She’s 16, she’s beautiful and she’s fiesty

Sixteen-year-old a sweet gift to family

By Sheila Hagar

- As of Monday, March 17, 2014

Today, April 18, my youngest child turned 16. Sixteen! As I tend to do, I shall celebrate a milestone on this page with a personal letter.

courtesy pinkcakebox.com

Dear Miss Tall and Blond,

Let me start this off by saying happy, happy birthday. You deserve the best one ever.

Have I told you the story about how I found out you were meant to be my daughter? So there I was one day, driving to a job way out in the country. I knew you were close to being born and I was a wreck. Your twin sisters were 4 years old and showing signs of the prenatal brain trauma they had suffered. Daddy and I didn’t know then that Strong-hearted Girl and Martha Stewart, Jr. would live with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder for their whole lives, but we did know our hands were already very full.

We also knew we would soon have a decision to make — a new sibling was about to make his or her appearance and we would be asked if we wanted to become parents for a sixth time.

“God,” I screamed. “I am exhausted. I am crazy busy. I can’t do any more. If I’m supposed to do this, you’re going to have to show me in a big way. BIG. Do you understand, God?”

Honey, never say that to God. Because he will so take you at your word.

I was zipping along when I came upon a big dog sitting in the road. I slowed and watched the lab pick himself up to mosey on across.

I’ll put on some speed and get past him before he changes his mind again, I thought.

He changed his mind. I pushed hard on the brake pedal and turned the steering wheel in our 1981 Subaru Brat. The one without anti-lock brakes.

I was going 45 miles per hour with a locked-up and tiny vehicle, headed toward a wreck. I saw a field fenced with barbed wire ahead. Not so bad, I thought, a second before my tire ran over a rock.

That tweaked the truck’s course juuuuust enough to send me toward the nearest power pole. It was not a good time to recall the Brat’s front seat belt required extra tugs to lock it tight. Which I had failed to do, so busy freaking out about my future and all.

Subaru hit pole, driver hit steering wheel. With face.

The rest was like a TV movie. An off-duty emergency medical technician was standing on his porch and saw the whole thing, meaning your blacked-out mom got rescued by Milton-Freewater’s Rural Fire Department in pretty short order.

At the hospital, my broken nose was splinted and taped. Tests were done. I wonder now if my chest X-rays showed what was already in my heart then — God’s big answer. “You’re alive. Serve me.”

As soon as you arrived home you became the glue we’d been missing, the bridge between older and younger sisters. No one could get enough of “our baby.”

I mean, there was that one time a sister fed you a spoonful of Play-Doh, but generally you were cherished, pampered, adored.

You took it all in. People used to remark that you were “so observant,” while I worried about every possible developmental problem.

It was for naught. You were merely soaking things in for this time, when you are beginning to express yourself in writing and photography. Your voice through those venues takes my breath away some days.

I’ve already come to appreciate so much I see of the adult you are becoming.

For starters, you can love. You loved your daddy with all your heart and now you love a new dad.

It took time. You refused to “fake it until you feel it,” insisting on finishing your grieving in your own time. But when you had climbed that mountain, you could accept the view on the other side.

That’s when you became a real Camo Daughter. And even on the days you and Dad clash, I know neither of you would trade in the other.

Second, you are honest. Well, not about whether your laundry is done or who ate the last piece of pizza. That’s coming, right? Right? But you are honest about who you are and what you believe. Those things evolve in all of us, but not many teens get that. You, though, understand your soul and are willing to give it breathing room.

You are courage. A solid core of bravery. We thought when we lost Daddy it would be the roughest time of your young life. But that came this year. Difficult personal decisions had to be made, some that still ache. You, my girl, accepted the road ahead, put on your rubber boots and prepared for mud. Without self-pity.

And Miss Tall and Blond? You are a child of God. Not that every thought you have is charitable and loving — it would be enormously cool to see some of both directed at the people you live with — but you have a thirst for spirituality that puts my own to shame. At 16, you are steadfast in faith. It’s a flag you fly with self-declared impunity.

Sixteen years ago, as I faded in and out of consciousness while sirens grew closer, I probably thought God was saying he wanted me to be your mom for what I could give you.

I see now he gave me to you for what you can give me.

Happy birthday, daughter. Carry on, because you’re doing it right.

 

Paving a road to…you know

Plenitude of projects sprout in muddy back yard

By Sheila Hagar

- As of Monday, March 3, 2014

My back yard is a mess.

