#TopTenTuesday – Summer

I haven’t done a Top Ten Tuesday in a long time.  But, seeing as this is the last Tuesday of August and I’ve had a pretty wonderful summer,  I thought it time to share my favorite things of Summer 2016.  It started out where I was a little stressed, a little restless, and a lot sick of cold, but it’s turned out to be a summer where I’ve truly felt loved and blessed.  So here ya go.

Top 10 Favorite Things of Summer 2016:

1.  Fourth of July.  This is always my favorite holiday, spent with my crazy family at my aunt and uncle’s cottage.  This year’s theme for the boat parade was “Anything Goes,” and since my uncle is the Loon Ranger for their lake, this happened.  Oh, and one of the flags fell off the back when my aunt wasn’t paying attention, my cousin-in-law started playing “Taps” on his phone as it sank, and I jumped overboard to pluck it from the mucky bottom of the lake.  Pretty standard times.

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2.  This little girl entered our lives!  My parents used to raise Weimaraners when I was a kid, but we’d been without one in the family for far too long.  Ghost is probably going to be a bit spoiled as a result.

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3.  My bridal shower.  I hate being the center of attention, but that wasn’t a problem considering we had 19 kids staying.  My mom’s side of the family hadn’t all been together in like 3  years, so I was happy to be the excuse.

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4.  I’ve read a lot of amazing books from fellow authors.  I also beta read more than I usually do (meaning I read an advanced copy of a book an author is preparing to release into the world), which was a great opportunity.  You can see some of these books I’ve read here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/16027170?sort=date_read&view=reviews

5.  I moved to a super cool apartment that is slowly but surely getting filled so it’s less echo-y in here.

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6.  The Fiance and I celebrating knowing each other for 2 years.  Honestly the first thing to remind us was Facebook.  He was training for an upcoming Ironman all day, I was working, I went to McDonald’s to get us dinner…  It was “special” but worth noting.

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7.  My bridal crew helped me pick out a wedding dress.  Now, I’ve had a deal with my mom since I was 7 years old that I would elope.  However, since the diva groom wants a wedding, that means I had to find a dress.  I didn’t cry when finding the dress, but it meant more to me that these people were there.  (Our little Dutch souls did cry at the great deal I got, though.)

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8.  Reviews from authors I respect.  I’ve been slacking on the whole “book promotions” thing, but it’s been wonderful to have occasional kind words come in about my books.  It especially means a lot to me when other authors whose work I LOVE have something nice to say.  Here’s one:

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9.  The Haymarsh Benefit Shoot.  For almost 2 decades, our family’s hunt club has hosted a benefit shoot for a local facility that helps families with their needs.  It’s always a time I use to catch up with my many adopted-uncle-types.  It’s also a time when my dad, my brother, and I frantically prep to get things ready.  This year was no different, and it’s nice some things never change.

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10.  I found a quiet peace of heaven.  Our apartment doesn’t have a balcony, but there’s this weird private courtyard down the hall that leads to open sun, open air, and astroturf.  It’s the quietest place you can imagine while living downtown, and it’s great for relaxing and unwinding…which means reading.

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About my vague health posts lately…

