Monday, November 30, 2009

Just Gammie, Poppy, and the Boys

The Wellsbrothers got to spend some time with Gammie, Poppy, and Cousin Kaleb while Bret and I were tending to some other family business.

I think it was a hard week - four boys age six and under. And to make things worse Joey had diarrhea and a diaper rash that required a bland diet and a bath after every "episode." I'm not real sure what Gammie would have done if Conner hadn't been so willing to keep tabs on Micah and Kaleb every time she had Joey in the bathtub. And she was real good at convincing Joey that unsweet tea was chocolate milk!

And somehow they managed to find some time for fun:

tractor rides,
Joey became a pro at making biscuits,
they watched movies,
played "soccer" in the hallway,
checked the cows (the say MOO!),
they made some delicious cookies,
and were just plain cute!Then Bret and I joined them for Thanksgiving dinner.Thank you, thank you, thank you Gammie and Poppy for taking one the crazies!

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving '09 - A Thanksgiving to Remember

This post is very long overdue. But it needs to be written and recorded on this blog, what has become my family journal/scrapbook/photo album. In a few weeks I'll probably change the date on this post so that it will fall in the proper place chronologically. But for now, I want it here.

It's significant that I haven't shared these pictures or the story of Thanksgiving '09 until now, a year later. It was the first holiday season without any of my grandparents, just about six weeks after we lost GweGwe, 3 months after we lost MeeMaw, and a little over a year since we had lost PeePaw. And we as a family had decided to spend our Thanksgiving holidays - a week for some of us, just a day or two for others - doing the physically and emotionally exhausting work of cleaning out their houses.

Bret and I dropped our boys off to spend the week with Gammie and Poppy. We then joined Mom and Dad at GweGwe's house. We spent the next couple of days doing some initial cleaning. GweGwe was still in fairly good health, didn't hang on to an excess of things, and kept her house very well. There wasn't an overwhelming amount of things to go through, just emptying cabinets and closets, making plans for larger items to be either given to family members or sold, etc. It was an exhausting, interesting and intimate few days; we came across several sentimental items that had either been long forgotten or unknown altogether.

But eventually Sunday afternoon did roll around. Mom and Dad had to go back home, and Bret and I made our way to MeeMaw and PeePaw's house to join my Aunt Stephy and Uncle Bubba. They had already begun some initial cleaning of MeeMaw's house as much as a year before when
MeeMaw had moved into Mom and Dad's house - but her house was much larger and much, much, much fuller of stuff. And it was on many acres, including a large garage and lots of farm equipment.

It ended up working out pretty well. They had gotten it to the point that it was time for a detailed plan to be made. The men went out to work on the land and farm equipment, and Aunt Stephy and I set to work in the house. We decided to just take it one room at a time, and set ourselves a goal to finish two of the bedrooms that day.

The house had been vacant for over year, and being an older house already, out in the country, and taking into account that as MeeMaw and Peepaw's health had declined parts of the house had been virtually unused for years...let's just say that we were very thankful that the DeCon had been put out a few months before...and that there was plenty of evidence that it had worked.

And the thing about hanging on to stuff for years and years and years is that eventually, many of the things are not really useful to anyone anymore. And at some point, even though many of the things may hold some sentimental value, simply passing down the story is enough because no one is able to take it all into their own home for their children to go through years later. And at some point, even when some of the things might be worth a little bit on eBay, at a garage sale, or something similar...the task of transporting all of the stuff to the right place and hanging on to it until it sells and then getting it all shipped to the new owners becomes something larger than anyone can or wants to take on. At some point, you're just ready to be done. It was very sad, heart-wrenching really, but we rented a 30-yard dumpster. And the bulk of our cleaning involved carting things from the house and out into the dumpster.

And so the four of us worked for a day. The next day Jodi joined us and we continued to clean and remember and tell stories and throw things away. At the end of the second day, Bret and I went back to his family's house to celebrate Thanksgiving with them. And the rest of my family made their way to MeeMaw's during that time. Since the kitchen had already been emptied, including some essential appliances, when they took their lunch break on Thanksgiving Day they went to Denny's.

Then on Friday we joined them again, and the whole family - all 18 of us - spent yet another day cleaning and remembering and telling stories and throwing things away. And we filled it up the dumpster. And it was hauled off. And we filled up another one. And another one. And yet another smaller one. And all of our vehicles were bursting at the seams with various treasures that we had fallen in love with. But by the end of the week we had made tremendous progress. Pretty much all that remained in the house was boxes of items that already had specific destinations, and the nicer furniture.