Truth is, it’s been in various stages of messiness for close to two decades. When my family arrived to live at Home Place that July day in 1994, the grass at the back of the house had been baked to the end of its roots by unrelenting sun. It was sparse and crusty.

We tried to nurse it back to green. We fed, aerated, watered. And watered. All for naught — in winter and spring the space was a mud bog. I nearly lost my mind as trails of footprints painted a portrait of children and pets in brown ooze.

At some point we got smarter. For starters, we began hacking out grass on all sides. I swung a pickaxe through a mesh of roots birthed in 1947, when my grandparents decided to create this labor-intensive lawn when they built on a double lot.

Eventually we carved out islands of grass, shrubs, ornamental trees and pockets of flowers. We surrounded it all with moats of landscape bark. Lots and lots of bark.

After years of shoveling out cash to refresh the bark every few years, it dawned on me that I had simply created a newer version of yard purgatory. The landscaping was prettier and more cohesive, but my tiny band of yard slaves and I worked almost every stinkin’ weekend. Pruning, weeding, feeding, pruning, transplanting, staking, harvesting, pruning … it just goes on and on.

I welcome that first frost like a prisoner beholds the open gate. A sweet coating of icy crystals signals a season of freedom.

And the bark … the minute we get every area fluffed and pretty, it begins a creeping descent underground, too slowly to be caught by human eye.

Last summer, I whispered my secret desire to Camo Man — to install a paver parking pad in the back of the house. Promise as we might, we get lazy and park on the bark there, so let’s stop calling it a yard and name it what it is.

We got bids on the jobs. Contractors returned with surprisingly large numbers, sending my hopes down to live with my composting bark. There was no way to shell out that kind of money, yet the task seemed far too overwhelming for sane people working 40-hour weeks.

The recent winter snow and rains, however, upped the urgency. With no new bark on top, the ground rose up to meet every sole, happy to be brought into the warm house. I became a shrieker. “WHO DID NOT WIPE THEIR FEET? SOMEONE WILL DIE.” I laid down throw rugs for a mile, trying to save the carpet.

“Let’s get a few concrete pavers and make a path from our cars to the patio,” Camo Man suggested. “We can use them later, too.”

YES. LET’S.

We headed out to grab an armful of the rectangles. And, as often happens, our eyes grew bigger than our pickup bed. Talk almost instantly went from quick fix into full-on project mode. In a matter of 48 hours our backyard was strewn with landscape timbers, rebar posts, tools and a mountain of gravel.

Still, we insist to each other, we’re going to be sensible and take this a section at a time.

We’re lying.

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For the past two weeks we’ve shoveled, scraped, measured, sawed and drilled. I am personally responsible for fabulously straight post holes and hammered steel anchors.

Now we know why those bids were spendy. This is a lot of work. This is why I instinctively knew not to do this myself. But it’s nice to see my man running his four-wheeler to move gravel and his arm muscles start to pop. His enthusiasm goes a long way in forgiving socks left on the floor.

Last night we realized Hunter Boy has been infected. “Have you thought about putting a lamp post at the end of the parking pad?” he asked, his face innocent of what happened with that one question.

His grandfather and I turned to each other, seeing the answer in each other’s gaze.

YES. LET’S.

 

Stress — it REALLY IS a killer

Stressed body lets food go to waist

By Sheila Hagar

- As of Monday, February 17, 2014

Sometimes this job hurts.

I’ve written plenty — editors would say “too many” — dish-my-own-dirt columns, laying out all kinds of intimate details, but this piece is painful. And I’m not sure why I feel compelled to share it out loud, but staying accountable to readers has worked out pretty well for 17 years now.

Here’s the deal. You’ll recall I had that acute episode of stress last May, from a crisis generated by a teen at our house, missing most of his or her frontal lobe. Of course I wrote about the fallout.

Author’s note: If you leave a snarky message on my phone, I’m still not going to identify the kid or the issue, so knock it off. You know who you are, and you need a time out.

That column wasn’t really about the incident. It was about two very in-love adults learning to navigate churning white water in a brand new raft headed for a waterfall. It took some doing — still does — and every day we’re grateful and happy to be a life preserver for each other.

But this column is not about mushy stuff, unless we’re talking about my belly.

 

Let’s dial this back to, say, August. You know (and you ladies really know) how you have that nightmare you gained 5 pounds overnight? For me, it wasn’t a dream and it wasn’t 5 pounds.

