36 1/2 Weeks and Counting…

It’s nearly 11pm. I’m sitting propped up in bed with tons of pillows behind me, and more under my legs to prop up my feet, slowly chewing a ginger candy to fight the heartburn that creeps up my throat and threatens to explode there when I lay down. The baby in my belly keeps stretching and fluttering, and having some kind of contest with himself about how far he can fit his little feet up under my ribs.

Who knew celery could be so wiggly and active?

I’m so sleepy but at least I’ve already had a nap when I fell asleep with our toddler this evening, so the exhaustion isn’t so desperate as it was at dinner, when I could barely keep my eyes open. The little bean, now more like the size of a bunch of celery, seems to think I should wake up at 4 or 5 am and stay that way till morning, so the days are feeling awfully long.

The littlest big sister to be, asleep in her nest of stuffies.

I have appreciated having the quiet time alone to read or listen to audiobooks, but the hours aren’t exactly ideal for someone required to keep functioning normally in the day time. So as exhausting as the first few weeks with a new baby can be, I’m looking forward to resting in bed and taking naps with the little one. At least a cuddly newborn is better company than heartburn deep in the night!

Ash Wednesday Walk

I captured this moment on a rare early morning walk alone on Ash Wednesday. My luxurious excuse for alone time? A 35 week pregnancy blood test. Yup, living it up here.

But I must say, the peaceful morning bird song and the sight of their feathers illumined from below by early sunrise were a treat. Since my pace right now is best described as moseying, I tried to make the best of it by taking time to notice the beauty above the city streets.

Despite the barren lack of leaves in the trees, tiny signs of spring could also be found at my feet.

After another long pandemic winter, it’s nice to see hints of hope…warmer days coming, brighter days, and new things, like my baby, in about a month!

These brave crocuses in my garden even survived our recent snowfall! So while I feel pretty much ready to wave the white flag and give up—enough winter, enough covid, enough late pregnancy—I’ll try to be brave and keep looking up to find the sun, and looking forward to those precious newborn snuggles, and remembering the reason it will all be worth it come spring.

74 Days into Grieving My Dad

Dear Dad,

I miss you so much in ordinary little things…I’ll be deciding what to make for dinner, and thinking I’ll make something you like, and then suddenly remember that you can’t just drop in for dinner anymore. I will see someone in the corner of my eye wearing a reflective vest, and think for a second that it’s you, riding on your scooter. If a car goes by that looks like yours, my heart skips a beat, wondering if perhaps it’s you coming to visit. I still think, “Oh, maybe Dad can drive me to this appointment,” and then have to remember you can’t.

I was there when you were dying. I arranged your funeral and wept over your ashes when I picked up your urn from Kearney. I was there when you were buried, but my head and my heart are having a hard time catching up. It’s like I can’t really realize you’re gone. Often I say to myself, “I should really call Dad and catch up,” and then I remember that I disconnected your phone after you died, and why can’t I remember that? I feel like someone who is constantly waking up from a happy dream, only to have reality slap me in the face.

So many things remind me of you: the garden beds you built out front, filled with brave spring bulbs peeking out, and the planters in the backyard by the garage, your worksop, which contain the mournful remains of summer sunflowers and tomatoes, now scraggly and black, the little hooks on my cupboards which you hung up for my washcloths, and the many books on my homeschool bookshelves, which you were always bringing for the kids, whom you adored. It is hard to realize you’re gone because there are so many signs of your loving presence everywhere.

One night shortly after you died I couldn’t sleep, and went to read on the couch. I pulled a book from my Montgomery bookshelf: “Emily Climbs.” In it was an inscription from you to me as a child, “to my dearest ‘star,’ love + hugs–Dad.” Emily Starr was also very close to her gentle father, and lost him at a young age. Reading this always made me cry as a kid, because it felt like my pain in being separated from you after the divorce. I was four then, and now I’m forty, but I’ll always be your little girl, and being apart from you still hurts terribly, especially each time I momentarily forget, only to remember again. 

Loving you always, and waiting to give you a huge hug in Heaven,

Anna

L.M. Montgomery’s “The Blue Castle:” An Inspiring Tale of Obliger Rebellion

One of my best friends sent me a treasure last month: a Montgomery book I had not read before, not even once, let alone two or three times. The Blue Castle is one of the few books Montgomery wrote which has an adult heroine, rather than a young girl, and while it contains lots of classic Montgomery sparkle and rejoicing in the beauty of nature, it takes some time to get there.

The story is one of a woman named Valancy (a shockingly old maid of 29! 🤣) whose lacklustre existence is dominated by conformity to family pressure, lethargy, and fear…it is downright depressing at first. Montgomery really allows her readers to enter into the pain of a woman who feels that her life is not her own, and that no one really loves or even properly knows her. She constantly represses her honest reactions to conform to the strict standards of her unfeeling family, and even so is unable to please them. Everyone takes her for granted.