Here’s what’s been going on with me:
 ***
A few weeks ago while in the shower, I thought I got shampoo in my eye because I had sudden patches in my left eye’s vision.  This stupidity seemed very typical of me, and I didn’t think too much of it.  After a week, these grey patches had quieted into a small blurry spot in the center of my vision. Then, while trying to relax in a jacuzzi at my parents’ house, the patches suddenly returned. The next morning I went to my mom’s ophthalmologist, and thus began one of the scariest times of my life.
  ***
The ophthalmologist took pictures that showed my left eye was hemorrhaging “like an eye mini-stroke,” and the pooling blood was causing my blind spot.  (You know when you have a vision test and you’re supposed to read the letters?  I couldn’t even see the giant E at the top.)  I was sent semi-emergently to a retinal specialist in Grand Rapids, and there further pictures and an angiogram confirmed that my eye was hemorrhaging in about 8-10 places.  The pics of my eye looked like craters on the moon.  Also, for some reason the blood flow into my eye was slow – 20 seconds when it should be about 4.  It wasn’t inflamed enough to suggest an arterial occlusion, so that was some good news.  But if it developed into an occlusion, that could mean I’d lose my vision entirely.
  ***
Thing is, this should not happen in someone my age with absolutely zero risk factors.  (I’m pretty sure the specialist thought I was lying when I kept answering “No” to his ROS questions.)  So, the specialist ordered about 14 blood tests and an MRI/MRA to sort out what the hell could be causing this.  He sent me home – my eyes fully dilated for 10+ hours and exhausted without any treatment – with the knowledge only that “it could be something pretty scary.”  (A terrible thing to tell a medical transcriptionist, btw.  Knowing the multitude of things that COULD be wrong = hypochondriac freakout.)  Then, because of some office snafus, my MRI wasn’t properly scheduled and no one bothered to call me for 4 days until my mom called to yell at them.  So I went from being treated as an emergency on Monday to not hearing anything for the rest of the week.  DID.  NOT.  HELP.
  ***
Since my eye externally looks completely normal and I’ve had no pain whatsoever, this all would’ve gone completely undetected were in not for my blurry vision.  But something is “seriously wrong” as an underlying mystery diagnosis. Plus now I’m afraid to bathe because that seems to be a hemorrhage trigger.  So that’s awesome.
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This has all been completely new to me.  Aside from having strep so often as a child that I had to have my tonsils out, I’ve had near-perfect health my whole life.  I’ve sprained several ankles, sure, but I’ve never been diagnosed with anything, never been on medication, never had a cavity, and I’ve never worn contacts or glasses.  I have NEVER taken my health for granted.  I have felt incredibly blessed my whole life to have the health I’ve had.  So maybe I’m due, I don’t know.
  ***
As an avid reader, as a writer, and as an artist, the possibility of losing my sight is heartbreaking.  As someone planning a wedding and finally making plans for a future I’m looking forward to, being told I might have something that could kill me (“do not exert yourself” was expressed, as a blood clot was another possibility) is even more terrifying.
  ***
I don’t do well not having control, and I was properly freaked out for a good while.  I hate not knowing.  At least if I knew what this was, I could find a way to cope, to prepare, or to move forward.  But the not knowing is the hardest part for me.  (They HAVE ruled out the random test for syphilis, so I guess that’s something.)
  ***
But here’s the thing:  It’s always during times of freaking out that I feel most held.  You are free to not believe in God, but I do.  During my times of fear, I always feel like God goes, “Ah-ha, see? This is what I’m here for,” and then I feel cocooned in a love/peace that I can’t explain.  This has happened time and again, and it’s happened now.  I again have reached a place of acceptance that I’m not in control, and “let whatever happens happen” is an incredibly freeing headspace to be in. I don’t want to go blind or die; I want to live.  But at least I’m being given time to evaluate and appreciate the life I’ve had.  This too, in a way, is a blessing.
  ***
And that’s not all.  For a long time in my life, I didn’t let people in.  I didn’t let people help me.  (I certainly never would have publicly acknowledged that I was terrified.)  Now, going through THIS crisis, I feel incredibly blessed to have so many people who genuinely care about me.
  • I have a mother who’s been a saint through this whole process.
  • I have a dad who I know would do anything for me.
  • I have a brother who was willing to watch my monster-cat while I stayed at our childhood home because he knew I needed to feel safe.
  • I have a fiancé who’s called every day to check on me while he’s been out of state for work, and I know he’s worried but trying to joke and keep me calm.
  • I have future in-laws who’ve taken it upon themselves to become MRI/MRA experts.
  • I have friends I’ve known since childhood who demand updates. (My phone now knows to auto-fill “hemorrhage.”)
  • I have college friends who’ve expressed concern and willingness to help however they can.
  • I have a friend in Florida who called because she figured out that that might be easier for me than emailing since the whole problem is my vision.
  • I have a church family who prayed for me the second they heard the news.
  • I have family who’ve expressed their love in a variety of ways.
  • I have online friends I’ve never met who don’t know what specifically is going on but express unquestioning compassion whenever I post something about needing mental/emotional/spiritual support.
Please know that I do not take any of you for granted.  Your kind words and thoughts are extremely appreciated.
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During my checkup this week, a visiting retinal specialist from the Philippines was shown a picture of my retinal hemorrhage and said, “Wow, that’s so rare I could have gone my whole life without seeing one.”  My specialist reviewed my blood work and found basically nothing (thereafter getting creative and ordering a test for what is essentially cat scratch fever).  I did finally have my MRI/MRA, and fortunately that came back as a normal study free of occlusions or vascular malformations.  (Ever had an MRI?  It was very hard for me to come out of the machine and not say to the tech, “I know Kung Fu.”) But basically, nothing so far hints at the cause of this anomaly.  We decided/joked that maybe I would have this named after me, although we agreed “Sunshine Disease” doesn’t sound scary enough.
  ***
So now?  My left eye’s vision has improved to 20/40, so that’s something I can live with.  But it might never get better, and at any time I could hemorrhage again so it gets worse.  On the one hand, it is wonderful to hear all the negative results of these tests.  On the other,  there is NO diagnosis and I’ll never know if this could happen again of if something worse could happen.  Right now, there’s no way to treat this mysterious underlying cause.
  ***
So I’m still a bit freaked. I still need your prayers, bright thoughts, positive vibes – whatever you’ve got to throw my way.  But I’m trying to hold to that feeling of being held and reminding myself to trust and let go.   It helps nothing by being tense.  And I think it’s important to appreciate the blessings I have, now more than ever.
***
  • I feel fine and still “have my health.”
  • I can see well enough.
  • I’m not in pain.
  • I have a God who probably knows what He’s doing.
  • I have my people.
  • And at least I won’t die of syphilis.

