+

Covered bridges, old general stores and getting lost in the boonies

One way to keep your marriage fun and spontaneous is to suggest a restaurant for your anniversary dinner that’s in the middle of nowhere, has no WiFi or cell service and then forget your wallet.

My husband and I usually take our children with us or eat a family meal at home because our life is void of a reliable babysitter roster. We also usually eat somewhere in the Finger Lakes region, which is lovely, but this year I decided we should travel another direction and see what the wilds of Pennsylvania might offer us.

The location I chose (also unusual because I’ve never picked the restaurant for our anniversary) was near my parents, free babysitters who don’t usually travel to our house because of my mom’s various health issues, and a diner I had been reading about through their entertaining Facebook posts. It had been a busy week with mornings full of Vacation Bible School and afternoons of traveling to zoos 2- hours away or a nearby campground pool where we spent four hours jumping in the heated pool and we left for my parents after the final VBS and a birthday party for my husband’s great aunt.

“Are you telling her you’re leaving or are sneaking out and letting us deal with the tears?” My Dad asked, referring to our rather clingy 3-year old daughter, right before we walked out the door.

I told him “good luck” and we snuck out while my daughter was falling in love with a baby toad our son and her grandfather brought her earlier in the day. We headed out into what we call the boondocks and outsiders may call simply “the middle of nowhere” of Sullivan County, Pa., twisting and winding around roads with more curves in them than Shirley Temple’s hair. Trees and mountains shot up around us almost directly against the car window until we finally arrived in the little community of Forksville, in search of the covered bridge and nationally recognized Philadelphia cheesesteaks at the Forksville General Store. In our “neck of the woods” we don’t say “cheesesteak” without Philadelphia in front of it because in our minds no one else makes cheesesteaks.

I’m sure General Store owner, Big Mike, who runs the cash register himself, understands why we feel that way since he’s originally from Philadelphia himself and the crux of his menu is their famous original cheesesteak, a recipe he brought from Philly in 1999, and recognized as one of the top ten cheesesteaks by the USA Today.

IMG_6041I’ve been to Forksville a couple times in my life but it had been years and I almost forgot how to find the store and bridge, which is a bit humorous considering there are only about 20 houses in the village.

It wasn’t until we parked out front of the restaurant that I realized I’d left my wallet at home. This wouldn’t have been an issue except we have two checking accounts, one was empty because of bills, and we’d forgot to move money from one checking account (which acts as our savings) to the other and my husband only had the card for the account we had forgot to move money into. The card we needed was in my wallet and my wallet was 50 miles North at our house. Though we had a gift check from my parents in my purse, we had decided not to cash it on the way through the tiny town of Dushore (which used to be the only town in the county with a stoplight) because, hey, I had a card in my wallet. Only I didn’t. Because I didn’t even have a wallet with me.

IMG_6031

A quick inquiry inside of the man at the front counter, who we later learned was Big Mike, the owner, revealed there was no WiFi “around here” so transferring money from one account to another via our bank’s ap, wasn’t about to happen. Disappointed we almost decided to head back the 13 miles to semi-civilization where Dushore may not have had a Starbucks but it did at least have an ATM, but then I said “no! We will find a high spot somewhere in this cell service void world and transfer to that account.” This was our plan and I wasn’t about to diverge from it, no matter how high I had to hold the phone up over my head to get it.

IMG_6008When we passed a place that rented apartments and I saw three men outside, all looking at their phones, I knew they either had WiFi or were just sadly looking at their phones wishing they had WiFi. I urged my husband to pull in so we could hopefully steal off their WiFi and transfer the money. After a lot of lifting, tilting and shifting, mainly from my husband who was nervous the property manager was going to think we were there to rob the place, I was able to hook up to their open WiFi and — then get kicked off again and again and again until finally EUREKA! (Like the show because it was creepy cool) we struck gold and the connection worked.

Then it was back to the only tiny gas station in a 15 mile radius to utilize the ATM and hopefully get back to the diner before it’s kitchen closed. The only problem was I apparently moved the wrong amount of money but luckily this station also had open WiFi, which made me think maybe Big Mike should research more about the availability of WiFi in his small village a little better before he says it doesn’t exist there.

After all that drama, I had a sinking feeling we might get inside the diner and find out all the news of great food and atmosphere might have exaggerated, but no, the food did indeed live up to the hoopla. I should have known it would, since there was a photo of Big Mike with Dale Jr. on the wall in the front, next to a framed copy of a front page article on the restaurant in the Philadelphia Inquirer. If you’re reading this and you need a last name to go with Dale Jr.,

first, I shake my head at you in disappointment but second, I offer you the last name of Earnhardt. Seeing a photo of Dale with anyone in Sullivan County isn’t a total shock, really, since his sister is married to a Sullivan County native and they visit from time to time still.

The inside of the diner features a deli counter like you might see in a Philadelphia butcher and then a small dining room lit with fairy lights stretched across the ceiling and filled with tables and booths to sit about 50.

