Friday, March 30, 2012

"Party of Three" vs. "Party of One"...

I made three trips to Ben Milam elementary school this morning, all in under an hour.  AJ had to be there early for UIL math work;  I took Ben at the normal time, only to find we'd forgotten his conduct folder at home, so I trekked back home, located it, and returned for the third time to the school.  Good thing that we 1) live within 1 1/2 miles of the school, and 2) drive a hybrid that gets good gas mileage. 

As I was returning from Milam for the last time this morning, I marvelled at how busy I stay.  Seems like there is always something to be attended to immediately, and I have lists of long-term jobs that I will get to "eventually."  I again thanked God for the opportunity to be a full-time stay at home mom, even as a widow, because it allows me time to focus completely on our two boys and the busy lives we lead.

I then began to wonder.....if I didn't have AJ and Ben, what would I be doing?  How would I be coping? 

Would I still be getting out of bed each morning?  Would I still have purpose?  Would I still think life was worth living?  Or would I be a total mess, staying in my pajamas all day long?  Holed up in a house that was once full of laughter and love, would I venture out, keeping old relationships and interests? 

A dozen different scenarios flood my mind.  I hope that I would still get up in the morning, keep myself busy, and continue living.  But it would be incredibly difficult.  Thankfully, I won't find out.  Like it or not, I have no choice in the matter.  Two boys need raising, and there's no one else to do it. 

As I was returning from dropping AJ off at baseball practice last night, I did a bit of yelling at Mark.  I'm not proud of it.  I yelled it should be him at practice with Andrew, he should be there with his glove, ambling out on the field, shagging flies, shouting encouragement, giving positive reinforcement to his son.  I'm a poor substitute, at best. 

This time last year, Mark was preparing to be a Little League umpire, he loved calling games.  He hoped it would be a fun thing to continue whenever he retired, and he was good at it.  Thick-skinned, with a self-assurance and self-confidence that rivaled anyone I've ever known, he was the perfect umpire.  Never got his feathers ruffled, never raised his voice, never got personal in conflicts with coaches (or parents).  Steady, with a conviction to always do the right thing, and with a love of the game that still amazes me, he would follow the rules, implicitly.  No shortcuts. 

That's how he lived his life.  He followed the rules.  He didn't take any shortcuts.  He "grabbed life by the horns" each and every day, enjoying and relishing both simple and not-so-simple tasks and experiences.  He was my hero.  He's left a pair of big shoes to fill, but I'm doing the best that I can.

At least I know a bit about sports.  I've loved baseball since I was a kid, so I can carry on a reasonably-knowledgeable conversation with AJ, aka "Mr. Baseball."  Andrew appreciates that, and realizes every mom may not know what an RBI (runs batted in) or SLG (slugging percentage) is.  I think he feels lucky that I do. 

I'm learning new things each and every day.  He taught me last night how a fantasy baseball team operates, and I advised him on his pitching staff.  Ben's his "co-manager," so they are working with sports on the computer, a win-win for them both. 

After we said our prayers, exchanged kisses, and said our goodnights, I sneaked back in to watch both of them, sleeping.  I'm so thankful I have them.  They give me a reason to get out of the bed in the morning, and they make me want to be a better person.  They make me believe that our little party of three will make it. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

And Benny makes three....

Grief doesn't maintain a schedule; there's definitely no timeline.  Everyone grieves differently.  Some stages you get through, thinking there's smooth sailing ahead, and then it all comes crashing down on you again.  Everything I read tells me this; I just want the hurt to get better for all three of us.

In our family, Ben is finally grieving.  He's kept the majority of his emotions bottled up, just underneath the surface.  He's my reflective child, the deep thinker who I sometimes think has the answers to all of the world's problems.  But he doesn't have his daddy anymore, and he finally came to grips with that after we returned home from Spring Break.  From not wanting to talk about Daddy at all, he now is okay with us discussing him, although it brings tears.  I tell him the tears are healing; I'm not sure he's convinced.

