We will always remember Ellie for her love for others, her creativity, sensitivity, and delight in life! Ellie's light has spread far and wide... may it continue to shine in our hearts.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Change is in the air...

This past month has been rather draining for me for a couple of reasons. Partly, I have been just recovering from the emotional toll that November and December took on me. But the other reason is that we have been grappling with some big decisions. Now that we have settled on a plan, I believe that the time is right to share it.

We have decided to move back to Florida. There is something startling about reading it there in black and white! I've been practicing it, and thinking it, and imagining it... but now that I write it, I feel a bit woosey.

I remember writing to you about our decision to move out to Montana, and later, about our decision to settle in here. I believe that I mentioned that we did not know what God had for our future - whether this would be where we would live long term. We just knew that we needed to come. And plan to stay.

One of the most difficult things for me when we began to talk about the possibility of returning to Florida, was wondering how we could have been so certain that this was where God wanted us, only to go back. I was afraid that it meant that our decision to come was somehow wrong. I really struggled with that. The more that I think about it, the more I know how right it was. As time passes, I feel like I'm emerging from a sort of fog. I look back and realize that our decision to move out here was made during Ellie's treatment, and in the midst of incredible stress. Ellie was our entire reason for being here. I believe with all of my heart that we needed to be here for her. We had no idea how quickly Ellie would die, but once she was gone, we knew that we could not pull up stakes and move. That would not have been good for Ethan or for our whole family. In the midst of our grief, to move would have been unthinkable. So our decision to stay was made during a time of intense emotional pain. We needed to be here for us. I was talking with a friend recently, and she mentioned how the Bible mentions letting a field lie fallow for a year. That is how this past year has felt for our family. It has been a "nothing" year. I can't even tell you how important this year of rest has been for us. It has been a year where nothing has needed to be accomplished. Where putting one foot in front of the other and getting through the day could count as a success. It has been a gift from God.

You know, back in December, I talked about the magical "one-year mark" after a person loses a loved one. I still believe that there is no point in time at which the grief stops or even lessens. But I have come to understand why our culture places (or at least used to place) significance on the one year milestone. I believe that this is the time when the fog begins to roll back. You sort of lift up your head to see that there is a whole world out there. There are other people who exist in this world. There is the rest of your life left to live. This realization brings with it an incredible amount of pain because you feel your loss even deeper. John has told me that he feels "stunned" because he realizes that this is forever. Ellie is never ever coming home. The point when the fog lifts is the moment when you actually see the rest of your life stretched out ahead of you without one of your world's most precious joys. Sometimes what you see out on the horizon is beautiful, and sometimes it's terribly scary. But the point is that you can see. When you live in the fog, there is simply no visibility. Your whole world is confined to a radius of a few feet. There is a certain feeling of safety in that. Unfortunately (big sigh) we were not put on this earth to feel safe.

Now that you know that "what" of our big news, I will explain some of the "why". But first, I'm taking you on a little rabbit trail into my history. I promise, it will connect up to the main thread... eventually. :-) You can just chalk it up to getting one more piece of the complicated puzzle that is me!

I have always had a desire in my life to put down roots. Almost as far back as I can remember, we moved around. Our family moved all over the U.S. in training to become missionaries. When we finally ended up in Panama, we did not stay in one home for long. During those years, I went back and forth between the two dorms (one year here and another year there...), and visited my parents in the tribe during vacation. I learned during those years, that the house didn't matter as much as my "stuff". So I started a habit that has continued to this day. I bring my stuff with me, and set up a "base camp." If the furniture is arranged to my liking, and my things are around me, then it is home. (Some of you may remember the insane amount of set-up I would do with Ellie in the hospital or Ronald McDonald House.) When we got married, we moved about 10 times in the first 10 years. I remember one time when I did the math, I figured out that I had lived in about 30 different houses in as many years. I have jokingly referred to myself as a nomad, but I have to admit that there is a good bit of truth in that statement. Still, I'm a nomad with a desire for roots. Every time we move, I think that it's permanent. I settle in as if it's going to be the home that I will die in. I think, more than planning for the future, for me it's about living in the moment. In the moment, wherever I am, it feels permanent. Does that make sense? (It made sense in my head.)

When Ethan was one, and Ellie was five, we bought a house. We were so excited to own our own home! We had lots of work to do, as the house was built in 1949, and still had it's original (and run down) thimble-sized kitchen. It even came with it's own pink shag carpet which had obviously been oh so chic when it was put down in 1960-something. We were delighted to find the original hardwood floors, waiting for a little TLC, hidden beneath all that faded carpet. With lots of help from family, our little home turned into a beautiful and comfy spot to settle. Among other things, we painted over the bright pink shutters and door (shudder).

