Canada

My Mom's Celebration of Life by Leslie Fandrich

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Yesterday, our family and friends gathered to celebrate and remember my Mom's life. Yes, it was a funeral, but it was so much more than that. This wasn't a sombre religious affair. Sure, there were tears, but the focus was on my Mom. Who she was, what she brought to all of our lives, and what her life meant to all of us. It was a wonderful day.

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Inside three panel spread of the Service Card.

Inside three panel spread of the Service Card.

Inside fold, back and front of the Service Card.

Inside fold, back and front of the Service Card.

Our first family picture without my Mom. The new normal. In most of the pictures we took of our family, you could see circles of light, usually over my sister and her husband. Call them dust particles if you want, but I'm going to believe that my Mom was close by.

Our first family picture without my Mom. The new normal. In most of the pictures we took of our family, you could see circles of light, usually over my sister and her husband. Call them dust particles if you want, but I'm going to believe that my Mom was close by.

I made the memorial video, with the help of my sister and aunt and uncle. We searched though dozens of old family photo albums and picked from hundreds of digital images. When I asked my Mom what her favorite song was, she said "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi, so I put it in. The lyrics were perfect. We were lucky enough to be able to show her the video before she died. She cried the whole way through, in a good way, and commented that she thought she blossomed when she became a mother. My Dad said it gave him some perspective. I love all the pictures from the Eighties.

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My husband also wrote a song after he visited with my Mom last month. He got home, without me, and it just came pouring out of his heart all at once. It's called Paper Airplane.

If you are just tuning in, here are all the earlier posts about what's been going on:

Finally, if you wished you could have been there, I have a video of the complete service. It's a full hour (I cut out the 15 minutes of the Memorial Video up above), but if you have the time and interest, you may like to listen to my Eulogy and the tributes from family and friends. Everyone who spoke brought something different to the picture of who my Mom was and I really appreciated hearing about my Mom from another perspective.

It was a great day. After the service, we all gathered at the reception center for a few hours and then a large group of family and friends went over to my sister's place. It was so nice, huddling with my family, sharing stories and being close with so many who loved my Mom. It was comforting, fun, and special. Returning home will be hard, but it will bring about a new phase of this process for me. Alone with my thoughts, I expect to be reliving these last two months and feeling it more deeply than ever. Now, the grieving really begins.

In Memoriam // Bonny Fandrich // 1950 - 2013 by Leslie Fandrich

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Mrs. Bonny Fandrich (nee Bouchard), beloved wife of Bryan Fandrich, passed away peacefully at the Carmel Hospice in Medicine Hat on Thursday, April 11, 2013, at the age of 62 years from a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.

Bonny leaves to cherish her memory; two daughters, Leslie Fandrich (Chris Janata) of Warwick, New York and Jill (Mark) Braithwaite of Calgary, Alberta; one step daughter, Tracy (Allen) Woloshyniuk of Coalhurst, Alberta; and four grandchildren, Milo and Quinn Janata and William and Nicole Woloshyniuk. Bonny is also survived by three dear sisters, Shirley, Alita and Vicki, three sisters-in-law, six brothers-in-law and 31 nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her parents Roland and Mary Bouchard of Red Deer, and her parents-in-law Edward and Iris Fandrich of Medicine Hat.

Bonny was born June 10, 1950 in Red Deer, Alberta. She moved to Medicine Hat with her family when she was 16, excelled at Track and Field in school and loved playing the accordion. Her love affair with Bryan began in 1968. After she built a house with him, they got married in 1972 and their two daughters were born soon after. In 1981, when “the girls” were six and four they moved up to a grand old house on “the Hill” with a view of the cliffs, where they raised their family and lived until just last year. Bonny worked hard in every aspect of her life. Her home and garden were her pride and joy, there was a home cooked meal on the table almost every night and she assisted Bryan in the refrigeration business as well as helping maintain and manage several rental properties. She was devoted to her family and her relationship with her two daughters was always very close. She loved riding horses as a young girl, aerobics and bike riding were her passions in the 80’s and 90’s and she always took pride in looking her best. She was still wearing sexy heels at age 60. The family grew up camping in “the van” and travelling all over Southern Alberta and into the United States. Memorable trips included Yellowstone, the Lewis & Clark Caverns and into British Columbia. Bonny laughed easily, loved deeply and enjoyed her life immensely. In her later life she loved travelling to New York to visit her daughter’s family and with Bryan she completed a life long dream when they travelled to Hawaii in 2010 to attend a dear friend’s wedding. That trip happened right before she was diagnosed with cancer and it would sadly be her last. She bravely faced her cancer diagnosis and fought as hard as she could, living with the challenges it brought her with strength and determination.

Bonny’s family would like to thank all the doctors, nurses and staff at Tom Baker Cancer Center in Calgary and the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital and give a special heartfelt thanks to everyone at the Carmel Hospice in Medicine Hat for the tireless and devoted care they provided to all of us during this most vulnerable time. Cremation has taken place and a Memorial Celebration of Bonny’s life will be held in Calgary at McInnis & Holloway Funeral Homes, Fish Creek Chapel 14441 Bannister Road Southeast, Calgary, Alberta on Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 2:00pm with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in Bonny’s name can be made directly to the Carmel Hospice, St. Joseph’s Home, 156 - 3rd Street NE, Medicine Hat, Alberta, T1A 5M1.

She's Gone by Leslie Fandrich

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The words are hard to find right now. For all the writing I've done about my Mom's journey, right now in this moment knowing she is really gone leaves me speechless. I can't believe it even though I know it's true.

I'll write more about the last week that I spent with her in a few days, but for now all I can say is that when I saw her tonight she was finally calm and at peace and that made me feel better. She was still and perfect and her pain was gone. 

I'm still so sad though. I cried more in an hour and a half tonight than I have all week with her, finally able to let go of the tears and deeply feel this immense loss. And now? Shock. Disbelief. Exhaustion. The process gets dialed back to zero and I start grieving all over again in a new way.

This sucks. But it is life. It is love. And it's all we've really got. I'm so grateful for every moment I had with her. It wasn't enough, but it never is when you really love someone. Cherish every moment.

Big hugs to everyone who has been touched by my Mom's strength, bright light and love. I cannot tell you all how much your love and support has meant to me at this time. This note that she wrote is addressed to me and my sister, but it's for you too. So simple, so sweet and so wise. "Be Happy. Be Loved. Try Something Magical."

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I'm going to miss her so much.

Bonny Fandrich: June 10, 1950 - April 11, 2013

Arrival and Departure by Leslie Fandrich

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The weather was gorgeous today in New York. I didn't wear a jacket, the air smelled like grass and dirt and the sunshine was warm on my skin. When my Mom first entered Hospice it was still cold outside and she told my sister she wanted to see spring blossom one last time. I took these pictures last year and they are for her.

