Friday, July 12, 2019

Eleventh Dutch Oven Gathering

Some moments begin an unexpected train of events.

Soon after Ed and I married we went camping with friends, and they made a cherry pie in a dutch oven.

Ed caught cast-ironitis immediately. Soon he was making apple crisp and cornbread in his own dutch oven.

These dutch ovens are not the pans used in the kitchen. They are cast iron pots which sit on three short legs and have a flat lid with a lip for holding coals. These are the pots that traveled west on covered wagons, served food to gold miners, and were carried by cooks on cowboy chuck wagons.

Over the years Ed added more pots to his collection until he could make meals with four different recipes all cooked in his pots. He also read all he could on dutch oven cooking and wished he could attend a Dutch Oven Gathering (or DOG) to enjoy cooking with others, but they were all held out west. In 2006 he heard of a DOG to be held in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and planned a family vacation to coincide with the event. We enjoyed our vacation, but the DOG was canceled because of lack of participants.

Meanwhile, Ed kept cooking. He dragged his pots to family gatherings, picnics, and even to work. My brothers caught the bug and bought their own pots, as did several of Ed's friends. Finally in 2008 Ed decided to host his own DOG. We invited everyone we knew that owned a dutch oven to join us in a cook-off at our house. Everyone made their favorite dutch oven recipe, and we all voted on our favorite.

If you are a long-time reader to Home Joys, you know that it became a tradition. Each year we enjoyed a night of camaraderie and good-natured competition around hot coals. And every year we ate well. The variety of foods that could be baked, broiled, stewed, fried, and simmered in a dutch oven always amazed me.

It has been a few years since I've posted about our Dutch Oven Gatherings. In 2016 it rained and though we managed to hold the DOG with the help of the basement and a canopy, I didn't get many photos.

In 2017, soon after Ed's first brain surgery, my parents hosted the DOG at their house. Several people cooked keto food for Ed and proved that special diets can still have creative delicious food, but I never blogged about it. Last year, for the first time since it began, we didn't have a DOG. Between Ed's health and the constant rain, it just didn't happen.

This spring when I asked my sons if they wanted to host a DOG, they immediately started planning. I thought we could have it at our house and Ed could enjoy it from his wheelchair, going inside to rest as needed. Most of the DOGs have been held in the height of summer on the hottest day of the year and we thought May would be more comfortable. But Ed's quick decline meant that we never even set a date before we knew it would be impossible for him to attend.

But my boys didn't give up, and so we scheduled this year's DOG on the Saturday of Father's Day weekend. It is hard to do things like this without Ed, but I knew that Ed would be delighted that we were still carrying on a tradition he began.

So twelve years after the first, we held the eleventh Dutch Oven Gathering at our house.

And, except for missing Ed, it might have been the best yet. We had the largest number of participants cooking with 27 pots. Some of these folks had attended every DOG, some were here for the first time for the inaugural use of their brand-new pot. Some of these cooks weren't born when we hosted the first gathering. We even had our first female participant. (Though there is always quite a bit of female help behind the scenes.)


Again, the brick retaining wall was the perfect buffet line.

Then it was time to open the lids and dig in.

My brother's daughter and two sons rolled dough and made fry bread. 

It disappeared so quickly I only got a bite.

The competition was stiff, but those three won the DOG favorite for 2019.

You can also read about past dutch oven gatherings. 2015, 2014,  20132012201120102009

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

On Starving and Audio Books

This spring I struggled to read. My time to read was limited, but even when I had some quiet moments I was often too distracted to concentrate.

That doesn't mean I didn't read. I'm not sure I could ever completely stop reading. In fact, when I look at the list of books I've read the past months, I was surprised by its length.

But it didn't feel like I was reading nearly enough.

Then I realized my problem. Ed constantly told me about the book he was reading or the audio book or podcast he heard on the way to work, or the sermon he was preparing. Even if I had a season when I didn't have much reading input, Ed was giving me intellectual stimulation. I perused many books through his narrative. Often by the time he finished telling me about a book, I felt like I could check that book off my to-be-read list and choose another.

Input from Ed ended last fall, but it took me months to realize what I was missing. Until I felt malnourished.

