Giving thanks in a different way, because this is a different year

And I am a different girl.

So here we are, at Thanksgiving again...one of my Dad's favorite holidays, but he's not here.

As I think back to the person I was just a year ago at this time, and I feel like she's not here, either! I feel like I can't even relate to her. I can remember myself a year ago, being almost gleeful that I had made it though chemo, and the oophorectomy...and wanting my hair to come back in...and just being generally pleased with the idea of becoming regular again.

Today's Pam thinks last year's Pam was a little too naive, and certainly a little too focused on herself. Being regular is such a non-state, don't you think? How long does one ever exist in "regular"? I don't think I ever even got to regular before we were unregular again with my Dad's pancreatic cancer diagnosis. But beyond me...does anyone exist in "regular"? I doubt it. We all have our own challenges and hard times and good times - ups and downs.

This year's Pam sees all of that a little more. Whereas 2008 was maybe a journey of self-discovery, 2009 has taken the "self" out of that discovery a bit, which I think is a good thing. I think grief will do that for a person more than fear will - and while 2008 was more about conquering fears (such a personal thing, and puts you so in touch with your inner strengths), 2009 is more about losses and recovering from them, or grieving (which seems to also push a person in the opposite direction, like fear to strength...from grief to love.)

I can feel myself moving towards love. I have an acute feeling that I do need to embrace this life - to love life - because it can be so fleeting. Honestly, a year ago my Dad may or may not have had some abdominal upset...but would he have thought that he would be in another place 9 months later?

I also feel like I need to embrace the time I have with people, too...because people don't last forever, either. Here I lie in my house with my 3 children who are all so busy growing up and I know I shouldn't waste my time sitting around and feeling badly. Like it or not, this is my time with them before they all go off and live their own grown-up lives! Beyond that, do we know how much time any of us will get with each other before we are pulled apart? Not really...and I want to embrace the time that I have while I have it.

And then I think back to my Dad, who wasn't older than me when he had no parents left, too...and I think about how he embraced and loved his life. There is no denying that he really did that, in such a way that was really admirable. And though we might have gone in opposite directions when faced with how quick life is (he with work and accomplishing great things there, and me with my little family)...all in all we were/are exactly the same...going all-or-nothing towards something. That's a pretty cute thought.

And thanks to the help of several varied individuals (not just those I've mentioned, but also people who have sent me little messages here and there, or said little things to me in passing, and my sisters, who have gone over and over these things with me on the phone for hours upon hours - esp. Amy), I think I am coming around to the love in ALL of it. Because I loved, and love, my Dad...despite our differences and the way that our sameness was maybe hard for us (because how can two people really connect or make time to understand the other when they are going all-or-nothing for something totally opposite?). And I am thankful that I had him while I did.

And I'm starting to put away his shortcomings for good now, because he was human and flawed just like the rest of us...he just had the misfortune of being my father, and so I naturally expected him to be a semiperfect individual, which of course no one is. And I am wanting to think of our happy moments...the times on the boat together when he was so loving towards my girls, the times when he cozied up with Nathan in the chair in the living room, the time when I woke up flailing and yelling and in such confused and unbelievable pain from my mastectomy (there had been a problem with the pain meds) and he was there to hold my hand. And I remember him coming in with his work clothes from out-of-town to meet Katie for the first time, and I remember being so proud of him for the steps he had made in the 2.3 years since he had become a grandfather, begrudgingly and embarrassed, after my surprise pregnancy with Emma. He had stopped to get both girls a little teeny gift, but stopped for nothing else in his rush to get there.

And life does suck, sometimes...the losses and the pain and all the little hurts that pile up. But life is also so beautiful, too...the new little people that enter into your heart and your lives, and family in general - my uncles, my aunts, my cousins, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my two shining, wonderful sisters, and all of the precious moments that you never want to forget.

I'm thankful for it all.



Tonight I went to confession! That sentence deserves an exclamation point because I have most likely not been to confession (well, reconciliation) since I was in 4TH GRADE. Or maybe sometime in high school, but still...that's a LONG TIME. But, hey! I like to surprise myself, keep things interesting, etc. and so as I was sitting there after Katie made her first reconciliation today (they do these things in 2nd grade around here these days), the thought popped into my head, and I popped into the confessional.