I'm heading back to Canada tomorrow. My Mom has been holding steady for the last 3 weeks, but they increased her pain medication last weekend (she's now getting up to 20mls of Dilaudid an hour) and the confusion, anxiety and hallucinations also increased so they have been giving her an anti-anxiety medication called Versed. It's a sedative that allows her to relax, sleep and feel less stressed out about what's going on. In the last three days, if she wakes up and the Versed has worn off, she is very upset and doesn't know what to do with herself. Unfortunately, she is getting to the point where she needs to be fully sedated and with that will come a catheter, a cessation of eating and reduced mobility. I don't think it will be long after that.

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I'm not going back to take care of her, the team of nurses that she has at the Hospice facility are doing a great job of that, but my presence may bring her some comfort. I am mostly going for myself and for my sister and Dad. They need my support and I need to bear witness to this. I can't stay away. As hard as it will be to see her like this, I know I need to be there. To share in the grief, to be part of the process, to see her out in the same way that she saw me in. With love.

I'm trying to be really zen about this you guys, and it works sometimes, but I've also had this nagging headache for two days and the feeling of dread about what's to come. In a perfect world everything would be serene and peaceful and beautiful, but that's not reality. At least not all the time. I hope there will be beautiful moments, but this is also the hardest, most stressful time in my life and this is a difficult process. She's angry, she's emotional, she doesn't understand what she needs to do. How does a person die?

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I try to remind myself that death is like birth. It's a transition. It's a changing of states. It's traumatic and you have to labor at it. The body does strange things. You need to accept the process and ride the waves. Eventually, at the end of all the work, there is a release and things change forever. Her and I have been through this together before, and we can go through it together again. I can do this for her. I am ready.

It's a strange duality, spring blossoming and my Mom dying. But I am grateful for the warm sun and the new flowers to bring a little beauty to the world while this is happening. It's the way she wanted it.

One Thousand Goodbyes by Leslie Fandrich

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Three weeks ago I wrote about visiting the oncologist with my Mom and learning that she only had a few months left to live. It was an emotional trip and for the first time since she was diagnosed we were faced with the fact that she was really and truly going to be leaving us soon. When I got home, I planned a trip to visit with my husband and the kids during spring break at the end of March, but things took a turn for the worse and my Mom ended up in the palliative unit of the hospital on March 2nd. We got word from the doctors that we should come visit right away. What a day that was. After we rearranged our travel plans I therapeutically sorted my kid's entire box of Lego into separate color bins just to cope. Gray. Black. Blue. Red. You know which box was the fullest? Gray. And there were barely any purple legos. That needs to change.

The last week and a half has been so hard and amazing at the same time. Last week all kinds of family and friends were dropping in to see my Mom. I’m pretty sure almost everyone who loves her was here and there have been so many wonderful visits with lots of hugs and laughter. We’ve got an amazing family and they all care about my Mom so much. It’s especially sweet to see her with my kids. I really wanted her to have some good quality time with them and even though they are a bundle of energy and flitting about, I think she had some good moments with them.

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Last Saturday she was moved from Palliative Care at the hospital to the Hospice facility and I can’t tell you enough how amazing it is here. It’s newly renovated with an amazing staff of nurses who are taking such good care of her. Her pain is a growing beast and they have been doing what they can to stay on top of it. Her fentanyl has been increased to 100 mgs and she was taken off the Oxycodone pills and is now getting a 4 mg shot of Dilaudid every few hours. On Monday she will be put on a pain medication pump that automatically delivers a shot every few hours and she can press a button to get an extra shot when she needs it. They will monitor the usage and increase it as necessary.

Dilaudid is amazing. She is feeling way more relaxed and today has been her best day yet. Tuesday night, the phone rang at my Dad’s house at 12:30 am, just two hours after I had gone to bed and I woke up in a panic, my heart pounding and ran down to where my Dad was on the phone. She was calling to tell us she had just gotten another shot of Dilaudid and she was feeling pretty good. Oh my goodness! It was a midnight call to tell us she was feeling fine. I guess I'd rather get that over the alternative, but I really hope it doesn't happen again. My system can’t handle the shock of waking up to the phone ringing in the middle of the night too many times.

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Chris and the kids went home on Monday and I stayed behind to take care of things and make sure my Mom is comfortable. I miss my family, but they understand that this is where I need to be right now. I told Milo, my oldest son, that I needed to stay here with Grandma, he said, "Mom, if you were sick like that, I'd stay too." He is such a great kid, to understand so well what I am going through. My husband is nothing less than a super star for carrying the weight of our family while I do this.

Before her pain medication was changed, the greatest challenge for me was dealing with any disorientation and confusion that she had. It's disconcerting to see her searching for something that isn't there, or arranging and rearranging her bed sheets over and over again. She has experienced some paranoia and hallucinations and dealing with her irrational thoughts has been difficult, but it hasn't seemed to last for very long and I think the new pain medication is totally helping with that. Today she’s been busy, chatty and very happy, asking for her jewelry and dropping in to visit my Dad at home after an appointment at the hospital. I am so grateful for her pain being under control and for the lucidity that she is having today.

Taking care of myself has been important too. I got my bangs trimmed yesterday and I found a wonderful cafe just down the street with the best panini sandwiches. Perhaps it tasted better in contrast to the reality I am facing, but whatever the reason, I really enjoyed that quiet hour alone. I also saw a friend yesterday and kissed her beautiful kids and I am making sure I am getting enough sleep and down time.

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The very hardest part of all of this is, of course, the goodbyes. Each person who has visited has done it just a little differently and the best way they know how. For some, my Mom has been comforting and reassuring. For others, like my husband, he couldn't say goodbye and instead said, "Arrivederci” which is Italian for "Until we meet again." It's almost unbearable to think that you will not see or speak to someone again, and so sometimes, you just don't. My kids said goodbye just the same way they did every other day and I didn’t emphasize to them that it was the last one. I know the significance though, and my heart breaks at the thought that they won't get to spend time with her again. I was happy that just before we left, the kids sat quietly in chairs next to her bed and talked with her more calmly than they had all week. Maybe they did know, in their own way, after all. In the car, after we left, Chris said, “So, is that it?” and for him, it was. 

As for me, I've been saying goodbye to her twice every day for ten days now, so there have been at least twenty goodbyes from me. Thirty by the time I am supposed to return home. As the days go on I am aware that each goodbye may be the last but I'm just trying to stay in the moment and enjoy this time with her. I am asking her questions about her life, making sure I know what her favorite things are and indulging her requests to brush and braid my hair. I am so happy to listen to her memories and stories and to hear about her life. Things have come up that I have never heard before, like her Granny Boksan’s cow named Bossy. There is also emotional work to do when you are faced with this kind of time and I am so grateful to be a part of her journey. She has been focusing on forgiveness and letting go of emotions that weigh her down. I know her so much better because of these special conversations.

No one can tell us what the next few weeks hold. I know that she is getting the care she needs in Hospice and that she is feeling as good as she can under the circumstances. If she has more days like today, she may still be with us for a while. She seems to have a lot of fight left in her yet and the comfort that the pain medication is finally giving her is so welcome. Whatever is in store for us, we are enjoying these days together, and that is what counts.

Lost Days Video Short by Leslie Fandrich

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Sun soaked and wistful, this beautiful video short by my dear friend Regina Garcia totally made my day yesterday. It makes me yearn for summer (and youth if we are being totally honest here.)