We could look back on her harshly, and speak of her weakness and dependence on her family in making all her decisions…but are we as a society truly more free? Our fetters may not be so much familial expectations, but what about the cages we build for ourselves online, the slavish fear that drives so many to keep up appearances and impress, or at least to fit in with the latest fads? How is living for the “likes” of strangers more free than living for the approval of those we know?

Everything changes one day when Valancy dares go to the doctor alone and gets a fatal diagnoses of her heart condition, and is given only a year to live. It is at this point that classic obliger rebellion, as described by happiness author Gretchen Rubin, kicks in. She decides to no longer live to please others at the cost of her own happiness and well-being.

Only by losing the fear of dying does Valancy cease being afraid to really live. Set free from the fear of her family’s opinions and the long dreary years ahead, she finally finds the courage to simply be herself, and discovers that life is so much more rich and beautiful when authentically embraced. At last she is able be herself and get comfortable in her own skin, which, as it turns out, is a pretty great place to be.

How would you live this year differently if you knew it could be your last? Perhaps with more courage, authenticity and joy? With more honesty, conviction, and simple delight in all life has to offer? With more generosity both towards yourself and others? Wherever you’re at in life, may you find your place of joy, your “blue castle” and embrace it fully.

Johnny Cash on Heartburn

My blog has been rather serious lately, so I decided it’s time for a laugh. What better way, when up with pregnancy heartburn and insomnia, than to write a spoof of a Johnny Cash country song? When you’re seven months pregnant and can’t sleep, you get to do stuff like that—it says so in the manual, pg 136. (What manual?? This girl is making stuff up…)

So put on your cowboy hats, strum your imaginary guitars, and enjoy…and if you’re up with heartburn, too, just pretend your TUMS are marshmallows…

🔥 Burning Ring of Fire 🔥

Heartburn’s a burning thing

And it makes a fiery ring

Round and full of gas

I am a pregnant lass

🔥

I lay down and a burning ring of fire

Shoots up my throat like an electric wire

And it burns burns burns

That ring of fire

I am on fire

🔥

I lay down and a burning ring of fire

Shoots up my throat like an electric wire

And it burns burns burns

That ring of fire

I am on fire

🔥

The taste of love is sweet

But it keeps me on my feet

I lay down like a sleepy child

Oh, but the fire went wild

🔥

I lay down and a burning ring of fire

Shoots up my throat like an electric wire

And it burns burns burns

That ring of fire

I am on fire

🔥 🔥 🔥

The Bravery of Surrender: On the Death of my Beloved Father

There is a common misconception that safety lies in control, and that the more powerful you are, the more you can control. But one thing my Dad’s recent death from cancer taught me is the bravery of surrender.

Let me back up a little to his last month or so of life. None of us realized quite how sick he was, although we had our suspicions. All of us, his family and friends, wanted to somehow rescue him, stop the disease, and make him get better again. After all, he had already recovered from the brink of death twice in the last five or six years.

But Dad, in his quiet, firm way, never making any drama or fuss, already knew. He spent this last year, this year of horrid covid isolation, preparing his apartment for me: purging papers, decluttering, labelling, sorting, highlighting his Marie Kondo books and covering his walls with mindmaps and plans for his home, putting everything in its place so it would be easier for me to deal with when he passed.

He kept telling me enthusiastically how many old papers he had sorted and gotten rid of, and still I didn’t realize. Perhaps it was too difficult for him to tell his only daughter the words “I’m dying” out loud.

When we went to the oncologist, and heard that his PSA’s were skyrocketing, I think he had confirmation that his fight was coming to an end, and he could now let go. He spoke to me of the peace of surrendering, but I stubbornly encouraged him to keep trying. His reaction was not despair, although I know now that the news hurt him deeply, but was his acceptance of a bigger plan, in which he no longer had to grip the wheel so tightly.

Page from my Dad’s journal

At first, when the pain intensified and his body no longer wanted food, he wanted to hide away by himself. He told me he felt like a grumpy bear who kept getting woken up while trying to hibernate.

Sketch from my Dad’s journal

But when I begged him, weeping over the phone, if I could not come and do something to make him feel better, not offering food or solutions, but merely comfort, he admitted he would perhaps like to be sung to.

So the next day, with the promise of a song and a gentle massage, he let me come and see him, lying in bed with his cozy toque and scarf, and very little able to move.

The next few days were a painful dance of trying to soothe, while also encouraging him to try to keep eating…pulling out all my best mom tricks, giving little sips of juice, convincing him to let me feed him minuscule bites of kiwi on a tiny grapefruit spoon.

“It’s your baby bird diet,” I joked, while blinking back tears.

After three days of this, I was able to speak to his oncologist over the phone and ask him the hard question:

“What is my role doctor, to try to save him, or simply to soothe him in his parting?”

His clear answer was given gently and honestly: “To soothe. Within a month, he will be with the angels.”

I was devastated—but also freed. No longer did I have to fight, but to surrender, and to walk my Dad as gently as I could to the gates of Heaven.

And Dad, you let me walk you there. You didn’t hide your weakness from me, nor your pain.

A few weeks before you had been hard on yourself, feeling like a terrible disciple, because you’d fall asleep every time you tried to meditate, even now, as you were trying to prepare your spirit for the next world.

