Another Loss

We just lost yet another loved one in our life, this time very suddenly and definitely unexpected.

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Late last October, we spent a very quick weekend camping with some friends.  We all needed a little break from our everyday lives, and I really needed a couple of nights away to refresh a bit as we were dealing with the hard situation of slowly losing my sweet cousin.  These long-time friends gladly joined us, as they had just purchased a brand new fifth wheel, and we shared their happiness as they took their new trailer on an inaugural trip with us.

Hubby worked with this man for thirty years, and they were good friends.  Sadly, we just lost this dear friend to a tragic accident.  One day, this friend was at work with Hubby, and the next day, he was gone.  He did not survive but a few brief minutes after the horrible crash.

Over three decades, this friend and Hubby grew very close.  They had a lot in common and helped and supported each other in ways other friends could not at times.  He and his wife were looking forward to their retirement years very soon, and they were especially looking forward to camping regularly with family and friends and even meeting new people on the road.  We were looking forward to being a part of that with them in coming years, too.

My heart is truly breaking following this tragic news that we received while on a drive around sunset with the dogs in the car.  Hubby completely broke down in tears, and it was all I could do to keep some composure myself to try to comfort him.   I drove us home as he wept and called other friends to share the sad news, and I remember seeing one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in some time as I drove.

We memorialized and buried our friend, along with many others who loved him.  He ended his life well, after many years of heartache, and for that healing, I am very grateful today.  He will most definitely be missed.  So many times in situations like this, I struggle to see how his family will go on without him, but I also know that in every situation I’ve known in the past, they always find a way, even though it is seldom easy for them.

I’m sure I will remember our friend every time we revisit the places we camped with him and his wife and enjoyed their company in some beautiful scenic spots, and I hope that over time, I can remember in gratitude and not in sadness.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
– Marcel Proust

The photos shared in today’s post are from our last trip with our friends back in October, a trip that I remember so fondly.  We had a great time acquainting them with this particular park a little more, and these photos represent some memorable moments we shared together.  It was a lovely time enjoying good friends, beautiful scenery and more than a few much needed laughs.  We also loaned him an extra HDMI cable to use, since he forgot to buy one, and Hubby had great fun teasing him about it.

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Memorable sunsets
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Hidden lake that few people know about
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Beautiful fall colors

 

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Seeing lots of bison and their young up close
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Hiking around the lake

I am feeling fairly guilty right now as I mourn the fact that this is the fifth loved one we have lost in the past fifteen months.  We lost three family members and a good friend last year, and now we’ve lost another friend.  The more I think about being a little resentful of this fact, the more guilty I feel.  Perhaps it is time to quit looking at death in this way and start being more grateful for the blessing of having these people in my life for the time they were here.  As we grow older, we will no doubt continue to lose loved ones like this, and I don’t want the pity party to only grow within me.

This is a very hard loss for many of us, and if you are a praying person, please say a prayer for his family and friends.

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Happy New Year

Happy new year to one and all!  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with those you love.

I wanted to just pop in for a bit to give a little update on what has happened since my last post here.  My mother is back in the hospital once again after experiencing some seizures for the first time on December 23.  Two weeks prior to that, she had fallen and hit her head hard, but the tests done in the ER at that time showed no injury other than the cut above her left eye and the bruises on her left arm.  She was released a couple of hours after she was seen in the ER on that visit.  An MRI was done in the ER this time, and there is evidence of one or more small strokes sometime in the past, possibly in the two-week period between these episodes.  The seizures were controlled after a couple of days with medication, but she is still not responding very well mentally and has a feeding tube at this time to receive some meds and her nutrition.  The plan is for her to be transferred back to rehab as soon as the move can be arranged, likely early next week at the soonest.  Therapists will try to work with her to see if they can get her to take nutrition and meds by mouth again and see if they can make any progress with her mentally.  I will be honest and say that two different doctors have shared with me that they are not very hopeful of making progress with her, but the second doctor told me that he is “not ready to give up on her just yet.”  Those were his exact words.

Needless to say, we are now in uncharted territory with her.  If you are a praying person, I hope you will lift her and her doctors and therapists up in prayer over the coming days.  I’m praying for God’s healing for her, in whatever form that needs to happen, as well as peace for her soul right now which is sorely needed.  I would also appreciate your prayers.  This is hard.  Very hard.