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Regina told me about filming this last summer in Canada with Goh Iromoto and I couldn't wait to see it. They didn't disappoint. I want to be that girl in the film. I love every single scene but especially the night scene by the bonfire. It's just gorgeous.

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Regina and I went to college together and I have always loved her approach to photography and styling. She has always photographed beautiful strong women and her portraits of children (including my own Milo and Quinn) are fun and playful.

Keep an eye on her, I think she has even more beautiful, creative work to come.

Dearest Iris: August 25, 1942 by Leslie

The letters between my Grandma and Grandpa are fascinating me. I'm pretty sure I have to transcribe them all and put them in order because I want to read them from beginning to end. They show my grandparents falling in love and anxious to marry, while living apart. It's so sweet. There are also letters from after thier marriage, when my Grandma was home with small babies and my Grandpa was away working, but these early letters when they were falling in love are amazing.

Here is the transcription of a letter dated August 25th, 1942. It is to my Grandma Iris, from my Grandpa Eddie, nine months after they met. Iris is almost 19, living in Calgary and attending secretarial school and Eddie is 24 and living in Hilda working with his Dad on the Farm.

Box 358
Hilda, Alberta
August 25, 1942

Dearest Iris,

should have written to you long before this, not alone by virtue of my promise to write soon, but because just now I'm keenly anxious to hear from you. It may be that I'm somewhat spoilt in this business of expecting letters. Some of the letters I received from you while at Innisfail, though, did things to me I should never ordinarily attribute to letters.

Got home okay, and since then have done a little of everything to pass my holidays. Took in a branding session and played cowboy for a day. Killed several rattlers a few days ago, kept the rattles and have tacked them up in the car as trophies. The country down here seemed especially barren for a few days after I was backsecretly I'm a bit homesick for Innisfail, and all the little wonders that make it such a place.

Had an offer to go down to Estevan to work as assistant manager for the YMCA, but with a salary cut of ten dollars per month—so didn't accept. This was to have been only a temporary placing until another position comes along as before. Didn't feel like going to work anyway. But just now I've agreed to run one of Dad's combines at $7.50 a day, which isn't going to be too bad until something better comes along with the Y.

I may get the urge to come to Calgary sometime soon. One of Dad's trucks is in Calgary every other daya likely route if I wished to take it, without being ------?------. Had another tire blowoutdidn't walk this timeand got the tire vulcanized. This was strictly on business though.

I miss you terribly Iris—please write soon. With this letter I am blowing a kiss and may reminiscence grant the enchantment I felt when I gave them otherwise.

With Love, Eddie.

 

It's that lovely and sweet?! And I love how my Grandpa is showing my Grandma that he is a bad ass with the rattler tails hanging in his car. Awesome.

If I do transcribe them all, it will be quite a task. There are about 70 letters from my Grandpa, including telegrams and all in their original envelopes. There are at least twice as many from my Grandma, and hers are much longer, though not as many in envelopes. I guess my Grandpa kept only the letters.

Oh, this is exciting! I stopped writing this post to see if I could quickly find my Grandma's reply to the letter above. I was lucky and I found it right away! I can't believe it. It's a long one! Eight pages, so I'll just transcribe a few parts here.

1206 - 4th street NW
Calgary, Alberta
28/8/1942

Dearest Eddie,

I've wanted to write to you so much—but not knowing your whereabouts I just had to be satisfied and wait for some word from you. I felt like a dish rag when I came into the house tonight about 7, saw your handwriting staring me in the face and it changed my feeling in a jiffy. Mrs. B had it set up in plain sight in front of the clock and as I soon as I came in she said 'the letter you've been waiting for'. She knew it was from you. I don't feel the least bit peeved, though somewhat neglected. I felt low coming home every evening and finding no letter. But I knew you would write, of course. I've been teased about your having another one down there, but I can laugh up my sleeve, because I know something they don't know.

<six paragraphs follow about what she has been up to in Calgary, including detailed descriptions of games played at a school picnic.>

It may do you good to get back to nature again. I wish I could—I'd love to be back on the farm for a while. The life you've been living may tend to make you an old softie. But with all this harvest labor shortage you've probably happy you can pass the time away doing that. As for the rattler business—I don't mind your having the rattlers for trophies but please remove them if I get the chance to ride in the car while you still have a fancy for them. As I've said before, I hate reptiles—even the tail ends of them bother me. I did spend the day among all the handsome prehistoric animals but they were quite unlifelike.

Wish you were still here so you could be in Innisfail next weekend. It will hardly seem the same happy holiday without you there. I miss you too, Ed, and would be so happy if you should come up this way soon. It's probably too much to expect you to be posted close to Calgary but I'm still hoping. You seemed closer at Bowden because I knew I'd see you before long even when you never wrote. But up until now I hadn't any idea, whatever, where you were and you did seem so far away.

I could scarcely control myself the first Sunday after you left. I was down at Vie's. Auntie Hazel was telling me she and Vie had had their teacups read. The reader said Vie was going to be very unsettled for a time. That's true, since they are giving up their place and Bert's going in the army. She told Auntie Hazel she was going on an unexpected trip and also that she was going to hear of an engagement and it was to be a long one. Auntie Hazel teased me and looked at my 'third finger, left hand.' I laughed about it, but secretly 'bubbled.' It won't be so hard to tell her as I thought it might be. She likes you a lot and that helps considerably. Today down at Vie's Grandma said it's funny Eddie hasn't written to you, then remarked to Vie that you were one of the nicest lads she'd ever met. That's the second time she's said that in my presence. I wish I could have had you at the house more often. The family have all given me their opinion of you—good from all stations. I don't suppose it's good taste to tell you all this but I just want you to know that I'm proud of you and love you with all my heart. I've always wanted to please the family, but certainly wouldn't do it at the cost of my own happiness.

<More about her family, and her Dad being sent away again and worry about him going into real battle.>

If you should come up to Calgary soon and it's during the week and during school hours, leave a message at the school by phone or come to the school and don't feel shy about it. Otherwise of course phone the usual number. I'd certainly love to be able to take you home next weekend. I'm repeating myself, I know, but that's how much I'd like to have you with me.

I must get ready for bed so I'll be ready to hop in when they come. Tomorrow is a busy day. Bet my feet will be cold tonight. One night I had to wrap my housecoat around them they were so cold. Wouldn't you like to keep them warm for me?

Don't wait too long before you write again, will you? I feel so happy tonight every time I read your letter. Now I'll go to sleep with a nice taste in my mouth.

Lovingly, Iris. xxx


Wow, right? Iris was a firecracker, setting Ed straight about the rattler tails in his car and being all flirty with her cold feet. And apparently they were secretly engaged! Right? That's what it seems like to me at least with her hinting at something she knows that her friends don't and her feelings about it being easier to tell her Auntie Hazel than she thought. They wouldn't be married for another year and two months, so it would certainly be a long engagement for that era.

Now I really have to get these letters in order and read from the beginning. And I really hope Eddie writes to her more, don't you?

