October 31, 2023

A Bittersweet Holiday

Halloween has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember. I love the fall, especially when the leaves are so colorful; I love seeing jack-o-lanterns on porches; I especially love seeing skeleton displays; and, on Halloween, I love seeing creative costumes while kids go trick-or-treating.

This tradition is quite a bit different than it was up until Halloween in 2014. The previous Halloween was the last time we would celebrate Mark's birthday before he passed away in March. If you've been reading for a while, then you know who Mark was--a very special family friend. My parents, Jerry, our kids, and I would have cake and ice cream with Mark at my parents' house before handing out candy to the trick-or-treaters.

I know I post about Mark pretty much every year at this time, but I feel like I've already said it all. The holiday is still bittersweet. I love this holiday, but I always feel an ache in my heart because I can't help but associate today with Mark. Today we would have celebrated his 68th birthday. We never knew how old he was until he was in the hospital and his birthday was on his bracelet. (He also thought his birthday was on Halloween, but we learned it was November 1st! Hahaha. Still, I will always consider Halloween to be his birthday.)

It's been a long time since I shared his whole story, however, so I'm going to repost it here. I wrote this a year after he'd passed away, explaining all about Mark, our Halloween tradition, his diagnosis, and how I tried to make his last months special, knowing he wasn't going to be celebrating another birthday...

March 25, 2015

March 25th of last year started like any other day. I spent the day with Jerry and, later that evening, I called Mark's nephew to let him know that we'd be coming over the next day to visit Mark. His nephew had his neighbor call me back to tell me that Mark wasn't doing well, and that the hospice nurse said it was only a matter of hours before he'd pass away.

I was stunned. I had just seen him the day before, when I went with my parents to his nephew's house to visit him; and while the situation at his nephew's house was FAR from ideal, Mark seemed to be doing okay physically, all things considered. He seemed unhappy to be there, with people who were basically strangers to him, but there was nothing we could do about that (I didn't write about all this at the time, because I didn't want to risk having Mark's nephew forbid us from seeing him at all). I didn't know that when we left that day, it would be the last time we ever saw Mark. But since I had said my good-byes several days before, I felt I said everything I needed to.

On March 26th, just after midnight, Mark passed away. And honestly, I felt so relieved for him.

I know many of you know Mark's story, and you followed along as I wrote about the progression of his lung cancer. But I don't have his whole story in one place, to make it easy to read for someone who wasn't able to follow along, so here goes:

Mark was a friend of my family for about 35 years (since before I was born!). Back then, my dad owned an auto repair shop a few blocks from our house, and he used to see Mark walking around, usually smoking a cigarette and collecting bottles to cash in for the deposit. Mark was intellectually disabled, and because of this, lived in a group home about a mile away with other men who had intellectual disabilities.

Because of his intellectual disability, Mark was pretty difficult to understand when he was speaking; but the more you got to know him, the more you could understand him. (Kind of like with kids--moms can understand anything their toddler is trying to say, but a stranger just hears a bunch of syllables). If it wasn't for his speech, you might not know that he was disabled.

My dad offered him a job at the auto shop, doing odd jobs like sweeping the floors, allowing Mark to earn some pocket money. My dad and Mark became buddies, and my dad started taking him fishing once in a while.

Mark and my dad at my dad's surprise 60th birthday party

I'm not sure when the tradition started, but we also started celebrating Mark's birthday with him, because he didn't have any family (or so we thought). He told us his birthday was on Halloween, so we would have cake and ice cream before handing out candy to the trick-or-treaters.

Even when we moved about 20 minutes away in 1997, my dad continued to pick up Mark several times each year to go fishing; and always, on his birthday. I always looked forward to Mark's birthday. Mark was the most grateful person I've ever met, and he never expected anything for his birthday, which made it even more fun to give him gifts or just wish him a happy day. When he opened a gift, no matter what it was, he loved it. When we asked him what kind of cake he'd like, or something like that, he'd just say, "Oh, any old cake!"

