Allison, Allison, How Does Your Garden Grow?

I love gardening and I’m not shy about it. From late April until late October, you can be sure to find me out in our backyard at least once a day (but often twice) watering, weeding, and mostly just admiring the amazing transformation that happens in our 4 raised garden beds. I shamelessly post pictures and have given our garden it’s own hashtag (#CasaBuYARD). I mean, look how photogenic veggies are!
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Perhaps it’s because of all of my doting and posting that people assume I’m an expert of sorts. Let me set the record straight, I’m not a master gardener! I’m a novice hobby gardener who has to google almost everything, and I learn so much every year. (Most recent garden google search: “How do I get stray cats to stop pooping in my garden beds?” The answer was lemon peels. Worked like a charm.)
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Anyway, each spring, I get texts, emails, messages asking me for advice on how to start a garden. I always feel like a bit of a fake responding because I’m not a pro  but I have learned a lot through trial and error since I started gardening in 2013, so I thought I’d dust off the old blog (like deep clean dust) to share what I have learned mostly to keep it all in once place. I think this might be easier than searching through my sent items each spring to find an old email or text to pass along. I’m hoping that this will be a place for more seasoned gardeners to leave their comments, as well, and that this will end up being a helpful collective effort post for newbie and seasoned green thumbs alike.
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So, without further adieu, here are my novice gardening rambling thoughts:
1.  Raised Beds vs In Ground
We inherited terrible soil in our backyard so that made our decision for us; we had to do raised beds. From what I understand, if you have good soil, plant in ground for optimum drainage and root depth. If you like the “look” of raised beds but have great soil and space for in-ground, you can always add barriers to give some structure to your in ground. We went with 8×3 raised beds because the 3 foot width is easy to navigate (I can reach and pick and prune whatever I need to without stomping all over plants) and because lumber often comes 8 feet long. We also did a brick weed barrier around the beds to A. keep away weeds (duh, I just said that) B. make it look prettier, and C. because we had them already in our yard – the previous tenants left us (and our lawn mower) the gift of “surprise random bricks everywhere in your yard” so this was a way to repurpose them.
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2.  Soil
If you aren’t planting in-ground, you get to fill the beds with your own soil. We started composting a few years ago and love how much waste that has eliminated. We have an indoor compost bin with charcoal filter that we keep on our kitchen countertop and when that fills, we do an outdoor compost run. Our compost bins are three cheap plastic garbage cans that Adam drilled a bunch of holes into. We are TERRIBLE at turning our compost and should have more of a system than we do. But even though we aren’t brilliant compost caretakers, we STILL get quite a bit of fabulous soil every year to add to our beds. We filled our beds originally with a combination of cheaper top soil and fertilized soil simply because of price. To fill 4 beds with all organic soil wasn’t in the budget. Each year, I remove the winter cover (Covering garden beds with hay or pine keeps the soil “warm” enough that it doesn’t deplete of nutrients over the winter), till the soil, and add compost and other soil if needed because the beds settle every winter and need some fresh dirt. And then I fertilize the soil before adding plants.
3.  Fertilizer
You get to decide if you want an organic garden or not. That goes for fertilizers and plant repellent. Organic gardening is not for the faint of heart. Especially when tomato hornworms hatch (I HATE handling those suckers so my pro tip: When you find them on your plants, cut them in half with gardening scissors. Then you don’t have to touch them and you send a message to the other hornworms. I know it’s gross, but don’t mess with my tomatoes. I’m a pacifist about everything but garden bugs and then I turn into Katniss Everdeen). Whichever direction you go, fertilizing before planting is a surefire way to get your soil ready. I like Jobe’s line but find something that works for you. There are directions on the back of the bag that tell you how far in advance you need to fertilize before planting so you don’t burn the seedlings. (Side note, I’ve learned more about science while gardening than I ever did in school).
4.  Seeds vs Seedlings
This is where my novice starts showing. I don’t grow most of my plants from seed, I buy seedlings (little baby plants) from a local grower. My exception to the seed rule is that I do grow beans and radishes from seed. I don’t have the space or patience for grow lamps, and honestly, I adore my local grower, so I’m happy to let him start my seeds and then plant them in ground. But you get to decide what you want to do. I did get hooked on Baker Creek Seeds for my (failed) fall garden this year. They have gorgeous seeds and the catalogue has become my favorite coffee table book. Check it out and get hooked.
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5. Planning (Now we’re to the super fun part)!
You get to decide what you want to grow, what grows well together, how much you can grow in a space, what grows well in your area, what season you’re growing for (spring, summer, fall…). When I started out knowing 0 things about gardening, I was really overwhelmed about where to start. Thankfully, I found some amazing resources that helped me feel more confident about what I was doing:
A.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac tells you when to plan and harvest for your local region based on historical weather patterns. I didn’t consult this my first year and had bolted, sour lettuce, and crops that didn’t bear much fruit because they were planted at the wrong time. The harvest time helps you adjust expectations for how long you’ll have to wait to eat the fruits of your labor. Some veggies take time!
B.  Square Foot Gardening tells you how many seedlings/seeds to plant per square foot. I would have never guessed that you could plant nine bean plants per square foot, but you can. This helps you maximize small spaces. I use an organic twine that I staple gun to our beds so that as the plants grow, I can remove it and let them roam free. Some people use more permanent structures and that works great for them, too.
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C. Companion Planting tells you what plants works well together, which don’t, and what repels bugs and other vermin. #TGFM (Thank Goodness for Marigolds whose scent repels a multitude of critters). I had no idea when I started this journey that some plants take nutrients from others, and that some help other plants grow. Isn’t science amazing? This adds a challenge element to planning, but it’s absolutely worth it!
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Every year, I map out my garden plan using these websites. (I also bust out the previous few years’ plans and rotate as much as I can so that the soil gets a reset.)