He is lucky.  He has an older brother to comfort him; Andrew's been through this already, and even though Ben's emotions pull both Andrew and me back to a place we just thought we'd put behind us, he still consoles his little brother.   I try my best to keep us all going, but bedtime for the past week has been so hard.  They cry.  I cry.  I pray.  They pray.  We hold one another as closely as possible.  It's all we know to do. 

Ben has great support at school.  His counselor is an angel to us all; she took both boys out of class last week and spent quite a bit of time with them.  The principal took Ben into his office and shared his own personal story of loss and grief with him.  Ben's dealing with many emotions, one of which is anger.  I told him God can take it; I've been mad at both God and Mark at various times since last July. 

I will never understand God's plan when it includes taking a vibrant, loving, hands-on Christian daddy from two young sons.  I guess I don't have to.  A close family friend told me that I will understand it all whenever I am face to face with Jesus.  Only then will it all make sense.  In the meantime, while we're left here, I just have to accept that He knows what He is doing.  I pray that good will come out of all of this pain and grief.

Baseball season is upon us, and watching that blonde lanky 10 year old on the field makes my heart skip a beat.  Flash back 40 years, and it could be his dad stroking a rope to center field, or making the play at first base.  He loves the game, and the game loves him. 

So, we're making it.  Mark's mom and his sister, Kathy, travel to Wichita Falls tomorrow.  They haven't been here since his services in August.  We're all looking forward to the visit, but know it will be bittersweet. 

Andrew commented tonight on how we're doing as we drove home, just the two of us in the jeep;  I told him I thought we were doing okay, considering the crappy circumstances.  I also told him it would get better.  His reply?  "I don't know how it could get any worse."  My answer?  "I know how---we could be trying to do this without God."

We went outside to play with Mark's dog, Maggie, who's become our dog.  It was just before sunset, and she was elated.  As the two boys gave chase to her, and she was outrunning and outsmarting them, I wished for Mark.  He would've been laughing louder and harder than the three of us put together.  Just as the thought of Mark crossed my mind, I heard honking....three Canada geese flew so low overhead that we could almost touch them.  I know in my heart it was no coincidence.  Mark was letting us know that he was there. 


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stormy Weather...

Dear Andrew and Ben,

It's been awhile since I felt compelled to write to you specifically.  You know that this entire blog is for you, for your comfort at some point down the line whenever you are old enough to grasp the enormity of what we've all lost. 

But I am astounded at the level of maturity I see in you both since your Dad's death; you weren't slouches by any means before, but you've had to grow up in ways I never wanted in these past eight months.  You bear a burden that no 10 and 8 year olds should have to bear.  And I would give anything to be able to take this hurt away from you, to give you your fantastic Christian daddy back. 

I know we've been rocking along pretty well the past couple of months, things have somewhat settled into some semblance of a new normal;  I liken it to being on a boat (freshwater lake, you know that's where Dad would want us), and we've had clear and calm weather for a bit.  But this past week, we've hit some waves, some bad weather that seems to be tossing us to and fro on that formerly-calm water. 

It began for me, again, as we travelled back to Kentucky for spring break; foolishly, I didn't think it would be any "big thing", but I was wrong.  Being back in my hometown, travelling to places where I was with your daddy, where we fell in love, etc...was very difficult.  I tried my best to put on a brave face, but you both know that there were a couple of times that I lost it, and thank you so much for comforting me. 

While in Kentucky, we missed Texas, and were so glad to get back home.  However, I think coming back here was even more upsetting for you both.  The last time the three of us returned from KY without your daddy, he was eagerly and anxiously here, anticipating our return.  I can still hear the loud whoops and hollers of joy and laughter, as you two scrambled out of the car, opened the utility room door, and crawled all over him with hugs and kisses.  Wish I had a picture of it. 

This time, there was no one to greet us, just a lonely cat and dog. 

Every night since we've returned, bedtime has been difficult for you both.  I'm sorry that I don't know what to do for you, except hold you and cry along with you.  I feel so inadequate and I squeeze you as tightly as I can, knowing that it's still not as strong as your Daddy hugged you. 