I wasn't sure how to compensate for the loss. I knew there would never be a true replacement from constant daily conversations with Ed. But to survive, I was going to have to find others ways to feed my mind less I continue to feel starved.

At about the same time I inherited Ed's phone. I barely knew how to text and only was vaguely aware of the meaning of  "app." But I wanted to catch up on technology and learn to use this tool.

I am a visual learner and never preferred audio books. When I'm reading a printed page I can block out all distractions. Ed could never understand how I could read in a loud house. I said it was long practice in growing up as the oldest of nine children. (Ed was the youngest of his family)

But I don't have the same ability when I'm listening to an audio book or podcast. I find myself grumpy because someone asked me something and I missed an important point of the book. Or I find my mind running down a rabbit trail and distract myself from what I'm listening.

But with the hours I was spending on the road (now that I was doing all the driving) I decided to learn to like audio books.

I began with children's books. I couldn't drive and mother well, but an enthralling story could keep the peace in the back of the van.

We borrowed audio books on cd from the library. We enjoyed books such as Young Frindle and The Tale of Despereaux. But our local library had a limited selection and often the cds were scratched. I wanted to find digital files through an app on the phone.

Ed had signed up for a trial for Audible - Amazon's digital audio book service. I loved the book selection; Amazon has nearly any book available. The quality is good, the site easy to search, and when you choose a book you have it for life, even after you unsubscribe. (Though how often would I listen to a book again?)

But Audible seemed expensive. The subscription costs $15.00 a month and includes only one book a month. You can get discounts and find good deals, but for someone accustomed to the library, the cost was a drawback.

So I decided to try some other book subscriptions. 

Several of my friends used Scribd and like it. This online book subscription cost $8.99 a month with  access to a large number of audio books and e-books. But you don't actually own the files so you lose them if you cancel your subscription. (Though, again, I rarely relisten to a book.)

I signed up for a trial of Scribd and showed it to my children. They jumped into reading and listening to their favorites. I soon found that one daughter listening to an Elizabeth Enright book on a laptop, my son listening to The Farmer Boy on the phone, and another son reading Survival Hacks on the other laptop while another daughter waited impatiently for her chance to Homer Price or The Penderwicks or books by Andrew Clements or Edith Nesbit.

Soon I found that the books that I had saved to listen to later such as The Hobbit or The Insanity of Obedience or Decisive or The Next Right Thing were now locked out. Apparently, if you download too many book in one month some books become unavailable. We found this especially true of the audio books but also occasionally with e-books. Apparently it depends upon the popularity of a book and the agreement that Scribd has with the publisher. We learned to pick the ones that we really wanted at the beginning of the month before we used so much they became unavailable. But we found there was always something to read or listen to, just maybe not our first pick. I doubt this would be a problem for most families who don't have so many book addicts in one household.

We were pleased with the quality of the audio books and found numerous e-books that we couldn't find at our local library. I don't care to read on an screen, but like audio books, now that I have a phone always with me, and I spend more time away from home, reading e-books was a way that I could greatly increase my book consumption. Now I can reread my favorite books from authors such as Jamie Langsdon Turner or Elisabeth Elliot right on my phone.

Scribd also contains free books from Librivox. Of course we didn't need Scribd to enjoy these books but their app made it super simple to use. I listened to Leo Tolstoy's Confessions while sewing, and we enjoyed Anne of Green Gables on our trip to North Carolina.

We  use three devices for Scribd and found that they sync well, keeping the place we left off however we are reading/listening. I do find that books are sometimes harder to search for on Scribd compared with Audible. Sometimes I can't find a book by the title but can by the author. Or I can't find it on audio but when I click on the e-book I find it available in audio also.

You can try Scribd for two months free by using my link to Scribd (which also gives me a free month.)

But I wasn't done trying audio services. My local library offers Libby. Ed had often gotten digital audio books from the library. He was sometimes frustrated that just when he got to the end of the book, his loan would expire and he would lose the book. Popular books often have a waiting list and you can't renew a book if someone is waiting for it. (Just as in print books, though then you have the option of keeping it longer and paying the fine!)