And we said our goodbyes to one another until the next time, and forever to the place that had been "MeeMaw and Peepaw's" for my entire life - and "Mom's and Dad's" for even longer.

I didn't take any pictures at GweGwe's - I'm not real sure why. But here's some of the pictures from our week at MeeMaw's:

The guys folks cleaning out the garage found it to be both preferable and necessary to wear masks.We fed the cows, and we played a little, too:We made the amazing discovery of a box full of Ira's entire collection of He-Man toys, along with a few other sentimental toys from our childhood. We were all very excitedincluding the next generation!The Wellsbrothers and their cousin Christian (my cousin's son), had a ball hanging out.They coloredand played follow the leaderand threw rocks in the mud puddle (that's been there about as long as I can remember)and climbed the wonderful old pecan tree in the front yardand when we were really needing them to be out of the way in a safe place, we let them play in the cattle trailer. :)And then we filled the cattle trailer up with furniture to be delivered to new homes...

Like I said, it was definitely a Thanksgiving to remember - as well as one to remember in a different way so many things for which we are thankful.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Pilgrim Hats and Spiderman

Yesterday was Micah's last day of preschool before Thanksgiving. It is also the school's 25th anniversary as a licensed daycare facility. What better reasons to celebrate?!


The kids have been working on a few turkey/Thanksgiving songs. They started our celebration out by sharing those. The pre-K classes were Indians, and the younger classes were pilgrims. They were soooo cute.


Micah marched out with his hat falling over his eyes. He was doing his best to hold his head up so that he could see under it. It was so cute! :)
Doesn't this little smile just say, "Look at me. I'm so proud of myself, and I'm trying not to show it!"
Mrs. Summer did finally help him out with the hat just before they started singing...just for it to slide down again a few seconds later. :) And on a side note -- in that retro-ish little striped shirt and with his blonde hair covered up, I thought Micah looked so much like my brother at that age, it was just uncanny!

Joey was the perfect little brother. He clapped just as hard as the best of 'em after each song!
Each child could have only two guests. Bret was not able to come. :( But that opened up a spot for Aunt Jodi! We are so glad that she was able to come with us! (Especially since that meant that I was not corralling kids and dishing up plates in an extremely crowded room by myself!)

Here's Micah in his pilgrim hat. He was so ready to get that thing off, and he was not happy that I was insisiting on five more seconds with it on so that I could get a picture!
Micah had also made an "I'm thankful for..." necklace in class. Most of the other kids were thankful for things like their moms and dads or something sweet like that. Not Micah. He is thankful for spiderman. :) (He wouldn't look at the camera again after I had tortured him with the few extra seconds of the hat for the sake of the camera...)
I also just have to say that we're thankful to call these two front-and-center little pilgrim boys friends. Caden and Ryan did a great job, too. (And yes Ryan -- I think you knew every song! :)
Lunch was good -- Micah couldn't get enough of the ham, Joey couldn't get enough of the tea, and I'm proud to say that we didn't spill anything!!
Micah, I'm so thankful that you are getting the opportunity to be in Mrs. Summer's class this year. I'm proud of you and everything that you are learning. Thanks for being "my best, best, best three-and-a-half-year-old in the whole wide world!" I love you! Jodi, thanks for sharing with us!

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

T-E-X-A-S Spells Blessed

I had an idea last week -- a way to teach our kids a little bit of Bible, as well as some reaching out to others. Excited about it, I sent all the Christ Journey folks an email and posted it on Facebook:

The story of "David Plays His Harp for King Saul" found in 1 Samuel 16:14-23 has been on my heart the past couple of days. It's a good Old Testament story that tells about the power of music to encourage.

Bret and I plan to share this story with our family tomorrow morning (Sunday) at breakfast. I would encourage you to do the same. (We'll be using a little more kid friendly version of the story than what's found in the NIV.)

We plan to bring a related color and activity sheet for our kids to work on during the sermon tomorrow -- CJ folks, I'll bring enough to share! :)

Then sometime during the week next week we -- and again, I encourage you to do the same -- will look for an opportunity to encourage someone through music. Specifically, we plan to encourage our kids to do this for a friend or neighbor. Sing a song for them, play an instrument for them, send them a link to a song/music video you think they would like, request a song for them at the radio station and then tell them to make sure and tune in, ask a friend who plays an instrument to play a song for you...the possibilities are endless. Be creative! And then include the rest of us in your journey and share your story!

