Monday, January 30, 2012

A Quiver Full

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.... (Psalm 127:4-5)
On January10, my beloved grandmother, Verna Ellen Shank Bushong, passed away at the age of 94. She spent her last days in her own home surrounded by all her children. We were thankful that my mom was able to make it up to Indiana to share that time of closeness with the family. (Thank you, thank you to my cousin Darlene for not only giving Mom and Dad buddy passes, but also traveling up with them.)
Because Grandma required 24-hour care, it would have been easier to let her stay in the nursing home, but Aunt Cindi suggested that all her children could care for her at home. And that's what they did, for hours and hours, days and days. They did everything for her, even the unpleasant things. When Grandma apologized, my mom told her, "It is an honor to take care of you." I cried when I heard all of this. I pray I can learn from their example and serve so humbly if the need arises.
I flew up with all three of my sisters (Melody, Amy, Emily), Emily's baby Charlie, and Melody's son Stephen. We all stayed with my Aunt Sue and Uncle Jeff, which is always a treat. My favorite part of our stay was visiting in the hot tub late at night with my sisters and my aunt, and even praying together in the hot tub--a first for all of us, I think.

At the funeral on Saturday, several of the kids and grandkids spoke. We spoke of Grandma's love, strength, and enduring faith... and her cinnamon rolls (and peanut butter pie and milkshakes and chicken pot pie, and many other favorites). The thing about Grandma was that she knew everyone's favorite meal or dessert, and she always made it a point to serve it to us when we visited.

I didn't mention this when I spoke, but do you know what I miss most about Grandma right now? Her soft, warm hands. I loved to hold her hand.

Giant Family!
The best part of the eulogies was the poem that my cousin Jolinda read, in which she listed the name of every child, grandchild, great grandchild, and great-great grandchild, along with each of the inlaws. It was staggering to ponder how such a GIGANTIC family could come from just one young couple.

Children - Sue, Cindi, Judy; Mary, Charlie, Dolores (My Mom)

Grandchildren - 21 of 27

Great Grandchildren - 28 of 47

Two of the 14 Great -Greats

More Great-Greats
Lots and Lots of Us

I remember on one of my first visits up to see my inlaws in Vancouver, probably before they were inlaws, I tried to estimate how many grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc., were in the Bushong clan. I think I might have said 75. They thought I was exagerrating. But I underestimated! Counting children, the total number of their progeny was 94. Ninety-four! Can you imagine?

Her Favorite Hymns
I enjoyed singing Grandma's favorite hymns, not usually my style, but absolutely perfect for the occasion. The best was Face to Face; I wasn't the only one sniffling as we pictured Grandma up there in heaven, seeing Jesus face to face at last. What made the songs even better was the fact that my sister Melody was the piano player. She'd been practicing for days on Aunt Sue's very badly tuned antique piano, enduring a fair bit of ribbing over her dubious chords. But she sounded like a pro at the funeral. I know it would have meant so much to Grandma.

Thankfully I haven't had much experience with funeral sermons, but Grandma's was definitely the best I'd heard. I knew that the minister had visited her frequently over the last six months and that he came daily at the end. I also knew that his prayers had been a comfort to Grandma and her children. So it meant a lot to me to know that when he spoke warmly of her, it was from his own experience. He talked about her favorite verse and related that passage of scripture to her life. 

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Phlippians 4:12-13)
To illustrate those times of plenty and times of want, he shared stories from her autobiography, Our Journey Through Life. My favorite was the story of how she once told Grandpa off in their grocery store. At the time, she was taking care of two small children and was still nursing her youngest, Aunt Cindi. Grandpa wanted her to help out at the counter, but she was too busy.

"Your work can wait," Grandpa said.

Grandma stormed into the store and tore into him. "When you married me, you didn't want just a wife, you wanted a housekeeper and a work horse and a milk cow."

Imagine her humiliation when she realized they were not alone in the store! When she had finished her tirade, their friend Royal stepped out from behind a counter with a grin on his face. "Now run through that again," he said. "I want to hear just how that was so I can remember it."