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6. After the soil prep, the bed prep, and the planning comes the shopping. And then the planting. And then all of the fun begins because you get to watch things grow. My garden is a holy place for me. I hope yours brings you peace, joy, and hope, too!

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Expert gardeners, what did I miss?

Loaded Potachos

The other night, after an-I-walked-three-miles-in-three-inch-heels, 14 hour kind of work day, I was fighting the urge to get takeout. Takeout was made for these kind of days. Takeout on Whole30 is Chipotle and since we don’t live in the suburbs, I knew that I could cook something faster than I could drive to grab a carnitas bowl and the thought of having to put on shoes again brought tears to my eyes.

I looked at the week’s menu and decided I “deserved” something tastier than lettuce wrapped tacos (yeah, I get that’s a mental food habit that I need to break – I’m doing Whole30, stop lecturing me).

But something magical happened in my oh-so-tired brain and a culinary genius idea was birthed. World, may I introduce to you:

Loaded Potachos (serves 2)

Ingredients:

2 Large russet potatoes (sliced SUPER thin – if you have a mandoline, use it)

Olive Oil

Sea Salt

1lb Meat of choice (pictured here carnitas)

Homemade taco seasoning (I used to use a recipe, but now, I just throw in some chili, cumin, oregano, paprika, cayenne, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and we have a party)

Whatever toppings you fancy. I went with: chopped romaine, red onion, cilantro, green onion, Cholula hot sauce, and of course, guacamole.

Let’s get to business:

Preheat oven to 425 while you chop all the veggies. Place thinly sliced potatoes on a pan, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with cracked sea salt. Bake for 15-16 minutes, turning once.

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While potatoes are baking, cook the meat and add taco seasoning. And then make your guacamole. Guac isn’t an optional topping on these. Guac should never be optional.

When the potatoes are done, plate them and load them up. Go ahead and get a fork proactively. No need to get up again.

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Y’all this is simple and so tasty. It was far better (and quicker) than getting takeout. The only downside is that there are dishes, but I have a cute dish fairy, so really, this was a total win for me.

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Holiday Breakfast Hash

I’ve decided to resurrect Food Day Friday blogs.

“Why are you doing this Allison?” You ask.

Thanks so much for asking! You always ask the best questions. I’m doing this for a few reasons:

  1.  I’m hoping this will encourage me to write more often. I like writing, I have just gotten out of the habit.
  2. I love cooking. It’s like good therapy that I get to eat. And I do love eating my feelings. Which brings me to point 3:
  3. Go ahead and roll your eyes. Just do it preemptively. I’m doing Whole30 (along with the rest of America right now). Adam and I pioneered it for the first time in November and my body loved it. I’m not trying to be a Whole30Evangelist here, but seriously, my head, stomach, and sleep adored it. So, after Gorge30 (that’s December in case that reference was too obscure), we’re back on it. And since I’m cooking up all sorts of #fresh food (Fresh is my OneWord for 2017), I thought I might share it. Please share good things back with me. This is how the internet works (for better or for worse – here’s looking at you election season). I share, you share, we all share together.

