Summer is here and hell is empty

Becky, Jeff, and Owen came to town last week to be with us as we heard the results of Dad’s PET scan. We’ve been waiting for this news for more than a month, and I’m happy to report that the cardiac sarcoma hasn’t grown nor spread to other parts of the body. There is still something there in the center of Dad’s heart, but that’s along the lines of what we expected. Dad will start taking a daily chemo pill to delay its regrowth. There are many options when it comes to chemo pills, so he may have to try several to find the one with the fewest side effects.

To say Dad is cancer-free would be untrue, but we’ve bought time, and that is a huge blessing and relief compared to the fear we carried in December, January, and February.

Dad’s daily struggle remains to be the side effects of the stroke (caused by the heart tumor). As much as we know about the human body and the resilience of a determined man, it is a mystery as to why he isn’t walking independently. But, that’s what a brain injury does: it messes with your whole system. Dad manages on his own during the day to a degree, and there is a steady rotation of OT and PT therapists coming to the house. He isn’t a quitter. He won’t give up.

His spirits are steady, too. My cousin Paul and his family joined us on Saturday for dinner on the deck, and he and Dad raised a glass to the positive test results. It was a good time being together.

We’ve taken Dad fishing a second time since our boat day in early May. I remembered there was a handicap-accessible fishing spot on the Little River, so last week we threw a few lines in, even though the water level was low and the chances of catching anything were slim. Any opportunity to get Dad in nature is worthwhile. You just have to STEER CLEAR when he’s casting because those unruly stroke hands are all over the place.

Chuck and I slipped out to fish early Sunday morning and stumbled upon a dock near us that is perfect for Dad. It’s secluded with plenty of room to spread out. Plus, it has little dips in the railing that should work well for him in the wheelchair.

So yes, it’s finally summer, and we’re enjoying every bit of good weather we can. Our magnolia tree has bloomed, and Chuck and I (with Salem) are relishing our low-humidity evenings on the front porch.

Finally, a few words about this week on the national front. If you know me in real life, then you know already know I feel. If we are close, then we likely share similar feelings of despair. George Floyd was murdered, and a longsuffering pot of boiling anger bubbled over (again). Unfortunately, I think the anxiety and the steady undercurrent of stress from months of isolation during COVID have only made us even less capable of managing ourselves in this chaos. As an ally, I am a patient listener and a deep thinker, but I’ve got to stop watching videos of cities, businesses, and people on fire. From now on, I’m censoring the articles I read and focusing on the positive things I can do to promote change. I’m not silent, but I’m not running my mouth either.

I’ll leave you with my favorite line from The Tempest:

I’m wrestling with a lot of conflicting thoughts right now, but, like Shakespeare’s Ferdinand, we have to call out evil when we see it, whether it be a devil’s knee on the neck of a dying man or the convenient delivery of bricks to an angry crowd.

Lord, your mercy.

Garden Serenity and a Family Update

Right now, in between our sluggish attempt to finish the school year and staying up-to-date on COVID-19 news, I’m sourcing most of my inner peace through gardening. I have a few experiments underway regarding placement and planters, but most of what I’m doing I’ve done before. It’s immensely gratifying to raise edible plants, even if I’m the only one doing most of the eating. (I live with a bunch of carnivores.)

Hanging strawberries
Japanese eggplant
Spinach
Oregano and Boxwood Basil
English Thyme
Basil

Not pictured is the zucchini, yellow squash, two types of tomatoes, cucumbers, and rosemary. There’ve been a couple of frosty nights when I’ve had to cover the baby plants, but we should be past those days now.

I’m also enjoying the flowering plants and trees around our house.

The magnolia won’t bloom until late May and early June, but I can see she’s getting ready!

So far, I’m successfully keeping the birds away with shiny pinwheels around the garden and luring them elsewhere with strategically-placed bird feeders.

I’ve been watching more videos from Gary Pilarchik (The Rusted Garden), who I’ve followed for years and recently grew his garden into a full-on homestead. He gives more information than my brain can retain, but I love seeing what he comes up with.

I’m also watching current and old episodes of Gardeners’ World with Monty Don through my BritBox subscription. English gardens are truly divine!

I’m spending the rest of my time working on the magazine and teaching online classes, running, reading, and staying in touch with my parents and Grandpa Thomas (whom I delivered groceries to yesterday). I miss my girlfriends terribly, but I am grateful for the technology that keeps us connected.

As for the rest of my family, Chuck is loving his new schedule of traveling some but being mostly at home. He hasn’t spent this much time at home in years, so he’s balancing relaxation with home projects. The yard has never looked better! He’s also gone turkey hunting and fishing, and we’re sharing the responsibility of cooking dinner more often (which I personally love). Sitting on the porch with him in the evenings is one of my favorite hobbies.

Jackson keeps in touch with his friends via text and FaceTime, and he’s taking “social distancing” walks with our neighbor, each keeping to opposite sides of the road. He leans toward introversion, so while he’s bored at times, he’s not suffering a slow death like Jeremy is.