Anyway, I always looked forward to Halloween. Our tradition was that my dad would pick up Mark, and then we'd have dinner and cake at my parents' house. And after Mark opened his presents, we'd sit in the driveway, where my dad would make a campfire to stay warm while we handed out candy to the trick-or-treaters. For the past 5-6 years, I really found myself looking forward to it more and more; I think that was because I grew fonder of Mark each time I saw him. He was refreshing to talk to, because he never had a single complaint about anything.

His birthday in October 2013 was just like any other. Then in November, my dad told me that Mark had been diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. As cliche as it sounds, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I was just in total disbelief. Mark was a smoker, and had been since he was a kid--but it was the only thing he really had that was his. As much as I dislike cigarettes, I never judged Mark for that--smoking was all he'd known for his whole life. So I shouldn't have been as shocked as I was when I heard the news of his cancer, but I had the hardest time really believing it.

I had a cold at the time, so I couldn't go to the hospital to see him until I was healthy. Meanwhile, I reached out on my blog to ask people to send cards to Mark--which I knew he'd LOVE. Mark didn't have family or friends outside of his group home, really, so I wanted him to feel surrounded by well-wishes. And holy cow, did you all respond! He received hundreds of cards.

When I went to visit him in the hospital for the first time, I brought the first batch of cards to read to him (Mark couldn't read). He was thrilled to see me, of course. My dad and I were there for several hours, and I read him all of the cards before hanging them up around his room.

My dad spoke with the doctor, who basically said that Mark didn't have long to live--the cancer was in his brain, his spine, his liver, everywhere. My dad immediately wanted to bring Mark to live at his house in hospice care, to avoid chemo and radiation and all that. It was then that we learned Mark had a nephew, who we knew nothing about. His nephew showed up to the hospital, and because he was immediate family, got to make all of the medical decisions for Mark. He didn't like the idea of Mark going to my parents' house, because they "weren't family", and instead, opted for chemo and radiation in the hospital.

Mark hated hospitals, and was aching to go home to his group home, but the home couldn't take him in because of the required medical care that he would need. The hospital couldn't keep him any longer, so his nephew signed him over to a nursing home. Mark would spend the next three months in the nursing home, and my dad and I tried to take turns visiting every other day, so that he would have a visitor every day. His nephew never went, so it was just my family, which is why the cards you all sent meant so much! Mark would tell the nurses, "I got so many people that care about me! Look at all these people that care about me!" and point to all his cards.

This nurse was amazing. There was no room left on the other wall, so she
spent a long time stapling his cards to his curtain!

For the five months between Mark's diagnosis and his death, I got to know him better than I had for the prior 30 years. We had some really great moments (funny and sad). Mark loved junk food, just like me, and I made it a point to bring him something each time I went to visit--a "fancy" Starbucks coffee (he was used to instant coffee, so anything better than that was fancy!), a strawberry McDonald's milkshake (his very favorite), hushpuppies from Long John Silvers, popcorn chicken from KFC, Mary Jane candies, and a ton of other things he requested.

 Mark didn't have many possessions, and certainly had no money, so these were all little luxuries to him. I looked forward to visiting each time I went because I was excited to bring him something new. Every time I visited, it was like a little vacation from the stress at home, because Mark was so happy all the time, and a true joy to be around.

Mark's number one goal was to get out of that nursing home and go back home. My dad and I talked to the physical therapists to see if there was any way we could get him to be functional enough to go back to the group home. They talked with the owner of the group home, who said that Mark had to be able to walk on his own. So Mark made that his mission--every time I visited, he'd tell me about physical therapy and that he's going to be walking soon so he could walk out of there and go home.