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I’m bad at mornings. Anyone who knows me, or who has shared a house with me knows this full well. I stay in bed until the last possible second (often later than the last possible second) and then rush around in a state of panic. I do this every day. Try as I may, I cannot fix this about myself. I love sleep and I hate mornings. That is my truth.

Because of morning chaos, I need breakfast that I can grab and go. This often looks like grabbing a Larabar or heating up a piece of egg bake. Real talk: egg bakes without cheese are not egg bakes I want to be part of. I’m still experimenting (this is a good place to insert your recipes for dairy-free egg bakes).

One Sunday in November, after a spinach-heavy gag bake, I mean egg bake disaster week, I was wracking my brain for something else I could eat for breakfast. I pieced together what I had in the pantry and holy smokes, this savory hash has become a Whole30 morning staple. It’s got so many holiday-esque flavors that I still feel like I’m getting to gorge while not feeling bad about or after eating it.

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Holiday Breakfast Hash

Ingredients

2-3 large sweet potatoes peeled and diced

1 lb of brussels sprouts halved

½ red onion diced

Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (or oil of choice)

Fresh cracked salt and pepper to taste

1 lb ground pork or turkey

1 teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon dry sage

1 teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon (or more depending on your heat preference) cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon (or more depending on your heat preference) red pepper flakes

Eggs

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425 while you dice your veggies. Place sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, and red onion on a baking pan. Drizzle veggies with olive oil and top with fresh cracked salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes turning at least once. (Roast time depends on how big you’ve diced your potatoes and how crispy you like your veggies. I do a small dice but prefer my veggies to have a little crisp to them!)

While the veggies are baking, brown your meat. Then add all of the spices to make homemade sausage (shout out to this recipe). I’ve modified the recipe to use dried spices because it’s winter and I don’t have a growing herb garden in my backyard nor an unlimited herb budget. Dried herbs work great for this sausage!

If you’re doing this as part of your weekly food prep, let the veggies and sausage cool. Then, add half of the sausage to the veggie mix and put in a Tupperware container. (Freeze the other half of the sausage for another week unless you like a super sausage-heavy meal and then by all means, add all of it!).

Each day, I crack one egg into a frying pan. While the egg cooks, I scoop out about ¾ of a cup of the hash mixture into a bowl and heat it up for 1 minute. By the time the microwave beeps, my egg is perfectly sunny-side-up cooked. I place the egg atop my hash, stab it with a fork so I can watch the yolk run all over the other stuff, and then run out the door, breakfast in hand, to eat while I commute.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do! What are your on-the-go, prep ahead breakfast staples?

One Word for 2017

Last January, for the first time in several Januarys, I set some goals for the year. I resolved to grow my bangs out (check with praise hands emoji), floss my teeth 5 times a week (hey, going from 2 times a year (i.e. the night before my semi-annual dentist appointment) to 4ish times a week is a success, right?), spend my commutes listening to audio books (gamechanger, y’all), and to read at least 22 books (check in large part thanks to the aforementioned audiobook resolution). Allison’s 2016 Book superlatives: Best nonfiction: The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander, Best novel: Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi, Best on Faith: Out of Sorts – Sarah Bessey, Best Audiobook reading: Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Andichie, Best Memoir – Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates. Please nominate your best reads of 2016 as I am crafting my 2017 list now.

Goals that I did not quite hit were: make more lattes on weekends and blog about things other than cancer. Whoops. Perfection is overrated right?

For other highlights that weren’t necessarily on a goal list, please refer to my own personally curated #RealBest9 because no offense, your “likes” don’t determine what was the best about my year, I get to do that. (In order from left to right, top to bottom)

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  1. I got back into the gym habit this year and fell in love with a few new workout classes.
  2. I read (sometimes with homemade lattes) more this year than in years past.
  3. We got a cat. I adore little Bluegrass Granger with my whole heart. Who am I?
  4. We sojourned to Asheville for a weekend and I fell in love with that little town.
  5. Adam kept healing. So much good news on the health front!
  6. Our little #CasaBuYARD veggie patch continues to be a source of joy (and produce).
  7. I had an incredible work year, brimming with learning, failing, and travels. I got to share about my work at a national conference in Pittsburgh, was accepted into a national fellowship and traveled to DC and Denver for that, and was able to go learn at a conference in Austin.
  8. We got to spend time with family and friends and enjoy it (and board games) thanks to good health.
  9. I love the 2 boys I get to do life with (yes, Bluegrass is a real boy).