I pray for you.  All the time.  I know how much I miss him, and I truly cannot fathom how much you two do.  I know he was your favorite :)  My goodness, he was everyone's favorite.  Fun-loving, full of what we jokingly call "hooey", always with a sparkle in his eye and mischief somewhere in that intelligent brain of his.  He was "one in a million," as you so succinctly put it last night, Benjamin.

But he lives on in you.  I am so proud of you both.  You're taking a terribly sad, unfair situation, and you're living anyway.  He may have been one in a million, but there are two more Howell men in my house that will no doubt rival their daddy when they are all grown up. 

Last night, as I tried to comfort you, A.J., I asked if you would like to wear one of Daddy's t-shirts to sleep in.  I was at a loss, and it was a shot in the dark.  You agreed, and I went to one of the drawers that I have avoided for the past 8 months and pulled out a soft white cotton T.  Being an XL, it swallowed you, but it gave you comfort.  Heck, it gave me comfort, as I hugged you tightly, smelling the clean scent, feeling the soft fabric over your warm beating heart.  You and Ben may have found new sleeping attire.

I pledge to do whatever it takes, and I mean WHATEVER, to get us through this.  We are so lucky to have good friends, family, and a tremendous support system at both school and church.  I realize I cannot be everything for you, and I need to be able to ask for help, especially from good male friends. 

As we shopped the aisles of Academy last evening, I thought, "Yep, this is another thing I never thought I would for a new aluminum baseball bat."  But we did it.  Together we figured out what length, what ounce would work to get your power stroke going, Andrew.  I look forward to cheering you on as you take the field in a couple of weeks.

And as you both lay in your bed every night, after saying your prayers, talking to your can rest assured that he is there.  That was part of the bargain the day I let him go to heaven.  I told him that as fun as heaven was going to be, and as busy as he was going to be, he would still have to be near us, especially near you two, all the time. 

After I turned off all the lights, enabled the security system, and headed for nightly ritual continued as I watched both of you sleep.  I thank my God for you everytime I think of you, everytime I look at you.  And before crawling into my big bed, I got down on my knees, literally, and asked for help, wisdom, and discernment in this part of the storm. 

"Lord you have examined me and you know me.
  You know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts. 
You see me, whether I am working or resting; you know all my actions. 
 Even before I speak, you already know what I will say;
You are around me on every side; you protect me with you power. 
Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding. 
Where could I go to escape from you?  Where could I  get away from your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there;if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.
If I flew away beyond the east or lived in the farthest place in the west,
you would be there to lead me, you would be there to help me.
I could ask for the darkness to hide me or the light around me to turn into night,
but even darkness is not dark for you, and the night is as bright as the day.
I praise you because you are to be feared;
all you do is strange and wonderful.  I know it with all my heart.  
Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me and discover my thoughts. 
Find out if there is any evil in me and guide me in the everlasting way."
  Psalm 139: 1-12, 14, 23 (GNT)

We WILL weather this storm.  How can we not?  We have God on our side, and the most tremendous cheerleader in your Dad, urging us forward. 

I love you both with every fiber of my being, and I am honored to be your mom.

All my love,


Sunday, March 18, 2012

TGSBIO (Thank God Spring Break is Over)....

I'm exhausted.  Emotionally, physically, and mentally.  Not how I hoped to be at the end of the boys' Spring Break.  In years past, Spring Break has been spent skiing in New Mexico, in Beaver Creek, Colorado (where I was witness to the most beautiful snow ever!), and in places like Oklahoma City (watching the Thunder, strolling the botanical gardens & zoo). 

Last year, Mark and I split the time up, he and Andrew heading to our Kansas pasture land to work on musk thistles....Ben and I headed to Kentucky to check on my mom and extended family.  It was necessary, we had responsibilities in two states, but miserable to be apart.  We swore never to do that again.  And we didn't, as long as he was alive.