When we moved to Montana, we planned on leaving that house behind. We hoped that it would sell, but in the meantime we rented it out. Unfortunately, the market turned and we now owe more on the house than we can sell it for. I know that so many people all over the country are in the same boat. Sadly, we are now in the position where we have only two options open to us... go back to Florida and save the house, or stay here in Montana and let the house foreclose. Given the uncertain nature of the economy these days, we believe that the wisest decision we can make is to return to our house in Florida.

How will this all play out?

John plans on leaving in the middle of February, and driving our car back to Floria. John's dad and brother-in-law have kept the lawn business active, just not up to full capacity. They have enough work to take up about a day and a half of work per week. John will work on getting more properties to maintain so as to work full time. March is a very good time to be there because that is usually when things start growing with a vengeance in Florida, and people begin to look for someone to mow their lawns. Unfortunately, people everywhere are falling on hard times, and it is not likely that finding work will be as easy as it has been in the past. But that is another reason why John wants to get a head start.

The plan is for Ethan and me to stay behind in Montana until Ethan finishes kindergarten in May. This is the most difficult part of the plan. We are really sad that it has to be this way, but every time we re-work the plan, it comes back to this. We just don't believe that it's a good idea to switch schools on Ethan in the middle of this year. Kindergarten is so foundational in the learning process, and while we have a wonderful school for him in Florida, the curriculum is different from the one here. We don't want to risk any gaps in Ethan's first year of learning. We are trying to hold everything loosely at this point, though. If John gets to Florida and we find that this separation is just way too traumatic for Ethan, then we can go to plan B. Staying somewhat settled here in Montana until the summer is also a good idea in case something unforeseen happens that changes our direction and we end up not moving. We don't anticipate that as a real probability, but anything is possible.

This was truly a difficult decision. We were equally torn in both directions, and the thing that tipped the scales was the fact that this seems like the wisest financial decision that we can make. We are asking God to close the doors if we should not move, but for now they all seem to be opening.

We would really appreciate your prayers over these next months. I dread the separation from John, particularly for Ethan. We really hate to do this to Ethan again. We will also be apart on our 15th anniversary - we've never been away from each other on our anniversary. I do know in my head that it's just another day, like any other day. (My heart feels like beating my head up when I talk like that. But my head is pretty tough... she can hold her own in a fight. The heart can be such a whiner at times, but over the years the head has learned to silence her with one stern look. There are rare occasions, however, when the heart sneaks up on her logical twin and clobbers her with a baseball bat. John will tell you that such moments are unpleasant and when they happen, innocent bystanders long for an invisibility cloak. The fallout is not pretty. Sorry, I just snatched you up and took you on a sudden flight of fancy!) John will have a lot of work ahead of him to do all that he wants to do to prepare for our coming in June. He needs to drive out there and buy a truck (ironic that we just sold the truck) and then try to get as much business as possible. He will also be painting the house before we get there. When Ethan is out of school, John will fly out here and pack us up in a U-Haul and drive us back to Florida.

Another cause of some anxiety for me is that I will need to get a full time job once Ethan starts first grade. I haven't worked outside of the home for over ten years, and I'm just not sure what to expect... The whole process is scary for me, but I'm also sort of looking forward to it. I just don't know what's out there. If you know of anyone in the Orlando area who's looking for an artistic free spirit with a high school education who can type 65 WPM and loves Jesus, just let me know! How's that for a unique skill set? I would also love a job where I could dress up a little (you know I really am that vain) but I do realize that beggars can't be choosers. John says that I can say that I've been the general in a small war. (I don't guess I'd need to say that I was a rather meek little general...) It sure would be nice if life experience counted for something. I do have that in spades! In the meantime I will be honing (and perhaps editing) my resume a bit. :-)

Well, that's the scoop. The whole idea of leaving and all of the change that goes along with it has me feeling sad. Decorating the house in my head does help with that, and I'm excited about seeing friends and family in Florida. It's hard feeling like we are in limbo once again. I don't feel like I'm here anymore, but I'm not there either. Mostly I just want to crawl into bed and put the covers over my head. I've felt like that all month. This too shall pass...

Thanks once again for being here. For waiting patiently for me to get my thoughts together. For caring. Will you join us on our next adventure?

In other news... did you know that this post is number 400? I thought that was kind of cool!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I decided that I'd better just log on and at least say "hi". I know it's hard to believe, but I just really don't have much to say. I was wracking my brain trying to think of something interesting or funny or even sad. But I've got nothing. Sorry. I guess it's just one of those boring kind of weeks.

Lots of love...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I'm an auntie again!

Remember the baby shower I went to in Minnesota?

Tanner Lee Hamm was born Saturday morning, January 17 at 1:50am. He weighs 8 pounds 9 ounces and is 20 1/2 inches long. Proud dad and mom are David and Trisha Hamm (David is my step-brother).