But I wanted to try Libby for myself. I downloaded the app and requested All the Light that We Cannot See. This was both good and bad since this book is 16 hours long. I had found that I could increase the reading speed to 1.2 times without any loss, but that is still a lot of hours. At the time I was trying to take regular walks as a break from the demands of caring for Ed. My usual walk was 1 hour and having a terrific book like this encouraged me to walk more often. But I still was only half done before the loan expired. I had to wait a few more weeks before I could renew the book and hear the second half. (And now this is the book that I'm telling everyone to read. I want to get a print copy so I can reread it and mark up my favorite lines.)

I think that Libby will work well if I have the patience to wait for a popular book to become available and if I choose shorter book less than ten hours so I have a hope of finishing it before it expires.

In the last two weeks I have been reading books far more. I'm not as tired and feel like I can concentrate better. But by now I have become hooked on audio books as well. I still can't listen when the house is loud but now you'll find me cleaning the bathrooms with my phone stuck in a mug (an easy way to increase the sound volume), walking for the mail with the phone in my pocket, and using errands as a way to enjoy a few more minutes of my book.

Starting a good book makes me walk more often, though sometimes I turn off the audio and just enjoy the silence or listen to my own thoughts.

But I still miss talking about what I'm reading. Conversation continues to be the thing I miss the most about Ed. So if you stop by my house I'll probably ask you want you are reading and hope that you let me learn a bit from you.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on audio books. Do you like them? Do you have an audio book service that you like? What hints do you have to read or listen more? Do you have a favorite audio book that I should try next.

Reminder: You can try Scribd for two months free by using my link to Scribd (which also gives me a free month.)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Finding God in June

Is June always this busy?

I think so. Community picnics, picking peas and strawberries, a week of Bible School - these events are found in every June.

This month we are also catching up on things that were not done earlier in the year such as achievement test and dental appointments. Friends and family have been inviting us for Sunday dinners and evening cookouts. We feel so much support.

Does it sound odd to say that we are having a good month? Maybe. We have our bad moments, but when I talk to moms with teens, I find that they deal with attitudes too. But we are having many good times. I don't know the proper way to work through grief and suspect that there aren't any rules. I'm at the point now that I can crack open the box, peek in, stir some memories around, then put it on the shelf for another day. I don't think I'm in denial or squelching my pain. I get panicky when I think of living without Ed for several decades. But I choose to only deal with grief for a little while then go enjoy these lovely June days.

 Here is a glimpse of our month.

My brothers continue to work on our AC project. Two different days we had to leave our house to avoid the fumes while they sprayed foam insulation in the attic. It was sorta fun to hang out for hours at the park, library, and mall play area with no hurry to get home. I realized how often I'm in a rush to get things done and rarely do I just sit on a park bench in the middle of the day.

A girlie tea party.

The children loved an evening with friends at the huge slide.

My dear friend Holly from Guatemala spent a week in Pennsylvania. We spent a whole day talking, only rousing ourselves from conversation long enough to feed our children. On another day I helped serve a tea party in honor of her mother's 70th birthday. It was held on the big front porch of her grandparent's farm house on one of the many perfect June days we have had this month. I felt like I had fallen into the pages of Southern Living magazine. 

On yet another evening, Holly and I with a few friends caught up on our current lives and relived memories of camping along the creek. I laughed harder those hours than I have in a very long time. Old friends are golden. 

My youngest brother took my boys and some of their cousins on a Saturday bike hike. I'm so grateful for all the ways uncles have invested in my boys' lives this month.

While their brothers were away, the girls wanted to do something special so they made cake pops. I thought it would be a Pinterest fail, but they had fun and the results tasted great even if they didn't quite match the photos.   

Long-time readers will remember the dutch oven gathering that Ed held each year. We decided to continue the tradition. We had maybe the best gathering yet, except that Ed wasn't present. I'll do a whole post on it next week.

I had my heart set on visiting Ed's sister Jean in North Carolina on Father's Day weekend since her husband Jason died eight years ago on this weekend. We drove down Sunday, enjoying an evening with fish tacos and games. 