Travelling to Canada by Leslie

Yesterday was a travel day to Canada. We were up at 3 am for an 8 am flight to Calgary. The airport and flight went off without a hitch, we did long term parking and were at the airport early enough to miss the lines. The kids were great on the flight, Quinn slept for a few hours and Milo was watching the TV quietly and contentedly the whole flight. We arrived in Calgary and my sister Jill picked us up, drove us to get our rental car and then we had lunch at the Farmer's Market with her. We drove down to the historic town of Nanton, and visited the Museum of Miniatures, the Bomber Museum and an epic candy store. More on those later.

We stayed at my sister Tracy's place for the night and were the first guests in her new guest room! What an honor. The Alberta landscape is again calming my soul with wide open fields, big skies and beautiful canola crops in bloom. The header picture of my blog, with that beautiful yellow color, is a canola field. I hope to be able to capture a few new pictures today on our drive to my parent's place.

I feel like I am now a fairly good traveller with the kids, we packed light this time and each of them are big enough to carry their own backpacks. We bring a few toys, some cuddly animals, snacks and earphones that fit over their ears for the plane. Did you know that you are not allowed to wear the big earphones over your ears during take off and landing? Only the earbud style are allowed. 

We debated about bringing the stroller, as Quinn is almost old enough not to need it, but I'm glad that we had it in the airport. If he decides he doesn't want to walk, it's a nightmare if we have to carry him because he is so big. I do look forward to the day when we can bring even less! I remember the first time we packed for a trip and I swear I brought every single thing that we might possibly need. Diapers alone would take up half the suitcase. I love that things like travelling get so much easier as they get older.

Saying Good-bye to the "Dear Old House That I Grew Up In" by Leslie

My parent's moved out of the house that I spent most of my childhood in and my sister and I went back for one last visit before they sold it. I photographed the details that I didn't want to forget, the empty rooms and the doorknobs that I've spent 30 years looking at. I pulled up the carpet in my old room and added one last note, "You were a character in my life." It was a spot I had written on before, when I was younger. I wonder who will find it. There were quite a few places that had evidence of our family. The basement wall that we drew on before it was covered in panelling, the footprints in the cement, the wear and tear of a well lived life and a few hidden time capsules that we will never see again. We impressed ourselves on that house as much as it impressed on us. I'll miss it, but I hope the new owners will love it as much as I did. (Scroll down for a video and song lyrics for Dear Old House That I Grew Up In by Amanda Palmer.)

Have your parents also moved out of the home that you grew up in? How did you feel when they left? Do you go back to visit?

And now, a new and timely song from Amanda Palmer about how SHE felt when her parents sold the house she grew up in. Skip ahead to 2:30 if you want to get right to the song and skip the explanation.

Lyrics to Dear Old House That I Grew Up In by Amanda Palmer

dear old house that i grew up in
i know they're gonna leave you any day
dear old house that i grew up in
can't you find a way to make them stay

and while the girls i went to school with
went downtown with all the cool kids
i was staked out in your cellar
making friends with dead umbrellas

and the creeks of every floorboard
tell the story of the girl i stuck inside
and if they move away
i'll have no place to hide

dear old house that i grew up in
i have never really been in love
you took my heart when i was a child
and your noises wrapped around my little body
like a winterglove

you're just a random set of objects
in a town that's full of sadness
in the armpit of the world
your cut downtrees and lousy soil

and if i wanted to i'd keep you
and i'd fill you up and heat you
with the market how it is, amanda
well you know the price of oil

goodnight stairs and goodnight stars
on painted bedroom walls
attic door and banister
i'll miss you most of all

i was s'posed to keep you safe
this wasn't supposed to end
does it sound ridiculous
to call you my best friend

dear old house that i grew up in
i know i haven't visited that much
but every lifeless hotel and appartment i walk into
just reminds me of the doorknobs that i want to touch

and i won't miss you when they sell you
to some evil yuppie couple
with a child who'll put miley cyrus
posters in my bedroom

i am a native of the globe
i am a rockstar on the road
i am now centrally located
anywhere that i am known

but it doesn't feel like anywhere
when you can't go back home

dear old house i grew up in
i know it's not your fault that this went down
please don't take it personally
love, amanda

ps tell the evil yuppie couple
when i'm rich, i'll buy them out

A Peek Inside the Office of Uppercase Magazine by Leslie

I discovered Uppercase Magazine at ALT Summit last January and was so happy to learn that they are based in my college home town of Calgary, Alberta and that the founder and design director, Janine, went to the same school as I did, The Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), and graduated just a year ahead of me.

Janine and I began talking on twitter and email and one of the projects that I was working on happened to be a good fit for the Fall issue of the magazine. I am so excited that my first published article will be appearing in Issue 15! Stay tuned for more about that in September.

The Uppercase office is filled with gorgeous natural light, plenty of colorful items to inspire and of course all the printed magazines and books that they have produced. I'm so impressed with everything Janine is doing, she's worked hard to build a company founded on her passion and love of design and the printed page, all while raising a young family.

The magazine does not rely on advertising for revenue, so it has minimal ads, but that means getting subscriptions are even more important for them. I highly recommend you get this quarterly magazine delivered to your door! It's filled with inspiration, creative people doing incredible work and lots of amazing stories of people living their passions and dreams. Just click on the link below or in the sidebar. 

(Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Uppercase and receive $1 for each sale made through these links, but even if I wasn't, I would still be telling you to get in on this incredible magazine. It's THAT good.)

Thank you to Janine for letting me stop by the office, hang out as long as I wanted and take pictures! It was awesome to meet you in person and see where the magic takes place. 

Note for local Calgary creatives: Uppercase is located in the Art Central building in downtown Calgary on the corner of 7th Avenue and Center Street. The building is filled with galleries, studios, cafes and shops and it's totally worth a visit if you haven't been there before. Be sure to pop into Uppercase and see what they have to offer.

Helping My Parents Move by Leslie

My parents built a house in the valley (the Flats) of Medicine Hat roughly 40 years ago and lived there until I was 5. When we moved out, it was to a bigger house on the hill, in a better school district. They kept the small house as a rental property. They lived in the big house on the hill for 30 years and the majority of my childhood memories are there. Now, they are facing retirement, and have decided to move back to the small house in the valley that they built.

I came alone to Canada, without my husband and kids, to help them settle in after the heavy lifting part of the move was done. At the end of the first night that we were there I picked up my Dad's to do list and we all laughed about one item, "Move Shit Around". It kind of sums up my Dad perfectly, as well as what we were going to be busy doing all weekend.

My sister and I focused on unpacking boxes, gathering up our own stuff to take with us, moving furniture around, shopping for and hanging curtains on 8 windows and 2 closets, creating a family photo wall and just generally trying to make the house feel more lived in. We were glad for all the things that we have learned watching home make over shows and I really felt like I was living an episode of one of them. I would have loved to do a big reveal for my parents, but they were there the whole time, doing almost as much as we were. For all the work that we did though, I have a feeling the thing that Jill and I added the most to the house was us. Our laughter and energy hopefully brings a happy mood to the stress of moving and fills up the house with love. By the time we left, the house felt more like a home and my Mom was smiling and laughing again.