But for this Spring Break,  I took our two sons, loaded up our Jeep, and headed to Kentucky in the most torrential rain I've ever driven in last Sunday.  It rained, literally, on us for 12 hours...from the time we left our driveway, until the time we pulled into my mom's.  I was thankful for many things, but mostly for the 4WD available on our vehicle.  I engaged it in East Texas, never missed a beat driving in rain so heavy at times that I could not see a car length ahead of me.  I didn't take it off until arriving safely in Mayfield, KY.

I could write a half dozen blog entries about my trip.  I may, before all is said and done.  I had been doing so well here, riding out the latest wave of peace and solitude---I didn't think it would be that hard to be in Kentucky without Mark.  I was wrong.  Everywhere I turned, everywhere I looked, I was bombarded with reminders.  Reminders of our dating days.  Of how early spring in Western Kentucky is so very beautiful, remembering how wonderfully in love two young biology graduate students were in 1987 and 1988. 

I had to deal with greeting friends and family who hadn't seen me since becoming a widow.  It ripped the scab clean off the wound I thought was healing so well.  I cried.  A lot.  At the most inopportune and crazy times. 

Precious time was spent with my mom, brother, sister in law, and two nieces.  It's tough on them all, they all loved Mark, too.  The littlest one, almost 8, still can't talk about him.  He spent time with her, sitting with her, being interested and involved in her endeavors.  He had a way of making you feel you were the only person in the world, whether you were his wife, his sons, his nieces, or his friend. 

Looking for a distraction, I took the boys to our old cinema to see "John Carter" on family night, where admission was only $5 a head; thinking the place would be packed, I was disappointed to see that we were 3 of only 4 people in the entire theater.  The place looked totally different than how I remembered it.  Why is it that as an adult, when you visit places you regularly went to as a kid, everything looks smaller? 

As the theater lights dimmed, the three of us were stunned to see an American flag on screen, with the Star Spangled Banner playing.  The native behind us stood up, placing her hand over her heart.  We followed suit, and I sang the words out boldly, in the darkness of the empty theater.  As it ended, A.J. commented, "Well, that was awkward."  But it is a tradition at that particular cinema, before each show.  Gotta love small towns, right? 

The movie was spectacular.  It made me sob like a baby on the way home.  John Carter, the hero, is a soldier who loses his wife and child in a fire while he is away at war.  He finds them, buries them, and wears two wedding rings on his hand (just as I did for months after losing Mark).  I don't want to ruin the plot for those of you who may go and see it, but after several years, he finds true love again, albeit on Mars.  He removes those rings and moves forward with his life.  This is why I cried.  It was embarrassing.  In the darkness, travelling on a road that I've ridden on and driven thousands of times, I cried so hard I could not speak.  The boys, in the backseat, reached forward, comforting me. 

I thought I had it all together.  I thought I was 'enough.'  I keep putting one foot in front of the other, but deep down, I wonder if I will ever feel whole again.  My boys look to me to be the glue that holds us together, their shelter in a storm.  I know that without God, I am nothing. 

I feel overwhelmed.  I have pasture land in Kansas that I need to walk, looking for musk thistles.  I have taxes to file.  I have decisions that have to be made.  Where is home?  Where will be home for us in the future? 

For the first time since leaving my parents' home in Kentucky, I realize with 100% certainty that my home is not there.  It is not in Kentucky.  I found myself yearning for Wichita Falls, for my home, my dog and cat, my friends, my warm comfy bed. 

But what about Kansas?  It's where Mark wanted us to be.  It's where our sons' heritage is.  They are the only representatives of the next generation of Howells, for land that's been in this family for over 100 years.  It is the land he loved.  And, since I loved him so much, I love it, too.  His mom's moved from the homeplace into a duplex in town.  What will become of the farm?  It worries me.  I cannot take care of two homes in two states. 

All of these questions and possible scenarios play through my head, and this past week, it has ruled my life.  I pray for wisdom and discernment as the situations work themselves out.  I'm at a loss; God will be very busy helping me in the days, weeks, and months to come. 

