Our annual Christmas letter

This Christmas, quite frankly, finds us in a rather challenging place.

In October, Pete was diagnosed with bladder cancer and is now undergoing chemotherapy. And just as he was preparing to begin his chemo treatments two weeks ago, I was taken by ambulance to the ER for chest pain and really bad heartburn that turned out to be … a heart attack. So I got two stents for Christmas.

Despite the distressing news, we both consider ourselves fairly lucky. Pete’s cancer was actually discovered accidentally, while he was being screened for something else. If his cardiologist hadn’t spotted the mystery mass on his CT scan, who knows how far the cancer would have progressed before it was caught? And my heart attack was caught early enough, the doctors don’t think there will be permanent heart damage.

We also had some major sadness in our household earlier this year. We lost our sweet Olaf DaVinci in the spring. Oley was a big, beautiful, majestic and totally lovable Maine Coon cat with a flamboyantly irrepressible personality. He had a studious little face, thick luxurious fur and a magnificent plume of a tail. He loved to sit on laps. We miss him terribly.

Here he is on the table in our sunroom, the king of all he surveys.

The coming months are going to be a bit of a challenge as Pete continues his chemo, followed by surgery, and I begin cardiac rehab. So everyone’s prayers are greatly appreciated!! Luckily we have been surrounded by the love of supportive family and friends as we go through all this, along with delicious meals sent our way by some special angels.

We’ve even gotten support from complete strangers who probably have no idea how much of an impact their small action is having. When we’re out and about, we make a point of driving by the house on MacArthur Boulevard with this sign in their yard.

Despite the sad and scary stuff, there have been some bright spots this year.

Pete turned 80 in September, and about 30 friends and relatives turned out for our Zoom birthday party. It was GREAT seeing everyone, including people from California, Colorado and upstate New York, as well as Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, most of whom probably would not have been able to attend an in-person celebration.

We’re now part of the Associates Program for the Dominican Sisters in our community. Associates assist, among other things, with the Dominicans’ social justice activities. We had both admired the Dominican Sisters for a number of years. During our 20-plus years of working for human service agencies (me) and teaching at Benedictine University (Pete), we saw up close the many valuable contributions they’ve made to our community and the world.

The photos below show us with our sponsor during the commitment ceremony at the Motherhouse in May.

We continue to be involved in our own congregation. Since COVID broke out, we’d been “attending” church online and doing book group and Bible study sessions via Zoom, and we continue to do so due to our health concerns. We miss being in our church’s choir, which we sang in for years. But we’re finding other ways to contribute our time and talents in our congregation.

Since January, we’ve been leading a new adult faith formation class called Sundays@6, which meets on Zoom. So far, we’ve covered subjects ranging from the 10 Commandments to evangelism to what we can learn from Christians whose denominations are different from our own. The group has about 8-10 regulars who “attend” each week, and the discussions are great!

This year we also had extensive landscaping work done in the spring. I planted lots of native perennials, as well as an abundance of annuals. I’ve found gardening to be therapeutic, and the yard is looking beautiful! We’ve turned our flower beds into a welcome center for hummingbirds and bees and butterflies, and managed to attract some much-loved visitors (above).

And we still have our sweet, lovable, ornery, beautiful Champie Cat. He has been such a source of joy to us as we’ve survived this past year. I often refer to him as our furry little comforter. He was a “rescue kitty” we adopted from a shelter 15 years ago, but there could be a definite debate about who’s rescued whom. We love him so much, and he has us utterly wrapped around his paw!

Here’s hoping everyone has a safe Christmas and an even better New Year.

Our annual Christmas letter

Dear Family and Friends,

This holiday season finds us so sick of the pandemic we want to stick our fingers in our ears and scream until the frustration dissipates. And how are you??

We’re slowly beginning to grasp the reality that things aren’t getting “back to normal” anytime soon – if ever – so we might as well adjust to “the new normal.” Or – as we like to joke – “the new abnormal.” (Nobody’s ever been normal around our house.)

Among other pandemic activities, we’ve been growing ponytails. My hair hasn’t been this long since high school, and Pete’s wasn’t this long even during his hippie stage. Now that our hair has grown out, we’ve both decided we kind of like it that way. We can just stick it in a ponytail on bad hair days instead of having to fuss with it. Check out our “before” and “after” photos below.

Before

After

Despite our COVID fatigue, this Christmas is a time for immense gratitude! We survived a major scare in October that culminated in a two-week hospital stay for Pete. His heart raced along at 130-150 beats a minute for several days; he had pneumonia; and to top it off, a CT scan showed a quarter-size mass on one lung, which the doctors seemed convinced was cancer. He was admitted to the hospital for a cardiac ablation, a PET scan, a biopsy and treatment for his pneumonia. For two agonizing weeks, we both pleaded with God. Our prayers were answered. The mass on his lung turned out not to be malignant – GLORY HALLELUJAH!!!!!!!! – and the ablation procedure went without a hitch. His pneumonia is slowly healing.

Prior to the hospital stay, we were beginning to feel like characters in the movie Groundhog Day. Since Feb. 29, 2020, we seemed to be living the same day again and again … and again. Once the hospital adventure ended, however, we decided, “Groundhog Day is over!” Time to turn the calendar to a new day.

So we’re now doing something quite new and different: We’re in training to become part of the Associates Program for the Dominican Sisters in our community. Associates assist, among other things, with the Dominicans’ social justice activities. We’ve both admired the Dominican Sisters for a number of years. During our 20-plus years of working for human service agencies and teaching at Benedictine University, we saw up close the many valuable contributions they’ve made to our community – from serving as board members or in other volunteer capacities, to mentoring and helping nonprofit organizations with badly needed funding, to working with the Christian community in Iraq and Kurdistan.

We continue to be involved in our own congregation, of course, but in some rather new ways. Since COVID broke out, we’re been “attending” church online and doing book group and Bible study sessions via Zoom. Our church’s choir, which we sang in for years, is not active at this time due to safety concerns, but we’re finding other ways to contribute our time and talents. After the beginning of the year, we’ll be leading an adult faith formation class on the Ten Commandments. We’ll do this on Zoom, which means we’ll need to get up to speed on that technology. Wish us luck.

On the home front, we started growing milkweed in one of our flower beds a couple years ago and this year we got our first monarch caterpillars. Six of them!! We were so excited. We loved watching them busily munching away on the milkweed as they grew … and grew. Those little guys are voracious eaters. Then they wandered off one by one to begin their pupa stage.

But later we spotted a small flock of monarch butterflies sipping nectar from the other flowers in our yard and we like to think these were our former caterpillars. To increase the possibility that we’ll get to host lots more caterpillars next year, we’ve added several more milkweed plants to our flower beds. In fact, we’re doing our best to turn as much of the backyard as possible into a giant butterfly garden. We like to think of this project as “God’s work, our hands.”

Oley and Champaign continue to be their feisty, sweet, ornery selves. So, we can’t finish up our Christmas letter without including at least a couple of cute kitty photos.

Here’s hoping everyone has a safe Christmas and an even better New Year.

Blessings,