It feels good to be able to help my parents in this way, to help them start a new chapter in their lives, the way they have helped me do in the past. Families grow and change, as do the relationships within them, and every time I visit I am reassured that despite the distance of me living in another country, the threads that bond us together are long and run deep.

I asked my Dad for one thing before I arrived, all their negatives. My parents, and most people, tend to value the prints and the photo albums they create. Those are the things that are kept and treasured and the negatives are usually a remnant, never to be looked at or used again. For me though, the negatives are the originals and the raw materials that will let me tell my own story, from my point of view, my way. I started looking through the box that they packed for me and I found entire sets of double prints, in the order that they were taken and including every image that was shot. I love this. My parent's photo albums are edited versions of whatever adventure we were on and these complete sets of double prints, untouched for 25 years, tell a richer story. I had to leave them in Canada, not wanting to pack them in a checked airline bag, but I will bring a carry on suitcase on my next trip in the summer so that I can bring them safely home with me. Expect to see a whole new round of reminiscing and nostalgic pictures from my past around here soon.

The most poignant moment of the trip for me was visiting the big house. I will have an entire separate post about this later with pictures, but I'll say now that I thought the visit would be sadder than it was. I'm sure I will miss the house more in the years to come, but honestly, it was so empty and kind of worn out. The life that it held was gone, with my parents and their things. And while there was still evidence of us having been there, foot prints in the cement, drawings on the walls underneath the paneling and messages written by a 12 year old me on the floor underneath the carpet, it did not really feel like our house anymore. I took pictures of all the details to remember things that were part of my life for so long, but the house felt tired and stained and I think it needs a fresh start too. I would love to see it restored, old carpets torn out and peeling paint sanded away, to reveal the original wood and architectural details. If I had the money, I would do it myself. Oh what a grand house it could be. I have my own life far away though, and that chapter is now closed. It will be up to the next owners to decide what to do with that old place. I hope it is well loved once again.

Visiting my past is always something I enjoy doing. I love change and I love to connect and deepen my relationships. It was a great trip filled with love and I am leaving with a better sense of where I have come from and where I am going.

The Mountains by Leslie

I'm not very good at blogging on the run, but I'm going to try. I am in Canada, without my kids and husband, to see my 88 year old Grandma, spend a day with my sister Jill in Banff, visit my sister Tracy at her new house in Southern Alberta, and help my parents settle into their new house in Medicine Hat. It's family time and even though I miss my own little family, it's actually really nice to have some alone time with these beautiful people. The last five years my relationships with them have been overshadowed by the kids and I am enjoying this immensely.

The picture is heading into Banff, which is in the Rocky Mountains. I miss the mountains. I lived next to them for so many years, drove through them, dreamed about them. It was so nice to be in the mountains again and my sister and I had a great time lounging at a spa all afternoon. It was expensive, but so worth it. Yesterday made a little happy place in my mind that I can go back to again and again. I'll write more about our day soon, it was an item from my Life List, as well as one of the five goals I set for myself at Camp Mighty. 

Here's another fitting quote from Neil Gaiman's Commencement Speech, which I hope you have listened to or read by now.

"Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes  it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you'll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time."

Everyone should have mountains in their lives. Have a great weekend my friends.

Artifacts from the Farm: The Barn by Leslie

Last week I shared artifacts that I had gathered from the house at my family's abandoned farm. This week I would like to share the items that would have been in the barn or the shed. These things are less recognizable than the household items and the function of some of them are a mystery to me, but they were all used in farming. My Dad said that the washers hanging from the leather string would have probably been used as a counter weight. I find such beauty in these items. I appreciate them for their colors and shapes and I find the rust patterns beautiful. I love what happens to metal when it is exposed to the elements.

How do you feel about old rusty objects? Do you see the beauty in them, as I do? 

Artifacts from the Farm: The House by Leslie

I have visited our family's 100 year old farm twice now and I love to spend time there. My great grandfather, on my father's side, obtained the land in 1912 when land was free in Canada for farming. My family farmed it for 60 years and now it is leased out to other farmers. The buildings are still there, unused and falling down. There is a house, a barn and three or more outbuildings. My great grandparents lived there for about 30 years until their family grew up. They moved to Medicine Hat about 1950. Then the farm was run by their son Otto and his family lived there for about 20 years. After that the house was only used in the summers when the men would stay there alone.

When they finally stopped farming and began to lease the land, the stuff that had been left there by the men farming in the summer just stayed there. Most of the valuable materials have been collected over the years, like the leather and the stained glass windows, but so many small items still remain. It's a little strange to see a toothbrush sitting on a shelf, as if the place was left in a hurry and everyone forgot to take their things. What makes it even more strange for me is that these things belonged to my relatives. It's my family history out there, blowing in the wind and succumbing to the weather and the animals.

I collected a bunch of recognisable objects, as if I were on an archeological treasure hunt, and photographed them on a white backdrop. When the items were at the farm, laying in the dirt, they were garbage. I cleaned them up and now they are artifacts from the past that tell stories about who my relative were, what they liked and how they lived. This is part one, everyday items from the house. Stay tuned for part two next week, hardware and items from the barn.

Let me know what you think of these items. Do any of these old products look familar? I love the Dippity-do jar.

Return to My Great Grandparent's Farm by Leslie

This summer, during our trip to Canada, we returned to my Great Grandparent's Farm so that I could take some more pictures and explore a little further. Our previous visit was in November and it was too cold to spend very much time there. This time it was a beautiful summer day, however the mosquitoes were the size of helicopters. You could literally hear them coming, they were so big. Milo got two bites, despite the bug spray, one on his jaw and one on his hand and they swelled so badly he didn't look like himself.

Besides that irritation though, I was able to spend a little more time looking at all the details on the farm and exploring the outer buildings and the machinery. I still didn't get to do everything I wanted, next time I'd like to take my tripod and some of the old pictures that we have and try to recreate some of them.

It's very interesting to me how things weather and age, what time does to things. I love chipping paint. The layers of colors and the textures are so beautiful to me. There is chipping and peeling paint everywhere here. Watching something decay and fall apart is so beautiful and sad at the same time.

I also love the haphazard way that things seemed to be patched and fixed at the farm. In the barn there are walls of different sized plywood and old wooden shipping boxes nailed together, and in the house there are patches of flooring nailed down in random patterns. Some of these things are revealed by things falling apart, but it is also how things were repaired back then. It didn't matter how it looked, as long as it did it's job.

Finding the details that remained at the farm was thrilling for me, I loved to slow down and look carefully. There are bits and pieces of beauty amid the mess. I was also able to collect a few items, which I cleaned and photographed on a white background. Taking some of these objects out of the context of the farm really elevated their status from garbage to artifact. Stay tuned for those soon.

I wish I had a better picture in my head about what life was like when the Farm was at it's peak. I wish I was able to watch a movie, where I'm looking at the decayed and crumbling kitchen and then it fades back in time to 1925 when the windows were whole and there was a pie baking in the oven. I try to imagine my great-grandmother in the kitchen of the main house cooking, sitting around the table and laughing. It's certainly the place that I am most drawn to. I'd even love to see that kitchen in later years, after the family had moved out and it was inhabited by just the grown sons and grandsons (my Dad). They were there for just the summer to farm the land, they slept on mattresses on the floor and cooked up a quick meal with garlic powder and salt. I think a lot of the things that were left behind were from the summers that the men were there farming.