I was amazed. I had envisioned it being this gigantic thing, as it seemed in 4th grade, or even in high school...but it was more like a conversation with a very nice person, about something that was troubling me. I left feeling like, hey! How cool that my religion offers free therapy! I should do this more often...

And here's where this one thought keeps coming back to me, through other people. First, from Bill (but I never believe him...he's like another me around here and I always think he is too close to the situation to really understand it, or maybe blinded by his affection for his wife to be impartial): "It's not your fault". Then, from my Dad, on his deathbed, in his garbled speech, "It's ok, Pam." Then, from the naturopath, "it's not your fault - even the guilty feeling can be related to biochemistry"...and she even has a homeopathic remedy to help this guilt-situation, which I think is at the same time totally hilarious and not believable, and also totally awesome if it works! (dichotomy! ha!) And finally, from the priest, who clarified that he didn't know the situation, but that sometimes things could actually be just as they seem (not all sunny and love-filled)...which I took as another idea that maybe I am not wrong in my thoughts and feelings all the time. And then he steered me into a different way of thinking, which is exactly what the acupuncturist told me 1.5 weeks ago - she basically told me I may never totally unpack all of the garbage, but I may just decide to leave it and make and follow a new resolution for myself.

So HOW ABOUT THAT. I have collected quite a random sampling of opinions, and they are all leading me back to the same little thoughts. So freakily awesome, the interconnectedness of things, sometimes. (I mean, I know it is all talking about me...but still. I was never even discussing the same thing with each person...but they all give me the same advice.)

I know I am being cryptic here...but the main point in ALL of this, for me at least, is that I don't have to figure everything out, or work all the way through hard emotions in order to come to a better and happier place. It doesn't even matter WHAT the situation is, really - ever. There just comes a time when a person needs to say to herself, "Pam, you're a good girl. [the priest actually told me that I was a good person and needed to focus on what good I do, instead of what not- good feelings I might have]. Who really cares what is going on here, or what is at the bottom of this whole messy thing. Let's just pick up, turn our faces to the sun, and move on with spreading that sunshine to other people. And PLEASE, leave the garbage with the garbage, if it is bothering you that much."

I may just try that!

And now, let me just lodge a few other random complaints and observations, because all of this confessing has left me so sunshine-y and cheerful that I feel like complaining - ha ha!

How weird is it that all of these people are preparing for our Thanksgiving meal, for not very many people, and the sheer amount of things I need to prepare (less than 1/3 of the entire meal) is more than I have prepared for my family in one whole entire week? Either I need to start cooking more (yes, this is true) or people need to eat less at Thanksgiving (also true). Oh, I hate cooking.

I'm looking at my darling 15.5 year old cat, who is staring at me as she ferociously tries to get out of the cat door Bill installed on the door leading to the basement (installed a few years ago). I love that cat, but she is such a huge gigantic pain in the ass and if she PEES ON MY DAUGHTER'S BEDDING ONE MORE TIME I MAY JUST LOSE IT! I'm not entirely sure that it is Maddie, but let's just say this - Annie is gone and the occasional inappropriate elimination continues...and seems to be ramping up, actually. Yes, I do have two cats and until I can convince Bill to install a Cat-cam, I doubt I'll know for sure. And no, I don't want to take her to the veterinarian to see what is going on. (see appendix a, which outlines our thousands of dollars of vet bills over the past year and then see appendix b, which outlines the extensive research I have done both in the field and in other texts to see what can be done in this situation, and appendix c, which is also entitled "Fifty Things Pam Does A Day To Instill Domestic Harmony in Her House Between Her Pets"). Oh how I love and abuse my washer/dryer and carpet cleaner (and vacuum for that matter). I feel so young to be on my 3rd-4th generation of all of those things!