This I do know for sure....Wichita Falls Texas never looked as good to me as it did last evening, right around 5:30 p.m.  As we rounded Henry Grace Freeway and started the westward trek on Southwest Parkway, heading toward the Howell Four Sixes Ranch, all three of us perked up just a little.  This, friends, is our home for now. 

And as far as the future goes? Well, I just have to borrow the old line from the gospel song:
"Many things about tomorrow, I don't seem to understand.  But I know Who holds tomorrow, and I know Who holds my hand."

Whatever God's plan is for me, for my sons, I will be open and willing to follow through.  I want nothing more than to feel whole again, and move forward with great expectations.  Life is short and I am ready to live. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sorting through memories...

A manila folder filled with handwritten thank you notes, from a elementary class that Mark took seining on Lake Arrowhead.  Hand-drawn pictures from his sons, held on to the side of a filing cabinet with magnets of fish and German-shorthaired pointers.  Textbooks.  Field Guides.  Publications with several of his papers inside, from places like Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, San Francisco, Baltimore, Davenport IA.  A one-cup coffeemaker, gathering dust.  A bulletin board filled with pins, nametags, certificates, and photos.  A calendar on the wall, still showing July 2011, just as he left it.

I encountered all of the above, and so much more, as I began packing Mark's office items into boxes today.  Several months ago, I'd gone & removed much of his personal belongings from his desk; I kept putting off sorting through the bookshelves and cabinets, of taking the rest of his stuff off of the office walls.  Today I thought I could make it.  Surely I could drive that familiar route, in a Toyota truck that could probably get there on automatic pilot, without the tears that usually accompany me.  It was a cold, rainy day in Wichita Falls, and my mood was a bit dreary, too.

Surprisingly, I didn't shed any tears while there.  In some way, it seems that I have succeeded in partitioning off this part of my grief, and packing his professional items away is a duty I must complete.  His two sons, now only 10 and 8, will want some of these things in the future.  Right now, I do not have a clue as to what will be important to them---neither do they.  So, I will throw away nothing, and at some point down the road, we will open these matching turquoise blue rolling plastic containers, and reminisce about the most wonderful father a kid could possibly have.  Then we will decide what should stay and what should go. 

I stayed about an hour or so, and the task will take several days to complete.  Folks have offered to help me, but it's really something I want to do alone.  I enjoy running my hands over his textbooks, looking at old limnology tests from Murray State; chuckling at a desk calendar from April 1986, where on the day before my 25th birthday (4/14/86), he has in bold print: "Pop the big one to Nancy." meaning propose to me.  He planned everything, was sentimental and therefore saved everything.  Ben is exactly the same way, as evidenced by his massive collection of used electronics and stuffed animals.

I miss him terribly.  Always will.  But I'm finding that the bitter taste of his being gone is becoming tempered with the sweet memories I am reminded of dozens of times a day.  I can walk into what was his office without bursting into tears.  I can lovingly pack a box full of his professional items without losing it. 

But I still can't write about it without crying. 

I've learned to drill holes into a broken fence, and mend it with the proper screws.  I've become great at using the weed-eater, and now I know how to fix it (yep, I broke it).   I reserved a hotel room for my boys & me, using some of our hard-earned Marriott points, staying for free (Mark absolutely loved a bargain!).  I finally succeeded in building and maintaining a wonderfully-warm fire in our fireplace today (it's harder than it looks).  It may not sound like much, but all of these items were a first for me, things that were taken care of by Mark. 

His love and confidence in me continue, even as he watches over us from his new vantage point in heaven.  I feel him urging me on, to take responsibility, to try new things.  I hear him gently reminding me to be a good steward of what he and I worked so hard to accomplish financially.  I imagine him smiling, all the time, just like he did while he was here on earth.  And if I still want to see him, I don't have to look far.  For his sons, one who looks just like him, the other, who acts just like him, are living proof that there once was a scrawny farm kid from Kansas who lived and became everything God wanted him to be.  I hope that someday someone will say the same about me. 