Every year for the last few years, I’ve picked one word that will be the theme of my year. At the close of 2015, I was emerging out of the destruction of my husband’s cancer rubble and declared that 2016 would be a year of restoration. After over a year of watching my husband fight for his life and the months of recovery that followed, I was looking to 2016 to be a year of rebuilding after the wreckage. I knew (or I thought I knew) that life wouldn’t go back to just as it was before cancer, but I was hopeful that we could renovate the ruins and piece together some old and new into something that resembled the old life.

2016 was a year of restoration in many ways. In a lot of ways, a sense normalcy was restored to our home and schedule. Our days have been restored to routine things like working, exercising, cooking, cleaning, and doing yard work. And in some ways, my soul was restored. This was a very quiet, predictable, unhurried year. This year, I had the time and space for reflection, which was necessary. I was worn, ragged, and fragile and I needed a year to just be.

Last January, I wanted my life and soul to return back into something that resembled my picture of “normal”. I longed nostalgically for old routines, friendships, beliefs, and purpose. But nostalgia doesn’t operate well in present tense and it certainly doesn’t coexist with change. As it turns out, current me doesn’t actually want my mind, heart, and life to be restored to the old me.

This year, I’d rather have a remodel than a renovation.

I’m ready for 2017 to be fresh.

Fresh in expectations, relationships, beliefs, thinking, priorities, food… Lots and lots of fresh.

I’ve done enough fresh food kicks to know that fresh feels good, but fresh takes work. And so I will look expectantly, I will plan, and I will protect 2017.

One Word for 2016

For the last four Januarys, I’ve picked one word to hang as a banner over my year; one word to proclaim my hopes and dreams and resolutions for the three-hundred ish days to come. Most years, my words have come easily – birthed out of need for change or desire for growth. This year, however, I’ve wrestled with my word. I’ve wrestled because I’ve simultaneously given up on the idea that I can predict what a year will hold and I want this year to be a lot of things.

As I slowly emerge out of my husband’s dark cancer cave and my eyes adjust to the uncomfortably bright light of possibilities on the other side of survival, I’m a bit overwhelmed. I’m taking in colors and shapes and sounds that didn’t exist in the deep of the cave. I stare at my friend’s kiddos who I barely recognize after our extended friend-absence. I sit around full dinner tables and welcome chatter and laughter as a blissful reunion. I mount the spin bike at the gym as if I were reengaging with an estranged friend.

As I stare at normal life from a cautious distance, even still, while my senses adjust to fresh open air, I know that I want to reenter to normal life. The problem is that I’m afraid I won’t ever be “normal” again. Brene Brown writes, “Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being. This change often brings a deep sense of loss. During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to the moment before we walked into the arena, but there’s nowhere to go back to.” And so I’m readjusting my expectations of normalcy and starting the process of reconciling what of pre-cancer life I get to keep and what I have to let go of. I think this is all part of recovery.

I recognize that the discomfort of healing is a gift – one that I assure you we don’t take for granted but one who’s emotional weight we couldn’t have predicted. As I wade through cancer-trauma rubble, I find myself getting more and more curious about what redemption and renewal and rebuilding will look like – in Adam’s life, in my life, and in our joint life.

In the last month, as I have pondered “my word” for 2016, I landed on a few that resonated; all of them starting with re: . Even as I wrote this post, so many re: words tumbled out. I toyed for a few weeks with picking a prefix for my word. But as a compulsive rule-follower, I just couldn’t go through with it.

So I waited and ran my favorite re: words through my brain; let them dance on my tongue until one stuck out enough to declare it “my word”. I think it’s the re: word that encompasses all of the other words that I was mulling over and one that encapsulates my hopes and longings for this fresh air year: Restore.

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I know that there is no going back to life just as it was before cancer, and honestly, I don’t think I really want that anyway. But I do long for restoration –of new normalcy, of holistic health, and of my soul. So, this is me nailing up my banner with hopes and prayers this this year is a restoring year.

Did anyone else pick one word for their year? I’d love to hear about it!

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#2015RealBestNine

You know, because you journeyed with us, that 2015 was a horrendous year (feel free to nominate a better adjective – it’s hard to pick just one that encapsulates the general feeling of the year). I have no desire to hash out (yet again) all of the repugnance in the year. If you have some macabre desire to reflect on our year, please feel free to peruse our many rather depressing 2015 blog posts.