Lastly, whoa am I tired of painting. The de-brownification of the house continues, as I paint the the trim on the main level of the house. I am such a shitty painter, too. However, I don't really care. I have found a way to gain a little zen while painting (flashback to early 2007, when we had just moved into this house, and I could paint for about 4 hours before losing my *&$t and yelling at the whole family...and now I have just spent about 4 eight+ hour days in a row painting and doing other various home improvement projects - thursday, 4 hours, friday, 8 hours, saturday, 12 hours, sunday, 14 hours, monday, 10 hours): I envision myself having touched each square inch of this house, probably 2-3 times (by the time I prime and patch and paint) and I imagine myself applying love to this crazy house. So how can I hate that splash there, and that ugliness there? I was just trying to love this crazy beastly red/brown crapfest of a house! That I love so much! And how many people can say they have touched all 3000 square feet of their house, inch-by-inch? I guess some, but still...I think I should gain some sort of entrance into a secret society of home improvement dorks for all of my efforts.

I did tell Bill that we were certifiably insane when we bought this crapfest...how could we not have known exactly how much work would be required? (We did, I know...everyone did.) However, the crapfest has so much space for dreams, which is so undeniably cute of it. If I want to make a new garden, I have tons of space for it! If I want to learn how to paint trim - here you go! If I want to learn how to finish a basement - here you go, it's already so shitty that you can't mess it up any further...And my latest idea of full insanity is to transform our horrid hollow doors into something at least useful when I paint them - chalkboards or magnetic boards for the kids and their imaginations and lists (the side that faces their rooms).

OK, I was tired over 3 hours ago, so now off to bed I go. Actually, I'll do that just after I stare at my 15.5 year old through the cat door a little more and taunt her. It's my right after she gave me 4 more loads of laundry to do tonight, and a mattress to clean...



Why 3 posts in one evening, after the lull? I've decided to return back to the basics - back to me and this little blog and my thoughts. I've felt a lot of pressure lately to only feel the right things, or to only say the right things, and especially, to only write the right things...and it hasn't felt so great. It doesn't help when I receive feedback that what I say has upset people!

However, I've worked through all of those feelings - and above all, the feeling of guilt that I always carry with me, for whatever I do, always. I don't know WHY I have such a truckload of guilt to push around everywhere - maybe some of it is circumstantial, maybe some of it is learned, and maybe some of it is just biochemical. Who knows.

I'm tired of it, though, and the other day I had a breakthrough. Yay, me!

I looked at myself in the mirror and thought of the many times I have spent wishing I was something different...or that I had a different path for this life, or different parents (for example, one that wouldn't die so early, and one that wasn't such a pain in the ass sometimes). And after weeks of complaining, and even praying, and thinking, thinking, thinking, this thought came to me - SO MUCH of this stuff was put in place before I was even born, and maybe, if I think about it, way before that. All that I can do is take what I have been given, and make something of it - hopefully, something wonderful.

I can't change the basics about the way I look just as I can't change my BRCA mutation...and with that BRCA mutation came my parents and whatever baggage they were carrying around (physical and emotional). It's possible that their issues (or, mostly, my Dad's) were so big and so inherent that he, too, could only take what he had been given and try to make something of it...just as we all do.

And suddenly, it all went away. The worry about my feelings - is it right to feel this way? Why do I feel this way? Why is my life this way? I sort of no longer care.

I also sort of no longer care what people think of me and how I am dealing with everything that has been given to me, too...which is amazing in and of itself. If you think I am wrong in what I say or what I do - well, you haven't lived my life, you haven't been there. On top of the fact that I know that I spent an inordinate amount of my energy and thought and time trying to make my father feel proud, and loved, and respected by me in his lifetime - and I know I succeeded - I do have a husband who has been with me since I was just a very young pup. It finally sunk in that I have someone who has LIVED so much of my life with me, who has loved me through even the worst of times, and who remembers all of the struggles along the way (through which he supported me, poor, poor guy). My little miseries were his miseries, too.

And as weird as this is to say, some of those little miseries should be gone now. If you can't have your father here on this earth with you, well, that does suck. But at least I shouldn't have to spend even another second worrying if I am being a good enough daughter...and why it couldn't just be easy between us, or what I did wrong, or what I should be doing that I'm not. Because hey, I'm no longer a daughter! I should be focusing my energy on my other roles now, and not beating myself up about what once was.

And wow...here's something funny (speaking about other roles!) I am a mother...and someone just called because she is having a hard time falling asleep at her friend's house, so I need to go get her! I'll finish this thought another night.