IMG_6018In the end, neither one of us actually had one of the famous Philly Cheesesteaks. Shame on us. The covered bridge hamburger sans the bun, with fries and topped with melted Mozerella cheese and the diner’s own slab bacon was my choice while the husband ordered the buffalo chicken cheesesteak. Our dinner ended in an embarrassing way when the owner came to our table with a complimentary Philadelphia style cheesecake, drizzled in plenty of chocolate, and announced to the entire dining room, with a little song, that it was our anniversary.

Only two people knew we were going to be there at that time so, of course, when we arrived back at my parents later we pretended the singing never happened, laying a trap for my mom, who I knew couldn’t resist asking “wait. The owner didn’t say anything else to you?” At that comment, the mysterious tattle teller was revealed and we knew we had her and my dad (who had actually made the call) to blame for our blushing but thank for an amazing slice of cheesecake.

IMG_6022

The store, built in 1841, has been revamped over the years, of course, but still sits directly next to the covered bridge, one of only a three original wooden covered bridges left in the county and now a historic landmark. The bridge is one lane only and when we sat under it after dinner my husband remarked that it reminded him of the bridge in Sleepy Hollow, which wasn’t very comforting to me.

Despite stepping in a hole the size of a woodchuck while we looked at the famous bridge, we survived the adventure and our children enjoyed roasting hot dogs and marshmallows with grandpa and shooting off fireworks my Mom shook her head at the cost of. Incidentally, if a man tells you to watch your step, realize men often skip details, details like “watch your step. There is a HOLE THE SIZE OF A WOODCHUCK IN FRONT OF YOU.”

Also, if you’re going to travel to the Forksville General Store bring your appetite and a camera but leave any devices that require WiFi at home.

DSC_5270

 

When you hit old age before you’re old

000000_DSC_3270-EditI wake up with a weird, buzzing, anxious feeling in my chest.

Everything is wrong, but nothing is wrong.

Everything is scary, but nothing is scary.

Everything is death around the corner, but death is not there.

Restless.

That’s what the ladies in an online support group I’m in call this feeling. I call it sheer terror.

This buzzing,crazy, I’m-going- to -crawl- out of -my -skin -feeling.

I don’t know what to call the internal buzz other than a feeling of doom and darkness, the feeling something bad is about to happen but I’ve forgotten what so I sit for a while each morning trying to remember what in my life is bad and terrifying. I can’t think of anything I should be anxious about so my brain conjures up something for me.

That twinge in my hand.

Is that numbness?

That pain in my back.

Could it be my heart?

Crap.

My cheek feels funny.

Is that numbness?

It’s probably a stroke.

That’s it.

It’s a stroke.

I’m having a heart attack, a stroke and a brain aneurysm all at once.

Before I can decide which ailment I’m dying from there is a kid in my room asking if he can go outside and ride his bike and a toddler hanging off my neck like I’m playground equipment, asking if she can have candy for breakfast. Now my heart is pounding and both my hands are numb and my right ear has filled up and I can’t seem to move my legs right. I’m not old enough to be old but here I am at 40 with all these terrifying symptoms and general feelings of oldness.

The anxiety is nothing new to me, it’s been there off and on for years. The intensity of the thoughts and the inability to slow them down, that’s slightly new, a bit of a sign that something is making this curse progressively worse the older I get.

Despite the horrors my brain keeps screaming at me, I’m certain what I’m dealing with is hormone induced and that learning to cope is what I’ll have to do, especially since the worst time for these thoughts and feelings are right before the cliche “Aunt Flow” stops by for a visit (like a nagging old lady). I’ve told myself I’m not alone in having these feelings and I know I’m not because I’ve read their stories.

000000__DSC6536

So many women with so many of the same thoughts and all of us terrified and being told it’s all in our head and we just need this pill or that surgery and we will be fine. And don’t forget the traditional lines that always begin with “Well…you’re a woman, so…”

We have become our own doctors, doing research, reading books and blogs and asking questions that many times don’t get answers. We have left behind doctors and “experts” because none of them have helped us and we have had to become our own expert.

And we are cutting out certain food and adding certain food and dropping supplements and adding supplements and living our lives by trial and error to see what makes us feel less like we are hanging by a thread that is about to snap at any moment.

We share our self-care with each other over coffee and via technology and together we find assurance that we aren’t “just women” and, more importantly, we aren’t alone.

+

10 on 10 for July: Summer fun always includes water

Summer fun in our family always includes some sort of water play, mainly for the kids. sometimes they don’t even have to get wet in the water to have fun.

We have debated over the years putting in our own pool, but there really isn’t space in our yard, nor do we really want to maintain one. Luckily we seem to have enough options for water play without it.

Even if it’s not a hot summer, we have to pull out a sprinkler or a small pool for the kids to play in and then we visit the pool at a local campground, and of course the one my dad put up for the kids (and maybe a little bit for himself) a few years ago.

Our neighbor was also so sweet last weekend to invite us to swim in her pool when the weather was so hot.

I’m surprised sometimes how much my 11-year old can enjoy even the smallest pool, still managing to find fun in the littlest amount of water.

How does your family cool off in the summer?

This post is part of a monthly blog circle where a group of photographers share ten photos from the previous month, on the tenth day of the month. I know a couple of the bloggers in my group are “down under” so for them it’s winter and they may be battling some colder temperatures and obnoxious rain. What’s the weather like where you are?