There’s this hashtag going around social media this week called #2015BestNine. It’s a compilation of the 9 most liked pictures users posted on instagram during the year. My “best 9” are all actually my worst 9. (chemo bald Adam, ICU… you know, the real downer pictures that got lots of likes because we were posting that Adam was alive despite some incredible odds).

In my non-cancer wife life, I typically use social media as my highlight reel – an opportunity to share the sweet things. This year, however, we were able to share with the masses the ugly truths and rope in community near and far into real life. We were so grateful for a wide platform on which to share about life this year, but there were a whole lot of lowlight reels.

But even in the midst of an overpoweringly awful year, there were glimmers of light, of fun, of joy. I’ve decided to honor the end of 2015 by highlighting some of my favorite things – The #2015RealBestNine if you will. I would love to hear from y’all some of your 2015 superlatives.

  1. Best Books: This year, I read 20 books. Given the intensity of the year, I will consider that an accomplishment. It pales in comparison to the 365 books one of my friends read, but we are all on our own journeys so I’ll cheers to the books we all read this year. Here’s to being part of the 76% of American adults who read at least one book this year!

Fiction: I used to be a strictly non-fiction reader. I simply couldn’t “get into” novels. Then I found young adult fiction a few years ago and my reading world changed. This year, fiction was a welcome escape. I read so many dear old books (shout out to CS Lewis and LM Montgomery) but the highlight of my fiction reading was certainly Harry Potter. Adam and I both read the series for the first time in our lives this fall and absolutely adored it. We’d like to take this time to apologize to our First Pres Monterey Koinonia group for not listening to you in 2006 and reading the books with you. Adam’s youth group illustrations would have taken on a whole new element. 2 admissions: Hermione Granger and I are 2 peas in a pod and I’m sad to admit that I’m probably a Hufflepuff even though I want to be a Gryffindor)

Nonfiction: I did squeeze in a few nonfiction books this year and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson wins this category. While Stevenson is a lawyer, he is also a storyteller. This book weaves in story after story of glimmers of justice in an unjust legal system in America. Go ahead and add this to your 2016 book list if you haven’t read it yet.

Faith: Gold by Moonlight by Amy Carmichael was this year’s spiritual guidebook for me: A beautiful reminder of hope and truth in the midst of darkness.

  1. Best Food: So much of this year was holed up at home, eating bland foods and subsequently not caring about food. It’s been fun over the past few months to start cooking yummy food and get out and enjoy someone else’s cooking. Our favorite new Nashville eatery is Chauhan Ale and Masala House. We can’t stop eating here. If you live in Nashville or come for a visit, we insist you stop here.
  1. Best Movie: We didn’t do a lot of movie watching this year. You would think it would have been a good year for that, but no. We did, however, have a Harry Potter movie marathon after finishing all 7 books and it did not disappoint. Our friends drove in from out of state to enjoy the festivities. We ate and drank our way through all 8 movies (and two UK games) and had the sweetest weekend. Close second does NOT go to Star Wars. I realize the following statement may result in some broken friendships, but I don’t get it, y’all. We watched 4,5, & 6 and I’m not watching any more. Help me, friends, what is it that you love about these movies?Potter Movie Marathon
  2. Best TV Show: Well, we binge watched all of the Chuck seasons during surgery recovery (because why wouldn’t we?). But if we’re talking about new TV shows, this nomination goes out to Life in Pieces. I adore this new show. It’s funny and sweet and full of good characters. Have y’all seen it?
  1. Best Game: I don’t know what we would have done without Yahtzee this year. We wore out our dice on this game. It was a great low-energy pain-distraction game. Close second goes out to Farkle – but I always lose that one, so it can’t be my favorite.
  1. Best Activity: Gardening. I love our little raised-bed empire housed in #CasaBuYARD. Every year, I learn new things about our Creator, about our environment, and about sustainable food. This year, our garden was my safe place, my prayer place, my sunshine, and my joy. I’m missing my daily dose of vitamin D and fresh tomatoes these days. garden
  1. Best Pictures: Not chosen because of their artistic quality, but rather for what they represent, here are my #BestNine2015:

Best 9

Top Row (left to right)

Game marathons with Adam, planting #CasaBuYARD 2015, canoeing during our #MonthOfFun

Middle Row (left to right)

Speaking at a conference in Chicago (work has been such a fun challenge this year), living it up on a Jamaican beach, our Harry Potter movie marathon menu

Bottom Row (left to right)

Books and journaling, fun time with friends during our #MonthOfFun (we could have posted many more sweet moments between yuck with friends this year – our 10 year reunion was in this highlight reel), and New Year’s Even when we put on our dancing shoes and sipped champagne and welcomed in a new year.