Conversations with children

Nathan, as we are getting ready to go pick up his sisters the other day: "Someone named Pam Lucken forgot to put on my socks."

What a wacko.

After painting the bay window in our kitchen, and admiring my work (over and over and over again), Me: "What do you think about this window?"

Emma: "Mom. I think I have answered this question about 20 times today already."

Katie: "This is what I think of it." Frown...turns to sudden crazy smile!

I love these crazy kids. Sometimes I can't believe I made it through all of the frustrating moments of being a mom to young children to get to this point - which is so fun and so fulfilling. So far, I would take being a mom to a 10 year old (almost), 7.5 year old, and 4 year old over any of the past ages that we have been at together!

I'm changing my middle name (again) to Sweat Equity

Where in the world have I been lately?

Well...the beautiful weather led to a bout of extreme craziness in the yard - if pulling out 300 buckthorn, hauling them to the fire, then cutting up and hauling tons of buckthorn Bill tore out of the woods, planting two strawberry patches and moving a bunch of raspberry plants, hauling at least 10 car loads of compost for the gardens, raking and mulching leaves.

And that led, of course, to me injuring my back a bit - maybe just soreness? I can never tell, but it was hard to move a lot...

And that led to a lack-of-exercise induced funk...

And after a nice appointment with my wonderful acupuncturist (who I hadn't seen since after my last chemo, but she was recommended by the wonderful naturopath), and a bit of rest for my back, I regained another incredible burst of energy...

And decided to paint all of the trim in the main level of my house in 4 days. Of course, I'm only on day 3, and getting rather sick of it...so maybe I'll stop where I am and be happy for awhile. It's hard to know, though...I've been so tired of the soul-sucking brown of this house for such a long time. (But I've been hoping to get a few big projects done before my sister, brother-in-law, niece, nephew, and their cat move in. Yes, and YAY, they have secured a job and are moving back to Michigan!!!!!!!!! And another yes, my house will be a bit crowded for awhile...what with the 4 adults and 5 children...but that is how we like it anyway.)


A common problem

Pam, complaining to her husband: I just can never get enough dirt! I could go to that free dirt* place every day, all day long, and never have enough for this yard and all the gardens.

Bill: It's a common problem among the wives of Birmingham.

*compost made by SOCCRA...it is such great stuff. But it is killing my back, dirtying my mini-van, and causing innumerable complaints among my children as they do not enjoy all of the stop-offs to fill up the dirt buckets as we run around the suburbs doing our weekly suburban mom things. And yet, I just want more and more and more...it's like my own personal crack.


Another one bites the dust

(My apologies to Oreo, I know that is a crude thing to say when your little guinea pig soul has reached the light...)

Yes, Mrs. Lucken again went downstairs to find another little animal soul had left this earth...this time Oreo, Emma's beloved guinea pig.

I'd like to say she was a good guinea pig, but she did sort of shred her sister Cookie Dough's ears...she was a speedy guinea pig, though, and pretty cute, and very well-loved by Emma (when she saw her - note: do not buy your 2nd grader a pet unless you are determined that YOU need a pet of your own. For me, the guinea pigs were a little bit overkill. Thinking back, I CANNOT believe that at one time I had 2 rabbits, 2 guinea pigs, 2 cats, and 1 dog. Let's keep this tangent going, though, and say that I love my husband for letting me be so crazy. I am over the small animal phase of my life, I believe...but feel lucky that I got a chance to be so off-the-wall and had so many at one time. More on this in another post.)

It was too early of a death, dearest guinea pig, and I'm sorry if I didn't take care of you well enough...but I think I did. I hope you are cavorting with your guinea pig friends in guinea pig heaven (or, if it is pet heaven, then you certainly have a lot of Lucken family up there - Frances the rabbit, Lydia the rabbit, Phineas the rabbit, and darling Nanners the cat).

Now, I'm off to finish cleaning the cage area and to dig a grave in our pet cemetary...


Let's post some pics!

More here!


OK, the last thing I should be doing is writing on this blog right now...I'm supposed to be helping Mr. Lucken with some work, or tending to the carpet of leaves on our lawn, or playing with the 4 year old...