To continue the circle please click on Shea Klunder’s link and see what she featured for this month’s installment.
DSC_2697
DSC_2281-2DSC_2212DSC_3104DSC_2617-EditDSC_2886-EditDSC_3113DSC_3139DSC_2709-Edit

Packing a life away in boxes

Last month we started packing up my aunt’s life in boxes and filing the pieces of her life away.

When Aunt Dianne’s room had been completely cleaned out it looked as if she had never lived there or even been a part of our family and our lives for 67 years, more intimately for the last 8 years when she moved in with my parents.

DSC_1029DSC_7474_1In reality, of course, she was real, she existed and removing the material things she had accumulated doesn’t erase the impact she made in our lives.

“Let’s blow bubbles!” She announced one late summer afternoon, pulling bottles of bubble mix and wands out of a bag.

She had been living with my parents for a couple of years now and we were used to spontaneous ideas from her.

Her eyes lit up like a child’s on his or her birthday.

We all went out onto the porch and we blew bubbles out across the yard while my son, maybe 3 or 4 at the time, chased them and laughed. The bubbles glistened in the sun and Dianne “oohed” and “aahed” at the various sizes we were all able to make.

My Aunt Joan, Dianne’s sister had liked bubbles, and Dianne, or my mom, or maybe both, said we should blow them to remember Joan. Remembering special moments in a quirky or fun way was a knack Dianne had.

There were people in my aunt Dianne’s life who saw her as a throwaway person. Even before illness stole much of her life my aunt felt she didn’t matter much to the people who mattered most to her. She was often pushed aside, pushed away and backs were repeatedly turned on her. She was loud, brash, bold and mouthy at times, but not mean-spirited so it was always confusing to me why she was treated by some as the black sheep of the family.

For my brother and I, she was one of the best parts of our annual visits to North Carolina from our home in Pennsylvania, which we often made for Christmas. We spent much of our time in her bedroom at my grandparents, laughing at old movies or her off-color humor. She had an engaging and infectious personality and she was able to make anyone who met her feel like they’d known her for a lifetime.

We used to say she was the “fun aunt”. This isn’t to say our other aunt, mom’s other sister, wasn’t wonderful, because she certainly was, but she was sometimes a little more reserved than Dianne.

Dianne laughed loud, unashamedly made inappropriate comments and noises, and let us get away with things other relatives didn’t. Sometimes she laughed so hard she couldn’t breathe and turned bright red and when she laughed that hard we laughed even harder. She made us feel welcome, always wanted to give more than she received and reminded us of an excited kid, no matter how old she got. She loved old movies, crafts, cooking shows and gossip. And every Christmas we somehow came home with a photo of her rear while she bent over to pick up a gift or move something out of the way. A photo of Dianne’s butt became an unplanned holiday tradition, an inside family joke, much to her disgust.

She was a smoker and during family gatherings she chose to stand outside on the porch or locked herself in her room when she lit up. She spent much of her life trying not to bother others, maybe because she always felt she was in the way and unwanted.

Of course I realize that a person’s life isn’t defined by “things.”  A person’s life is defined by how well you love and are loved and she loved well and was loved well.  Dianne had a lot of love to give, but it was often rejected by those she tried to give it to.

IMG_4565My uncle Larry smelled good and made us all laugh. He was handsome and had a movie star smile and perfectly gelled hair. One Christmas I was sitting on his lap and the next Christmas he wasn’t there and no one wanted to talk about him. It wasn’t until much later I was told the truth about how he’d cheated on my aunt, demanded a divorce and she was pushed aside again.

She never remarried and never had children.

“I would have liked to have had children,” she told me one time, not long before she died, contemplating all her unreached dreams. Her gaze drifted off and she grew silent for a few moments and then she shrugged her shoulders.

“Oh well, I didn’t,” she said matter of fact because there wasn’t any point of dwelling on it when it couldn’t be changed.

She spent a lot of her life accepting what hadn’t been and couldn’t be, finding ways to make even the disappointments something to be weathered through and learned from.

A few years after Larry’s death, Dianne found a check in the mailbox at my parents, where she was now living. In his apparent rush to find something new and exciting, Larry had forgot to remove Dianne as a beneficiary on his social security and his checks were now being sent to his ex-wife, in addition to his widow. Those checks helped pay for her mounting medical bills, but also for a few nice things she hadn’t been able to have before. As a Christian I know I’m not supposed to subscribe to the idea of karma, but if it was real, this was definitely an example of it.

In his defense, Larry did, one time, shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer, try to apologize to Dianne. Unfortunately, the damage had been done and Dianne let the lies that she wasn’t worthy chip at more of her soul.

She and I shared more than one shouting match, usually caused by her unwavering stubbornness, which only got worse the further her medical conditions progressed. No matter how loud the shouting got, it wasn’t long before we were sharing “I love yous” and she was blowing a messy kiss on my cheek and calling me “Shug.” Especially in her later years, I didn’t want the last thing we said to each other to be in anger, so I’d push aside whatever she had said to offend me and be the first to offer apologies and a peace offering.