  1. Best Silver Lining: While frustrating many days, this year forced us to slow down and stop buying into the culture of busy. This year, I found glimmers of joy in simplicity, in quiet unplanned nights, in reading in front of the fire, in endless Yahtzee tournaments, and in an uncomplicated calendar. I found time to think and write some letters and rest. We’re ready to embrace a little more zest in life, but I truly hope we can maintain rest and Sabbath in health.
  1. Best Surprise: Our friends got together and sent us on a GOURMET vacation to Jamaica. We had our own personal butlers (yes, you read that right, we had more than one personal butler). We rested and read and lounged and ate and cried and took in so much sunshine. It was amazing.

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So there you have it. Those are my #2015RealBestNine. What were yours?

Happy New Year, friends!

Cancerversary

Not all anniversaries are happy ones. We celebrate some anniversaries, we mourn others, and we loathe still others. Today is a hard anniversary in the Buzard house.

One year ago today, after an agonizing month of testing and waiting and speculations, Adam was officially diagnosed with cancer. The expanse between October 2, 2014 and October 2, 2015 feels far greater than a year should, and yet my memories are all so sharp.

I can call to mind where each of us sat with feet shaking to the sound of the white wall clock ticking, ticking, ticking as we waited hundreds of seconds for the oncologist to enter the room and deliver concrete news. I remember the boulder in my stomach and the tears that choked my vocal chords as phrases like, “stage 4”, “aggressive chemo”, and “we don’t have time to wait” spilled out of a stranger, who is no longer a stranger. I recall walking out of the exam room, grasping Adam’s hand tightly, and walking toward the receptionist desk to schedule chemotherapy with tears racing down my cheeks.

I remember the silent slow walk toward the park across the street from the hospital and I remember the sound of the sobs that escaped in turns from each of us over the next three hours. I remember delivering news to family and friends through texts and calls, and I can call up the sounds of our friends sobs, too.

While this year has felt like a million years, it hasn’t been a blur. The memories from this year are incredibly vivid. I remember the sounds and smells and feels on Adam’s first day of chemo, I remember blubbering in the bathroom watching Adam take control of his hair loss before chemo did, I remember the weeks of battling nausea and anxiety in supportive silence, I remember the feeling of exhausted accomplishment on the last day of chemo, and I remember the lonely cold winter. And the surgeries: Even if I tried, I will never forget the nausea-inducing surgical waiting room, the plastic pull-out sleeping chair, the whirring of the IV machine, and the countless complications.

But I have other powerfully distinct memories from this year, too. I remember the friend that came and cried with us over Chipotle on the first day of chemo. I remember the consistent presence of my sister in every surgery waiting room and in between. I recall the friends who were with us while Adam buzzed his head. I remember the meals, the gutter cleanings, the full mailbox, and the amazon wish-list delivery extravaganza. I remember the presence of Adam’s parents on all of the hardest weeks. I remember the friends who drove long distances just to sit with us because that’s what friends do. And I remember the other friends who kidnapped Adam for a 2-hour road trip against doctors (and my) wishes because laughter and friends are really good medicine.

I remember the loving text messages and the videos of our friends’ kiddos praying for Adam. I will never forget the joy and love at Adam’s chemo finish line party. I remember all the sour patch kids and chipotle gift cards and essential oils (and all the wine and chocolate that was delivered just for me).

And I remember the pervasive, goodness and faithfulness of God this year. In the silence, in the dark of long nights, in the waiting rooms, and in just the plain old waiting, God’s goodness has been evident. God’s faithfulness has been present through his people, through His quiet presence, through the miracles, and through the setbacks.

In the Old Testament, Samuel commemorates the end of a battle by raising up a large stone and naming it Ebenezer (which means stone of help) to remind him and the Israelites of God’s help and faithfulness. I don’t know if we’ll go out in search of a big rock, or if this blog post will suffice, but as I remember this awful, heavy, unbearable, unbelievable year, I will also remember beauty in the ashes and pain dotted with grace.