On Monday morning we decided to drive to the beach. We had numerous delays including a bridge detour. We finally arrived at the state park where we planned to take a ferry to an island. When we pulled into the park and saw "ferry closed for the season" we nearly had tears from our travel-weary children. We found another beach and the boys hit the waves in minutes. 

By the time we loaded up our sun-burnt children hours later, we were ready to get home. But Jean had ordered 100 pounds of blueberries from a local blueberry farm and I thought we should take the time to get them first. 

We arrived at the farm down a long sandy lane just before closing time. We were met by the owner who told us that someone had already picked up our berries. Apparently Mennonites are the only ones who order 100 pounds of blueberries so when a Mennonite man asked for 100 pounds of berries, he was given Jean's berries. The pickers were just pulling in with a trailer load of berries so we offered to wait. We were able to watch them sort and box the sun-warmed berries and the owner loaded our boxes extra full for our trouble. 

I was a little worried about traversing the lane again. The deep sand made traction nearly impossible and the trucks had worn deep ruts. My van isn't good in snow and we soon found sand is just as bad. Our boys climbed out and threw sticks and beach towels into the ruts, but we were stuck. I figured we'd have to trudge back up the lane and beg help from the blueberry farm but on the same lane was several houses. In the house closest to where we were stuck lived friends of Jean. They kindly pulled us out of our predicament. I think God looks after widows.

How we regret that we have no photos of that experience. We know that anyone hearing of our adventure will figure that we were two females with no driving smarts. We have no proof of the horrible condition of that lane because my phone charger had broken earlier in the day and the only phone with us that still had power didn't have a camera. Jean's friends said that on the worse days the blueberry farm keeps a truck out in the lane just to pull out vehicles.

By now our snack stash had been mostly depleted. Jean suggested stopping to eat but her oldest son had put a huge casserole in the oven at home when he got home from work so I wanted to just keep driving. We opened a box of blueberries and nearly consumed five pounds by the time we pulled into the driveway hours later. The children still ate a huge pile of food before scrubbing off the layers of sand and falling into bed. 

I only wish we could have told the tale of our day to Jason and Ed. How they would have laughed at our escapades. I didn't even mention our failed attempt at dumpster diving. I'm so grateful for a fun adventurous sister-in-law who can keep laughing whatever happens.

The rest of our trip was low key. We hung out at Jean's just enjoying time together. We helped bake for their farmer's market. It was fun to get a peek at their daily activities.

I made over 25 pie crusts - probably more than I usually make in a year. 

On the night of the 18th we lit sparklers. I told the children that it had been one month since Ed had died. I asked our five-year-old if she thought there were sparklers in heaven. She didn't hesitate to inform me that there wasn't any darkness in heaven because Jesus is the light. 

Back in Pennsylvania, we had only been home for a few hours when the toilet overflowed. It wasn't a photographic moment. I thought I had it mopped up, but the next morning I found that it had leaked into the basement onto the stacks of boxes awaiting return to the attic. 

If any of you wonder if your prayers are being answered, here is proof. I was only mildly annoyed and not the stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed person that I would have expected to be when cleaning up a putrid mess after hours of driving.

I'm slowly working through the list of things that need transferred into my name. I'm almost enjoying the challenge though I wish it was not necessary. Nearly always I find that it is more complicated than I expected. One day I visited the bank and thought I had every possible paper signed. But taking Ed's name off one account dominoed into several other issues. I was at the bank two more times that week. Yesterday I did the titles and registration on vehicles. I'm amazed that I can walk into an office with a death certificate and explain what I need without tears. I remember totally breaking down one day when I was on the phone with the auto insurance secretary a few weeks before Ed's death. 

Either I've grown callous.

Or you are praying. 

I choose to believe that latter. God is powerful enough to help widows with stuck vehicles, clogged toilets, teenage attitudes, and endless paperwork. And He is gracious to give kind friends, helpful family, fun-loving children, and an overdose of beautiful weather.
I waited patiently for the Lord...He brought me...out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock...he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God; many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:1-3

Saturday, June 22, 2019

In His Own Words

A few months ago I found a document in our computer that I didn't know existed. Two years ago, a few weeks after Ed's brain cancer diagnosis, Ed had written these words. 

I edited this a little, changing some verb tenses and sentence order, but otherwise these words are Ed's.