Trisha says:
"Tanner has a little bit of fluid in his lungs so he has been in NICU since his birth. The doctor says he is totally fine, but they are keeping him in the hospital and administering antibiotics just to be on the safe side. He will come home on Wednesday [tomorrow!]. Otherwise, he is a perfectly healthy, calm and very alert baby boy."

Oh how I wish I could be there to kiss his little head... I can't get over how much he looks like Ethan did when he was born!


Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Jr. Day...

... from the mind of Ethan.

"Now all the brown people and the white people can play together!"

That just makes me smile.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Trip Pics

I'm so sorry that I haven't posted all week. I feel like I've been busy, but I can't even figure out what I've been doing. It just went by quickly for some reason.

I finally have photos of our trip for you!

This was the only time we saw the sky on our trip over to Seattle:

It quickly went back to this:

Our friend, Noelle, took us all around to show us the sights:


We got to ride on a ferry!



You will notice that there are no photos of Noelle and me... While John was hopping all over the ferry snapping pictures, we were sitting very still, facing forward, trying not to toss our cookies. While we didn't exactly kiss the ground when we embarked, this was still a welcome sight:

Another sight that we aren't used to in Montana:

For supper, Noelle took us to an Ethiopian restaurant! The food was so good that I have been craving it ever since. I don't know when or how, but someday I WILL find a way to have Ethiopian food again!!

The next day, we hit downtown Seattle. It reminded us afresh of how much we love New York!


Noelle and me in front of a lovely little flower shop:

Some of you may remember this famous marketplace... (When we got back to Montana, I went to the Salvation Army and found a beautiful little print of a water color paining that was done by an artist who has a studio in this marketplace. This sign is on the print! I spent a whopping $1.50!)

Think Sleepless in Seattle (among other movies)...


John wandered around taking pictures while Noelle and I did some shopping.


I put in that last picture because it just makes John so happy. The next one is much more to my liking!

Oh yes, we went to the very first ever Starbucks - established the year before I was born. This was what the store looked back back then:

John and Noelle in a much updated version of the store... and yes, I bought a mug.

We were too hungry to make it to supper time without a snack, so we ducked into this little Russian bakery for some delicious pastries. Mine was stuffed with meat and mushrooms... yummy!



It was getting dark and raining, but we couldn't leave without at least snapping a couple pictures of the Space Needle.

For supper, sticking with the international theme we had going... we chose Japanese. We LOVE sushi, and there is this wonderful restaurant that actually has an all you can eat buffet. Wow. We've never experienced that much variety in sushi because we always have to choose a couple of rolls. It was incredible. Whenever I eat sushi, I can hear Ellie's voice in my head. She used to muster up a most superior sounding tone in her voice and stick her little nose in the air and say "Aunt Mellie and I do not eat food that is looking back at us!" She remembered a story we told her of a sushi place in NY where our order came to the table with a fish head as a garnish. And another time when her Uncle Richard had a whole fish on his plate. Ellie and Melanie never let us forget that! I am pleased to say that there were no fish looking at us in this restaurant. While I would have never admitted it to Ellie, I can do without my meal staring back at me...

I don't have any photos of the next day. We had a relaxing morning at Noelle's house, then went to a couple of stores that I don't get to go to here... Whole Foods and Trader Joe's (yes, Tricia, I finally got to go to one!!) We got some groceries and headed back to Noelle's to cook dinner and play games for the evening. That whole day was our "gift day" because we were supposed to be traveling home, but got stuck due to flooding. I must say, we thoroughly enjoyed our gift!

The day after that, we got an early start for home. The weather was clear and gorgeous!

A quaint little town in Washington - Leavenworth. All of the buildings were German architecture. We got off the interstate to drive through the town because it was so neat!


It was fun to see the changing landscape as we drove. We couldn't see any of this on our first trip because the visibility was so terrible.

Back home... we didn't need a sign to tell us that we were back in Montana. The snow kind of spoke for itself. :-)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Hello again... we're back!

We are finally back... a day late, but home safe and sound. We went to Seattle. Have you heard that name in the news recently? We ended up stuck there an extra day because all of the mountain passes were closed, and the road that would have taken us around the mountains was closed due to flooding! Ironically though, when we finally did make it out this morning, the weather was the sunniest that we had all week. We had almost no visibility all the way out from Montana. Between the snow, then fog, and finally rain, I think we had about a half hour where we actually saw the sky. It was at sunset... so beautiful! But when we got to the mountain pass to get into Seattle, it was closed. We found a lovely inn and stayed the night. Today, we had dry roads the entire trip and blue skies. It was wonderful to get to enjoy the scenery. John and I had a great time talking and even just riding together in silence at times. We love to travel together!