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The Tension of Today

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I went on my first short-term mission trip when I was in high school. I packed ankle length skirts and modest tops (and matching bandanas for my hair, of course) and headed to Managua, Nicaragua. In my short week there, I observed a culture very different from my own, I experienced what it felt like to be a foreigner, and I was exposed to extreme poverty. As I walked through the tents of a refugee camp that housed families who had been displaced by a devastating hurricane, I began to grasp my own privilege.

When I landed back on U.S. soil, I was simultaneously relieved and uncomfortable with the things that had previously been my normal – from meals to clothes to social norms to routines. It took me a long time to fully comprehend what was happening in my heart and mind and soul; I was somehow changed. The things that I had seen had impacted me deeply; they had begun to shift my worldview.

IMG_1603The tension was that while my worldview had shifted, my real-life non-mission trip world as a high-schooler hadn’t shifted. I had to return to school, to my part-time job, to friendships, and normal teenage social pressure, but my normal life didn’t feel quite so normal anymore. I had a hard time sorting through how what I had experienced and what I was thinking about fit back into everyday life.

I’ve been having a hard-time articulating how I am feeling as of late. And because we have the best people in our lives, we are getting asked how we are doing a lot these days. As I’ve been doing some emotional self-assessment, I have decided that I’m feeling a lot like 11th grade post-first mission trip Allison. I have experienced, observed, and been exposed to some incredibly heavy things this year as I have walked with my husband through cancer treatments. And now, while we’re on a break from treatments and normal life can resume (at least temporarily) I am experiencing that familiar tension. I’m not sure how what I have experienced fits in with pre-cancer life.

I’m doing a lot less “cancer-wife” activities these days and a lot more “normal-life” activities. Life is starting to look more like it used to – it just doesn’t quite feel like it used to. I know that, at least with mission trips, the fusion of new experiences with normal life does happen. Normal life shifts a bit to accommodate new world views, and world views shift a smidge to accommodate the mandatory normal and somehow, in time, there is less incongruence. But ‘in time’ is the key phrase.

And so here I am, in the middle of waiting for normal life and cancer life to fuse into something that feels normal-ish. I’m waffling between cancer-shock and acceptance that this will forever change me. So in the spirit of honesty, I’ll leave this post in the tension that I’m feeling without a nice summary or Scripture-bow on top – maybe those will come with future posts.

Reflections on 11 Years

Vows11 years ago today, we stood facing each other; hands clasped, gazing into one another’s youthful-faces at an alter in a little white country church. We pledged our vows to one another in front of our God and our dearest friends that we would love and cherish each other in good times, in healthy times, in times of abundance, and also in the times that were not so good, not so healthy, and not so abundant. We also declared on that day, through verse, song, and homily that we wanted our marriage to be a story of God’s faithfulness.

Wedding ProgramWe had everyone leaf through the blue hymnals in their pews and sing our favorite hymn, ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ as a testimony and prophetic anthem over our marriage that God’s faithfulness would be our theme. The verse on our not-so-cool wedding program (Thanks Pinterest for being a decade too late) was Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness.”

We didn’t know much as wrinkle-free, and nearly carefree 21 year olds, but we knew that we wanted our marriage to serve a greater purpose than ourselves –We wanted our marriage to be as much about loving others as it was about loving each other. We wanted to serve God better as a couple than we would individually. We wanted our marriage to glorify God and point to God’s faithfulness.

As enthusiastic not-yet-college-graduates, we had vague grand dreams of what that would look like and ambition to fill in the plot holes. We envisioned that we would do significant things as a couple that would be a story of God’s faithfulness in mending our broken world.

What we forgot, in our grand, innocent, well-meaning pre-marital vision, was that we were the characters in God’s story, not the author – and characters don’t get a say in their own story. Thus far, the Author of our story has seemed far less interested in compelling plot lines and heroic daring adventures and far more interested in character development.

It seems as though the majority of our 11 years of marriage have been spent on developing our character – individually and as a team. Committed, long-term relationships have a way of developing character, don’t they? For that matter, life stuff has a way of developing character. But marriage has a knack for drawing out the hidden, dark, flawed stuff we can hide from most friends and it also has the potential to draw out the deepest reserves of beauty, strengths, and gifts. Through our married years, character has been forged through fire and desert and valley and straight roads, too. We have learned about perseverance, faith, faithfulness, trust, forgiveness, fortitude, and selfless love.