We were able to still spend a couple of days on our planned “Camping Christmas” trip with our daughter and son-in-law from California, as well as our son that lives here.  It was the first time in three years that we were all together, and some family members here at home covered for me for those first few days until we returned home early from our trip to see about Mom.  We were already out-of-town, and God works everything for a reason.  I believe it was a good thing for these relatives, including my sister, to be with Mom at this time, as almost all of them do not spend much, if any, time with Mom regularly.  Some had not seen her in many weeks, even months, and it bothered Mom terribly that they did not come around very often.  Now that I am home again, I am truly sad to see that they have all dropped out of the picture once again, too.

Even though our holiday together was clouded by this unexpected event with Mom, my little family made the best of our brief time, and I feel so blessed that we at least had those days to be together.  It was a trip that had been in the works for months, and I know now that this is something I would love to continue to do in the future, if possible, even if my whole family cannot be there each year.  We even had a dusting of snow on our drive to the area, making the landscape uniquely beautiful in a way we had not seen on previous trips.

I’m sorry that I have not been able to catch up with my blog reading here, but hopefully things will settle down a bit here soon so that I can start catching up on many things, including Reader.  Life is most definitely throwing curve balls my way right now, including ice and snow on the roads all this week, which is making trips to the hospital extremely challenging.  I’m taking great comfort in familiar routines right now, such as Bible reading and my gratitude journal.  If you have never kept a daily gratitude journal, perhaps this is the year you might give it a try?  I’m not sure where I would be these days without mine and my daily time in my Bible.  It is so easy to become ungrounded during times like this, and I just do not want to go down that road at all.  I cannot even begin to say what my dear friends mean to me right now, too.  God bless them one and all.

As I take a quick glance back on 2014, I am probably most grateful for the change in my overall physical health for the better.  It took some time and patience to make those basic changes last year, but it was so worth it.  I cannot begin to tell how grateful I am for better health and hope to continue and improve in 2015 even more.  The gift of health is forefront in my mind today as I care for my elderly mother, and I realize that the gift of health is something we should never take for granted.

Once again, Happy New Year, and may this new year bring a fresh spirit of joy, peace and love to each of us and those we love.

D
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Grand

The very next day after the tragic event with the young man which took place in our neighborhood that I wrote about in my previous post, I was blessed to accompany one of my best friends and her family to the hospital for the birth of their second grandchild. I was there with my camera for the birth of their first grandchild a few years ago, and what a privilege it was to be there with all of these special friends once again on this happiest of days.

While I am certainly no pro with my trusty camera, I was able to just be there to help ensure that the desired “first” pictures were not overlooked amid all of the fun and excitement, as well as taking a few pictures they might not see themselves, such as the picture in this post. Their job was to be family, and my job was to love them with my camera. They also received a free professional photo shoot with baby before they left the hospital, but nothing can ever replace the real-time photos taken in first hour or two in the life of a brand new baby.

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The sign in the room as the family met their precious new baby

There is just nothing like the experience of holding a new baby and seeing the expressions of those sweet family members as each one held this little 7 lb 2 oz miracle straight from the arms of God for the very first time, and I feel quite confident that I am likely preaching to the choir among many of my readers here. I’m not sure that life gets much better than times like this.

As my friend held her precious new grandson for the first time, some new thoughts came to me. Was such a celebration also taking place in Heaven at that moment? What if we are received in such a way in Heaven one day? Do angels sing at times like this? There was such great anticipation of the arrival of this sweet new life. What if it is that way in Heaven for each of us? What will that experience be like someday? Will the earthly celebration of the birth of a baby even begin to compare with the Heavenly celebration? Will this change how I look on the death of a believer going forward? I never once entertained these thoughts until that moment.

I had such a great hour in the room with these precious people in my life, and I will treasure this memory the rest of my life. And as “payment” for my services, I got to hold this sweet little boy after everyone else had their turn and even had my picture made, too. But, this was certainly not about me. It was their special time together first and foremost. My friend’s daughter was more beautiful than I’ve ever seen her, and she is always stunningly beautiful. A new mother has a special glow about her, I think. Haven’t we all seen it at some point? It is revealed in her eyes that are tired, joyful, loving, relieved and a bit scared all at the same time. It’s just priceless.