One day I was me, and the next morning I was me plus 10 pounds. A week later (I promise this is true) there was another 10 pounds tacked on, like some ghastly two-for-one sale.

By October my weight had shot up 30 pounds. But that wasn’t the worst — that title went to the weirdness wrapped around my waist where my stomach had once lived.

Suddenly there was a glop of marshmallow cream under my skin. Jell-O under my shirt. A bizarre pillow of wiggly jelly rivaling St. Nick’s. I could only watch in horror, it happened so quickly.

I grew desperate for it to stop, examining every moment of my days. Exercise? At least half a check. Nutrition? Eating what I always ate. Horrible disease? Health reporters live on the edge of hypochondria, but even I couldn’t see any real signs of impending illness.

“Stress.” That’s what my lady-parts doctor said when I laid my woes at her feet. “That cortisol stuff is real.”

In my that-can-never-happen-to-me ignorance, I once believed that stress and the “hormonal imbalance” chatter was code for laziness and a refusal to take responsibility for one’s health.

Hoo-boy. I don’t think that anymore. Even if I did eat Chex Mix on Super Bowl Sunday.

Seems cortisol — always present in your body — gets super powers when you’re in “fight or flight” mode. From its base in the adrenal gland, nature’s hydrocortisone has extra work to do in those situations, including giving you energy to survive whatever the crisis is. It helps your brain remember what you’re supposed to be doing, boosts your immune system and lowers your sensitivity to pain.

All good, yes? Unless you can’t move out of that high-stress zone, day after day. Then the once-heroic hormone hangs out in your body and just gets mean.

It screws with bone density and blood sugar levels, lowers muscle tone, raises blood pressure, weakens the immune system and the body’s power to fight inflammation.

And then — and then — cortisol turns vicious. It increases your abdominal fat, and that’s linked to super-duper health issues like heart attack, stroke, metabolic syndrome and higher levels of the icky kind of cholesterol.

Basically, the opposite of Christmas for your belly.

I’m here to tell you, it also leads to your clothes fitting one day and not the next. It causes shrinking away from hugs and thinking your gut might need its own Zip code.

Oh yes, unemployed cortisol also causes your body to shoot any and all sugar right into the squishy mess of a tummy, because your body, all whacked on stress, thinks you need extra fat to survive.

And lordy, you eat. People in the know assure me this is based on science. It’s not just in the movies where the girl dumped at the altar self-soothes with a gallon of ice cream.

I spent a few months living with this new version of me while having quite the pity party, at which I had only the occasional guest. Such as my husband, who wasn’t certain what to do with the stranger in the house. One day I’d be eating carbs and the next begging him to never, ever bring food home again. Any food at all.

In the last few weeks, however, the real me has started waking up in my bed. It’s time, I thought, to reclaim my health. Time to get past being a victim and on to being victorious.

I did what I always do, once I could look myself in the eye again: I started surveying my ammo. I imagined coming face-to-face with my YMCA trainer who helped me build core strength. Leslie is not one to mince words and I don’t like thinking about the ones she might have for me. So I pulled out my exercise sheets, channeled Leslie and set to work each morning and evening.

Then I called Maria, who helped me in my diabetes education series a few years ago. Maria was sympathetic, but laid things out plainly. I would have to kick extra carbs to the curb again, limit portion sizes, stuff in the greens and limit my torrid affair with bacon.

One more thing: People often find solace from stress with repetitive motion. Such as hand to mouth, hand to mouth, she said. “But they don’t do it with celery sticks. It’s why smoking is so attractive.”

At least I’ve dodged that bullet.

The biggest job is finding ways to get rid of the extra cortisol living in my body and acting nasty. This means getting serious about stress relief. As in, taking care of myself. I told you this job hurts.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or sheilahagar@wwub.com.

Color me addicted

Sitting-room saga reveals painting addict’s true colors

By Sheila Hagar

- As of Monday, February 3, 2014

I have to paint.

This can’t come as a surprise to most of you. I confess this addiction in print and name colors in my sleep. If a cure only existed, I could have another 600 hours or so in my lifetime to do other things. And that’s just thus far.

This time, the monster rose as it often does. I was nesting on the sofa while Camo Man watched some idiots logging in swamp water on Netflix. My eyes wandered — maybe the tall vase would go there better than here; perhaps the curly sticks in the giant glass cylinder had outlived that one trend.