After my tumor surgery, I did not have a lot of thinking power, and I did not spend a lot of time thinking about what caused the tumor. I know others were thinking a lot about it, but it did not concern me in the least. I guess I was still in a fog from the surgery. 

A few days after I was home, the doctor called Gina to let her know the outcome of the biopsy. I remember Gina calling me back to our room and telling me about the report. Glioblastoma meant nothing to me at the time, but she said that it was an aggressive cancer. A few more days went by until I was coherent enough to want to know more about it. I googled it and was surprised to know how serious it really was. Wikipedia said life span was normally 12-16 months. That is when it really hit me, and I did not read too much more that day. 

But through this time, I still felt a great sense of peace and assurance that God was in control. I was waking up really early in the morning because of the steroid that I was taking, so I had a lot of time to read. I read through 1 and 2 Peter and highlighted verses that talked about trials and suffering. Those verses became a footing for me through some of those days. I felt so weak physically, as well as emotionally, but these verses helped. 

Verses like this:
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: (1 Peter 1:6-8)

He speaks of trials only lasting for a short time until Jesus appears. Even though we cannot see him now, we still believe that He is using this for our good and we can rejoice in that goodness. We have so many signs of God's goodness to us, not only through our personal peace and comfort of the scriptures, but also physical blessings of my recovery and people blessing us. We have lots of cards and financial gifts, people assuring of their prayers on our behalf, and providing childcare and meals.

I talked to the children about what cancer could mean for me and how I might not have long to live. I told them that we were going to try to enjoy our days together and not be bitter or angry toward God. There are many things that I am not strong enough to do, like playing ball or going for bike rides but we spend a lot of time together at home. Paige and Haven learned to enjoy climbing onto my lap with a book. I cherish those times with them thinking that they might not remember me.

Conversations with people are much easier to turn to a spiritual topics when you share about your limited life expectancy. Even as Christians, we sometimes shrink from talking about death but if our focus is on the eternal reward, it should come natural. I find that I have more time to talk to people as my priorities change.

- Ed Martin (written summer 2017)

This morning I'm grieving with our friends Galen and Patricia. Their teenage daughter Amanda was diagnosed with a rare and fatal heart disease this past winter. Last week they moved to Toronto to be near the hospital so Amanda could get on the heart transplant list. But last night God chose to give Amanda a new heart. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Ed's Funeral Video

I know there are many of you who wished you could have attended Ed's funeral.

Here is the video of the service. Thank you, Enoch, for providing this video for us.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Camping and Rambling

Which is worse, a sudden death or a terminal illness?

Ed's family has experienced both, and I think it would be impossible to choose even if we could. The sheer shock of the first is devastating, but slow suffering is equally hard.

This week I found both a pro and a con of Ed's terminal illness.

I appreciate that Ed could prepare for his death. In many ways he lived life as normal, but as soon as he heard his cancer diagnosis he began making me pay the bills. Ed had always took care of all financial matters, and I didn't pay a bit of attention to it. I wished it could have stayed that way. While I appreciated his efforts to teach me, I hated every minute of it. I didn't want to have to learn.

But last week when I sat down and quickly paid the month's household bills, I was so glad for the ease in which I could do it thanks to Ed's training. Family finances is one job that is no longer stressful to me.

But one thing I find very difficult with Ed's illness is that when I think of Ed, all I remember is the last months. The frustrations of lack of communication. The daily reminders of his declining brain function. Maybe if his illness had been only physical, I would remember the "real" Ed better. But brain cancer stole the man I married while he could still walk and talk. When I try to remember real conversations and "normal" life, there is only a fog.

I know those memories will return with time, and our little vacation this week helped bring back some of those memories.

I took the children on a short camping trip. I told them that it was a test. If we survived (maybe even thrived) on this trip, we'd try a longer camping trip.

The children rose to the challenge. Camping was so much easier than it was even a few years ago. The older ones could help put up tents, build fires, and pack the van.

The little girls are old enough to hike on their own two feet and entertain themselves with coloring books.

One friend told me I was amazing, but I may have been just crazy. Tent camping with six children? As the only adult? But every time I would start to panic I could hear Ed saying, "Of course you can. You'll be fine."