After I left the hospital, I decided to take a stroll in a nearby park for a few minutes. The grass is still green, as are the trees, and it was a beautiful afternoon to take a quick stroll around the lake in the park. Normally when I’m walking outside, I have one or both of the dogs with me to exercise them, which is always fun, but I truly enjoyed this peaceful time alone to decompress a bit. A quiet walk in nature should be a medical prescription when we are a bit out-of-sorts from the roller coaster of life. Just being in God’s creation, whether in an urban setting or out in the middle of nowhere, is always a good dose of medicine to my soul. Hopefully we will be headed out in the RV this weekend for a quick getaway to one of the state parks, too. This is such a great time of year to go camping, and we are ready to go and enjoy this beautiful weather before winter cold finally arrives in a few weeks.

I believe we all need beauty in our lives regularly, in whatever form we can see, hear, touch or smell it. For me, that also includes absorbing the beauty of God’s word regularly… as in every single day. It is medicine for my soul, comfort when times are hard and joy when times are grand. I doubt that too many things are more beautiful and grand in this earthly life than being present at the birth of a brand new baby. No wonder they call them grand… children!

And all you grand… parents reading this say…. 😀

Psalm 127:3
Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him. (NLT)

Psalm 139:13
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. (NLT)

Jeremiah 1:5
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart …” (NLT)

Matthew 18:10
“Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.” (NLT)

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Reconnecting With Friends

Once again, life seems to be in just a bit of upheaval here again, but thankfully, it is nothing like we had back in the winter when my mom fell and broke her hip.  It is more a confluence of little things and slightly larger things that are taking my precious personal time that I try to guard as much as possible until circumstances demand some of it.  I am missing my quieter mornings right now, for sure, but hopefully things will return to normal soon, too.

I managed to take some time off earlier today to reconnect personally with a high school friend who is in town for a couple of weeks to see her elderly parents.  We have not seen each other in person since 1976, although we reconnected a few years ago on Facebook.  My friend and I met for a tentatively scheduled two-hour coffee visit at Starbucks, and four and a half hours later, we had to finally cut off our visit with the hope that we will be able to get together one more time before she leaves to return to North Carolina.

On my drive home, I felt especially blessed to have been able to reconnect recently with so many long-lost friends from my younger days, and I have been truly amazed at how we have all been able to pick right up where we left off.  The love and caring concern is still there in every reunion, and I realized that I have so many dear friends, even though we have been apart for decades.  I have also been amazed at how similar a path many of us have walked in our respective lives as far as life challenges, too.

Today, my friend and I discovered that we share several similar family struggles, including one that is quite unique.  This certainly helped to fuel the discussion for our extra long visit, but we also found that the friendship that we enjoyed in high school was founded on such a solid foundation that we will likely be dear friends the rest of our lives, despite the fact that we live hundreds of miles apart.

There are days that God sends such a special treat my way when I need it most, and this was one of those days, a special reunion with a dear friend that blessed me in such a wonderful way!  I am especially grateful today, and I have cried tears of joy… always a good thing.

This beautiful song has been a favorite of mine for decades, and it expresses my heart so perfectly today where my friends, both new and old, are concerned.  May it bless you richly today.

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Am I Prepared for Thanksgiving?

Before I move on with today’s topic, I wanted to express my thanks to those that are coming to my site to read my various Thanksgiving related posts.  As I looked through the search terms yesterday, there is no doubt what is on the minds of so many right now, and that is Thanksgiving food preparations.

Search terms

I hope that my ideas have been helpful to those of you that have read them.  It seems that I will be taking my own advice this year, too, as we have decided to dine at home again instead of dining out, and I’m quite happy about that, too.

I started my own food preparations yesterday and baked a big pan of cornbread for the dressing last night so that it would have time to thoroughly dry out by Thursday morning.  As it baked, I decided to quickly check my Facebook page to see how my friends were faring with their own holiday preparations.