"Oh, shut up!" Grandma said.

I half hoped Pastor Stan might tell the story of how they accidentally ended up in a nudist camp, but I guess that was too racy for a funeral. You'll have to buy the book to read that one.

Another highlight was the slide show that my cousin Callie compiled from hundreds of pictures that the family had emailed. I'm so thankful  for all her hard work and expertise. There were photos of all our families as well as photos of Grandma and Grandpa over the decades. Over the three-hour viewing period on Friday, I sat next to various relatives watching bits and snatches of the Bushong love story. What struck me most was our strong genes. The family resemblance spans multiple generations. 
Young Verna - Looks SO Much Like My Mom!

Here She Looks a Lot Like My Brother's Daughter Mindy

So Handsome! Here Grandpa Looks Like My Cousins Matt and Wes

Wedding Photo
They Sat Painfully Still While Siblings Tried to Make Them Laugh

Love This One of Grandma!
That's Mom (Who Looks a Lot Like My Sister Emily) and Aunt Judy

Laid to Rest
At the graveside ceremony, I wanted to solemnly contemplate the beauty and sorrow of "ashes to ashes, dust to dust." As it turned out, all I could think of was trying to stay warm in the snow which Pastor Stan said Grandma surely must have ordered. (I never knew she liked the snow.)

I had no right to complain; I was one of the lucky ones who managed to crowd into the tent. We were crammed in like circus clowns in a Volkswagen, but that was okay. I enjoyed both the togetherness and the body heat.

A Non-Stop Eating Fest
For five straight days, we gathered with my delightfully, unreasonably gigantic family and gorged ourselves on food and conversation. I particularly enjoyed getting to know some of my younger cousins better, such as the aforementioned Callie (Charlie's daughter).

On our last evening in Indiana, we went to Dad's sister Carol's house for some of her famous homemade ice cream and hot fudge. While we were there, I enjoyed a genteel political debate with Aunt Carol, my brother Rick, and my cousins RenĂ© and Jenny. It was getting late, and we had to cut it off just when it was getting interesting. But I did learn that Aunt Carol shares many of my views. I'll have to talk with her some more about that sometime.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable celebration of the life of Verna Ellen Bushong. May her heritage live on forever.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Odds and Ends

I have lots to tell you about a trip to Indiana last week, but first I need to post some more Vancouver pictures and tell you a couple stories I've been saving up...
We met our newest niece, Mila, on Christmas day:

Bill's sister Lisa rented a skating rink on New Year's Eve for a game of ringette, which is similar to hockey.
Lisa, Shortly Before Bill "Shoved Her into the Boards"

Lisa's Daughter Katie, in her Ringette Gear
Daddy Took Allyson for a Spin or Two

Nana Enjoyed Snuggling Little Mila

Ethan Scored a Couple Goals - I Had No Idea He Could Skate So Well!
Emily Who?
Katie got a cake pop maker for Christmas, and we decided to try it out on New Year's Eve.

"This isn't so bad at all!" I commented, though Lisa was doing all the work. (We shooed the girls out of the kitchen and told them they could help dip the balls once they were made.) It was so simple compared to how my sister Emily makes her amazing cake balls--bake a cake, swirl it with icing, scoop out the balls, freeze them, dip in chocolate.

We didn't bother to read the directions when we melted the chocolates on a double boiler, and they ended up really globby. But there was no way we were throwing out all that chocolate. Lisa stirred in some milk or cream to thin it out, and we laboriously dipped the cake balls in the lumpy coating.

I had a new respect for Emily when I saw the contrast between her work and ours:

 But our second batch, which we melted in the microwave, came out much better.

"Emily who?" said Lisa.

 When the girls asked to help dip the third batch, we shooed them out again. "You can help decorate," Lisa promised.

They put on loads of sparkles and crushed peppermints.

They were even more delicious than they looked. Yum! But Bill laughed at how we spent two or three hours on them. Lisa said the infomercial never mentioned anything about three hours. Time well spent, if you ask me. I personally enjoyed about 10 of them (over the course of days).

