've played on local beaches, explored tide pools, swam in the lakes and streams, hiked area trails, and run up and down the sand dunes. We learned to love the beach and the rain. We've gathered together for many family meals and countless birthday potlucks, often eating whatever delicious thing is caught and found in the wild here, but also enjoying fresh fruit and vegetables from the gardens.

Sundays were always family days, when all of us would gather informally and spontaneously at one of the grandparents' homes. Holidays have long been celebrated in the same way (who would want to change things?!). We've played hard and laughed much. The family has grown and extended, but our rituals, traditions, celebrations, and enjoyment of this special coastal place continues to this day. It is our heritage, and it is a good one.

Memories have been made. Relationships have deepened. Love has grown. Our family is not perfect, but we love each other and are very close. This is the fruit of our grandparents and our parents establishing good homes and lasting traditions and making them special and fun. My gratitude to God for my family has grown in the past several weeks. I truly am blessed.
*****
These past few weeks at the coast have been busy ones. Family and friends gathered together for what we prefer to call a celebration of my dad's life rather than a funeral or even a memorial service. The service was sweet. The way most people described it was as hopeful, uplifting, inspiring, or encouraging, and that was just the way we had hoped it would be. It was wonderful to be able share just a bit of my dad's testimony (he accepted Christ in 2002) with so many of his friends who don't know the Lord.

Our family worked together to find photos for a video that showed a chronological history of Dad's life. We wanted to show him the way he really was-- a strong, loving, playful, hard-working, adventurous, really fun (!) family man. We put music to the video-- things like Gershwin's S'Wonderful, Summertime, Young at Heart, Nat King Cole's Unforgettable, Louis Armstrong's It's a Wonderful World, and more. The video is just over 15 minutes long, and we all love the way it turned out, even though we cry every single time we watch it. There were hundreds of people at the service (some had to stand because there were not enough chairs in the church sanctuary), and they all broke into applause when the video ended. Our family is going to treasure having this video of good memories to watch over and over again. I'll have more to say about my dad soon.

I'm so enjoying being on this part of the coast where I grew up. My parents' home is on a lake across from the sand dunes, and Mom's kitchen table sits right next to large windows that provide a view of that lake and beyond. I like to sit there in the morning. A new coffee spot!

Aaron and Alia dredging up an olden sunken boat they discovered in the lake.

Aaron, Melissa, and their cousins go out in the row boats often to explore the nooks and crannies of the lake, stopping at points along the way to climb the sand dunes. Yesterday, Melissa, Aaron, and a cousin that has spent the past few days with us, rowed across the lake and then hiked across the dunes to the ocean and back.

I love the howling rainstorms here, the lake, the sand dunes, oceanside walks, local fishing villages, fresh-caught seafood (so far we've had crab and snapper, thanks to my brother), the church where I grew up, the library the kids and I visited at least once a week during their childhood, and even the old familiar roads of the area. It's going to be nice to be here with Mom and the family members who still live here.

Just a few recent photos...

Here are three of my favorite girls-- Melissa and Aimee in the foreground and Michelle in the background. It was taken on the day of Dad's memorial service. At least 20 family members cheered for my niece at her basketball game that evening, then most of us stopped by a local pizza parlor after the game to get something to eat.


Shore Acres State Park has a famous annual holiday light display in its botanical gardens. The park sits at the edge of beautiful oceanside cliffs. There used to be a mansion on these cliffs, and the house that is lit up in this photo is the old gardener's house, the only building left from that old estate. We went to the park with various family members, twice, to see the lights. One visit was on an unusually frosty-cold, clear night, and the other visit was during a rainstorm. Both times, we stepped into the cozy house to warm up or dry off. The atmosphere in the house was inviting, with Christmas music playing and free home-baked cookies, cider, and hot chocolate to enjoy.

Here's Aaron (I seem to have gotten a lot of photos of him on this particular beach trip) on a recent family outing to a local beach. It was my sister's birthday, and our family are all beach lovers, so it was natural to spend part of the day there.

My siblings and I grew up on the Oregon coast, and our family visited the beach regularly. Now we're all grown and married with children (and, in my case, grandchildren), and we still go to the beach. When the whole family is in town, our beach group is pretty big!