The first post that showed up, however, was anything but fun holiday happenings.  It was an update post from a friend’s page concerning her little grandson that is extremely ill and has recently been transferred to a large hospital in another city for more specialized treatment.  I think it is safe to say that while so many of us are supporting this precious little one with our prayers, he may not make it.  We’re going to keep bombarding God with our prayers anyway.  He is in very capable medical hands now as well.

What has struck me and literally brings tears to my eyes every time I read a new update from the family is how faithful they are and how willingly they are opening up and sharing their heart with hundreds of us each day.  Thanksgiving meal preparations are not on their agenda right now, but Thanksgiving has been in their hearts every single day from the very beginning.

Let me just say that one more time… mostly for my own benefit… because it hit me like a ton of bricks last night.

Thanksgiving has been in their hearts every single day from the very beginning.

God never ceases to amaze me how he speaks at times.  My friends are already prepared for Thanksgiving.  They are living it on a daily basis in the midst of a struggle that few of us can even imagine.  I am so humbled by their faith, and now I must ask myself if I am also prepared for Thanksgiving, not only this week but every single day in the future.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

“…give thanks *in* *all* *circumstances*…

D
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An Unexpected Gift

I am so blessed to be friends with some truly wonderful people, and I’m also blessed to even know some of their elderly parents so well that I call them friends, too.  The father of one of my best friends is not in good health, and her mother cares for him full-time now.  Once a month, I try to cook a meal for them, and I’ve also kept them supplied with fresh tomatoes from our garden for the past few months, which they have absolutely loved.  Taking a meal to them is also a treat for me because I enjoy chatting with them.  They are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met and take this difficult stage in their lives with a patience that I only wish I possessed.

About two weeks ago, I took a meal to them which consisted of Pioneer Woman’s potato soup and some sweet cornbread to go with it.  I joked with them that they were test subjects for this new soup recipe from PW and that I was afraid it might not be fit to eat.  Of course, anyone that knows anything about Pioneer Woman’s recipes knows that they are all pretty much fabulous.  My friend’s mom told me that I could cook anything for them anytime, especially if it was a PW recipe, and I agreed to continue to look for more of PW’s amazing recipes online to prepare for them in the future on my monthly visit.

A few days ago, my friend’s mom stopped by to return my dishes from that dinner, and to my huge surprise, she brought this along, too…

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Pioneer Woman Cooks – A Year of Holidays

… and it is for me!!!  😀

I would have purchased this cookbook at some point on my own because I’m a huge PW fan, but receiving it as a special, unexpected gift from a dear friend makes it a treasured keepsake for me, not just a cookbook.  She also gave me a card with a sweet note inside that she had written, and I just got very teary when I read it.  I love these people so much and never, ever expected something like that.  I can’t wait to make them a meal from the new cookbook now, too.  Unexpected gifts are just the best, aren’t they?

As I think about the gifts I will give to others this year for Christmas, I need to continue to try even harder to find some special gifts that will hopefully be remembered and treasured, even if it is not the primary gift that I give them.  I did a great job of doing just that a few years ago, when I compiled family recipe scrapbooks for my kids, as well as one for me.  The scrapbooks contained all of our long-time family recipes, and I made sure to include my own recipes, as well as recipes from their grandmothers and great-grandmothers.  I worked very hard on the scrapbooks for about two months, and both kids were just blown away by them, even our son.  Both kids spent a lot of time on that special Christmas Day looking through their new scrapbooks and realized that I had put a lot of work into them.  Honestly, I’m not sure I will ever top that gift, but I would like to keep trying to find ways to give more thoughtful gifts like that – the gifts that will be treasured for a long time.

D
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Irish Stew

It’s not St. Patrick’s Day.  I’m not Irish.  It’s not even remotely cold outside.  So, why am I so excited about making Irish Stew for the first time?

Irish Stew
Irish Stew

I have decided to prepare a little surprise dinner to take to a friend and her husband next week on the night before they leave on a long anticipated vacation to Ireland for the first time.  Of course, I needed to make a test batch ahead of time so that I wouldn’t run the risk of taking something less than desired, and it sounded so good that I just couldn’t resist making a batch for us right away.