I'm looking forward to sharing this journey with you!

~Rachel

I was really excited about this, with beautiful visions of hugs and tears and heavenly music sweeping Burleson over the next week.

...then on Monday I realized that I -- reserved and un-musical me -- had gone and opened my mouth, and I was going to have to actually do this with the kids. What was I going to do?!

I spent all day Monday and Tuesday racking my brain, trying to talk to the (unreceptive) boys about it, trying to not to nag Bret, trying to put together a beautifully perfect project that we could do for a hurting non-Christian that we knew, pressuring myself to shape the ideal story to share.

On Wednesday morning, we were out of toothpaste and cheese and chocolate syrup for the milk, and dangerously low on toilet paper and diapers. A WalMart run had become a must.

Somewhere around the green beans I realized that this could be a great time to share some music. But I still didn't know what to do. We had gotten to the point that all of the groceries we had gotten so far did not fit in the basket with both the boys anymore. Micah was trailing farther behind me than I was comfortable with, and Joey was squirming around in my arms trying to keep himself from falling asleep. I was stressed with making sure that I was staying within the grocery budget, I was sweating, and my arms felt like they were going to fall off.

Then I realized that Micah was singing. It was a goofy little song, one that Conner had learned at school and shared with us, about Texas to the tune of "B-I-N-G-O." But Micah was singing it over and over again. And then I realized that everyone we passed suddenly came out of their own grocery-shopping-at-WalMart-and-not-happy-about-it daze and watched him, a smile creeping onto their faces. Some of them even stopped to point him out to someone next to them.

This was it. Micah was doing it. It wasn't according to a grand plan that I had devised, and it wasn't blessing anyone that we knew, but we were blessing the lives of others, forming a little community on each aisle that we went down.

So I stopped for a moment and reminded Micah of David and King Saul. I applauded him for blessing others with his song, telling him that he was just like David. That made him even more proud, and he sang even louder -- now noticing that he was making others smile -- which made him smile and sing even louder -- which made them smile even more -- and then I found even myself coming out of my Walmart-induced grumpiness.

He continued that for literally, about 15 minutes. We didn't talk to anyone except for the checkout clerk (who also got a rendition of the Backyardigans' pirate song), but I think we did it. I truly think that we might have turned the day around for some of those folks. I know my own day had been blessed.

Thank you Micah, for reminding me how much more we can do when we set aside our own grand plans and live in the moment God has put us in.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Puppy

Joey got a little stuffed cheetah over the summer. And since he calls pretty much any furry four-legged animal "puppy" these days, he has named it Puppy. And he's been carrying it around and sleeping with him every since. Pretty cute.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gwe Gwe

Monday it was one month ago that my Gwe Gwe (Dad's mom) passed away. It was all very sudden. I got the call from Mom at about 12:30 on Friday morning, 10/9, that Gwe Gwe had gotten sick, called 911, had made it to the hospital, but was currently on life support. They would wait until Mom and Dad got there before they turned the machines off. It had been an aneurism/stroke-type of brain bleed. Gwe Gwe had known that there was something that just wasn't quite right for awhile now, and had been seeing a series of different doctors in an attempt to figure it out. They just weren't quite fast enough, though...

This hit especially hard because we hadn't seen Gwe Gwe since last Christmas, and Mom and I had been planning to take the boys to spend the day with her on Saturday. We were so close...

Gwe Gwe lived alone in Brenham. Her husband had died over 30 years ago. That meant that it was up to Dad and his brother and sister to take care of everything. And because it was all so sudden, there was a great deal of hunting for certain paperwork and things (and often following one odd little handwritten note to another), as well as figuring out what to do with an empty house and unused car until things could be figured out more and there was time to take care of them.

...and this all just six weeks after MeeMaw died, leaving Mom and her brother to take care of everything. What a load.

Knowing that there was not much I could do to help with this since my lovely little crew of helpers would be along (and Bret would not be able to come until after our worship gathering on Sunday), we took the opportunity to go to Gammie's house (which is near Brenham) and spent some time with Gammie, Poppy, Aggie, Uncle Kevin, and Cousin Kaleb.