One of the greatest gifts Ed gave me was his confidence. Whether is was starting a blog, volunteering in prison, handling the family finances, or speaking to a group of ladies. He would never let me say I couldn't do it. He just assumed that I could, and he gave me the confidence to try.

So, we tried camping. And it worked.

We stayed at the Shenandoah National Park in VA that stretches the length of the Skyline Drive. We were able to use our A Kid in a Park pass again. Our children had never been there so it was fun to introduce them to the park. 

We stayed at Matthew's Arm Campground within the park. It was rather primitive with no showers, but we enjoyed our stay. We hoped in vain to see black bears. A mama bear and her two cubs were daily visitors to our campground, but we didn't catch even a glimpse. In the middle of the night, curled in a tent with my two little girlies, thoughts of bears wasn't good for sleeping, but we did wish for a distant glimpse of these furry creatures.

Skyline Drive curves around the top of the mountains with frequent overlooks. The views are stunning. The many visitor's centers gave us opportunity to enjoy several ranger talks about the wildlife and the history of the park.

Three days was not nearly enough time. There were so many hikes off Skyline Drive that we wanted to try. We are already planning where we will stay and what we'll do when we go back.

The hike to Dark Hollow Falls was all downhill into a ravine (and then back up), but the falls were worth the hike. The height of the falls and their beauty cannot be captured in a photo.

Camping brought back so many memories of Ed. When we were first married we did a lot of tenting. From sultry July evenings along the Conocheague Creek to a freezing November night camped on the beach. From July sunshine on a New Hampshire riverside to the pouring rain on the Clarion  River in northern Pennsylvania. I'll always be grateful we packed in so many fun experiences in those first years.

Our tent camping ended when we had three children in as many years, and we switched to cabin camping. But the memories continued. So grateful that Ed made family time a priority.

On the third day we drove over to Luray Caverns, just outside the park boundaries. The children had never been to a cave or cavern before. Usually we look for free or very inexpensive vacation spots, but we had been given money to spend on something fun as a family so decided to use it for tickets. The children loved the cavern tour and it was the highlight of the trip.

Now we are back home, and my brothers continue to work at replacing our AC. They finished pulling out all the old insulation which made an appalling mess. Don't worry. They cleaned it up.

And we are in time to enjoy our strawberry harvest. The berries are huge this year, and we've filled several large bowls with their yumminess.

Camping, home projects, spring harvest. Remembering Ed. Making new memories. This is our life today.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Do the Next Thing

I've always liked to detect possible challenges and find a solutions to avoid future problems. I like to think that trait is an asset, though it probably caused a lack of sleep in the last months.

I've had several scenarios surrounding Ed's impending death rolling around in my head these last weeks. Now when I look back I see that some of the thinking and discussion with others allowed events to glide smoothly.

I had hoped that Ed could be part of our family life as long as possible. We place his hospital bed in our dining/living room right by the window to the back yard. I'll always cherish the memories of that last week when we pulled the rocker and the loveseat by Ed's bed and filled them full of friends and family. Almost never was Ed alone, day and night. Until the last day he still had a firm grip in his right hand and often someone was beside his bed holding his hand. In his last minutes on earth both his brothers were by his side.

I have regrets in life, but not about how Ed was cared for in his last days.

On Monday I took the children in to the funeral home to have a private viewing. I had worried that the three-year-old would be upset with burying Ed's body. I had told her several times that Daddy's body was sick, and God would give Daddy a new body in heaven so he wouldn't need his sick body.

The casket was a great curiosity to her. She kept standing on tiptoe and peering in at Ed. I heard her say to herself "That is Daddy's sick body."  I know she understands very little about the impact that Ed's passing will have on her life. Right now she does know what she lost. But I was relieved that she wasn't upset at the funeral and burial.

I had thought (worried) a lot about the viewing. I knew there would be many people who would want to honor Ed and his family by attending the viewing. I've stood at the funeral home when long lines zig-zagged across the room and out the door. I dreaded the stress of greeting friends while knowing that a line waited.