While looking at some traditional Irish recipes, it didn’t take long to decide on a good Irish stew as the main course for our friends’ special dinner.  I spent quite a bit of time looking at recipes and, ultimately, I decided on a recipe that I thought would be good and only slightly modified it to our taste.  It is hands down the best stew I have ever eaten, too.  Usually when I try a new recipe, I have to prepare it two or three times until I get it just the way I want it, but this one was just perfect the very first time for us.

I opted to use half lamb cubes and half beef cubes in this recipe.  While I didn’t actually see a recipe with the meats combined, I found plenty of recipes that used one or the other.  Lamb is the more traditional choice, but beef is often used as well.  I just couldn’t resist giving it a try with the beef.  Initially, I thought that I would just see which one my husband and I liked better and use it in future preparations, but we loved both meats in this dish and thought the dish was perfect this way.  I just browned each of the meats separately in the fat, since I needed to brown them in my enameled cast iron pot in two batches anyway.

The butcher also cubed each of the meats for me.  I purchased a chuck roast and leg of lamb and had a little more of the fat removed from the lamb cuts.  I think most butchers will do this for free, and it’s certainly worth asking your butcher if you don’t know for sure because it is a big time saver.

Here is the recipe!  It serves 3-4 people.

IRISH STEW

5 slices bacon (fattier pieces – inexpensive bacon works great)

In a large pot, (I used a large enameled cast iron pot), cook the bacon slowly over medium heat on the stove until well done to render out as much of the fat as possible.  Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain, leaving as much of the fat in the pot as possible.  (This is a step that I added.  If you prefer, just add some canola oil to the hot pot to brown the meats and omit the bacon completely.  I won’t be doing that, based on how well this came out with the bacon.)

1  1/2 pounds of cubed meat (either lamb, beef or both)
1 c. flour
salt and pepper

While the bacon is cooking in the pot, season the meat cubes well with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour until completely coated.  After removing the bacon, brown the meat in two groups in a single layer in the pot over medium to medium high heat, turning with tongs as needed to brown evenly.  After the meat is evenly browned, remove it to a plate, leaving the bacon drippings in the pan.  The meat will not be cooked thoroughly at this point, only browned on the surface.

1 medium sweet onion, cut into slices and separated into rings
2 Tbsp. canola oil

After removing the meat from the pot, add some canola oil, if needed, to saute the onions.  Cook them over medium high heat until they are just soft.  Chop the bacon into small pieces and add it back into the pot, along with just a dash of salt.  

1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or more to taste)
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder (or more to taste)
1 – 11 oz bottle Guinness
1 – 14 oz can beef broth

Add the meat back into the pot, along with the thyme, garlic powder, Guinness and beef broth.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook on the stove for 30-45 minutes, making sure that the meat is thoroughly cooked.  There should be just enough liquid to just cover everything in the pot.  If not, add more beef broth.  Stir often to prevent any scorching on the bottom, about every ten minutes.

6 or 7 medium red potatoes, peeled and cubed (larger cubes work best)
8 oz peeled baby carrots

After the meat is thoroughly cooked, add the potatoes and carrots to the pot and continue cooking until they are just tender.  I left the baby carrots whole and cut the potatoes into larger cubes about the same size as the carrots.  After about 30 minutes, they were done and not overcooked.

1 – 2 Tbsp. uncooked white rice

Pearl barley is the more traditional option for this dish, but since I didn’t have it on hand, I simply used a bit of uncooked white rice.  Just add it into the pot and let the stew cook covered on medium low heat until the rice is soft, about 5 – 10 minutes.  The rice will thicken the stew a lot, which makes this dish just as it is supposed to be, thick and rich.  Just be careful to not add too much rice or barley, but feel free to add a bit more, if needed, if the broth is still soupy.  Add the rice a little at time if in doubt.

When the rice is soft, keep the stew warm in a 250 degree oven until ready to serve.

Fresh parsley (green tips only, no stems)

Just before serving, add the fresh parsley to the stew to brighten it up, stirring it into the stew well.  Serve the stew hot with a good Irish soda bread or any other crusty bread you like.

This is such a great, classic dish, even in mid-May in 90 degree weather.  I can’t wait to surprise our friends with this special dish next week to help kick off their wonderful vacation!

D
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