I’m amazed at what a different place the whole family is in since my last post. I’m so sorry for those who keep updated with the fam through this blog and my lack of timely updates. I will try to be better, but no promises. So much has happened, and I don’t know if I could recap everything or even if that’s necessary. More than anything, Kevin and I are both in a spot where we are happy, rested, peaceful, and seeing the true beauty in all of this. The kids are happy, not as whiny and clingy. I think even they know that things are starting to get better.
It’s been a few weeks since the last post, and so I’ll do my best to give a quick update. Kevin had his last day of intravenous interferon treatments on Friday, April 20th, and it wasn’t a moment too soon! He probably had the worst side effects the following three days, which was especially discouraging, because we were so proud and happy for him to be done on Friday, and then he was so horribly sick on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
Lila had headed back to Los Angeles on Friday the 13th, and Kevin’s Aunt Barbara had arrived the following day to help us through that last week of treatment. Both Lila and Barbara have been so amazing, taking care of the kids and the house so that I could take care of Kevin. We are oh so grateful to have had both of them out here. Barbara left on Wednesday April 25th, and thankfully, Kevin had started to turn the corner and was back at work doing full days. He joked that he had been so used to working half days that he’d been a little spoiled! Honestly, I’m still so amazed that he went into work almost every day of his treatment. That man is so amazing, and I couldn’t have been more proud of him.
On Saturday, April 28th, Kevin and I piled in the car and ran away. And it was awesome. My parents kept the kids for a week while we drove to Jacksonville, FL and jumped on a cruise ship. The cruise was to the Bahamas, but it didn’t matter to us, we weren’t going on the vacation to sight see, we were on a “recovery vacation”, as we put it. Cruises, while seeming pretty decadent, are actually an extremely cost effective way to vacation, and we wanted a place where we could just rest and relax, have all our meals included and easy to get to, and, as we found out once we were there, sleep. A lot. And I do mean sleep. I honestly think neither of us have slept well for the past seven months (has it really been that long since the diagnosis? Wow.) Anyway, we just barely made it onto the ship, because we were so late leaving Atlanta. The cruise pulled away at 4PM, and I think we pulled into the parking lot at about 3:30. After the safety training and getting checked into our room, we had dinner and… went back to the room and went to sleep! I seriously think we went to bed at about 7:30. And it was wonderful! We “slept in” until about 7:30 the next morning. After a wonderful room service breakfast, (free room service on cruises! How awesome is that?!) we gathered up some books and towels and parked ourselves in a covered area on an outdoor deck. We read, and read, and read. I read a wonderful book called “Traveling Mercies” by Ann Lamott, which I will be doing a whole post on later. Kevin read some great nerdy economics books, sheer indulgence for us both! We ate lunch, then came back and read some more. The skies were overcast and there was a cool breeze. The temperature could not have been more perfect. After walking around a little and then having dinner, we headed back to our room and went to sleep super early! Again! We honestly were feeling guilty, like we were “wasting” this vacation, by spending so much of it sleeping, but then we figured that this must have been exactly what both of us needed. I can not tell you how much we realized on that cruise how worn out we were and how hard we had both pushed through this past half a year. Neither of us really realized it until we felt the rest that streamed down on us on that cruise.
I’ll be honest with you, we prayed long and hard over whether or not we should take this vacation. So many of you graciously contributed financially to us, and every penny of that was socked away in savings in case Kevin should not be able to work or it was spent on parking, babysitting, etc. We used some of that money to purchase this cruise, and know so well that this is something that many folks would not be able to do (heck, this is the first vacation we’ve ever taken since our honeymoon seven years ago!) But on the way back, as we turned our phones back on and re-entered “real life”, we both could feel that we had somehow been healed during this trip. Though we have struggled through and leaned on God and each other more than we ever thought possible, our hearts and spirits were still bruised, broken, and tired. I love the word “weary”. Though it sounds so dramatic and poetic, it speaks volumes to the way both of us have felt. We were so very weary, and returned refreshed and uplifted and healed.
Now in getting back to real life, we have lot’s and lot’s of pieces to pick up from the last month. And there is still perhaps the greatest hurdle left in this battle… a year long treatment of interferon shots three times a week. We are hopeful that it will be nowhere near as difficult as the previous month’s high dose phase, but while the intensity may not be there, it will be more a battle of attrition, as 12 months is a loooong time to be sick. Please, you dear prayer warriors, keep those swords and shields at the ready, as Satan continues to attack and the battle is certainly far from over.
But at the other end of things, real life continues to meander along, and we are settling into a beautiful, quiet life here. It’s funny that when I was little, I certainly never saw myself happily settled in a gigantic hundred year old bungalow in an inner city, high crime neighborhood. I never saw myself choosing a quiet simple life over adventure and travel. I never saw myself sitting on the floor of the porch with my two littles happily stacking dominoes, playing with washbins filled with water, or dancing around the living room to The Sound of Music. And loving every minute of it! We’ve only been back to reality since Friday, and yet the nightmares of the past several months are already seeming a distant memory. We live in the present beauty of the thunderstorm that is crashing down around my porch while I happily type away from the shelter of its roof. We live in the beauty of the calm between the storms and the hopefulness of new life that comes after the rains.