I saw her almost every weekend when our family visited my parents, but I still feel like I didn’t have enough time to tell her how special and important she was to our family, how she wasn’t defined by how she’d been treated much of her life – that it is God who says who we are, not men.

There were times she was told she was too loud, unworthy of the love and respect others were shown; that she was in the way and needed to keep herself away from others, but that was not how God saw her. The men in her life who treated her as less than could not and did not define her.

Her ex-husband, who stole her heart, then stole her faith in true love, did not define her worth.

Family who told her she wasn’t wanted or needed and ordered her to leave did not define her worth.

Her father, who emotionally and physically abused his children, later doing his best to make amends before he died, did not define her worth.

DSC_1631-Edit-2God saw HER.

He didn’t see her flaws or her failings or the negative others pointed out over and over.

He saw HER.

He saw all of her. He saw her as someone to be loved, to be enjoyed, to be honored because He had created her. He saw her as someone who cared, who reached out for love and to give love and gave it even when it was ignored.

I tried to tell her this many times but I could never seem to find the right words. I wanted to take away all the hurt others had levied at her. I wanted her to know she was loved because she was alive. On Christmas Day we showed her love because we wanted her to know she belonged. She belonged with us and nothing could change that.

Four days after Christmas she was gone. Her health had been declining for years but none of us could imagine life without her and had established a shield of self-protecting denial around ourselves. She’d survived two heart attacks, numerous diabetic crises and other health issues, surely she’d bounce back this time too.

I’m not one who often says “God have me a vision,” or “I had this vision from God,” but shortly after Dianne died I was driving to my parents and I saw in my mind an image of her falling in my parents’ dining room. She was wearing her usual plaid, button-up shirt over a T-shirt and her pajama bottoms and slippers, an outfit that had almost become a uniform for her since she was often too tired to even change her clothes. The oxygen tube she had been wearing for a few years now was under her nose. She was heavy, as she had been for years while she battled various health conditions.

I saw her slump forward and off the chair she had sat on to catch her breath at the bottom of the stairs, as my mom had described to me, but instead of falling to the floor, I saw arms catching her and I saw her slowly turn, with her face upward. She was almost see through, like a spirit, yet still solid and her old body was on the floor, face down on the carpet, beneath her. When her face turned upwards she was young, thin, no longer bloated or her skin a grayish-blue color. She looked like the photos I had seen of her from when she was young. Her expression changed slowly from confusion to a smile of recognition and she reached up and touched someone’s face. I wish I could picture in my mind’s eye what that face looked like, but I can’t. Was it Jesus? Or was it God? Somehow in my mind I have decided it was the father himself, God.

I don’t know what this vision means to others, who might say it was something I imagined to bring comfort to our grieving family but to me I feel it was God saying “I have her. She’s ok. And now she knows she was wanted all along.”

Three going on fifteen or why my new name is “mooooooom”

Little Miss, 3, 1/2 is back to calling me “mom” instead of “Mama” and saying it like an annoyed and spoiled teenager. “Oh Moooom.”

“Mooooom, watch me.”

“No, I don’t want that for dinner, Moooom.”

It’s seriously like she’s 3 1/2 going on 15 some days. And boy does she have my moodiness tendencies, much to my disappointment. One day last week she made a mess with water by pouring it all over the living room floor in what she said was an attempt to pour it on Zooma the Wonder Dog to stop her from pulling on her clothes.

I asked her to clean up said mess and she informed me, first, “No. I won’t. That’s not my job.”

Trust me, that little comment did not go over well with me.

DSC_2136-Edit

Her second excuse was: “I just got comfortable” as she lounged on the couch watching a cartoon.

I promptly turned off the cartoon and this resulted in long sighs as if she’d been mentally transported into the future as her 15-year old self. Somehow my demands that she clean up the mess she made by herself became a completely overblown toddler crisis and she ended up hiding behind our couch, in a small area near our front door where we keep our shoes.

She had thrown all the shoes out, was crying and in between sobs was saying “but it’s not my joooob! I don’t want to do it! I just want to be lazy and not clean it up!”

I know exactly where her demands to be lazy are coming from and when my 11-year old son got back from camp we had a serious talk about the days he declares “I don’t want to do anything today! It’s lazy… (insert whichever day of the week it is). Eventually the entire drama came down to her saying she would have cleaned up the water if only I had used the word, “please.”

She said all this while still nestled in the space behind the couch and when I added the “magic word” of please to the request a slightly muffled voice informed me: “Well, I can’t do it while I’m crying and I can’t stop crying!”

Eventually, the water did get cleaned up and the drama was abated with a cartoon and cuddle but the attitude bordering on full-blown teenage angst continued off and on throughout the day, with most of her responses coming at me in irritated and impatient tones.

I liked my mom’s suggestion when I told her this story, which was that if she says again “it’s not my job” I turn the tables on her by refusing to do various tasks she would like done and saying flippantly “Sorry. It’s not my job.” Mom and I were fairly certain this effort will one day backfire on me, however, since I am a mom and it actually is my “job” to take care of my kids and Little Miss will most likely inform me of that. one day.