I looked out my bedroom window this afternoon, and caught a glimpse of a pair of doves, snuggled close together on a branch of a tree.  Mates already, they huddled against the cold rainy wind, and it made me smile.  Life's easier whenever you have someone by your side, on good days, as well as bad.

Without Mark physically by my side, I'm huddling with his two sons.  And my God.   Together, we can get through anything.

Monday, March 5, 2012

In the shallow end of the pool....

"I miss Daddy."  "Tell us a story about Daddy, you know, one we haven't heard before.."  "Tell us again about how when you were pregnant and so fat that Daddy would come up behind you while you were sitting in a dining room chair & grab your bottom, hanging off both sides, telling you how beautiful you were carrying his sons."  "Mom, I feel Daddy close by.  Do you?"

I get those questions, and dozens more each and every day.  My sons are no dummies.  They are intelligent, empathetic, loving boys, growing into young men so quickly that it hurts my head sometimes.  We talk about Mark daily, multiple times daily.  No subject is off-limits; I've answered their questions while laughing, crying, so choked up that I can hardly speak, and even matter-of-factly, with little emotion at all.  The emotions associated with grief and loneliness are a Pandora's box, a Forrest Gump's "box of chocolates"---I truly never know what "I will get" whenever I reminisce about the man that loved Andrew and Benjamin (and me) more than anything else in this world, besides his God. 

All three of us miss being loved that passionately.  I know that he loves us still, up in heaven, but that tangible, physical extension of his love is gone.  I can grab our sons and squeeze them tight, but it will never replace the bear hugs of their dad.  I can hold their hands, but never quite recreate the safe, warm secure grasp that his hand had when he was holding mine.  I can only hope, at some point, God will see fit to send someone into our lives that will appreciate a 48 year old woman with two
elementary school-aged boys.

For years, I have marvelled at how "lucky" I was to have found Mark.  We were two halves, making a perfect whole.  Then it hit me today--it wasn't luck that brought Mark and me together.  It was answers to prayers.  My prayers.  At age 22, I began praying for God to send someone into my life, someone that would be my better half.  And God did.  Mark often joked that I prayed him "out of Nebraska" where he was working a temporary job in fisheries.  While there, he realized that he must pursue a Master's degree program to be able to secure his dream job.  And the program he chose? Well, it was in Murray, Kentucky, where I was waiting.  Looking back, that poor guy didn't have a chance.  We were brought together by a God who has a sense of humor, and we had 25 years of fun, love, and laughter together.

Am I being selfish to want to find that again somewhere down the road?  Is what I had truly a "once in a lifetime" love, or will God open my heart (and my sons' hearts) to someone else in our future? God only knows.  I do know this.  If I live to be 100 years old, I will continue to love the father of my children.  He was the single most important earthly influence in my life, and he was my first love.  But I also think that the human heart has great capacity for love, and that, if God sees fit, I might have room in mine for another, all in God's time. 

Am I ready for that now?  I honestly don't know.  I know that I miss adult conversation.  I miss cooking.  I miss debating the day's news items with my best friend.  I miss having someone to laugh with over the boys' escapades.  I miss sharing a good microbrew with someone while watching college basketball or major league baseball. 

Whatever happens down the road, I am content.  For all that I've been through, I can honestly declare that I am in a good place.  I am comfortable in my own skin, feeling more at ease daily with my new-found responsibilities and power as head of the household.  And I just have to trust that God knows what He's doing.  As one of my newer Christian friends shared with me this week, "Nancy, I was with you on the worst day of your life.  Seeing you now, how you have progressed, is wonderful.  But I want you to know this:  God didn't pull you out of that deep water you were drowning in, after losing Mark, just to leave you in the shallow end still all wet.  He will continue to hold your hand, and walk with you the rest of the way out, until you're all dried off." 

So here I stand, in the shallow end of the pool.  Am I ready to step out, dry off, and move ahead?  I'm still not sure....

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Laughter is the best medicine...