My brother’s first songs

[This Thanksgiving, my mom and I sat at the kitchen table listening to the cassette tape she’d recorded between 1985-1988 of my brother and me saying our ABC’s, singing “Jesus Loves Me,” etc.   It’s amazing to me how early our creative loves developed – I take every opportunity to tell stories; my brother wants to sing.  I took the tape home with me and uploaded it, and so here we are.]

As promised (or threatened, depending on who you are) earlier in the week, here is the recording of my brother’s first recorded performances.

He’s come along nicely in 20+ years, so feel free to check out his music at: ChrstnSmrvllMsc

Gummer-ing It Up

Once upon a time, a man and his two friends decided to go for a fishing trip off the coast of Northern England.  They got caught in the Trade Winds, drifted across the Atlantic, and ended up in America.  If you ask me, that is the perfect story for how my mom’s side of the family ended up in this country.  It just fits – a fishing trip gone wrong is the reason we’re here.

Here’s my basic belief about the Gummer side of my family: We’re bonded not only by blood and close proximity (most of us have lived somewhere along the 2-mile “Gummer Lane” at some point in our lives), but also by the shared knowledge that we are a weird bunch of people who will always love each other out of empathy if nothing else.

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Grandpa Bud – One of my earliest memories involves a Christmas tree, a cathedral ceiling, and a chainsaw.  We had just moved into our new house, which seemed enormous and lofty to my little self.  Grandma Marie and Grandpa Bud had come down to Cedar Springs to help us pick out a tree, and we’d come home with a doozy that would later be christened “Oh, Hideous Tree, Oh, Hideous Tree, how blue-green are thy branches.” The only problem was that the tree was about a foot too tall for our ceiling.  My grandfather, being a master of creative solutions, brought in a chainsaw – yes, into the house.  It would have been a brilliant idea, except that sawdust shot across our living room.  The burning smell set off the smoke alarm.  Our dog, named Kat by my self-amused parents, started howling.  We all tried to cover our ears as we coughed and sputtered through the smoke and flying chunks of Christmas tree.  Grandma, not to be outdone by either the dog or blaring smoke alarm, started screaming at my grandfather.  Now, it is saying something when I tell you that the noise was so deafening that I couldn’t even hear my grandmother.  But I could see her lips – fortunately I was too young to read them.  I also saw my father, who was trying desperately not to laugh.  My mom just stood there, looking embarrassed and helpless, which was always the reaction she had in situations like this.  Eventually the tree was cut down to size, and then Grandma did the same to Grandpa.  We enjoyed the Hideous Tree, but that Christmas we spent most of our time picking sawdust out of the rug.