Jeremy is marathon texting and gaming with friends and cousins like a champ. He is wholly uninterested in school, but that’s not new considering none of us is interested in school by late-April. We are all unmotivated. He misses soccer and seeing friends the most, but he’s gaining more driving time and getting plenty of rest.

We also celebrated Dad’s 68th birthday with a Zoom party! Sometimes technology is nice.

It looks like several southern states, including Tennessee, will begin reopening this week. I continue to be skeptical of this decision while also feeling badly for small businesses that are suffering. I guess we won’t know what happens until we try, but with Florida beaches reopening, along with salons, bowling alleys, and other places where people gather and touch the same things, I think the experiment will tell us how serious COVID-19 is this month or if we’ve truly flattened the curve enough to start reopening the world in phases.

We’ve been watching BBC News in the evening, and I recommend you all do the same. It’s easy to view the coronavirus through our American lens, but it’s affecting other parts of the world more drastically. It’s important that we all see the big picture.

My Safer-At-Home Begins and Thoughts on The Great Pause

First of all, Happy Birthday, Dad! It’s a milestone, and I’m so grateful for it 🙂

While most of the country started social distancing in March, I was still spending afternoons with Dad at the cancer institute. We had hours together each day amid other patients and their caregivers. By the end of his treatment, a nurse was assigned to the front door to take temperatures and hand out masks to everyone who came inside.

But now he’s finished! Mom and Dad rang the bell on April 7, and Dad went home from the rehab center that afternoon. We’ve entered another new normal, and when I think about the place from where we’ve come, I nearly get whiplash. First, they were stuck in California, then the rehab center, then the lockdown… It’s a testimony to how capable we really are when we put our heads down and keep moving forward, even when it feels impossible.

Now, he’s home! Medical equipment is set up in the house and my parents are adjusting as best they can. We’re in a holding pattern until the end of April and beginning of May when Dad will undergo scans and tests to determine if the treatment even worked. We have no idea what to expect, so we’re all just trying not to think about it.

Since the number of doctors’ appointments have dropped dramatically, that means I’m just now starting to stay home. I’ve gone to the grocery store, and I went for a run once at the Greenway (there were fewer people there than I expected), but for the most part, we’re staying home. I’m immensely grateful.

We finally got the garden started, so yes – I guess we had to go out and buy plants for it since I didn’t make the time or have the thought to start with seedlings. However, I was happy to see that the local co-op was limiting the number of people entering the store and corralling shoppers through specific doors.

Every time we’ve gone out in public, we’ve taken precautions. And every time we’ve interacted with others in the community, people were respectful and careful. Maybe these are the perks of small-town life. I know COVID-19 is here (to date, we’ve had three recorded deaths in our county), but I don’t think many people are being overtly careless. There will always be outliers, but I think most of us are doing our best.

Fortunately, we live out in the county where I can run on backroads and never interact with other people. With our gym temporarily closed, I’m back to running four and five days a week. I even signed up for a virtual race because – well, why not?

Just as I’m settling into my Safer-At-Home orders from the governor, Jeremy is struggling to manage the loss of a promising soccer season and the necessary friend time he craves as an extrovert. I’m not even poking fun! I know he’s miserable, and I wish I could fix it. The only high point of the last five weeks is the driving time we’ve afforded him.

Here he is driving me to pick up Mexican for dinner one night (to-go):

Chuck, Jackson, and I are homebodies and tend to prefer a quieter life, but Jeremy is dying a slow death from boredom and disconnection. We’ve involved the kids in all sorts of household projects and chores, but that doesn’t feed Jeremy’s need to be social, nor does it even remotely fix the problem of no soccer. Productivity funnels his energy, but it doesn’t fix the psychological need to feel connected to the world. I hate to think what the summer will be like for him if things don’t change for a while.


I don’t know who to credit for calling this time The Great Pause, but I think it’s spot-on. I know not everyone’s COVID crisis is the same. Mercifully, Chuck’s job is secure even though my freelance work will likely shift or potentially dry up. We are already homeschoolers, so our education plan for the boys is not hugely impacted. (It’s impacted, but not in a way that’s life-altering. Read more about that here.) I’m a decent cook and gardener, and Chuck is a hunter, so even food-wise, we have the means to figure out meals without a ton of outside help. In a nutshell, our COVID experience looks quite different from someone who lives in Midtown Manhattan or even downtown Knoxville. It looks different from households with two parents who work outside the home, or a single parent who works full time, or any other possible scenario in any American home. If boredom is our greatest pain, then we have nothing to complain about.

But I’m still using this time to think carefully about our lives, about how we spend our time, about what we spend our money on. I’ve even walked through each room in the house and considered the things we have – do we need this stuff? Could we downsize our belongings a little more? When this is all over, how do we want our lives to look? Crisis tends to make life come into focus for me, so I’m spending The Great Pause in deep thought.

We have four weeks of school left, but my ambition is thin. I’m already preparing final tests and getting my thoughts together on next year. However, whenever I see articles on the coronavirus, I keep reading words like “if we go back in August” and I cannot wrap my brain around The Great Pause going beyond the summer.

Truly, 2020, you’ve outdone yourself. You can stop now.