Ed's brothers and I had numerous discussions on how to best arrange the viewing. With the help of the funeral director we chose to have longer viewing hours and arranged the room to keep the line moving.

Six hours of a viewing is a long time. The children soon tired of standing next to me shaking hands and joined their cousins. Ed's family and my family were spaced around the room, but I was alone by the casket. I didn't mind. I wanted to stand by Ed, and, in a small way, still be a couple one last time.

I was humbled by all those who made the sacrifice to attend the viewing and funeral. Church family and friends who have supported us through these last two years by their presence and prayers. Old friends and neighbors who knew Ed as a child. My parents' cousins. My cousins. Ed's cousins. Ed's cousins' children. My fourth-grade teacher who saw the obituary in the newspaper. Several of Ed's grade-school teachers. Blog and email friends who know me only by written words. Childhood friends who have known me since birth and could tell my secrets. Ed's work and business associates. Widows who also lost their husbands to brain tumors who have encouraged me through their phone calls. Ed's school friends who helped make him into the person I knew. Friends of Ed's siblings. Friends of my siblings. And Many More.

But never was there a long line. If I wished I could chat with friends knowing there wasn't a long line behind them. When I was leaving the funeral home I stopped to thank the funeral director for how well the evening went. He asked me if I knew that we had 900 people through the line. I was shocked. And thankful. All the planning had paid off, and I wouldn't have changed a thing, even though my eyes felt red-rimmed and scratchy, and my body sagged.

The funeral on Wednesday also went smoothly. It was held at my parent's church since our church is too small. I sat on the front bench at exactly the same place Ed and I had sat at our wedding. Hearing old familiar hymns sung by a full audience and hearing words of worship to our Sovereign God were soul strengthening.

The burial was hard. The finality of the grave could not be ignored. I have no idea who attended the burial. I stayed composed only by not looking at anyone. I knew if I saw tears, my own would flow.

The meal after the burial was a beautiful example of love. Many women from various churches worked together to prepare the meal. Again I was surrounded by the love of family and friends. I enjoyed hearing their stories about Ed and their reminders of God's grace at work in their own lives.

My parents brought us home from the funeral. My dad saw my terribly weedy garden that I've been ignoring and got out the tiller. I typically enjoy gardening, and we spent the rest of the evening pulling weeds. It felt so good to do something with my hands instead of my head and heart.

That night I slept better than I had in weeks.

What does a widow do the day after her husband's funeral? I didn't know the rules, but I jumped into Thursday thinking I would return my house to order just like I had my garden. The house was generally under control (constant company made sure of that), but the corners and cupboards needed attention. Every May when school ends I have a desire to declutter and organize. This year that desire was magnified ten times. Maybe because house cleaning was something within my control. Maybe because the house has been so neglected the past months.

Then my brothers were rained out of their barn painting project and decided to work on our AC project. Replacing our AC means pulling everything out of our attic to remove the old insulation. Soon my dining room was covered with boxes and the house with a layer of insulation dust. It was almost laughable.  My house had went from generally clean to disaster. I started sorting and organizing, glad that at least I was in a decluttering mood. Nothing like a funeral to make one willing to get rid of Stuff That Won't Go With Us.

In desperation to not trip over boxes for weeks, I looked for any empty spots - not easy in a rancher that contains six children. I opened Ed's half of the closet, pulled out clothes, stuffed them into bags, and carried them to the van to give away. I never would have chosen the day after the funeral to put away Ed's clothes, but I would do it sometime, and it gave me a place to stuff boxes. It made sense even if it was crazy.

When I told a friend how I spent the day after the funeral she said that in a thousand years she'd never would have guessed cleaning insulation debris and bagging clothes.

Elisabeth Elliot suggests, "do the next thing," when faced with hard life circumstances. I guess that is what we did.

But the weekend wasn't all work. The children and I planned a short camping trip for next week. Ed's brothers helped us plant a memorial tree. We enjoyed cookouts with various friends and family on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. Volleyball, S'mores, mountain pies, banana splits, discussions on heaven, and more.

Do we feel relief, grief, or something else all together? I don't know. I won't attempt to figure out the jumble of my emotions. Just holding on to the promise that God doesn't forsake the widows and the fatherless and doing the next thing.


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