We had such a special time with our friend and her family. Her cancer is in remission and she is currently resting up and trying to get through some of the rough side effects of the treatments. We enjoyed catching up, and she took us all over the Seattle area to show us around. Even though getting stuck there for an extra day wasn't part of the original plan, we loved having the extra time.

Today was supposed to be John's first day back at work in over three weeks (enforced time off due to the economy). His boss was very understanding about our predicament and even told John that he was not included in the layoffs that we knew were coming. John, as well as all the others, will be cut back to fewer hours and he has to switch from the weekend shift to weekdays, but we are just so thankful that he has work!

So that's the brief overview. We have lots of photos, but I'm too tired to get them up tonight. Right now I have a sleepy and happy little boy to get into bed. We missed our little buddy so much!

I'll be back soon with more stories and photos. Thanks for the prayers for safety!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Road Trip!

I just wanted to let you know that I won't be posting until the end of the week. John and I are going on a little road trip to visit a friend that we haven't seen in years. She has just finished treatment for cancer, and after catching up on the phone for a bit, we decided that it would be great to go see her. Ethan will be staying over at the other house with Loretta and everyone, and going to school, while John and I are away. We leave tomorrow and get back on Thursday night. I hope you all have a great week, and I'll be checking back when we get home!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!!

I'm sorry I haven't posted lately. I was so tired after the marathon week of blogging and then Christmas hit... During that whole week of blogging, I was having some sort of weird allergic reaction where my eyelids were all swollen and red, and then I caught a cold. I was MISERABLE! I think I'm finally in the land of the living again! :-) I had to go for much longer without wearing makeup than I'm comfortable with, and had to completely change my makeup in case I've developed an allergy to some of the ingredients. Another difficult side effect of the whole thing is that my eyelids are now very sensitive to my tears. Whenever I cry, it burns my eyelids all over again. So by all rights, I suppose I should just stop crying. Ummmm... NOT.

Here's a little glimpse into my pain...



Thankfully, I don't look like that anymore!

The anniversary of Ellie's death passed in a very good, albeit emotional, way. You all made it very special for me with your comments. Thank you for participating in such an encouraging way! Many people made that milestone incredibly meaningful for us. Some sweet friends of mine sent us flowers on the 19th. Some of the family who live too far away to be here in person, contributed with Loretta and Reni to build us a bouquet of flowers that began the week before the 19th. and was completed on that day. Along with a new flower for the bouquet, each day Loretta and Reni gave us a page from an album full of photos and letters from the family. (I shared Neal's with you on the blog.) I can't even describe to you how amazing that was! To have Ellie's life remembered and missed in such a tangible way, and to be showered with such love, was more than we ever expected.

I'm sorry I don't have all kinds of fun Christmas pictures for you. I think we may have taken some, but mostly we just settled in and enjoyed the whole experience with Ethan. There were tears as we decorated the tree without our girl. But there was also laughter as Ethan pulled his Narnia sword (from my parents) out of the wrapping paper, exclaiming "ohhhhh, oh my goodness, ohhhhhh my... ohhhhhh wow!!!!!" The boy of many words could barely put two intelligable ones together in his excitement.

We enjoyed some Christmas Eve webcam time with both of our families. Seeing our nieces in action was priceless, and it was a great time for Ethan and his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to see one another!

We had Christmas dinner with the family in town at John's cousin Derek's house. The food was incredible and we enjoyed spending the day with loved ones. There was a gift exchange where everyone gets to unwrap a gift or steal someone elses'. I opened a gorgeous photo album that Derek's wife, Roni, put together. It was full of family photos from September when everyone came to remember Ellie on her birthday. I am not a competitive person, but I wanted that album. I REALLY wanted it. Seriously... wanted it! After it was stolen from me, I made John steal it back. It all came down to Gayle (who is married to John's uncle Dick). She also wanted that album, but in a completely selfless and gracious move, she chose to unwrap a new gift, thus ending the game and sealing my victory! I will always treasure that album, not only for the memories it contains, but also for the love with which it was made by Roni, and given up by Gayle.

So... today begins the year 2009. I don't really make resolutions because I know that I am not disciplined enough to keep them. I don't want to set my new year up with an unattainable expectation (although I admire those who can). I'd rather not set it up with expectations of any kind. I think that the only thing I can be sure of for this new year is that there will be a measure of joy, sorrow and change. It is what every other year of my life has brought. And I know with absolute certainty that God will be with us every moment of every day in this new year. His love is rich and deep and full beyond measure. And it will be enough.

I have quoted this Happy New Year's card at least twice before on this blog, but this will be the first time I have ever used it at the beginning of a new year. Still, I feel as if it applies to our lives now as much as ever:

"I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: 'Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the known.' And he replied: 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to thee better than light and safer than a known way.'"