I spent a few hours outside in flipflops today, picking up and burning trash, looking at the gardens tucked in and the tiny spears of garlic that are not supposed to be up, but why not, because it’s fifty degrees? We feel about as confused as the forsythias we saw blooming. I made a bonfire and hauled accumulations of boxes out of the basement, then I organized the perpetually self-destructing corner that is our canned goods shelves and overflow pantry. There was a mouse hole nibbled in my unsweetened coconut shavings, indicating that I have still not won the battle I started when they moved in this fall. We bought a bunch of food grade buckets and are storing most of our bulk food supplies in them, but not everything fit, so out went the coconut.

This past week we worked on the basement staircase, which was a dismal looking hole with exposed studs, wires, sewer pipes, etc. Gabriel covered the mess with panelling that we had saved from house walls we removed, then I primed and painted the whole works. Have you ever painted the underside of a stairway? When I was about half-way done, I felt myself descending into a crawly, irritated person who wants to be ugly to anybody who happens by. “How dare you have such an easy day of doing whatever it is you are jolly doing while I crane my neck and paint the underside of this step?” I did two things. I asked Gabe to pick up pizza for supper, please, and I began to sing songs loudly. It worked, and I was happy to wash out the brushes before the pizzas were ready. No persons were harmed either.

We hung hooks on a rail along the top of the panelling, and now 10! coats can be hung there. There is a cubby for my mops and window squeegee, and I am happy. It doesn’t take much, I know.

We had sausages, sauerkraut and fried potatoes for supper. Happy new year to us and to you! The children declined the sauerkraut, but that’s their loss. Later tonight we’ll have our purple cow and popcorn while we play games.

At suppertime we were talking about the year that’s gone, just like that. Gabe and the children thought it went by very quickly, and I feel like it has been tattered since August. I love a new year. Always it feels like a fresh start, a hopeful beginning.

Even if the sky is falling, a new year lifts my mind to the verities that underpin all of my life. I read Isaiah 35 recently, subtitled “Hope for Restoration” in the NLT. In reading over it again, it is hard to choose just a segment. If you are feeling the tired hands and weak knees that life has a way of dealing out, this is the message for you.

“Say to those with fearful hearts,
    ‘Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
    He is coming to save you.’ ” (Is.35:4)

( I am loving this translation, by the way. It is a fresh way of reading the Word, catching things that I have read so often and missed because they were so familiar.)

For the first time in many years I did not send out a family letter before Christmas.

Here’s a quick overview:

January: Rain. Mud. School with the children every day. More rain. Vitamin D in megadoses.

February: Alex moves back to Bedford County and resumes his former job. We travel back and forth a few times for skiing and events, see his apartment, and visit friends.

March: Lots of snow that delights our hearts. We get to spend time with cousins before they move far away.

April: Sunshine in abundance, rare in this area they say. The children and the dog stay a week with my parents while Gabe and I help his brother’s family move to South Dakota. Gregory has two seizures, but absolutely no anomalies on any tests. We embark on a journey with epilepsy.

May: Extended family reunion in Ohio, a delightful time of connecting with the Schlabachs. We host my brother Ken’s family at our place, and the guys put metal on the shop roof. For fun they go walleye fishing in Erie and we fry fish and morel mushrooms for an epic meal. We take the children across the Allegheny Reservoir in canoes for a few blissful days of solitude in tents.

June: First time camping at Pymatuning State Park, a wonderful place. We decide we will make up for lost time with the camping this year. Gabe and Greg start the upstairs bathroom remodel and I garden my heart out. I also learn how to install vinyl plank flooring.

July: Addy turns ten; Gabe turns forty! We celebrate with lots of family here. The summer weather is perfection. We start the kitchen remodel, tear out the old cabinets and endlessly sand the bowling lanes we plan to use for countertops.

August: My grandma goes to Jesus, and I join my sister for a trip to Wisconsin for the funeral. Our school books come in the mail, and Addy dives in because she can’t wait, but the others all laugh at her. I continue my garden therapy, and get rewarded with beauty and deliciousness.

September: We officially start the school year. We seem to hit a sweet spot with home school, and we love it. The Peight family has a reunion at a cabin in Wattsburg. Lovely times together. Two of my Miller cousins marry girls from this area, and I get to host cousins overnight, serve tea to aunts and uncles.

October: Our twentieth anniversary. We can’t leave the children for long, but we take off for a two day jaunt to Niagara Falls, rent scooters, hike, sleep late, visit antique shops, go to Schlabach’s Nurseries. We still hold hands, laugh at each other’s jokes, and are glad we got married. We go camping at Blue Knob with friends while Gabe does ski patrol training. It is wonderful, even though it rains a lot. The kitchen is now all done and we love it!

November: The children and I go to Pittsburgh for a field trip and to pick up clay at Standard Ceramics. Two days later Addy and I return in an ambulance so she can have her appendix out. Gabe has work in Pittsburgh in November, so we ride home with him the next day, a little spent but glad all is well. We have a lovely Thanksgiving at my folks, with my sister and brother and their families. I sell pottery at a local vendor event for the first time and have a lot of fun doing it.

December: We go to Pittsburgh twice more for appointments with specialists. We are grateful for excellent health care, cautiously optimistic that Greg’s meds are right. It is a warm, wet month. We buy each other presents at thrift stores and antique shops, plus some new winter clothes, boots, gloves, etc. Maybe we won’t get to use them this year, because today we were out in flipflops.

That’s a quick flight over the past. I really don’t know how to summarize this year. A lot of it feels frustratingly ragged; nothing was neatly packaged. I have had to relinquish control more than ever before, and been so utterly drained of resources that I know without a doubt that anything good in the husk that is left is not me. That is not a bad place to be, although rather uncomfortable at times.

And there you have my understatement of the year. I am not a sweetly compliant child who doesn’t shout questions and beg God for mercy. He doesn’t always answer the questions, but every morning there is fresh mercy.

With that assurance we go into the new year. Blessings, all!

Thanksgiving, 2021

2 thoughts on “Processing

  1. I loved your “Christmas letter” as written here. The high points and low points- at least the ones that can be shared on the world wide web. There were quite a few things mentioned I did not know about. Best wishes on this new year of 2022- may it hold unexpected happiness and surprising joys for you.
    I had to laugh at the first part of this post about your New Year’s Eve activities. On New Year’s Day, we had an epic family basement cleaning. I thought having a sparkling clean, organized basement was a fabulous way to begin the year. 🙂 And we enjoyed purple cow and popcorn. Yep, we did.

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