I wonder if that is what it's like for my Dad to be there. Does he see a fade out of what the farm looks like now, to what he remembers from then? I'm so interested in the nature of passing time and nostalgia. I love to see what things were like then compared to now. There are great books that take pictures of New York City streets then and now, to compare how they have changed, or this fantastic series by David Dunlap in the NY Times that uses a slider function to swipe back and forth between perfectly lined up pictures of then and now. You can even buy vintage maps and take a tour of a European city noting what is the same and what is different. 

I especially love ruins and abandoned buildings, it's as if you are closer to the past than you would be if it were a fully restored and functional space. What I wouldn't give for a time travel machine to go back and spend just a few days with my great-grandparents, to sit at their table and tell them what the family becomes and grows up to be. I'd love to tell them about the new children in the family, about our successes and how their legacy has been passed down. Wouldn't that be the coolest? I wonder what they would think of me? 

Related Posts:

Canadian Homesteading: My Great Grandparent's Farm

Canada Vacation Photos by Leslie

After our trip to Canada this summer I managed to post a couple of things, Meeting My Sister and The Sandhills, but the rest of the trip and the photographs I took while we were there were sidelined as I dealt with my Mom's health and then trying to hang onto the last weeks of summer. We had an incredible trip though and I hope I can share a few more things with you in the next month or so. I took a ton of pictures, we did so many wonderful things and each day was a different adventure. Today I'd like to share two albums of photos. The first is most of the shots I took with my iPhone and processed with Instagram and the other album is a selection of some of my best shots from the trip. Hope you enjoy!

From Bad to Worse by Leslie

Since Wednesday, so much has happened. My Mom went in for surgery late that afternoon, expecting to have a growth removed that was pressing against her colon. We already knew that this growth might be cancer, but there was a chance that it was a benign growth and that she would simply have it taken out and would quickly recover from surgery. Instead what happened was totally unexpected and almost the worst news we could have received. (Read Part 1: My Mom Needs Some Positive Thoughts)

The surgery began over an hour late and lasted only thirty minutes. Once Dr. Witzke saw what was in her abdomen, he decided not to touch anything and close her back up. That’s how bad it was. Oddly, there was no growth or tumor. It was the CT scan that led him to believe that there was a growth and her symptoms also suggested that there was something blocking her colon. 

But the surgeon found nothing where my Mom had been reporting pain. Eventually he moved aside the lining of her gut and saw that the muscles behind her ribs, extending all the way down to her pelvic bone, were completely invaded by cancer cells. He didn’t describe to us what it looked like, but he said that he recognized what it was and that it was extremely bad news, either advanced stage sarcoma or lymphoma.

Now, this doctor is a good surgeon, but he is not an oncologist experienced with cancer, so all we can do is hope that an expert who is more familiar with these types of things will not paint this in such a bad light. He did say that he would be calling a specialist in Calgary to find out what to do and my Mom would need an MRI. 

The next day, Thursday the 28th, was excruciating, waiting for the doctor to do his rounds so my Mom could ask questions. I called the nurses station twice asking for information, and once talked to my Mom briefly. My Dad was there for the morning, but was not there when the doctor finally came by. My Mom was able to ask some questions, but forgot a few things. I had so many questions myself and it was so difficult to be so far away. I wanted to know why didn’t they do the MRI before the surgery? Who was the specialist in Calgary? When could she see an oncologist in Medicine Hat? 

Meanwhile, Chris called the Tom Baker Cancer Center to find out what we needed to do to get her admitted up there. He talked to admissions and they told him that we needed the pathology, which is a microscopic examination of a tissue sample, a referral from the doctor and the operating room report. So the big question became, did Dr. Witzke take a tissue sample?

That afternoon my sister headed down to Medicine Hat from Calgary. My sister, who’s birthday it was the day before, and who called me right before she went out for dinner and a concert to hear this bad news. She said she had to know before she went out. I wished she had waited, enjoyed one last night before this shit storm. It’s no way to celebrate your birthday, worrying about someone whom you love with the depths of your soul.

My sister arrived at the hospital and spent the rest of Thursday with my Mom. When she got home that night, she answered a lot of the questions that I had been asking all day. They were focusing on pain management, Mom was walking around after the surgery and healing well, the staples would be out in a week and she would have to wait for the MRI until then, there was no tissue sample taken, the cancer was not in her pancreas just in the muscles, there was no tumor, she didn't need to be on nutrition yet. My head was spinning. No MRI for another week? No tissue sample? What were we going to do?

Our only consolation was that Jill also told me that the surgeon would be willing to talk to the family on the phone. Maybe we could get some answers and try to figure out how to get things moving a bit faster if we got on the phone with him. It was unbearable to just wait for the surgeon to appear on his rounds and the long weekend was looming. I asked Chris if he would do it for me. He had been asking me all day if we could get the doctor on the phone. Talking to strangers and getting information out of them was routine while he was researching his book and he had lots of experience dealing with doctors from the last year of being involved with his Dad's fight against leukemia and bone marrow transplant. He would be much better at it than I would.

Chris called first thing the next morning, Friday, and the surgeon was right there and ready to talk. He was very forthcoming and had all the information we were looking for. The specialist he had been talking to is Dr. Walley Temple, one of the top oncologists in the country. He is a faculty member at the University of Calgary and an oncologist at the Tom Baker Cancer Center. His credentials go on and on. He is a specialist in sarcoma and has experience in both Canada and the USA. He is also Dr. Witzke's college friend and treated his own colon cancer. It was perfect, he was a doctor for doctors! This was the guy we wanted.

Dr Witzke explained to Chris that he couldn't take a tissue sample due to it's difficult location, he didn't want to begin cutting and risk her bleeding internally. He also said that Dr. Temple had suggested that they do a needle biopsy in Calgary to determine if this was sarcoma or lymphoma. Chris asked if they could do the needle biopsy first, before the MRI, and have my Mom transferred to Calgary immediately. He readily agreed and said he'd make the calls, leaving Chris his personal number to follow up with.

So the wheels were put in motion immediately for my Mom’s air ambulance transfer to the Tom Baker Cancer Center in Calgary, and I think we were able to skirt around the normal admissions procedure due to the fact that Dr. Temple was directly involved already though Dr. Witzke in Medicine Hat. The bump though is that it’s summer and a long weekend in Canada, so my Mom will not be transferred until Tuesday morning. The good thing is that it’s actually a little breathing room for my parents, a chance to absorb all this information and prepare for the trip to Calgary and the tough fight ahead.

On Tuesday, my Mom will be meeting with Dr. Mack, he works alongside Dr. Temple and will be covering my Mom's case until Dr. Temple comes back from vacation on August 10th. This coming week should be diagnostic work, first the needle biopsy and then hopefully the MRI. By the time Dr Temple is back everything should be ready to discuss treatment for my Mom. If this turns out to be lymphoma, the treatment should be effective. If this is sarcoma, it will be much harder to treat.