Walk on the Beach
On our last full day in Vancouver, we went to White Rock Beach around sunset. Gorgeous!
Bill's Brother Trevor, Nephew James, Niece Katie, Bill, Allyson

Allyson Was So Beautiful in this Purple Coat - Took My Breath Away
And in Bread Machine News...
I finally baked a perfect gluten-free loaf! Remember all those problems I had trying to bake a loaf by hand? Well my beloved new bread machine makes it ridiculously easy. I just ground my brown rice and dumped it all in. Yum!

Too Bad I Still Haven't Mastered Slicing Bread
Howdy, Pardner!
Allyson had Western Day in Kindergarten today. She was so excited as she gathered up her costume over the last few days.

It was a mighty fine day!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Serendipities Everywhere

About a year ago, I wrote about serendipities, little signs that God loves us. I've been more in tune to those ever since I started reading One Thousand Gifts, which I finished yesterday in the library parking lot before turning it in nine days late (because there was a request on it which meant I couldn't recheck).

Anyway, this weekend has been chock-full of serendipities, and my gratitude journal is getting fuller. (I've started writing them down each evening now instead of just keeping a mental list.) Here are three--no, four--of the things God did to let me know He's crazy about me....

Estella and the Little Artist
It started on Friday afternoon, when Allyson and I visited Jackee at the nursing home. On our previous visit we'd met a woman named Estella, who loves cardinals. I'd planned to look her up, but there was no one at the nurses' station and she wasn't sitting in the lobby where we'd seen her the first time. Just as I turned to look for someone to ask, I spotted Estella literally right at my elbow.

I smiled in delight, mainly because I couldn't believe I recognized her after such a brief meeting over two weeks ago. I'm usually pretty bad with both names and faces. "You're Estella, aren't you?" I asked.

She smiled blankly. "Yes, I am."

"Well, we were just looking for you. We met you a couple of weeks ago, and we were hoping to visit with you again. And here you are."

Although it seemed she had forgotten us, we were soon chatting like old friends. She and Allyson particularly enjoyed exchanging observations about birds.

We left with a promise of a cardinal drawing from Allyson, and on our way out we met two more ladies: Diane and Shirley. Allyson soon determined their favorite animals, elephants and weinie dogs; now she had two more commissions for her artwork.

Wie Heissen Sie?
The next serendipity came on Saturday afternoon, when we took Allyson to her first major league hockey game. Bill had received one free ticket from his amateur hockey league, and was able to procure two more so we could come along. That part's not the serendipity. Actually, I wasn't really in the mood to go sit in the cold arena because I was in the middle of a terrible allergy attack. But I knew it was important to them, so I made myself go. I never expected to enjoy myself.

We got great seats, about 15 rows up from center ice:

We had scarcely settled into our seats when the man next to me asked us what to do with the accordion-pleated cardboard signs laid across his seat.

"It's a noise maker," Bill explained.

"A noisemaker?" he repeated in a heavy accent that sounded German. "I have not seen this before."

I showed him how to fold it on the creases, and Bill demonstrated how to bang it against his leg to make a loud clapping sound. And then he apologized in advance for Allyson and her two companions Leia and Aeris (daughters of his best friend and teammate Troy). "I'm sure they will be using these nonstop throughout the game," he said.

"Oh, I don't mind," he said, slapping his noisemaker tentatively and then more agressively. "It's exciting, no?" He then explained that whenever he travels around the U.S. on business for his company in Germany, he loves to go to hockey games.

Ah, I knew he was German! I thought.

It took me half a period to tell him that I had taken a total of five years of German in high school and college. "I don't remember much at all," I admitted ruefully. "You're only the second or third German I've met in my adult life. I should have taken Spanish instead."

He nodded.

I took a deep breath and asked "Wie heissen Sie?" (Literally, "how are you called?")

He grinned. "Ich heisse Hartmud (sp?)."

"Hart-mann?" I repeated.