DSC_2676

 

All I wanted was some clean underwear

“I want to keep playing in the pool!”

She was standing in her wet bathing suit in the laundry room dripping all over the floor and I was digging in the unfolded laundry wishing I was organized. I needed underwear. Why was there never any clean underwear for me? Piles of clean underwear for my husband my son and even my 3-year old daughter but none for me.

“I just wanted to swim more!” She was working her tearful voice up to a wail and it was grating on my already frayed nerves. Also, she wasn’t swimming, anyhow. It was a plastic kids pool and she could really only splash in it.

“You need a nap,” I told her.

“I don’t need a nap!” she was almost at full wail pitch.

I gave up on the underwear and grabbed a pair of stretchy pants, my normal outfit. I was still sitting with her during naps which meant for almost four years I had been immobile for at least an hour every single day of the week. This was both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because I had an excuse to sit and write blog posts, read a book, or (almost never) take a nap myself. A curse because it often meant dinner was late and laundry was left unfolded and afternoon appointments couldn’t be made or kept.

“I don’t want those!” She yelled and threw the pants I held out to her on the floor.

DSC_2563-EditI handed her a pair of underwear and in five minutes she was sitting on my lap wearing only them and listening to the only thing she’ll listen to when it’s time to sleep, Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Hours of the Morning, one of the most depressing albums I have ever heard. Based on this album alone the man needed a therapist and one less mistress. I started playing it at nap time over a year ago because I found it soothing and relaxing. I didn’t listen closely to the lyrics until my 11-year old son said one night, “This album is severely depressing and I’m going to need therapy just listening to it. I don’t care if she left him. He can scratch his own back. Suck it up, dude.”

Now after listening to it at least twice a day for seven days a week for over a year I’m concerned my daughter might end up telling her future therapist how I emotionally abused her by repeatedly allowing her to listen to an album where a man crooned : “What good is the scheming, the planning and dreaming that comes with each new love affair. The dreams that we cherish, so often might perish and leaves you with castles in air. When you’re alone, who cares for starlit skies. When you’re alone, the magic moonlight dies. At break of dawn, there is no sunrise. When your lover has gone”

In my defense, I’ve offered her a variety of alternatives, including Dean Martin’s “Sleep Warm” and anything by Diana Krall, who could sing a list of names and still knock me out. She’s rejected them all, stating firmly “I want Frank.” So she gets Frank because I’ll do almost anything for a little break to be able to think about something other than what food might be asked for next that we don’t have or what activity can be attended happening in five minutes more than an hour from our house.

It isn’t that I don’t adore being a stay-at-home mom but after awhile being the personal chef and travel planner for the human beings I birthed from my body grates on me like Cyndi Lauper’s voice. I would add personal maid to that list but I’m a horrible housekeeper. My husband is the housekeeper and he sees a puppy pee puddle from six feet away while I could walk right by it and never know it was there because my mind is contemplating dinner, the curriculum for my son’s upcoming year of homeschooling, my next blog post, that rash on my daughter’s arm, my parents health, the state of politics in our nation today and the meaning of life – all at the same time.

 

I don’t do simple and I don’t think simple either. I wish I didn’t have the brain the speed of The Flash chasing down The Reverse Flash in the Speed Force but I do and I may need the Black Flash to slow me down up there a little. If you aren’t grasping these comic book laced references, I apologize. I live in a house that runs on the creative power of Marvel and DC (though mainly Marvel). If the reference to Marvel and DC threw you for a loop too then you’ll have to make Google your friend.

Working from home with a husband that works two jobs and two fairly dependent children is almost impossible but not completely impossible. Blog posts are written in small blocks of time carved out while someone is sleeping or watching a cartoon or when the bathroom door is locked with a tiny little creature on the other side insisting she HAS TO PEE RIGHT NOW!!! even though there is another bathroom upstairs.

Photos are edited in between getting up and down to start or finish dinner or get someone (who is old enough to feed themselves already! Good grief! ) a drink, a snack, or a towel to wipe off the water their sister just spilled on them again. Pitches for stories are sent on a whim the moment the kids wake up and stagger down the stairs to look for daddy and ask to be fed while eyes are still trying to come unglued and brains woke up.

DSC_2676

When I worked full time at the newspaper and then came home to take care of our son I thought that was tough and longed for the relaxing days where I could stay-at-home and set my own schedule. Then I got there, or here, just where I wanted to be and I realized that being a parent is difficult whether you’re working outside the home or in it.

When you are a parent, more days than not you are going to find yourself without any clean underwear.

You’re going to be asked questions you don’t have the answer to. You’re going to wonder why you know so much about Comic Books and so little about make-up. You’re going to wonder why your daily outfit usually consists of some sort of soft pants a t-shirt with a juice stain in the middle of it. You’re going to wonder why your 3-year old loves a depressing Frank Sinatra album so much.

And if you are very lucky, you’re also going to wonder how your mind hasn’t completely melted within your head from the overload of love you have for your life, even when it isn’t as glamorous as you once imagined it would be.

If you’re very, very lucky you’ll also find a pair of clean underwear.