I've booked my ticket to go to Calgary on Friday the 5th, and I'll be staying for a week, until the 12th, so I hope to meet with Dr. Temple and discuss my Mom's treatment. I can't wait to get there but I do feel bad that I am leaving my own family. I will be missing my wedding anniversary and Chris's birthday, not to mention how much I will miss my kids, but I need to be in Canada with my Mom. I am so grateful to Chris for understanding that I am distracted, upset and need to be there. His parents and sister are ready and willing to help with the kids and do whatever they can to make this easier for me. I thank them all so much for that.

My sister has been amazing, she's been with my Mom all day, every day, since Thursday. I am so happy that she is there, when I can't be, and that she is able to take time off to be with Mom and to cook Dad dinner and to let me know what's going on. She's been a rock.

I’ll be honest, this sucks. It’s scary and it’s easy to imagine the worst. We've all cried about it, and it's ok to cry about it, but then we pick ourselves back up and we stop crying and we resolve ourselves to this new reality. We practice positive thinking, affirmations and meditation. We call on our family and friends. We get support, hugs, love, and suggestions about how to cope and stay strong. There is so much love.

Thank you also to every single person sending emails, consolations, understanding and hope. I am grateful to everyone who is praying and keeping my Mom in their good thoughts. I believe that it will help all of us get through this. My Dad and I are printing out emails and messages and sharing them with my Mom. If you would like to send her a personal card or letter, please email me and I can give you a Calgary address to send them to. Handwritten notes are tangible messages of love, courage and strength that she can hang onto and I think it would be a wonderful gift.

Related posts:

Part 1: My Mom Needs Some Positive Thoughts

Part 3: Waiting For a Diagnosis

Part 4: My Mom Has A Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor

Part 5: A Treatment Plan: Sandostatin and Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT)

My Mom Needs Some Positive Thoughts by Leslie

Last week, when I posted pictures of my family from the Sandhills, it was painfully obvious to me that my Mom was missing from them. It was hard not to write about the fact that she was too sick to come with us, but I wanted the post to be happy and joyous and I didn't want to talk about what was wrong. I heard that a family friend noticed that my Mom was not there, maybe a few people did, and some of you might have seen me mention on Facebook three weeks ago that she was admitted to the ER and are wondering what's going on and how she is doing.

Around June 15th, a week before our trip to Canada, I learned from my Dad that my Mom hadn't been feeling well. She had been having diarrhea on and off for a few months. When I asked my Mom about it, she told me that back in March she thought she had food allergies but that when she went to her doctor to get tested everything came back normal. She started to feel better and they went to Hawaii in April without any problems. After they came home, maybe by mid-May, the diarrhea had returned. I urged her to go back to the doctor when I learned that she had lost about 20 lbs since they had come home from Hawaii. She had some more tests done, for parasites and anemia, but still everything was appearing normal. She requested a referral to a G.I. specialist and had to wait at least three weeks to get in to see him. When we arrived in Canada it was obvious she wasn't feeling well and we talked about what might be wrong. Everything from irritable bowel syndrome to Crohn's disease was suggested. 

When she checked on the referral to the specialist, the paperwork had been lost, the doctors were disappearing on vacation and it seemed she wasn't going to be able to see anyone for a while. It was difficult to watch her losing weight, in pain and unable to come on short trips with us. She wasn't herself and it was not getting any better. On July 7th, after we had left their place in Medicine Hat and gone up to Calgary, she went to the emergency room to try to get some answers. They did a CT scan and discovered a 2.5 inch growth where her large and small intestine meet. 

It's the worst kind of news and I fought the urge to drive down and see her again. The way she was feeling, having us come back down with the kids would have been too much. But we consoled ourselves with the fact that they hadn't used the c-word. You know, cancer. So far, it was just a growth, maybe a polyp. The hospital sent her home, the G.I. doctor was busy, something about the weekend, and he could see her on Monday for a consultation.

Finally on Monday, July 11th she was able to meet with the specialist again (can someone tell me WHY it takes so darn long to see these doctors?!) and he told her that it might be cancer. I was sitting on the plane, flying away from my Mom, as she told me on the phone that she might have cancer. That word just kept repeating itself in my brain for the whole flight. There is such a heavy weight that comes with it, and after all we have been through with my father-in-law, somehow we thought we'd get some kind of reprieve. Like there is only an allotted amount of cancer that one family can deal with at once. It's not fair that we now have two sick parents between Chris and I, but that's life I suppose, it's rarely fair.

Since I have been home my Mom has had two more exploratory procedures (a colonoscopy and a barium enema) to determine what is really going on. The cancer diagnosis is only based on the CT scan, so I suppose there is a chance that it is not cancer. Right? A benign tumor is not cancer. But why are the doctors already saying it's cancer? I have so many questions but being here and not there I can't do very much other than listen to what my parents are telling me. 

During the two exploratory procedures, they discovered the growth is actually outside her digestive tract. It is pressing against her large intestine and that is what is causing her immense pain and the diarrhea. Since it is not inside the colon, they were not able to do a biopsy and she needs surgery.

Initially, the earliest date she could get in for surgery was almost a month away. There was no way that she could last that long without eating. Even the doctor was hinting at having her family doctor admit her to the ER for emergency surgery. However, thanks to a cancellation and the G.I. doctor's persistent receptionist, my Mom was able to get a surgery date just a week later.

She is scheduled for the surgery this Wednesday, the 27th, and they will hopefully be able to perform a resection, completely removing the tumor and surrounding tissue. Then they will be able to do a biopsy and figure out if this is a benign growth or malignant cancer. If it is cancer there might be radiation and chemotherapy to come, but hopefully all that is required to get my Mom's health back to normal is the surgery.

In the meantime, she isn't able to eat very much. Mostly because when she does eat, it is incredibly painful for the food to pass through her system, so she doesn't eat solid foods. She is losing weight and has little energy. She's never been this skinny and honestly I am most worried about her weight loss. She is able to eat a little bit, but it must be liquid and she is fighting nausea and the pain that comes with food passing through her system. She is on pain medication and is trying her best to eat as much as she can. When I talked to her this morning she seemed to be feeling alright. The mornings are better, I think as the day wears on she gets more fatigued and sick.

Please keep her in your thoughts this week, for the strength to get through the next few days, for a successful surgery without complications, for a benign tumor and for a quick recovery. Thanks on behalf of my Mom for the emails, phone calls and moral support. The highlight of the week was when her three sisters drove five hours one way to just stop in and give her a hug. She looked out the window, saw a car pull up in the driveway, all three doors opened and her three beautiful sisters got out all at once. It was a tearful reunion and a much needed source of strength. They stayed for just the day, returning home to their own families and jobs that night, but they came and it meant the world to her.