"Nein, Hartmud. It's a good old German name."

"Oh," I said. "Ich heisse Sarah."

"Sehr gut (Very good), Sarah," he said.

I blushed. "Danke." I told him that I understood a bit, but speaking? Not good. (Ich verstehe ein bisschen, aber ich spreche... nicht gut.)

At that point, Bill elbowed me and asked if I was trying to speak German to the poor man. A lot more German words were flooding my mind then, but I figured he was here to watch hockey, not listen to very bad German.

Sitting next to this avid hockey fan from Germany gave me a whole new perspective on the game. He was ecstatic about every save and every goal, on either side. He talked endlessly to anyone who would listen, and even to some people who didn't seem to be listening. He asked all sorts of hockey trivia questions, like didn't this player win the Stanley cup in 2009, and wasn't that player injured last week in New York? I finally had to admit that I knew even less about hockey than I did about German, but that didn't seem to bother him.

When he asked how many seats the arena held, Bill looked it up in a magazine we'd gotten for free with our platinum seats. "Eighteen-thousand, five hundred," he said.

A chill coursed through me. Out of 18,500 seats, what were the odds that a ridiculously friendly German man would have the seat next to mine? God, you arranged that, didn't you? I thought.

At that moment, I looked up and saw Aeris and Leia cheering on the big screen. "Hey, those are our girls!" I sputtered. And then the camera panned to Allyson... and Bill. Allyson's eyebrows rose in shock, and her smile was about as big as this one that I captured a minute later:

Everything about that game was really great. It was a close game for the first two periods, with lots of shots on goal, but a score of 1 to 1. "Those goalies are great, no?" Hartmud asked, and I had to agree.

In the third period, the Stars scored three more goals, and we were all hoarse from shouting.

Spanish, Too
During worship service this morning, I happened to think of the last time I sat with Laura at church, almost a year ago. I missed her so much, and wanted her worshipping beside me. Just then, one of my very favorite worship songs came on: "Worthy is the lamb who was slain; holy, holy is he." I recognized it by about the third bar, but when Ana started singing, the words were unfamiliar... because she was singing in Spanish! It was so beautiful that tears sprang to my eyes. It reminded me of the time my friend Maria and I visited Laura, and Maria played Spanish worship music for her. For a moment, I was kneeling on the floor of Laura's bedroom again, letting the music wash over me and singing along in my spirit.

In the eight years we've gone to our church, they've never sung in Spanish. I'm sure they did it today because this was the day of the first Spanish service, which followed ours. But the fact that that Spanish song started just as I was aching with the memory of Laura? Another serendipity.

And the last serendipity of the weekend was these beautiful flannel hankies that my friend Gentle made for me:
I've been sneezing all weekend, and every time I blow my nose on a Kleenex, the paper dust makes me sneeze even more. My poor nose is raw. I'd emailed Gentle late last night to see if she could make me some hankies, and she had them ready for me by this afternoon! When I went to pick them up this evening, we had a wonderful visit. I used a hankie right away, and she was tickled to know that I loved it. I don't think I'll ever go back to paper tissues.

You might be thinking, "Those hankies were from Gentle, not God." To that, I would reply, "Gentle is the serendipity." I could say the same for my friends Marie and Lori, whom I had the pleasure to spend time with this weekend.

Yes, God is good. Sehr gut, nein?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Adventures in a Winter Wonderland

We're back from our annual Christmas visit to Vancouver, and I wish you had time to hear about all our adventures. For now, I'll just tell the story of my favorite day and also throw in a few other pictures...

All week long, we tried to plan a visit to Grouse Mountain, but it kept raining, so we had to go with plan B, bowling:

Katie and Allyson Playing 5-Pin Bowling

...and then plan C, the movies. The kids wanted to see the latest Chipmunks movie, Chipwrecked. So Lisa, Bill, and I shamelessly left all the kids with Grandpa and Uncle Trevor while we saw We Bought a Zoo--very wise decision! Lisa and I were crying on each other's shoulders. It was awesome.