I was chatting with Kevin yesterday over dinner, a simple meal of some homemade soup pulled from the freezer that had been gifted to us by a friend and neighbor, and some croissants from the day old bread section of the grocery store. We had some freshly cut up cantaloupe from the farmer’s market that I’d scored for a dollar a piece! I felt it was a perfect meal for a stormy May evening, and was pleased with how little the meal had cost. We talked about how when we got married, most of our food came from “meal kits” in the frozen section of Trader Joe’s. We bought already cut up melons and bagged salads and plenty of other prepared and convenience foods. We also ate out with regularity, enjoying our Saturday morning breakfasts at 4 ‘n’ 20 and our Sunday evening dinners at Toluca Garden. Kevin worked crazy long hours with an hour long commute, and I was in school full time and also working.
Over the past nearly seven years of marriage, we’ve seen slow and steady changes in the way we live our lives. When we chose to go down to one income so that I could be at home with the kids, we started to pay attention to areas where we could cut back. I learned to cook from scratch (it’s still nothing fancy, and as often as not just may include a jar of spaghetti sauce or a couple of cans of cream of mushroom soup in the recipe somewhere, but darned if I didn’t stock up on those jars and cans when they were on super sale at least!) We’ve found ourselves eating out waaaay less. That wasn’t too hard of an adjustment, since it’s just so much work to to eat out with two little kids. Even when we’re too tired to cook, it’s still usually easier to eat at home than to pack everybody up and try to eat out! On those nights, we just eat cereal, since the kids are too little to know that that’s weird.
I spent yesterday working on a price book at the grocery store to see where I could get the best prices on my staples, and over the last year I’ve developed a system for once a month shopping and filling in with weekly trips to a super cheap farmer’s market for produce. We’ve gotten our food budget to be about the same as it was or less than when it was just the two of us. And that doesn’t even count how much less we spend on no more eating out!
Our journey into more frugal living was simply a means to an end… living on less meant we could, well, live on less! We didn’t set out to find the best prices on milk or learn about freezer cooking because we thought it was so virtuous or anything. There are plenty of people who live on waaaay more than us, and it totally works for them. Plenty of people eat out for nearly all of their meals, and again, it works. Frugal living meant that I could stay home with our kids. I could be around to make our house a home. And in this current season, with seemingly endless doctor’s appointments, surgeries, and treatment, it’s meant that we’ve had a lot more time margin in our life that we’ve had to use, and then some!
I’m not sharing all of this to suggest anything about how anyone else should be living their lives. For many people, two incomes work, daycares and preschools work, eating out regularly works. There are tons of different lifestlyes and value sets that really do work. Plus, add to it that our values are relative to the society we live in. The laptop I am typing this blog post on is hardly frugal or indicative of a simple life when compared to someone living in a lesser developed country on a dollar a day. But for us, the way we are living, it has given us the ability to do something that is really beautiful for us, and it works. Frugal living, simple, quiet living, has been giving us a source of peace, and even strength in the midst of all of this insanity of the last year and a half, since we moved out here! (Did anyone else notice how long that last run-on sentence was? But I digress…)
My point, which I promise I have, is that for us, these things have given and are currently giving us, a beauty that we never knew we could have. It’s a beauty in the limitations, in the small blessings, in the things we have the time to enjoy and appreciate. I don’t know, these last few days, they have been quiet and, dare I say, peaceful. It feels ridiculous to use that word, considering that my current world includes an almost three year old and a 16 month old who rarely stop moving (or talking!) throughout the day. They seem to require constant care, constant energy and attention.
The house is a complete wreck, as one would expect from pretty much abandoning all semblance of routine for more than a month. I’m keeping just one step ahead, making sure we at least have clean laundry, and not too many dirty dishes piled up in the sink. When we ran away for our vacation, we literally made sure there was no wet laundry and that there were no dirty dishes that were filled with rotting food. Other than that, you would have thought that we had been burglarized during our vacation from the state of things upon re-entering. The house truly looks like a tornado has blown through it.
But here’s the thing. Normally, these things would leave me completely overwhelmed, the pressure slowly building up, as I tried to get the house back in order while tending to the other necessities of two kids and real life. I would at least be feverishly running around in circles trying to figure out where to get started, trying to get at least some of the mess cleaned up. At some point, I would end up depressed and discouraged, not wanting to get out of bed and face the day. But it’s not been like that at all. I’ve made a little headway on the clean up, but I’ve also spent a lot of time shoving away the least offensive messes, and sitting on the floor with my kids and playing with them! And it’s been awesome! I’ve not been worrying about the things I should be doing, the long to do list of projects piled up, papers to file, appointments to make, etc. I’ve just been present, enjoying every moment.
Right now, I’m sitting on the front porch while the kids are napping, and the sun has come out to shine cheerily through the fresh spring leaves. I’m listening to birds chirping and, you guessed it, “The Sound of Music” soundtrack. And I’m loving it! Yes, my house is a mess. I need to clean it up. I should definitely do that. Yes, there are appointments to be made, bills to be paid, yards to be mown, house projects and repairs to be done, and I should definitely definitely get to some of those things. Definitely. But you know what, it’s waited this long, it can wait another day. For today, I’m sitting and resting, and enjoying all of the true beauty around me.