After reuniting with Kaleb Saturday morning,a fun pasture party on Saturday night (I SO wish I had taken my camera!), and worship with Gammie and Poppy on Sunday morning, we were off to Brenham. We met up with our family at Gwe Gwe's. It was probably the last time I'll ever go to that house...at least with it still looking the way it's looked for the past thirty years...

The visitation was Sunday evening. Bret had met up with my brother and brothers-in-law (my sisters were already there), and they made it just in time. We saw a lot of family that we hadn't seen in a long time. Some of them were even meeting some or all of the boys in person for the first time.

Conner and Micah were still very interested in seeing Gwe Gwe's body. But after they had done their looking and touching, they were satisfied and spent most of the rest of the time playing with their daddy and aunts and uncles.

We talked a lot about the past. Gwe Gwe was German, and often called us "britzelpater" (I have no idea how that German word it actually spelled) as children. I had always thought that was pickled canteloupe. (Yes, it's just as disgusting as it sounds!) But apparently, she was not calling us melons -- it's just a German word to lovingly call a child a mischief-maker.

We talked about the time we got to spend with her during the summers when we were younger -- the trips to the movies and McDonald's, the Blue Bell creamery and the monastery with miniature horses, the trips to the grocery store where we each got to pick our very own six pack of cokes and box of cereal. We talked about how she would save her dimes in baby food jars.

There were a lot of people who were really still in shock. I lost track of how many people I heard say over and over, "But she always looked so good." And she did. She was an 80+ year old woman, and had her list of aches and pains, but mostly she was doing really good. Everyone had been surprised.

The funeral the next morning. It was good to have the family together -- the first time in a very long time that we had all been together. I was a pall bearer. That was a first for me. Bret has done it several times, but in the past it's always been the guys who do this job. Well, this time around, she had asked that the grandsons and grandsons-in-law take this job...but only four of them were available. So my sisters and I got to join in. Thankfully, the church's preschool/daycare was gracious enough to let the Wellsbrothers hang out with them during the service so that I could participate in this honor. (That's why they're not in the picture above.)

This all took place at Gwe Gwe's Lutheran church. It's very different from the good ol' Church of Christ I grew up with, and I remember how cool it was when as a little girl I got to pull the padded bars down so that we could kneel and read our part of the "script." I was glad to get to go back there one more time. However, because this worship felt so different from what I am accustomed to, the funeral just wasn't highly emotional for me. I felt very detached and a little awkward. It was definitely a funeral, and it was definitely my grandmother that we were remembering...the service just lacked the personalized touch that I guess I have grown to expect.

The hardest part of it all was at the end, when the seven grandchildren (me and Bret, Ira, Lydia and Chris, Jodi and Robert) together lifted Gwe Gwe's casket and carried it to the waiting vehicle. It was heavy, and we were carrying it down some stairs -- difficult and requiring a lot of teamwork. It was very strange, this feeling of the weight my grandmother in her casket, entrusted to my siblings and I alone, on her last exit of the church she had been so faithful to. I have never experienced anything quite like it.

After a brief refreshment and time of visitation, we were whisked away to our vehicles. The burial was to be at the VA Cemetery in Houston (where Dad's dad was buried), about an hour away. I'm sure you in Texas remember how cold and rainy and cloudy and just down right dreary most of October was. October 12th was no exception. It wasn't raining hard, but we definitely ran to the van to keep from getting too wet and cold. I was dreading the graveside service.

However, as we drove to Houston, we started seeing a break in the clouds. And then the sun started peeking through. And by the time we got to the cemetery, the rain had stopped, the sun was shining, and it had begun to warm up. Perfect timing.

Now, I don't know if you've ever been to a graveside service at a VA Cemetery, but once again, it was not what I was used to. It wasn't even actually a graveside service. Instead, there was a little chapel, and my siblings and I carried the casket into the building one last time. There was a song and another few prayers, and we were done. When the last of the friends and family had exited the building, the cemetery's workers loaded the casket onto a little cart, and drove it to the burial plot. Honestly, I felt a bit cheated. Outside, our family decided that we would like to go see the headstone. None of us had ever seen where Dad's dad had been buried, except Dad -- and that had been the day he was buried, 36 years ago. You see, his death had been extremely sudden as well. And it happened before my mother was even on the scene. So, for whatever reason, no one ever talked about him. Growing up, we knew a few of the circumstances surrounding his death, but we never really learned much about him. We talked about him so little that we had never even given him a "grandparent" name, he had always just been "Dad's dad."