DSC_2802-Edit-2

+

The day God told me, in different ways, I needed to create a war room

One day last month God told me (in so many ways and with various hints) that I needed to go to my war room and pray about all that has been leaving me stressed and tied up in knots inside. The problem was, I didn’t have a war room. I’d never established one.

For anyone asking, “what in the world is a ‘war room’?”, in modern Christian terms a war room is a small, quiet place without distractions, reserved to meet with God about specific issues you are facing in your life.

In all honesty, God has been laying this whole “war room” idea on my heart for months, after I watched the movie War Room, but I’ve been ignoring the prodding because this Mom can’t even use the bathroom alone most nights, let alone lock myself in a closet to pray.

000016_DSC_0854-(1)

Yet there I was one day, anxious about so many things and scrolling through Instagram, when I should have been praying, and two posts hit me full in the face. They were both written by women who were also struggling with anxiety. One wrote about withdrawing into her war room during the difficult times.

A half an hour later, this time while I was avoiding life by wasting time on Facebook, the word was in front of me again in a post by blogger, Roslind Jukic. 

“When you find yourself soul-weary, the first place you need to go is to your war room,” Roslind wrote. “And here’s why: Satan will take advantage of your weariness. He will whisper lies to your heart. He has already been creating a strategy for your demise. He wants to use your weariness for his purpose, to steal your joy, to rob you of your purpose, and to destroy your testimony. When you are weary, you need to get in your war room and begin developing a strategy against the enemy….a war plan for victory!”

So I made a war room in my bedroom closet. I cleaned it out (tossed clothes and stuffed animals to one side), taped a piece of paper with some pressing issues written on it on the wall and sat in there to pray.

My 11-year old son, who I had practically forced to watch War Room with me one day, found me there and looked bewildered for a moment but then had a moment of realization and said “You’re making a war room aren’t you?” And then he crawled inside with me and I held him for a few moments before he left to make sure his sister wasn’t pulling knives out of drawers to cut open her yogurt tubes.

I came out of my bedroom closet ten minutes later having difficulty breathing because of all the dust in there, but I did it! I had established a war room.

“We pray because our own solutions don’t work and because prayer deploys, activates, and fortifies us against the attacks of the enemy. We pray because we’re serious about taking back the ground he has sought to take from us.”
― Priscilla Shirer

Now I just have to be more consistent about going in it and actually praying about issues facing our family instead of worrying about them.

Do you have your own war room? Or have you thought about creating one? If you have one, how has it helped you and how do you keep yourself consistent in entering it during the tough and stressful moments of life?

+

The state of dairy farming in Northeast Pennsylvania: tangible struggles, palpable heartache and immeasurable joy

DSC_1669Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

This post is part of a continuing project about the changes in farming in America. The project is both a photo series and a blog series. For more about this series please visit my page about the project, or see the other posts, Tell Me More About: Mark Bradly, Dairy Farmer and The Farm.


Even though he was using a smile to greet his visitors when he came out from the back of the barn his face showed the stress of the morning.

“Is it broken again?” his sister Melissa asked and he nodded, and shrugged.

It wasn’t anything new. Equipment had been breaking down at the Walrath family’s dairy farm for months. Scott, owner and main operator of the farm can’t seem to keep up. He is the farms mechanic, vet, accountant, milks the cows, cleans the barn and plows and plants the fields.

Scott’s shoulders dipped slightly, revealing much more than physical exhaustion.

Days off don’t exist when you’re running a family farm and most people would have given up years ago based on the pay alone.

Melissa and Scott Walrath are no strangers to the challenges farming brings. They grew up on the farm, with their father David, now retired, and their mother Gail, who passed away a few years ago.

The main farm, called Snowcrest Farm, started as one barn and several silos and has now been extended to include David’s property, Melissa and her husband Wayne’s  property, and Scott and his wife Lydia’s property, located in succession about a mile apart from each other on Ballentine Road in East Smithfield.  All together, the three farms, all under the umbrella name of Scowcrest, includes 542 acres and 265 head of cattle on the three properties. Out of the 265 cows, 120 are milking cows and are milked twice a day.

DSC_9036DSC_9040Scott and Melissa have been fighting to keep the family tradition alive their entire lives and they aren’t ready to give up, even though many others would have. The farm was started in 1951 with Scott and Melissa’s grandfather Albert Walrath, who was a full-time school teacher and part time farmer. David took the farm over after graduating from SRU and the farm became Snowcrest Farm in 1973 when he married Gail.

The piece of equipment that broke this day is used to feed the cows their silage of corn and hay. The feeder has been breaking down a lot lately, Melissa says. In fact, a lot of equipment has.

The siblings looked at each other thoughtfully for a few moments, both too worn to even suggest a remedy. Finally Melissa asked if Scott has called someone who has helped in the past. He said he did and the man  would stop by the farm at some point that day. In most cases it’s Scott who fixes the farm equipment, but sometimes extra help is needed.

DSC_8896

Farmer Scott Walrath works on farm equipment at Snowcrest Family Farms, which his family has owned and operated since 1951.

“We are stupid – Stupidly in love with farming,” Scott says with a tired grin when asked why he continues to work the farm even as the challenges grow each day. “Pride, passion, stubbornness and stupidity all play a part of why I am still farming. I have pride in my craft and ability to still make this life work even with everything working against me. I have passion for my animals and my crops.”