In the cards he received, Mark had gotten some money--a few dollars here and there, and it really started to add up. I socked it away in an envelope for him to use as he wanted, and when he had a couple hundred dollars saved up, I asked what he wanted to do with it. He thought about it for a little bit, and said that he wanted to have a party for the guys at his group home, complete with pizza and cake. (This is the story that I would later tell at his funeral... because it showed just what kind of person Mark was. Always thinking of making others happy!)

We made Mark's wish a reality in mid-February. He had enough money for the pizza and cake, and with enough left over, a goodie bag for each of the guys in the home. A lot of the men that live there have been forgotten about by their families, and they were all so grateful for everything--just like Mark. Mark had a fantastic party, and was able to walk into the home using a walker, which made him very proud. I hadn't seen him smile that big since before he was in the hospital!

After Mark's last chemo treatment, his therapists said he could go home if it was okay with the owner of the group home. Ordinarily, she said she wouldn't have let him come home, because it was a huge liability; but she'd known Mark for so long that she agreed. Again, Mark got his wish to get out of the nursing home, and he was thrilled to be back at the group home.

Almost as soon as he got home, however, he started to deteriorate very quickly. We begged his nephew to let us take him to my parents' house under hospice care, but his nephew said that when it came to that, he'd bring Mark to his house. Mark was bedridden, and was no longer able to stay at the group home. My mom and I went to the home to spend the day with him, and that day was really what I think of as my last visit with Mark. I had some time alone with him, and got to say everything I wanted to. I brought him a milkshake, but he couldn't drink it, which was sad. He slept most of the day.

Here, I'm trying to explain to Mark in front of the hospice nurse what
"hospice" meant, so that he could sign himself into hospice instead of
going back to the hospital at that point. She determined he wasn't of sound
mind to make the decision :( So we had to beg his nephew to do it.
My last photo of Mark. He was waving good-bye.

Mark's nephew signed him into hospice care and took him home; and just a few days later, on March 26, Mark passed away. Once again, I asked a favor from everybody reading my blog: to do a random act of kindness in Mark's honor. I loved reading about those! A few people took ice cream or other desserts to their local nursing homes for the residents, which I think is fantastic (and I know Mark would have loved that idea).

So, here we are, one year later. There hasn't been a single day that has gone by where I haven't thought of Mark in some way. No one close to me had ever died before, so this was very new to me, and I didn't handle it well. I ate my feelings away, and gained 20 pounds. I have regrets that I didn't really get to know Mark years and years ago, but I am also grateful that I was able to spend so much time with him when he likely needed someone the most. It feels like it all just happened recently, and it's so hard to believe it's been a year already!

Thanks so much to all of you who are still reading and who sent your love to Mark in some way--you made a big difference in his last few months! And so now, I ask again... since tomorrow is the anniversary of Mark's death, please try and do something ("any old thing!" as Mark would say) nice for someone else. A random act of kindness. And if you'd like, come share it here in the comments!

(To read all of the posts about Mark, you can click here. The first post regarding his diagnosis can be found here.)

October 28, 2023

Skeletons Displays!

I love skeletons. I've always loved them, probably because I am so interested in anatomy. (I literally used to read anatomy textbooks when I was growing up, hahaha.) So, when October rolls around every year, I get SO excited to see all of the skeleton displays for Halloween! I wish people would do these year-round. How fun would that be? You could change up the display depending on what's happening that month or for each holiday.

[Side note: This just reminded me of the concrete geese that people used to put on their front porches. Was this just a local/Michigan thing? It was really popular for a few years. It was a concrete goose about knee-height, and you could buy clothes to dress it. I'm pretty sure my mom had one.]

Anyway, I was once again late in asking this year, but I asked you all for photos of displays that you've done or seen so that I could post them here. I don't have a ton of photos, but I do love seeing the creative ideas that some people have in order to come up with this stuff!