On Friday, we finally got a lovely clear day with plenty of snow on the mountain, so we rode the swaying gondola up for a day of snow-shoing. The gondola ride alone was thrilling; each time we crossed a support tower, we swayed wildly against each other (packed in like clowns in a Punch Bug), and everyone breathed, "Ooh!"
Once we'd strapped on our snow shoes--okay, once BILL had strapped on our snow shoes, we set out for a brief hike through the snow.
Bill's Sister Lisa, Mom, Me (The Big Red Mummy)
As the cold bit into my cheeks and froze my fingertips, despite two pairs of gloves, I was reminded of the bitter cold on morning one of my 3-Day Walk. I wished I would have brought along Bill's ridiculous hat with ear flaps, which I'd worn that day:
Gentle and Me at the Start of Our Adventure

"It's a bit different walking in minus-two degree weather in the snow, isn't it?" Bill asked, reading my mind.
The next memory that resurfaced was the last time we'd gone snow-shoing, when Allyson was just six months old:

"I can't believe you hiked up the mountain with her strapped to your body," I said to Bill. "Good thing she can climb by herself now!"

 Yep, she was having a blast with her cousins...

...until the path got really, really steep and she began to whine. Good thing we opted against the Grouse Grind [a 10-kilometer trail straight up the mountain], I thought.

Grind or no Grind, Bill heaved Allyson onto his back and piggy-backed her up the next two slopes, her snow shoes jutting out on each side of his waist. About halfway up the second hill, he noticed the trail marker. "SSG? Isn't that the Snow Snoe Grind?" he asked. "We must have taken a wrong turn."

It was all coming together now, but I didn't say anything because I was breathing too hard. He explained our error to Lisa and told her we were going to head back down to the lodge.

She looked at Ethan and her two boys, Kurtis and Travis, and said, "I think we'll keep going. Just a half hour more, and then we'll turn around."

"Are you sure?" I asked, eying my mostly sedentary teenager. "It's really steep."

"Sure, we can do it," she said, and the boys all nodded their approval.

Thinking of how the boys had been sliding and tumbling down every slope we came to, and even jumping off of ledges, I shuddered.

Kurtis on a Ledge They All Jumped Off
"You do realize we have no healthcare coverage in Canada?" I said.

"Shh," Bill said. "They'll be fine."

So they went on while Bill and I headed back down with Mom, Katie, and Allyson--who insisted on riding Daddy's back down the mountain too.

I forgot my worries when my tummy started rumbling. Back at the lodge, the main dining area was full, so they sent us up to the fancy dining room with the white tablecloths and the $100 plates (and the $100 view). We sheepishly unpacked our Wal-Mart bag of turkey sandwiches, brownies, and Christmas oranges, which Allyson discovered that she loves(!). We'd almost finished when a waiter kindly asked us to move as they needed the room for an event--a wedding, apparently. We later saw the bride and groom ice skating on the pond:
Can You Spot the Bride?
After our lunch, we took a few pictures of the amazing sunset, which I added to my mental list of things to be thankful for:
Me and My Sweetheart
Meanwhile, Lisa and the boys were nowhere in sight, and Mom actually went to Search and Rescue to call them. Turns out they couldn't resist hiking all the way to the peak!
Lisa, Travis, Ethan, Kurtis
 Along the way, they found some giant icicles:
 One had fallen, and they dug it out of the snow. Lisa carried that 20-pound hunk of ice all the way back down! And then Travis insisted on taking it home. It was quite a conversation piece. While we were waiting for our sleigh ride, Travis dropped an apple into what looked like the bowl of his giant ice spoon. "What have you got there?" an attendant asked.

"An apple," Travis replied.

Sleigh Ride
My favorite part of the day was the glow of pride I felt for Ethan. I think neither of us realized he could sink his metal boot tips into that ice and trudge all the way to the summit.

And my second favorite part of the day was basking in the warmth of my tush on Lisa's heated carseat while we caught up on a year's worth of visiting.

My gratitude list just gets longer and longer.


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