Mostly I love our family living space. Bright blues, rich yellows, big greens, a few dashes of chili pepper and merlot blend with soothing browns and creams. It feels like I’m hanging out in a Monet painting, minus the gentle blurring of impressionism.

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Something is not quite right, I thought, staring out from my couch cocoon. The whole area needed more … happiness.

And that was it, this tiny seed of evil I involuntarily planted that would rapidly grow tendrils of discontent.

Suddenly the warm cinnamon of my sitting room — separated from the living room by a mere illusion of an arch — no longer appeared cozy. In a flash of black magic, it became frumpy and dated rust, a ’70s throwback to macrame plant hangers and avocado appliances. And how could I stand living with the darker splotches of the touched-up spots?

Readers, I fought it. It’s winter, I reasoned. I have to get through Christmas. It’s damp and cold — no windows can be left open, no warm air will aid drying.

That tamped things down for, oh, about 10 days. Until I wandered over to the next block from work — JUST TO LOOK — to Gary’s Paint and Decorating. That blew the lid off any pretense of wellness I had constructed. Those paint chips are absolute crack for anyone with this disease, and in the next few days I had scoured every rack in town. I pulled out those colorful slices of paint manna in a frenzy of what can only be described as bliss.

Not to mention the Sherwin-Williams paint deck I keep hidden, brought forth in times of extreme desire.

Buttery yellows were calling my name. This kind of warmth on the walls would dispel any zombie hoards and winter blues, I decided. My house had already welcomed butterscotch into the fold, with pillows, vases and various other gimcracks.

I love it. I would swim in butterscotch if I could. Marry it. This year, anyway.

Unfortunately, this craving I suffer from is not easily appeased. As I stared at dozens of paint chips taped up, it dawned on me this color on walls would present some issues. I have enough accent pieces that would match up, leaving me with a room shooting back in time to those awful years of home “interior decorating” parties.

Remember? The ornate wall sconces, twined with silk flowers that matched the colors in the painting of the giant-eyed deer in the softly lit forest. The frame, enormous and very, very gold, could kill anyone unlucky enough to be standing under it when that nail finally gave up holding the weight.

Candles matched ribbons, ribbons matched fake flora, fake flora matched scrolly lettering in a print that screams “THIS HOUSE IS BLESSED.”

Because that’s how that happens, you hang up the gewgaw and voilà! Blessed!

Sorry — that was quite the tangent, right?

You know what else happens when you gather samples of yellow colors? Eventually you go deep enough to wander into orange territory, which I would never, ever consider for a sitting room. But I cannot deny there were a few oranges hanging onto the bottom of yellow ladders.

Along came Camo Man, pointing to one named “Candied Yam” that floated next to “Honey Toast.” No. “That’s orange, Honey,” I said, playing Captain Obvious.

See, addiction is a tricky thing. It lies all the time. I thought I just needed new, happy paint to fill up my home’s soul. The very second my brain drank in that bit of orange, however, it changed course.

“Sheila,” it whispered, “orange could work. It goes with the turquoise, the yellows, that raspberry. Orange is not boring, it laughs at boring.”

I know what you are thinking. I had cinnamon, how different is orange? I’ll tell you. We are talking shades named tangy-rumba-festive-juicy-carrot-citrus-startling orange. We are looking at the oranges found in Play-Doh and at the circus.

Orange is work, my friends. It’s tinted-primer-and-multiple-coats-of-paint work. One doesn’t so much adopt orange as become its slave.

I called my Realtor friend, sure she would tell me that a vivid room is a marketing no-no. Not that we plan on selling the home place soon, but it could happen in another decade or so.

Au contraire. “Oh,” my friend said, “I would not tell someone to not do that if that fits your personality.” If the rest of the house embraces bright colors, there’s no reason to squelch your inner crayon. The problem is when someone creates a room that’s bright while the rest of the house is neutral, she added.

Not much neutral here, not with a kitchen so lime it could be juiced. Not with a green-apple area rug under a coffee table that’s “Lagoon” blue and sporting a bright green vine growing red leaves.

Hence I’ve been staring at oranges for days, weeding out the school-bus and mac-and-cheese samples. Waiting for enough sunshine to make paint chips come alive.

I’m holding onto the faintest of hope this fire in my head will dissipate, especially as yard season draws nigh. Serious outdoor time, though, is weeks out … the only real solution is to call every paint store in town and ask to be put on the “Do not sell to” list.

Being on the “Do not adopt to” list at the animal shelter is the only wall standing between me and too many kittens, after all. That’s working like it should. But, maybe, if I get new kitty, I won’t feel a need to paint?