BUT, if I don't take the time, will I ever get it back again?

So, let me take a minute to retell a bit of my conversation with the Naturopath...who wanted to know exactly what kind of depression I feel, or what kind of panic falls over me, because apparently homeopathy can get very specific.

I started to explain to her that I don't really have the same sort of depression or panic that I once had - that I have developed some very strong tools to deal with any sort of emotional tumult that might come up - but the explanation basically led to a 2 hour conversation about my life in general, and all of the different types of depression or panic or whatever I have felt, at different times.

I feel pretty strongly that right now I have been in pretty much a very normal state of grief...it's not the depression knocking on my door, I don't really have a whole ton of panic or anxiety...it's just that there has been a certain amount of emotion filling up my everyday life (the grief), so sometimes I get closer to depression or anxiety because I'm closer to the threshold where all of those things happen these days. I told the Naturopath that, which led to a discussion of my Dad, emotions surrounding his death, etc.

I mentioned that during my darker moments, I have had trouble believing some of the ideas I have held onto so tightly since my Mom died - that we are still connected to our loved ones, even after death, and that we can sometimes feel protection from them when we need it. Watching my Dad die, watching his body fall apart and watching what made him himself leave with absolutely no fanfare made me question all of my feelings about the spirits of the people you love after they physically leave you. It was all so crazy, so painful for him, and at the end, he was just gone - left the empty shell and there was nothing, just silence. My sister and I had each been holding a hand and feeling a pulse, until there were no more beats left. And that was that.

I knew the whole time and still know that I shouldn't have expected some bells and whistles...and there were very many beautiful moments surrounding his death which I will be so happy to share and remember for the rest of my life. The moment of his death, though, and also the lack of emotion from my Dad leading up to his death (maybe there was some anger, but it was hard to see if there was much else) - made me feel this huge emptiness set in.

So with the emptiness, and the feeling that his spirit had left, and also the pervasive feeling over the past 22 years or so that he was living his life and I was living mine, without a whole ton of emotional sharing going on between them (for whatever sad reason that happened), I began to have this (irrational?) fear that IF my mother has been the one to give me signs of her love and caring over the years, or IF it is God, or an angel or something...then maybe now that my father is joining them, the distance between myself and him will plant itself between myself and them (my mom, or God, or the angel). As if he could give me a bad recommendation in heaven.

I shared this with the Naturopath, and (maybe not knowing how far on the crazy spectrum I am with regard to angels and spirits...) she said, "You do know we aren't alone in here, right?" I said, "Well, I hope we aren't..." And then she said, "And you know, you didn't come in here with just one person...you have an army surrounding you!"

And I was like, WHAT? Just kidding. I only wanted to write that sentence. However, I that idea WAS a comforting one...like my posse had not left me, after all! The posse that helped me find keys that were lost in Metroparks, befriended me in times of sadness during the college days, and helped me find my breast cancer - still here! That would be such good news to Mrs. Lucken.

I don't require much in terms of uppers, I guess, because just a little affirmation had me feeling much better than I had felt in a long time. (Well, that on the waves of some kindnesses from friends.) I wouldn't say I was entirely back to where I started with my invisible friends, and all...

until about a day or two ago, when I received (what I would call) another little message from my invisible friends!

How else would you describe this: Cleaning my house (as usual), I glance at my old calculator, sitting on the kitchen counter. I've had the poor thing since at least high school, which is stretching farther and farther back in my memory. The poor little guy is irretrievably broken, I feel - I had it in the kitchen window trying to see if the solar panel wanted to give it one more go. It didn't; it had been at least 2 weeks of nothing.

In my cleaning mode, I was ready to say goodbye to the old thing, but as I reached toward it, I saw something on the screen. I quickly pushed the C (clear) button), trying to see if it really was working...and after my mind registered what I had seen on the screen, I really wish I hadn't cleared it so quickly:


*and I didn't take a picture or anything...as I said, I cleared it immediately before the characters registered in my brain. They only registered after I cleared the calculator. But I did look to see if it was possible to see such letters on the computer, and apparently, all the letters are available (as upside down numbers) except for V. Close enough for me!