On the morning of this birthday beach visit, there was a powerful windstorm, but by the time we (about 16 members of the family) got to the beach in late afternoon, the air was fairly still. The morning storm had really churned up the surf, creating a good bit of foam, and it carried a lot of driftwood (some of it huge), kelp, and other stuff up onto the beach. As we took a long walk down the beach, several members of the family collected agates and other pretty rocks, some of them fossils. We all walked and talked, with different ones running here and there, climbing on the rocks and up the dunes and onto larger pieces of driftwood. Most of us tried to avoid the icy surf and simply enjoyed a nice walk down the beach in the crisp air.


Monday, December 8, 2008

I'll Be Away for a Short Time...

Hello, and thank you once again for your prayers and nice comments.

I'm sitting in an internet coffee shop on the Oregon coast with two of my sisters. We're in a cozy corner, sitting on comfortable couches, sipping our lattes and cappucinos as we talk and check email. (My sister is letting me use her laptop to check my mail and leave this note on my blog.) 

We're having some internet access problems at my mother's house, and it will be a week or so before we can address those, so I'll be away from the computer for a bit. Hopefully, I'll be back online before Christmas!

Have a beautiful, peaceful Advent season!
Susan

 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thank you!

Wow. I'm really a bit stunned by all of your kind comments and prayers, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The whole extended family has been saying that we can just feel the prayer support of others, and we really hope it won't stop (particularly for my sweet mom). :-) We're all still reeling and numb, but everyone is doing okay, thanks to our family pulling extra close together (we've talked and laughed and remembered-- as well as cried-- together), for all of the love and prayers of those who touch our lives, and because of God's amazing grace. People have been unbelievably thoughtful in their giving and caring.

Left: Melissa and her cousin mixing the cake (and Aaron at the stove dishing up something to eat). Right: Michelle and Melissa lighting the candles, with their cousin looking on and Jayden quite excited about the lit candles. He loves fire-- the woodstove, candles, anything.

Poor Michelle's 25th birthday happened to be Tuesday, and while we didn't have anything close to our typical birthday celebration, Melissa and her cousin did bake Michelle a really moist, delicious cake. Both girls love to bake, and they chose to make a yellow cake with chocolate frosting from Martha Stewart's baking book. (There will be a better celebration soon, Michelle!)

Mike, who had only flown back to Washington DC on Sunday, hopped a plane right back out here to Oregon as soon as he could when he heard about my dad. Mike arrived at my sister's house this morning, and we drove home across the mountains so I could pack some things. My siblings, my husband and kids, and Mom and I decided that it might be nice for me to stay at Mom's house with her for a long while. She's alone now (for the first time in her entire life), and I'm staying out here in our country home by myself, too, so it makes sense for me to go stay with Mom for a time. We both look forward to being together.

When we arrived home last evening, the temperature had already dropped to 18 degrees and the sky was its usual clear, beautiful self. I looked around and enjoyed the view and the crisp air and thought about how I'm leaving our cold, snowy (usually!) winter climate to go back to the wet and stormy winter climate of the coast. I love a good rainstorm, though, so it's a fair trade.

But what to pack since I'll be gone for quite some time? It came down to three main things I'd really like to have with me in order to keep doing the things that are part of my daily routine:

1. Cooking items (I'll take the essential things-- to me-- that Mom doesn't have in her kitchen, but that I need in order to be a good head cook :-) ) and cookbooks (but which ones?! it's hard to narrow this down).

2. Books. (Can't we just pack all of the books on the bookshelves?!) I've whittled the stack down to some of the books I can't live without, but it's still quite a pile (Mom doesn't mind, but is everything going to fit in the car?).

3. The computer. I can certainly live perfectly well without it, but it's a big way I stay in touch with my husband, my kids, and many friends. I like to use it to write down my thoughts. And I'd like to continue blogging (both here and at my private, family blog). Plus, Mom says she thinks she'd like to learn to use a computer, and I'll have fun showing her around.

The dogs and cat are going on this adventure, too. Oh, and I suppose I'll have to take some clothes. And, for sure, my coffee press and journals! :-)

So, today, we'll be packing, tying up some loose ends here, and closing up the house so that we can move on over to Mom's house tomorrow.

Once, again, thank you for your kindness and prayers. I deeply appreciate it.