Other adventures of Grandpa Bud:

  • He once accidentally burned down thirty-some acres of field because he was trying to cut up some scrap metal left in the woods with a welding torch.
  • My cousin Randy once was driving by a field that Grandpa was brush-hogging and saw that our grandfather had tilted the mower to investigate something of the mechanics.  The problem was that he hadn’t bothered to turn off the mower and was poking around while the blades were turning! Randy, the father of a toddler at the time, asked, “How old is Grandpa? Old enough to know better?”
  • He once came home from a day with hunters and adamantly denied Grandma’s accusations that he had eaten a jelly doughnut, which was verboten from his diet.  She then pointed out that he had jelly stains down the front of his sweatshirt. Busted.
  • Grandma, in an attempt to get him to listen, once shouted, “Hark!” and he responded cheerily, “…the herald angels sing!” This did not exactly appease her.

 Mostly, Grandpa Bud was a good guy. At his funeral, over 500 people came – all were close friends or family. As Dave Riley, pastor and near family member, said, “Bud liked to have a good time,” and he tried hard to make other people have a good time. I get more from Grandpa Bud than I would probably like to admit – we both don’t like being told what to do, we both poke at people too far, we both think we know what is best for other people, we both love bread.

marieGrandma Marie – I, if anyone, have the right to pick on her because I bear her name as my middle name and somehow fate found it suitable that I bear many of her traits as well.  Therefore, I poke in love because many of her idiosyncrasies are mine too.  I am not the only one to inherit her shrill voice, but I confess that I mimic it better than anyone – I could even get her dogs to obey me when I used shriller tones.  My college roommate once went to a ballgame with my family and asked, “Do you think you can get your Grandma to do the voice?” I blinked at her and replied, “It’s not something you have to ask her to do.  Wait.  It will come.”

Other Gma Marie gems:

  • The Gummer girls used to go shopping every Friday after Thanksgiving.  One year, I was trying on clothes in a crowded dressing room when she yelled in to my mother, “Does Sunny need panties?” I was a teenager at the time, hence the memory sticking vividly.
  • Never beat her at cards.  She once stood up from the table and started stomping around angrily – drawing the reproachful glances of my cousins’ toddlers – because she didn’t win AS BIG as she had wanted.
  • In her older age, Gma once got up at 4:30 a.m. to make pies for the Hunt Club.  She passed out in the kitchen, woke up on the floor wondering how she had gotten there, and FINISHED MAKING 2 PIES before calling my mother 5 hours later to take her to the hospital.  When the doctor heard this story, he apparently joked about maybe getting a psych consult.  When my brother heard this, he further joked to the room full of family, “How about a round on the house?”

In all truth, I love Gma Marie and am ridiculously proud to be named after her.  She’s a feisty, strong, God-fearing, sports-loving woman who passed down to the rest of us women at least some of her ability to cook and certainly her inability to sew.

Uncle Bob– Uncle Bob moved away to Wisconsin with his family, and I’m sure this has something to do with trying to outrun the crazy.  But, you can’t entirely run from genetics.  And I’m pretty sure he’s secretly attracted to the crazy, because my Aunt Pam fits in a little too well in our family.

  • At his son’s wedding, he started talking to a girl whom he thought was his niece, only to realize late that night as he lay in bed that it was a different girl entirely.
  • My favorite Uncle Bob stories come from his youth. (This may be a completely fictionalized version from what actually happened, but I like it.) While living around the well-to-do area of Grosse Pointe, he and a friend were cruising the neighborhood and spotted numerous black lawn jockeys. They took it upon themselves to “liberate the brothers” and stole the lawn jockeys, taking it a step further by painting their faces and hands white before returning the statues otherwise intact.