Having a gentle, loving father like you has helped me understand the tenderness of God, so I said to you: “But Dad, don’t feel bad. God knows your heart, and he knows all you’re going through. He knows you want to spend time with him. Just tell him so before you settle in to pray, and it won’t matter if you fall asleep. Just imagine you’d come over to read to your granddaughter, and she, being only two, fell asleep on your lap. Would you be mad at her?”

“Of course not.”

“Well, it’s the same with our father God. He loves you and is so happy when you seek to be close to him, even when you’re asleep.”

Not long after, you found the courage to not only be a little child before God, but before me. You let me soothe your aches and gently stroke your head until you fell asleep. Thank you, Dad, for this honour.

Thank you, Dad, for surrendering to getting more help, when things became too much for me alone, playing nurse when all I know how to do is be a mom. The bravest thing you did was give up the comfort and control of your own home to enter hospice care, so that I would not have to worry that you’d be alone, in pain and unable to get a sip of water at 2 am.

You surrendered and let yourself be carried to the hospice by the friendly ambulance guys, and after six more days, in an atmosphere of peace and prayer, you let yourself be carried to Heaven.

Since you let me accompany you to the steps of Heaven, I know you’re still so close to me while I’m on earth. Together we struggled, we surrendered, and in the end, everything was perfect.

Cookies and Milk at 3 am

Of course, after admonishing our kids not to wake up too early for Christmas (they once woke up at midnight to open the stockings on the ends of their beds) it would be me, their mom, who woke up at 2:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So silly, as the kids and I had worked so hard to prepare ahead, had finished wrapping and had even stuffed the stockings and stowed them in a box days ago, so I wouldn’t have to burn the midnight oil playing Mrs Clause. Yet I woke up. Was it pregnancy heartburn, excitement, or insomnia?

Whatever it was, I decided Santa’s tradition of the post-midnight snack was a good idea and got up to have an angel sugar cookie and a glass of milk. I’d say I had a snack with Santa, but you’d know from Google Santa Tracker that he was already safely back home in the North Pole by this hour.

So while I’m up, I thought I’d take this quiet moment chance to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, despite everything, and a lot of hope for better things to come in 2021. Thank you so much to all our family and friends who supported us from afar this year, as we went through the pandemic, and through the illness and loss of my Dad, Bob, to cancer. Your loving words, encouragement, cards, flowers or food dropped at our door have meant a lot.

Shortly after my Dad passed away, in the morning of November 9th, it began snowing, which is rare on the rainy coast. “Mum, Mum,” said the kids with excitement, “Grandpa is sending us snow from Heaven with Josephine!” It’s amazing how positive and resilient kids can be in the face of loss. Here are a few pictures from our house, where we have tried to find all the joy and sparkle we can this Advent.

May God in his humble nearness at Christmas surround you with blessings and give you the eyes to see them, so the little hidden miracles of each day can shine and bring you hope.

Lots of love from all the Eastlands here at Just East of Crazy Land! Thanks for being here, making me feel less alone as I eat cookies and milk at 3 am, and await the sparkly madness of Christmas morning with 7 kids! ✨🌲✨🎁✨🌲✨

Grapefruit Spoons

Going to your apartment shortly after you died

I gather your important papers,

the things I’ll need to help take care of everything for you,

but I don’t want to touch anything else

or unsettle your calmly organized cupboards

covered with labels in your sweet hand:

“Tea,” Spices,” “Cups,” “Bowls.”

My sweetest scatterbrain Dad,

who worked so heroically hard this past year

—reading Marie Kondo and likely highlighting half the pages—

to make everything organized for me

because you knew you were dying

even when I couldn’t let myself believe it.

To me your home feels like a shrine

a testament to all the things you did last—

where you hung your bathrobe, your plaid shirt,

the dirty baseball cap that you’d wear doing carpentry in my garage.

I want to hug everything—

the blankets and sweaters that smell like you—

but don’t want to take anything

except the fancy grapefruit spoons with jagged little edges,

tiny teeth which I used to scoop out that half kiwi

which you allowed me to feed you slowly

your last week at home,

and that little quarter of yellow mango,

your baby bird diet

which I desperately hoped would somehow sustain you

when your body was too tired to eat

and your soul was ready to surrender.

These little grapefruit spoons

I tuck in my purse

and flee your empty apartment

where I wish you would come back

and let me feed you again.

A Tiny Piece of Night Sky

Right now I don’t wear mourning black

because as I told the kids before the funeral,

Grandpa loved the bright colours of gardens

and flowers in the sunshine,

so dress for him.

But I do wear around my neck

a black necklace studded with tiny stars

—piece of night sky stolen by faeries—

to remind myself in all dark moments

to seek the sparkle.

It’s not a bright, dawn-rosy piece of Heaven

but a scrap of far-off night sky,

piercingly cold and beautiful,

the kind you look up at in silence

longing for the things that do not perish.

My heart thumps near my necklace,

aching to burst forth from my chest

and reach this forever with you,

beating its warm little drum

to the echoes of eternity.