"Here is a joke: Why don't skeletons like Halloween candy? Because they don't have the stomach for it!" -Rebecca

"Meet Uncle Bill, Aunt Bernice, and baby Blake Skeleton! Last swim of the season." -Leslie



"They have an empty chair at the table for selfies." -Nancy


"School picture day in Minneapolis!" -Kari

"A funeral home in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Kind of ironic." -Kara

"Both of these are at the same house but it was hard to get them in the same shot--which is a shame since they're clearly hot for each other!" -Zalary



"Saw this one driving around Burlington." -Michelle

"This is at the local Vets Home" -Kim

"My kids did ours this year" -Vanessa

"The back of my husband’s keep. He also has a big one on the front of the winch." -Angie

"On the gulf coast, we have mermaids" -Nathalea

"One of our neighbors puts up a pretty good skeleton display and so attached are the pics below of the USS Halloween with its skeleton crew :)" -Autumn

Thank you thank you THANK YOU for sharing these--they totally made my weekend :)  I have a post from 2021 with a TON of skeleton displays, so make sure you check that out as well! (Here is the link to the post.)

Some of these were submitted by e-mail, and the others were on Facebook. Here is the link to the Facebook post in case you wanted to comment on them.

October 27, 2023

Friday Night Photos #134

I didn't think I took many photos this week, but I just found a LOT on my camera roll. Lots of random stuff! Here goes...

First, the belt I ended up making for Eli's Han Solo costume. I bought a faux leather bag at Goodwill for $6, then took it apart to use the faux leather. I had NO idea what I was doing--I'd never sewn faux leather before, I know nothing about Han Solo, and I just had to wing it. It's not accurate to the actual Han Solo belt, but that one is much more detailed than I wanted to get into. The main part I wanted was the gun holster. I still have to attach the belt buckle.

I also wanted to stain it darker. From what I read online, you can't stain faux leather; you have to paint it. Well, I wasn't going to go buy paint for this thing, so I tried using wood stain anyway. I loved the color when I applied it!

Unfortunately, even after several hours, it still wiped off. So it's the tan color and I'm not worried about it. 

I wasn't sure what I was going to do about the buckle. The Han Solo buckle basically an elongated silver hexagon. I thought about using 1/4 inch plywood and spray painting it gray. Or covering it with foil. But after looking around the garage, I found a very small piece of craft sheet metal. I can't remember why I bought it, but it was years ago and I'd held onto it. It was perfect!

Because it was so thin and could basically slice open Eli's abdomen while wearing it, I used CA glue to attach it to a scrap piece of 1/4-inch plywood. I cut out the hexagon shape and to keep it from looking too shiny and new, I used sandpaper to scuff it up. Then I spray painted the back and sides gray. I'm kind of impressed with how it turned out!

When I was laying out the faux leather to figure out what to do with it, I just tossed it on the floor (that's basically my "table" when I do projects). I turned my back for a second and the cats proved just how predictable they are, hahaha.

Set anything on the floor and the cats are immediately drawn to it.

Duck was so funny yesterday morning. He "helps" me do the Wordle and Connections puzzles after my run in the mornings by settling himself on my shins for a nap. Yesterday, he sprawled out like this--and he slept that way!

I guess I took a lot of pictures of Duck this week.  These ones were impossible to take without them just being a blur of black cat. Duck is obsessed with spaghetti noodles. He somehow knows when we make spaghetti and then he will literally try to play with it by batting at it with his paws while you're eating it. When you dangle it for him, he likes to hit it hard enough to break it in half--over and over--until you're left with a couple of inches.

Last night, Jerry and I were dangling the spaghetti for him and he was going nuts. Then he got a strand stuck to his head, with just the end dangling behind his ear. He was trying so hard to get it--he was basically chasing himself in circles with his mouth open (like a dog chasing his own tail). 

While I'm on the subject of cats, Noah and his girlfriend made a cat pizza, which I thought was cute! They both love cats and they volunteer at a local cat shelter.