Aunt Penny– Aunt Penny is a wonderful person and I love her dearly, but she has been affectionately deemed our Crazy Aunt.  A missionary from church inadvertently delighted us all one Sunday by telling us that in…whatever confusing language they spoke where he was a missionary, “bah” meant “ant” and “ba” meant “crazy.”  I turned around to Aunt Penny with more joy than I usually felt in church as a teenager, and everyone laughed at our secret joke.  Thus, “Bah-Ba” became her nickname.  (The best part is that she laughs along and doesn’t deny it. The trouble is when we haven’t told other people this and she introduces herself to our friends by saying, “Hi, I’m Sunny’s Aunt Penny.  Whatever Sunny has told you, I’m not crazy.”)

 Other adventures of Aunt Penny:

  • When speaking to her Mexican migrant workers, she has been known to ask, “Fillet mignon?” although we’re not sure what she was trying to ask.  Similarly, trying to sing Happy Birthday in Spanish to me one year, it came out as best translated “Happy Jesus Year.”
  • When my aunt and uncle were pretty sure that their house was on fire because it started filling with smoke, the only things she grabbed as they fled were her thyroid pills and her grandson’s Bill Elliot race car.
  • On a group shopping trip, she tried on a dress after my mom had tried it and not liked it.  Coming out of the dressing room stall to show us, Bah-Ba had it on backwards and over her shorts.  She still considered getting it because it was a size 4 and was only $18.
  • She always makes way, way too much food.  We’ve been known to have more leftover lasagna than the amount we actually ate. (To be fair, she’s not alone in this, and “Gummer-ing it up” became a term to describe our genetic propensity for the overproduction of food.)

me and momPaula – My mom has been known to pull a whopper every now and then too.

  • Dad and his friend Kevin were going to go ice fishing, and Mom looked at Dad with more seriousness than anyone could have wished for and asked, “How do you get the boat out on the ice?”
  • Or, then there is the time that Mom wore two different colored sandals to my friend’s high school open house party – she didn’t notice until we got there.

Really, though, I have a great mom.  She embodies all of the good qualities of the Gummer side – loving, caring, compassionate, easy-going, etc. etc.  My mom always, always finds the good side of people.  It was annoying as a teenager when I would be griping about someone and she would stick up for them, but she taught me to try to find something of quality in everyone.  And her eternal patience with us more Somerville types taught me that sometimes you can sit back and stay out of arguments.

 My favorite mom memories:

  • When we were little, I would actually look forward to going to bed because mom would scratch my back with her wonderfully pointy nails.
  • My very first memory is of Mom playing with me on my swing set in matching pink jackets.  (This was before my brother entered my life, and it’s just one example of why I hated him so much when he was born — I thought that, since she was going to be his mother, she would no longer be mine.  I couldn’t even look at her or him in the hospital, and I remember clinging to my dad’s shoulder.  But, when we brought him home, our dog Kat licked Christian in the face while The Muppets were on TV.  That’s when I decided maybe he was okay.)
  • I was big into coloring, and Mom gave me an empty, clean compost barrel to color in day after day during summers.  Every time now that I hear a certain kind of bird (for the life of me I don’t know what kind), I think of playing in that barrel.
  • One Thanksgiving Day, I was too sick to go up to Evart, where we have always gone to spend the holiday with my dad’s mom’s side of the family – the only day of the year we see them.  Since I was sick, I was pretty bummed that I would miss Aunt Enid’s chocolate mousse…and seeing family, of course.  Mom stayed down in Cedar Springs with me, and she made me an entire Thanksgiving feast.  (To be honest, Christian and Dad might have stayed too, but I only remember Mom.)
  • Mom once tried to order “potato wedgies” from a grocery deli when my friend, Cat, was tagging along.  This is one of her favorite stories about my mother.  I was so proud at the time, as you can imagine.