Nah. I’ll just end up with open paint cans and little orange paw prints leading all over the house and up the curtains.

Send help.

 

At the request of Uncle Jerry

I’m going to catch this blog up, at least with my columns. Prepare for onslaught.

Family bonds grow ever grander with every visit

By Sheila Hagar

- As of Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It’s going to be raining babies this year for our family.

On the other side of Oregon, we have MoMama busily growing twins — we knew this. I’ll let you in on the latest: There’s a brother and sister on the train to the station. Alistair and Cyra (pronounced “sigh-ra,” like the sound of wind moving through the trees. A breeze in Paris on a spring evening, if you want to be detailed. Basically, the sound of love), middle names not completely decided, although I am campaigning hard for “Cyra Willow.” They are expected to be ready to see the world in another three months, and the excitement ramps up daily. We’re beginning the “obsessive examination of sonograms for family features” phase.

Just before Christmas we got unexpected news: Camo Man’s youngest son, Tech Boy, and his wife called to say the impossible has happened, and their family is set to grow.

The couple had about given up after the birth of their daughter more than six years ago. Not right away, of course. Since Mighty Miss M began life with no special effort on the part of her parents, it was easy to assume it would always be that way.

“We weren’t worried,” my daughter-in-law said. “We figured it would take some time.”

They didn’t reckon on five-plus years.

Eventually the couple believed it would never happen, as months ticked by. Indeed, tests indicated they’d just plain lucked out with Mighty Miss M, our family’s little fireball.

Can you imagine, then, how magical Christmas was when it was discovered the long-requested gift from Santa will be delivered in August? It might seem a little early to be sounding trumpets, but it’s too good not to share. Camo Man told me when we met that he has seven grandchildren and did not expect there to be more. This is going to be fun to watch.

I’ve already gotten a delicious taste of how my guy loves babies. To see him with grandboy Malcolm is to see the definition of “grandfather” written in human.

Also long-awaited, that pregnancy was finally confirmed for my eldest daughter and her husband just as Camo Man and I were just starting to court. He arrived at my house soon after I got the news and we hugged as a rocket of happiness went up in the sky to shower the universe with unicorns and fairy glitter.

A year later, Malcolm was, arguably, the most-adored guest at our wedding, a 3-month-old with dazzling blue eyes. And already the apple of his new Grampa’s eye.

As our grandson nears 2 years old, that love has only deepened. I expected to have the Grammie high, of course. I’ve been excited about grandparenting for the better part of the last decade. Macadoodle doesn’t know or care about that, the little monkey. Grampa is all that matters.

On a recent visit, we landed in Northeast Portland in the evening. MoMama and MacDaddy were scurrying to finish picking up for our arrival and our boy was safely gated inside his well-appointed playroom. You know what “well-appointed” stands for, right? I don’t need to spell out S-P-O-I-L-E-D.

Because he’s not — and that’s not just the Grammie in me talking. But there are a LOT of toys and activities at his tiny fingertips. Not one holds a candle to Grampa, however.

We walked into the playroom that night, where Mac treated us to a show. First his eyes — still a startling blue — opened in total surprise, then that magical giggle erupted. In the next second, his feet pounded up and down in a rhythm of sheer happiness. Up he jumped and made a beeline for his favorite toy of all, the guy of arm swings, shoulder rides and that finger-in-the-cheek popping thing.

Man and boy were inseparable once again. The whole visit.

I asked my husband once, “How is it, with seven grandchildren already, Macadoodle can be so special to you?”

He thought for only a minute. “Because I’m Grampa for him. I’m the only one he knows. There’s no comparison to anyone else.”

He’s the only man I’ve grandparented with, as well. I’m finding it to be a wonderful adventure. We don’t always see eye-to-eye on the day-in, day-out task of raising teens (hardest job on the planet, not gonna lie), but the grandchild thing is nothing but bliss. And Mac’s parents are seriously considering letting us have the little big brother for a solo visit in May. We’re already imagining him gobbling up breakfast at our favorite spot and camping with us at Junior Show. “Giddy” describes our excitement best.

Three more — at least! — tiny humans are on their way to this lovefest. We’ll be hopeless. There will be galleries of baby pictures on our fridge. All our date money will be spent on toys, books and impossibly tiny shirts.

We don’t care. We’ll immerse ourselves. This is one rain that needs no umbrella, Mac has taught us that.