During all of the going through things and looking for stuff at Gwe Gwe's house, we had learned a little bit more about Dad's dad. And suddenly, it was okay to talk about him and remember him. They even found a little box of random little things that had belonged to him, and Dad told us some stories about him that we had never heard. So we decided that really, he needed a name. And we settled on "Yo Gwe." "Yo" for "Yogi," what my kids call my dad. "Gwe" for "Gwe Gwe," to whom he had been married. Yo Gwe. Strange, yes. But it made sense, and finally this mystery of a grandfather had been named.

And suddenly, we found that we were all experiencing some grief toward not only his death, but for the fact that we had never known him, or even very much about him. It seemed only appropriate that we go see the place where he was buried while our family was there together.We walked to the site -- which, thankfully was very near the chapel -- my children splashing in all of the puddles along the way. One of the things that I will always remember about Gwe Gwe's funeral is that this was when Joey learned about splashing in puddles. You see, many of the headstones are flush with the ground like this, for easy mowing. And after all of the rain from the preceding days, nearly every one of them was more a puddle than anything else -- pure joy for three little boys.

However the VA Cemetery is nothing if not efficient. Before we got there, the casket cart had beaten us. They had already put the casket in a plastic encasement and had the digger right there ready to go. They did pause as we looked, talked, took pictures. But as soon as we turned our backs, they set back to work. You can see all the machinery at the edges of the picture.We finished up our weekend of memories with lunch together. And what would appropriately complete this already eventful and crazy weekend? That's right -- Micah puked. All over the table, all over the bathroom. He wasn't eating his lunch very well, but wanted some candy at the checkout counter. So we had insisted that he eat about half of what was on his plate. So he did...and then promptly "un-ate" it. Oops. I guess he really wasn't hungry afterall... Luckily, the van was crammed with bags of clothes for everyone, and since I have learned that the kid apparently likes to do this every now and then I have also learned to keep extra towels, baby wipes, Lysol, and Clorox wipes in the van for just such occasions. It was a relatively easy fix.

As we were finally loading up into our cars to make the trip back home, we noticed that the sky had started clouding up again and the air was getting cooler. Not long into the trip home, it started raining again. It was literally like God had given us that little bit of sunshine at just the time that we needed it. What a wonderful gift -- one I will likely never forget.

Gwe Gwe, we miss you. I so wish that we could have spent that one last weekend with you. I'm doing my best to make peace with the fact that we all had the gift of anticipation. One of the things that Mom and Dad had found in Gwe Gwe's kitchen was a grocery list and a little stack of coupons, obviously for items that she had been planning to pick up for our visit on Saturday. I've got them in my purse, and plan to make that little shopping trip for her...but it's something I want to do alone, and just haven't yet brought myself to do it...

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Afternoon with Tigger

Yesterday afternoon, Conner came home with his class pet, Terrific Tigger. He was very excited...until I told him that we needed to run a few errands before we went home. Conner does not like to run errands.

But then I told him that he and Tigger could get excited again, because we were planning to eat dinner at Rosa's (Taco Tuesday -- a taco plate for $3.33, we can feed the whole the family for about $10!), and Bubba and Uncle Chris were going to meet us there! To say that he got excited again would be an understatement.

So we ran our errands, went home for a little while, and were off to Rosa's. Tigger happily sat between a couple of plants on a ledge while we ate. (And on Conner's head for a few minutes.)And then the real excitement began -- we saw Mrs. Scarpello! Conner grabbed Tigger (how crazy is it that the day that we see her was the same day that Conner had Tigger?!) and practically bolted out of the booth, ran to her, and almost knocked her over with a hug. Mr. Scarpello had been released from the outpatient rehab center on Saturday, and this was their first attempt at going out. He showed Conner the "cool" scar on his back, and Conner showed him the scar on his pinky finger.

Mr. Scarpello is doing much better, but he still needs Mrs. Scarpello to help him with pretty much everything. So, even though he's home, she's not back at school yet. But that's fine. She's doing exactly what she needs to be doing, and her class is in good hands with Mrs. Burton.

When we got home, Conner had a really cool story to write about in Tigger's journal, (including Tigger's Mrs-Scarpello-requested-visit-to-the-washing-machine!) and a picture of he and Tigger with Mrs. Scarpello. We couldn't have made up anything more exciting! :)
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