Are we younger generations immune from the Gummer oddities? Signs point to NO.  Apparently a random friend of our grandmother’s once looked at my cousin Stefanie and said, “Oh, you’re a Gummer for sure!” Stefanie told me this later in an appropriately horrified tone.  I suggested that she should have touched her face nervously and asked, “Oh? Is the crazy showing?”  But, to sum-up and make ourselves feel better, here are only a few stories:

  • Stefanie once called my brother’s cell phone and talked to him for five minutes about ordering pizza for dinner that night before she realized she wasn’t talking to her father.
  • Even those who marry in are not immune to the crazy.  Mike, my cousin Tonia’s husband, used to have a job as a safety-something-or-other, and one 4th of July he lit fireworks with flaming marshmallows.
  • My cousin Randy, not exactly an avid reader, once told me excitedly, “Sunny, I read 2 books!” Somehow I knew he meant The Hunger Games, even before he told me, “Well, I watched the first book.  Then I read the next two.”  I’m still proud of him.
  • My cousin Ryan was too cool a teenager to play with us much as kids, but when he did…  One Thanksgiving he took me riding the 3-wheelers (translation: I was clinging to the back of him as he drove fast) over Gma and Gpa’s sand dunes.  He took 1 a little too steep, and the 3-wheeler started tipping back on top of us.  After we jumped and were all settled upright again, Ryan said, “Don’t tell anyone about this.”  I was kinda afraid of him and kept a vow of silence for 20 years.
  • me and christianThe youngest of us cousins, my brother may be the member of our family who is least affected by the Crazy Gummer Gene.  For the most part, Christian and I act as something like Statler and Waldorf commentators on our crazy family’s antics.  However, Christian has had a few of his own moments here and there. My favorite:  Antenna Boy.  Once when watching TV with Christian and me, Ryan had the remote and kept hitting power on the cable box so that the TV would go static-y.  Christian, however, because he was holding a metal necklace, thought that he was controlling the TV.  Ryan kept this up for probably half an hour, and Christian would twist in all sorts of positions as Ryan turned it on and off.  Thus “Antenna Boy” was born.

 What of future generations? Will the craziness grow? It seems to be on a healthy start.

  • Kylie, the firstborn of the next generation, had a lot of crazy to channel.  She was once interviewed on live TV for a news spot about a kids’ party:
    The reporter: “What was your favorite thing at this party?”
    Kylie: “The piñata.”
    The reporter: “You mean you liked the candy?”
    “Yes.”
    “And how did you get the candy out of the piñata?”
    “I beat the hell out of it!”
    At this point, apparently the camera shook because the cameraman was laughing so hard.
  • While the rest of us were at dinner, the kids were building a huge fort in Gma’s living room.  Tony disappeared for a while until suddenly we saw something come flying down from the balcony.  Kaitlyn jumped up to retrieve a stuffed animal eel toy from where it had landed in Gma’s ceramic village.  Tonia started to yell at him, “What have I told you? Do not throw things!”  Tony’s whole defense:  “But it wasn’t real!” As if he knew the limits were to not throw real eels in the house.
  • Ian and I once dug up buried treasure by finding an “X” where he’d dug earlier.  When reburying the treasure, he told me to mark it with a “Y” instead of an “X” so that the bad guys couldn’t find it.
  • Mia refused to participate in the Sunday school children’s special for Father’s Day until handed something shiny to hold onto.  She also once threw the peace sign during a performance.

So that about sums it up for a tracking, generation-by-generation account of the Gummer craziness.  Janeane Garofallo said in some movie that this is “the genetic betrayal that is my heritage.” Don’t get me wrong; J’adore ma famille.  They just scare me sometimes.  We are an odd bunch, as I think all families must be.  But does your grandmother tell complete strangers that she hopes the neighbors die soon so that we can buy their land?

Still, it is my belief that we’re most bothered by our family’s flaws because we know they can be our own.  On the flipside, shouldn’t the same be true of our family’s strengths – shouldn’t we see them as our strengths? I have learned a lot from my Gummer family about generosity, selflessness, kindness, and all around love.  The Gummers are easily content, easily loving, and open.  They are down to earth and connected.  They humbly serve in a small community.  I’m not sure I could return to live on “Gummer Lane” as my mother and Aunt Penny did, but I appreciate the idea far more than I did when I was a teenager hungry with the adolescent desire for change and adventure.

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