Mark's laughing at me today, I just know it.  You see, I don't think heaven would truly be heaven for Mark Howell unless he could see his sons growing and prospering, and well, he sees me, too, I'm sure of it.  I've felt his presence several times since his untimely death, especially at night, as I have our two sons snuggled in on either side of me, in our big king-sized bed. 

He's probably shook his head a few times at me, but today, I truly think I almost heard him laughing.  You see, we have a garden spot out in our front courtyard.  He made it his mission to work that ground each spring.  He would plant flowers, tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables.  He threatened to plant sweet corn and okra...but I convinced him that his wife, a Kentucky native, would never hear the end of it if there was 6 foot tall sweet corn growing in the front of her house.

The garden spot was his baby.  Oh, he tried to get me involved.  I would occasionally weed it, or pick the produce that was growing in it, but 90% of the time, it was his baby.  Last year, he said, for the umpteenth year in a row, "Sugar, do you think that next year you could help out with the garden?  It would really be nice.." and I nodded in agreement, mainly to get him off of my back.  I had enough to do around here, without adding that to my list.

Fast forward to this year.  I don't have him anymore.  Every responsibility that he had is now mine.  My list has grown exponentially.  And so have the weeds in our courtyard.  So, today, I got on my gardening clothes and gloves, found the garden hoe, and began work.  That's when I could've sworn I heard him chuckling.  Yes, dear, I am helping with the garden this year.  I probably won't do it as well as you did, but it will just have to be good enough.  I've pruned the rose bushes, gotten rid of the dandelions, and I'm on my hands and knees, pulling weeds by hand amongst the prize perennial butterfly plants that his master naturalist friends gave us.  It will get done, but it's slow going for now. 

On another front, I've got a new slab of concrete in my front yard.  It was poured earlier in the week, and will allow me to pull his truck over to the side, out of the way of our double car garage.  For in the garage is a shiny new red Jeep Wrangler. 

Before his death, we talked at length about purchasing a 4wd vehicle, a Jeep, one that we could use on our Kansas land.  A four door one, with room for two boys who are going to be tall.  They have just about outgrown the back seat of his truck already.  We talked of going camping with it, off-roading in it, going to friends in Colorado with it.  All part of our intricate plan.  Until he died, and left us trying to piece together our lives without him. 

The thought of that 4wd Jeep would just not go away.  I tried to put it out of my mind, really, I did.  I made a "pro" and "con" list, hoping to talk myself out of getting one.  I solicited opinions from three close friends. And when push came to shove, I decided to start looking for a Jeep.  I looked at used ones.  I drove a Toyota FJ Cruiser, but it didn't have enough room in the back seat for my growing sons.  I couldn't afford the Jeeps in Wichita Falls, but found a pretty red one (my favorite color) in nearby Henrietta.  The boys and I travelled on President's Day to take a look at it & drive it.  Long story short, I used my savvy car-dealing skills learned at the feet of the master (Mark), and got a heck of a deal.  I drove it home last Tuesday. 

In my quest to become an outdoors woman, to be the best kind of mom I can be for my sons, I now have a Jeep to help in that journey.  It's so funny, whenever we drive it, none of us can wipe the smiles off of our faces.  The hard tops come off, and with this lovely 80 plus degree weather, we've enjoyed the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces.  Coming back from the gun club Thursday, Andrew, laughing, with his blonde hair blowing around, exclaimed, "Mom, this is the best!" 

I see his dad, nodding in agreement, flashing that million-dollar grin. So I have a truck to haul my bird dog and firewood in, a hybrid car for long trips, and a Jeep for nothing but fun.  My boys and I are going off-roading tomorrow, I have room for two more people.  If you're in the Wichita Falls area & interested, give me a call. 

Life is short, friends.  I don't have Andrew and Ben's daddy around anymore.  He put off so many fun things, just because he thought he had all the time in the world.  He didn't.  None of us knows how much time we'll be given.  So, for the time I have left, I'm going to embrace the good, shake off the bad, and make the most of every day.  I'm making memories with my boys...good memories to go along with the great ones they have of the four of us. 

And....I really look good in red.

Christmas, 2012

Christmas, 2012