When I was at Goodwill, I saw this little hat with some dog costumes and it was only $1. I thought it would be funny to get for Joey. I had to bribe him with a treat for him to keep it on long enough for a photo.

Becky sent me a super cute video of Riley getting her ears pierced, and she was SO brave. I commented on how cute her outfit was, and Becky sent me this picture so I could see the full effect. I love it when kids choose their own clothes!

My friend Paul, who I went to high school with, plays his guitar at a bar once a month. I've been wanting to go see him, but each time he's playing, we've had something going on. Finally, we made it up there (it's an hour and twenty minutes away). The bar was really cool--I love the mural. And Paul sounded fantastic, as usual.

And last but not least, I went to my mom's today to get these film slides from her attic. My grandpa (her dad) took most of these pictures in the late 1960s and I was very curious to look through them. I put them through the slide viewer and most of them were pictures of different landmarks and things while traveling. There were some pictures of people, though, which was fun to see. There are a few I'm going to get prints of. (What is pictured below is only about 5% of the number of slides!)  Next, I'm going to watch his 8mm films with a projector. I wish I could transfer them to digital, but I'm sure it would cost a fortune. Hopefully my dad's projector still runs ;)

Have a great weekend! xo

October 25, 2023

Wednesday Weigh-In: Week 126

Thank you for your confidence in my sewing skills regarding yesterday's post! I was SO sure the belt was going to be a nightmare to make, but I was kind of surprised at how relatively easily it came together. I didn't think I was going to be able to sew the fake leather with my sewing machine and there was no way I wanted to do that by hand. I tried a very large needle on the machine and it worked great!

I'll post photos of it tomorrow; I'm going to (try to) stain it darker. For what I had to work with, and in this time crunch, I'm pretty happy with it.

Anyway, I sound more and more like a broken record each week when I do my Wednesday Weigh-In... "I wanted a good week, I'm trying, it's hard, blah blah blah". And today is no different. I have been struggling so hard with sugar cravings, and it started so long ago (literally right after I wrote a post about how eating sugar triggers my cravings). Once sugar is out of my system, I feel great and it's easy to not eat it. It's getting to that point--which takes about four days--that is killer.

This week was particularly rough and I caved in and ate more Oreos than I care to admit. (It was that Reddit post I shared recently that got me thinking of Oreos!) I *know* I shouldn't do that. I *know* it just makes cravings a million times worse. It's nothing new to me... but I just haven't been able to say no!

I've avoided the scale and I actually chose not to weigh in today. I know that avoiding the number isn't going to change anything--it is what it is--but I just didn't want to do it. My jeans feel very tight, so I know that I've gained weight. At this size, even a few pounds is very noticeable in my clothes.

The part that bothers me the most, though, is how I feel. Even if the scale hasn't moved, I just don't *feel* good with the way I've been eating. 

What am I going to do about it? Just keep trying. I will not buy more Oreos; my main focus is going to be getting the sugar out of my system. I just want to stop craving it, and the only way to do that is to go without for a little while. And hopefully, I will have learned my lesson for good this time. (How many times have I said that?) I had no idea just how hard the cycle would be to stop.

My mood has been good, thankfully! The eating isn't for emotional reasons and I'm not binge eating; I've just been craving sweets in a horrible way. I know what the problem is and I know how to fix it... I just need the discipline to DO IT. I know it's there inside me somewhere, so now I just have to find it.

Over the last few weeks, I also stopped a few of the habits I was working on (I'm still doing most of them, though) and I want to get back to tracking those like I was before. I've still been running every morning and I think that's been helping with keeping my mood stable. I've gotten into a great morning routine.

Now, I'd like to work the other habits into the routine with a little more planning via "habit stacking". Habit stacking (which I learned about in the Atomic Habits book) is where you do the new habit either right before or right after another established habit). I found that the habits I've maintained are the ones that I've stacked.

Having a routine is super helpful with my eating habits as well, so hopefully it'll help me get though the tough parts when I'm craving Oreos (or other sweets). 