Related posts:

Part 2: From Bad to Worse

Part 3: Waiting For a Diagnosis

Part 4: My Mom Has A Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor

Part 5: A Treatment Plan: Sandostatin and Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT)

Jumping and Running at the Great Sand Hills in Canada by Leslie

After visiting the Sand Hills last November in the cold weather, we vowed to return in the summer. Our visit this time was certainly warmer, but the sand was packed firm and very wet from weeks of rain. It was still missing that very dry, sifting sand quality of a true desert. Don't get me wrong though, it was gorgeous and we had a lot of fun doing "jump" pictures. A "jump shot" is a trendy thing to do in wedding and family portraits, and it was so fun that I recommend to anyone getting pictures done to try it. It was awesome. The photographer Philippe Halsman started it all in the 1950s with portraits of celebrities like Salvador Dali and Marilyn Monroe jumping. He claims that "When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears."

My sister was really good at it, and should have been a dancer! In the out-takes though, it's pretty clear I am utterly without grace. The real person that appears when I jump is awkward and flailing!! My Dad was especially proud of his ability to even get off the ground. After his back surgery many years ago he lost a lot of mobility, but here he is jumping with the rest of us! Chris's rock star stage antics are in evidence, though his face gives away the fact that he never takes himself very seriously. Of course the kids are naturals at it and look absolutely joyous doing it. The sand hills are a perfect backdrop for pictures, the sky and the sand make such a simple canvas.

It was a beautiful day and we drove in late in the afternoon after a trip to the old farm. (Stay tuned for photos from there!) The kids rode in the back of my Dad's truck and were so excited to return to the sand hills. They ran and dug holes and got their pants dirty sliding down the steep side of the hill. Each trip here is different, the weather affects the dunes so much and each time you see something different and new.

Now that you have seen the photos, here's a short video! As you can see, it's fun to run in sand too.

The song is Have a Good Time by the Brand New Heavies. It's from their 1994 record Brother Sister.

 

By the way, speaking of sand, have you seen these incredible close up photographs of grains of sand?

 

For more information about this wondrous place, check out the following:

The Great Sand Hills and Quick Facts (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Saskatchewan)

The Great Sand Hills Museum in Sceptre, Saskatchewan.

The Great Sand Hills & River Routes PDF Guide (from the Great Sand Hill and River Routes Website.) Some of the same information is also listed on the web page's map organized by categories helpful to the tourist.

Driving Directions:

From Medicine Hat, take the 41 north to 545 and turn right (east) towards Burstall/Leader. 545 changes to the 321, continue east past Leibenthal until you see the sign post and Cattle T-Ranch gate in the photos above. Turn left and drive over a cattle gate to enter the area. Continue driving until you see a parking area on the left. An alternate route is to take the #1 Highway into Saskatchewan to the 21, turn left (north) and drive to Leibenthal, then turn right onto the 321.

From Calgary, drive to Medicine Hat and then follow the directions above. I don't think there is a quicker way. Alternate route is to drive north towards Drumheller, get onto the 9 heading to Saskatchewan and then follow the directions below for Red Deer.

From Red Deer, drive towards Drumheller, take the 9 heading east into Saskatchewan, turn right onto the 44 (signs for Alsask/Eatonia), continue following the 44 until just before Eatonia and then head south on the 21 towards Leader. Then left on the 32 towards Swift Current. Continue on the 32 for 40 km, turn right onto Allowance Rd (signs for Prelate). At the t-intersection, turn right until you see the sign post and Cattle T-Ranch gate in the photos above. Turn left and drive over a cattle gate to enter the area. Continue driving until you see a parking area on the left. (You can also continue on the 32 to Scepter, visit the museum there and then drive straight south I think. They have directions at the museum)

Accommodations:

Motels/Inns/B&Bs (look for Burstall, Leader, Scepter)

Campgrounds:

Prelate: AC Campground (full service) 1-306-673-2656

Burstall: Lions Park 1-306-679-2000

Leader: Lions Park Campground 1-306-628-3868

Sandy Point Park: (no power) 1-403-379-2143 (Cypress County 1-403-526-2888)

Hello, Long Lost Sister! by Leslie

I have a new sister. I met her for the first time in Canada two weeks ago. This is a difficult story to tell, because it’s not really my story, but if I keep it to my part, it’s pretty simple.

I first learned of my half sister when I was twelve. I was surprised to learn of this news but I didn’t quite know what to do about it. There wasn’t really anything to do then. I was too young. I didn't know. My Dad had a girlfriend when he was 18. She got pregnant, kept the baby and they did not get married. The baby's name was Tracy. 

My sister Jill, who I grew up with, is on the left. I am on the right and my new sister Tracy is in the middle. This photo was taken just a few hours after meeting for the first time.

When I was about twenty I asked for her address but I never wrote her a letter. I still have the sticky note that I wrote the address on though. For all these years it was my only link to her, my only clue about how to find her later, after she had surely moved.

Last year I asked about her again. It's one of those things that sits in your brain unresolved. I would think about her sometimes and wonder about her. I knew that I wanted to connect with her, but I didn't know how. When I asked this time, my Dad told me that her Mom was on Facebook. I decided to look her up, but before I could, my aunt did. My aunt knew her when she was a baby, had held her, and always wondered about her too.

On January 1st I read an email that she had sent to my aunt, that my aunt had forwarded to my Dad and that my Dad had forwarded to me. There she was. There was her email address. I finally introduced myself to my sister. Her name is Tracy. She is married with two kids, like me. She didn't know very much about my sister Jill and I until she heard from my aunt. 

It was a flood in that first month, many conversations and questions. Tentative explorations of the past, trying to be sensitive and sincere. Always asking, is everyone ok? How are you feeling about this? Is this ok? It's hard, to dig up the past and revisit things. It doesn't change anything though, we are just who we are today, and we can't dwell on the past or wish things were different. We are who we are because of everything that has happened.

In the last six months Jill, Tracy and I have been getting to know each other with long, wordy emails. We’ve shared silly Q&A’s and we’ve talked about our lives. She is funny. She is smart. The three of us are all very different, but we get along. I'm the middle child now. Tracy and I can rattle off a handful of emails in a day, since we are home with the kids, Jill can't keep up but she reads every single one.

We planned three different days together for my visit to Canada. The first one was at my parent's house and Tracy came alone. When I met her I was nervous. I waited and watched for her to arrive. I saw her drive up to the house and I met her out front with Chris and the kids. We hugged. We looked at each other for the first time. We cried a little. She came inside and met Jill and my Mom and Dad. We sat at the kitchen table and just talked. We kept it light, chatty and easy. It's a strange feeling when you are living a moment you have imagined for years and years. We had a nice day, more family came over, Tracy stayed as long as she could. We sat next to each other and we secretly stared at each other.

She came up to Calgary to see us two more times, once with her husband and kids and once with just her daughter. She met all our family in Calgary and we had such a nice time just being together. Her kids are really sweet and adorable. It’s easy to be with her. One afternoon it was just Jill, Tracy and I and we just enjoyed talking and hanging out. The boys played great with their new cousins. 

These four people are now at the end of a loose string that has been in my brain for over 20 years. It feels good to fill in the holes and find things that I thought might be lost. Families are made in all kinds of ways, we can feel affection towards our friends, and family are not always close but there is something to the DNA connection. It's an unseen, mysterious thing that can mean a lot or nothing at all. I'm glad that after all these years it finally means something to me and I look forward to getting to know these people more like family.