12 years ago, our soon-to-be married selves didn’t realize how much we needed our own restoration individually and how much we would need it as a couple. We thought God’s faithfulness would be more evidenced through our marriage, but instead, His faithfulness has been most evidenced in our marriage. And while that type of story rarely makes a best-seller list, it’s a powerful story best told around tables filled with good food, on couches with dear ones, and sometimes over coffee with a friend of a friend who needs to hear that story. We have found that as we allow others to see God’s work – the messy, arduous, refining work of restoring us as individuals and as a couple, His faithfulness is most evident.

And so, after 11 years, our story isn’t one about a power duo changing the world, and it isn’t a top seller – in fact, our story doesn’t even have a terribly coherent plotline. But really, isn’t it the messy, imperfect, broken, vulnerable stories that make the best backdrops for stories of God’s faithfulness and not the strong, perfect, neat, and tidy ones?

We couldn’t have imagined the chapters that would emerge when we chose “Not to us, O LORD, but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness” as the back cover to our story. But we are grateful that our story is our story, and more, we are so grateful that God is faithful.

Here’s to 11 years of character development and God’s faithfulness and the cherry on top of friendship, joy, and laughter. Here’s to our marriage and our story and the stories that have yet to be written. I love you, Adam.

Outside Wedding

Dark Night in the Woods

Sometime during the course of late night conversations sophomore year of college (which no doubt took place over greasy Dominoes pizza or handfuls of microwave popcorn), my girlfriends discovered that I had never been camping before.

That’s not entirely true. I had been sort of camping once before. My non-outdoorsy parents agreed to embark on a camping trip with family friends one summer but we bailed when the tents started buckling during a torrential downpour and we landed at a hotel.

IMG_9339So back to college: My gals decided that we should go on a fall camping trip to give me a proper first camping experience. The idea of camping didn’t seem awesome but the idea of missing out on time with my friends seemed less awesome, so I conceded. A few of the camping experts set to planning out supplies, meals, route, and campground while I took to planning my most outdoorsy-looking outfits (nailed it, right?).

Camping 2012One Friday after class, when the trip was planned out, we loaded up our old college cars and shipped off to The Gorge. I don’t remember what caused the delay; maybe someone couldn’t skip her last Friday class or we took too long packing (or posing for pictures of packing) or there was a traffic delay, but somehow we got to our parking site later than our resident camping experts had hoped and we were almost out of daylight. We loaded up our backs with big supply packs and set out on the long hike down into the gorge to our campground.

IMG_9338We had fewer headlamps than campers so the expert campwomen geared up, and us rookies lined up every other headlamp and kept close. Very shortly into our descent, we were in total darkness except for the light of the few headlamps. I was told to keep close, to not veer too far to the right or left (because of a drop off), and to trust my friends.

Two of the girls had grown up exploring and camping in the very woods we were slogging. They knew the path even in the dark. They wouldn’t let me and our other pals get hurt.

I trusted but I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t in control; I had no idea where I was, what was around me, and what was ahead of me. I didn’t even have charge over what I could see.

I trusted but I was fearful. No doubt my anxiety (i.e the ability to conjure up the grimmest of all possible scenarios) played out ugly scenes in my mind as we hiked in lightless silence.

I was reminded of this trip as I was reading treasured words of Amy Carmichael this week: “There can be no difficulty of travel that he does not understand. We are never alone as we penetrate the unknown. We cannot be lost there… He knoweth the way that I take… There is no darkness where He cannot find us.”

I’m feeling a lot these days like I did that dark night in the woods. I trust God, but I am uncomfortable with how little control I have. I trust God, but I am still fearful. My steps feel unsteady and I have little idea what is beside me or in front of me. I would really, really like to know what the woods look like. Walking in the dark is exhausting.

But I take solace in the knowledge that there is no darkness where He cannot find us and even more solace in the knowledge that He can see even when I cannot.

“Even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:12)

IMG_9340We made it safely into the gorge that night and had a delicious dinner of steak and nearly raw potatoes. (Fire-roasted dinner takes time and hunger doesn’t breed patience). We set up our tents, roasted something sweet over the fire, learned how to pee in the woods, told ourselves that no bears or scary mountain people would attack us until we finally fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning and emerged from my tent to the smell of pancakes over the fire, I couldn’t believe the view. We were deep in the heart of a beautiful valley, with autumn-toned trees decorating the canopy above. I looked up at the narrow, steep path we had trudged in the dark and thought that perhaps it was better that I hadn’t been able to see where I was walking. I thought perhaps the scary walk in the dark made the morning all the more beautiful.

Maybe one day, when this dark cancer trip ends, I will feel the same way.


red-river-gorge-camping