Anyway, I promised myself long ago that I wouldn't skip two weekly weigh-ins in a row, so I'm going to weigh in next week no matter what. Maybe keeping that in mind will be what I need this week ;)

October 24, 2023

A Last-Minute Costume

When my kids were little, I loved making their Halloween costumes. I remember my mom used to sew really cool costumes for me when I was a kid and I wanted to do the same for my kids. Once they were grade-school age, they wanted to buy costumes, so it was a little disappointing. In middle school, I got to help out with a few of them.

This Batman costume I made for Noah was one of my favorites.

And now, I've spent the last two days working non-stop on a costume for Eli, hahaha.

Eli's girlfriend, Ava, wants them to wear a couples-costume--Princess Leia and Han Solo from Star Wars. Cute idea, right? She got her costume with plenty of time to spare and, Eli being Eli, he procrastinated. He didn't want to spend the $90 on Amazon for the costume, so he just put off even thinking about the costume. Then, on Sunday, he told me that he needed a Han Solo costume for FRIDAY. Any costume ordered from Amazon wouldn't arrive until after Halloween, so he wasn't sure what to do.

Ordinarily, I would have told him good luck and I wouldn't have put it on myself to come up with a costume last minute like that. However, Ava is the sweetest girl, and I don't want her to be disappointed about the couples costumes. I told Eli I would do what I could to put something together. He gave me this picture to work with:

The pants, shirt, and vest looked simple enough--I could go to the thrift store and hopefully find those. The boots would be challenging--he wears a size 12 and men's boots like that aren't exactly common (at least around here). The belt would be the biggest challenge for sure.

I didn't have the best luck at the thrift store. I was hoping to find a black vest with pockets--didn't happen. I couldn't find a shirt that was even close to the picture. For the pants, I bought a pair of men's dress pants, which are a dime a dozen (not literally), so I hadn't worried about finding those.

I ended up buying a white button down collar shirt with cuffed sleeves, and a short-sleeve black button down collar shirt. The black one was a size 3XL (waaaay too big for Eli) but I hoped I'd be able to size it down and then use the excess fabric to add pockets like the vest in the photo.

For the belt and holster, I had to get creative. I bought this fake leather bag, which was blue on the outsize but the inside was brown. I thought I could cut the pieces out from that and perhaps stain it to look darker and more like leather. (Although, the color is at the bottom of the priority list. It may just have to be tan.)

After taking apart the bag, this is what I have now:

I haven't started with the belt and holster yet. That will be a project for tomorrow.

I'm actually not finished with the shirt or vest, either. I'm done sewing the white shirt, and this is what it looks like now:

I took off both of the edges down the front, removing the buttons and button holes. Then sewed the front together to about 3/4 of the way up. I removed the cuffs from the sleeves and sewed the side opening of the sleeves shut (the part that gets buttoned together). The only thing left that I'd like to do is stain it light brown/yellow. Noah suggested soaking it in coffee, and I thought that was a great idea! I haven't done it yet, but I'll probably try that tomorrow.

The vest was fairly easy, but I'm not done with that, either. I'd like to add more pockets. That will be a finishing detail only if I have time, though. This is what it looks like now:

I removed the collar, the sleeves, the button holes/buttons down the front,  and cut the sides down from a 3XL to about a large. I also shortened it quite a bit. 

As far as the boots, I'm probably going to make some sort of black sleeves that can go over his pants--starting from the ankle up to his knees (and he'll have to wear black shoes). I got this idea from this boot sleeve from when he was a kid, hahaha. It was part of a pirate costume, and he's actually wearing it upside down; the part by his knees would actually cover his shoe so it looked more like a boot. I miss those days! So cute.

Eli used to LOVE accessories of all sorts and he would wear random things like that. I always got a kick out of it.

Well, wish me luck with this belt... I kind of feel like it's going to be a disaster!

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