“Getting a heifer calf, a litter of pigs, watching my corn come up, or even at 11 at night after being up for 20 hours and stacking the last round bale in the shed before rain comes,” he continues. “The smile on my face should say it all. I have stubbornness to make this life style work for my family as well as my community. I want my family to be able to grow up on this farm and I want my community to be able to drive by and see my farm prosper. Nothing makes me sadder than to see fields that used to be in production and growing wonderful crops turn into weeds because there is no one left to tend to them.”

Scott knows other farmers are giving up, selling, and in worst cases, ending their lives from all the pressure.

“I don’t know what else I’d want to do. There is nothing else I’d want to do,” he says.
“I want to be able to provide for my family doing this but right now I’ve got Kelsey (a young girl from the local Future Farmers of America) I’ve got two other high school boys who will be here later. I don’t have any full time help. It’s me and Melissa is working herself to the bone helping out right now.”

Ten years ago the Walraths had two full time helpers, both parents and Scott.

“That was a lot of help and it still seemed like a lot of work,” Scott says.

Now Scott does the job of four people and recently when a back injury flared up the tasks on the farm fell to the rest of the family. Melissa and Wayne also work full time as elementary teachers in the Troy Area School District.

In addition to the cows, Scott houses pigs, a horse, goats, chickens and a turkey in his recently rebuilt barn at the top of the hill. The barn located at the house, where he lives with his three children and Lydia burned two years ago and took 100 animals with it. All six of the breeding pigs, all of which had just had piglets, and the family dog also died.

Although we got insurance money it was not enough for the rebuilding, so we had to take out a loan“, Melissa says. “When we tried rebuilding the first time the barn collapsed and we had to start all over for the second time. Luckily it was summer by then and cattle could be in the pasture because we were running out of room without the barn.  I think rebuilding was more of a new beginning. Scott designed the barn just the way he wanted it.”

The new barn became a more friendly place for a more modern farm. It’s available for tours by local 4-H groups or local schools and it’s also a great location for meetings and the small office even provides a place for Scott to crash when his pigs are in labor and he needs to keep an eye on mom.

Scott appreciates those who encourage people to go out and buy a gallon of milk or a block of cheese to support the dairy farmer but in the long run that won’t help much, he feels. The people who are actually benefiting from the sale of dairy are the middle men or larger corporations. The profit isn’t trickling down to the farmer.

“The biggest challenges in farming today are the big farms pushing out the little farms,” he says. “I call it the Walmart effect. There used to be a lot of little mom and pop stores especially here in the Valley. Now you go to Walmart. Same in farming. There are more 1,000-40,000 cow farms and they can make more milk, cheaper that we can at 100 cows or less.”

Dairy farming is not regulated in the United States and that lack of regulation means the people doing the hardest work are getting the least benefit, Scott feels.

DSC_9020“We are at the bottom of the food chain so we don’t get it. It’s always the middle man,” he said. “So if you want to go out and buy a gallon of milk I’m sure they appreciate it but it’s not helping me.”

Nothing is helping at this point, he said.

“As far as I am concerned, the dairy industry is not regulated – like, for example, Bill Gates goes out with Microsoft, they let him get so big but they don’t let him corner the market you know..he’s got to sell off or whatever,” Scott said. “The Dairy Farmers of America controls 80 percent of the farms and a couple other small farms are co-ops but Maryland and Virginia right now they are losing money because they’ve got too much milk. They’re trying to sell it at lower costs but then they don’t have operating capital. I was forced last October to sign with DFA or [I] don’t have a market. I didn’t have a choice.  So they say ‘you want to sell all your cows and your livelihood or do you want to join with the DFA?'”

DSC_8973

Scott gets some help on the farm from members of the Athens Area Future Farmers of America and his nephew, Simon. 

DSC_8980Scott credits the Athens Area High School Future Farmers of America with helping to not only keep area farms in the area running but keeping young people interested and up to date on the changing face of farming. In addition to learning about farming, these students are also learning a work ethic that has already shown to benefit them in future jobs. When a potential employer looks at a resume and reads that a young person has worked on a farm, they know they are a hard worker, Scott said.

“Every one of the kids that have used me as a reference has been hired at the post high school job choice,” he said.

“Pride, passion, stubbornness and stupidity all play a part of why I am still farming. I have pride in my craft and ability to still make this life work even with everything working against me. I have passion for my animals and my crops.”
– Scott Walrath, farmer, East Smithfield, Pa.

Scott doesn’t want to give up on farming. He wants his children to grow up the same way he did – getting much of their food from their backyard, climbing tress and milking cows and splashing through the mud and catching fireflies in the summer.

“I want to raise my kids here ,” he said, as he turns his tractor into an empty field to spread manure and prepare the soil for planing later in the season. “The joys of raising a family on the farm is the closeness we have. The kids can ride in the tractor with me, go to the barn with me and when there is hay or other work to be done there is nothing like all of us pitching in and getting the job done, even if it’s until the middle of the night.”

His children, like many children who grow up on a farm, will always know the value of a dollar and what hard work really is, he said.

DSC_8965-2“They get to experience so many of God’s wonders from the birth of the animals, to animal husbandry, to building things, to growing our own food,” Scott said. “My kids never say that they are bored and don’t need video games to keep them entertained. One of the biggest things I  teach them is common sense, which is very lacking in society today.”

Scott knows continuing to farm doesn’t look like the wisest choice to some.

“Stupidity also plays a role – a big role,” he says about his determination to continue the farm. “My body is breaking down early, I rarely get time off, and my stress level is at an all time high. I am sure a 40 hour a week job would be better for my sanity and my health, but I am not made that way. I don’t think I would know what to do with myself if I didn’t have something to pour my mind, body and soul into.”

DSC_1623DSC_1638DSC_1657DSC_8894DSC_8956DSC_8995DSC_8899DSC_8954DSC_8990DSC_9028DSC_8963DSC_1678

+

Why I didn’t want to tell my son about the death of Anthony Bourdain

Originally written for another publication who rejected it because they said it had been published before (it hadn’t) and wasn’t timely (it is). Hmmm…Anyhow…figured I’d just publish it on my own blog instead.

______

I didn’t even know him.

Not really.

But yet it was almost like losing a close friend.

BN-XZ106_BOURDA_16RH_20180323105943

Photo by the Wall Street Journal digital artwork by Lisa R. Howeler

I’d had a crappy night of sleep with two sick kids and I had reached for my phone to see what time it was. There it is was on my screen- a note from my sister in law expressing shock to the obituary story she had attached.

“No. It isn’t possible.”

I thought this over and over in my bleary-eyed, not fully awake state.

The man who had taken me around the world so many times without me even having to leave my house was dead. I typed out the word “nooo!” to my sister-in-law, as if that word would stop it from being true.

I felt numb and sick to my stomach. It must have been his heart, I thought.

Or something he ate.

He was always eating weird things and something finally got him. Or a car accident or his plane went down while they were traveling to somewhere exotic.

My heart sank when I clicked the link. I was in shock when I read the words.

Suicide?!

Suicide?

Suicide.

It’s like the word wouldn’t even make sense to me.

Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide.

I follow him on social media and recently I had noticed he was looking thin and tired but he travels a lot so I figured he was exhausted. It had been a stressful couple of years. A whirlwind break-up followed by a whirlwind romance and then all that traveling.

Now all that traveling I loved to watch him do was over and the only trip he’d most likely be making was a one way flight back to the states to be buried.

Suicide.

I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the horror of it all and the horror for Eric Ripert, his best friend, to find him that way. And his daughter. Oh my heart ached and my head felt funny at the thought of her being told.

I’ve never been a traveler – partially because of finances and partially because I’ve lived a life of fear. Tony made me want to live a life of courage in my small world and if I couldn’t go to all those fancy places just yet I could at least watch him visit them. My son learned about much of the world from a very young age while his dad and I traveled with Tony.

We let him watch episodes we probably shouldn’t have at 4 and 5 and he was introduced to death on an episode where a pig was slaughtered. Granted, this was the age when No Reservations was already streaming so we could fast forward the scene, but my kid is wise beyond his years and he knew what was happening despite our attempts to shield him.

We haven’t been able to shield him much these last couple years – not from heartache and anxiety and death. First the big loss was our dog of 14 years, the dog that had always been his. Then it was a 17 year old cat, again there all his 11 years. Then the worst blow came four days after Christmas this year when he lost his great aunt, who had lived with his grandparents since he was four. His head was spinning. School pressure was mounting. Panic attacks were becoming the norm.

We’ve walked through it with him with every loss, every question, every tear and every crying storm. All the advice says you have to tell your child directly and bluntly about the person who has died so they don’t feel they are being lied to or misled.

When I told my son about his great aunt I was apparently too blunt. I was so nervous because I’d never had to tell him something so hard – not even the death of his dog could compare to this. I blurted out “dianne died.”

Died. I used the word died because all the articles I found on Google told me to. “Don’t use the words ‘passed on’ or ‘went to a better place,’” the proverbial “they” said. “It needs to be clear to the child the person is dead and never coming back.”

I was so numb from the sudden loss I really didn’t think it through because that advice was for young people, not 11-year olds who clearly know the meaning of the word dead but would also understand the term passed away would mean the same thing.

He clearly knows what dead is and here I was that morning knowing I needed to rip the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death off like a band-aid but, ugh, crap and darn it all to hell, I simply didn’t want to. Especially because I had to add the word “suicide” to the ripping.

“For a little while today I’ll shelter him,” I told myself. “We don’t have cable so he won’t hear it there.”

And all the traditional advice says the news of death must come from someone the child loves so I knew I couldn’t shelter him for long.

The ripping started with the lifting of the edge and then just one fast, hard pull. When I told him he said “oh that’s sad,” but he didn’t take it as hard as I thought. He did, however, express the same denial I did when I told him they thought he’d taken his own life.

“That’s just not possible,” he said. “I don’t believe that part of the story.”

We both agreed it wasn’t possible and we comforted ourselves in our denial.