Monthly Archives: May 2016

It’s not easy bein’ a pretty flower.

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I tried to think of something clever with the  “It’s not easy bein’ green,” Kermit the frog thing, but I couldn’t.  This is it, people.  It’s Friday.  Friday night.  Bear with me.  This long week is coming to an end and here I am getting time to sit.  Being a florist is not actually a “sit there” job.

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“Kermit” Mums, about 1.5-2″ wide.  Amazing color.

It’s not easy being a florist, period.  It’s a physically tough job.   It’s even more challenging to own a small town flower shop.  Even big city florists are tossing in the roses and calling it quits.  Locally we are down 50% in brick and mortar florist’s from when I started almost nine years ago.  We’ve lost one shop  in Weiser and two in Ontario.  Three flower shops remain in the valley.

I can remember when I bought the store, in 2007.  Joyce, the former owner and my mentor, said that the business took a big hit after floral departments were added to the local grocery store (was this in the 90’s?).  I didn’t get it then, but I get it now.  Things you wish you would have gotten back then!  Anyhow, until this point, flower shops were the only places with flowers.  This new level of grocery and department store competition shook the industry.  First it was just flowers, but then all of the plants and balloons, too.  And at prices that flower shops can’t even buy at!

My store is competing locally with two northwest grocery and department store chains – Ridley’s and Bi-Mart.  There are major franchises like Albertson’s and Walmart just twenty minutes away on the highway.  This is a regular commute and destination area for a lot of folks.

We were recently asked if it were possible for us to make a “consumer bunch” of flowers for a local business.  This is a grouping of flowers sold in cellophane, you’ve all seen them at the grocery store check-out line before.  This customer purchased their flowers from Walmart and Ridley’s, regularly, and was interested in “buying local.”  We were upfront with the concept that these retailers have huge buying power and it would be very difficult for us to compete.  The customer insisted.  Repeated calls insisted.  Even though we were super busy, we made trips to the grocers, obtained pictures, stem counts, prices, and dimensions.  Even though we knew it was a long shot, we made a comparable bouquet.  Instead of the $9.87 price at Walmart, twenty minutes away, ours would be $15.00.  We did not triple the value of the flowers, the normal industry standard, and it wouldn’t include the cost of labor or the wrap.

The customer had anticipated that they would need this bouquet refilled two times per month.  There was anticipation that this initial agreement, could lead to more business.  We were hopeful when we called them that we had satisfied their requirements and the purchase price would be considered a good deal-paying more, but staying local.  We thought we nailed it.

When the customer arrived, she looked at the flowers and said she could get the same thing at Walmart for $6.00.

Ouch.

I was so sad.

My helpers and I discussed later that we had all reminded her in one of our several phone calls and visits, that Walmart has contracts, if not their own fields, for flowers that we don’t have.  Making money on one rose is not important to them.  I can attest to the fact that I can also buy flowers cheaper at Walmart!

I guess the insult on my effort and the realization that the customer, who has never purchased anything from me before to my knowledge, somehow thought they had buying power with their $6.00, twice a month bouquet offer.  They didn’t really want local flowers, they wanted more flowers for less money.  I was eager to earn the business.  And lost it.  I would have lost money selling the flowers to them at $6.00.

That is why, flower shops are less and less.  We can get it cheaper somewhere else.  I’m totally guilty of this myself.  I am on such a budget that flowers are luxury items we normally wouldn’t afford.  I get it.  I just don’t like the feeling of unworthiness the customer suggested.  I would have liked her to be upfront that she would have preferred to have more flowers than Walmart, for less than she was paying them, and we could have saved everyone their time and pride.  I don’t know how to tell ya’ll this, but our flowers aren’t more because we are jerkfaces trying to price gouge you.

Our flowers are more because we can’t just order 2,000 of one item like Walmart.  They die in ten days!!!  We have to order one or two of 40 items, a couple times a week.  In order to maintain this inventory, to get Aunt Cindy her one yellow rose in a vase and Mary Kate her red and white carnation’s for making varsity cheer leading, and Dave’s pink and peach corsage for his wife for their 40th anniversary… I hope you can see why  it gets tricky to manage a perishable product, that you only need minimal flowers for, but have to buy full bundles of.  Try as we might to maintain a large inventory, we will never be able purchase in bulk and quantity like these super stores.  The things that we can control are design, value, and quality.

Design may be in the eye of the beholder, but I always take the time to make sure the bouquet looks like pride and effort were taken in the final product.  It’s the small details that make the arrangement complete, unique, hopefully personal, and memorable.  Part of making a bouquet memorable is making a bouquet that will transform with time.  Understanding the graceful waves of the lily.  Where does it align now and as it will open?  Is the blossom overlapping a longer lasting bloom so that when it fades, another will remain?  There is the art and science of nature’s perfect beauty placed at my fingertips and it’s like a symphony in my mind, much like words.  Stem placement isn’t mechanical, but fluid.  Music.  The two things I’m graced with ability:  designing flowers and words.

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Strategically designed arrangement – the lilies will take days to open.  The focals will then add new color and drama.  Until then, red roses, rovers, and sunflowers are worked in among greens and dried stems and pods to create this rustic , one of a kind sentiment.

I’m learning to edit both.   In my anxiety, I can rarely ‘save it for later’ when I write because, I will simply never post it later.  If I didn’t just get it out there, I would second guess myself and the doubt would keep my writing private.  I’m learning to write with quality  and confidence, almost as I am adamant about providing stellar flowers.

I take great care in cleaning my cooler, buckets, utensils, and I’m a stickler for fresh water and flower food.  And, of course, the flowers!  We keep our product hydrated, fed, cleaned and re-cut as necessary.    I know why we have such an awesome product that gets rave reviews- because we take the time to take care of it.  And, the people who we get these products from, they took time to take care of them too.  And all of this time to take care of, to grow, to cut, to bundle, to transfer, and to ship just one bundle to me, and one hundred to Walmart, will change the price those bundles cost.

One bundle just doesn’t demand the price guarantees that grocers have.  I don’t know that the floral industry will ever be the same in a rural setting such as ours.  It is my hope that the value of flowers will expand to include the thoughtfulness in the arrangements and the uniqueness of the product, and that the sheer availability of having a local florist who cares will prevail as a luxury in and of itself.

 

 

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Pain

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There is something deep and dark and sad within me.  Something that words, man, there aren’t even words to pray.  I start praying, but the words are empty.  They don’t mean much.  Even though I went through this amazing “miracle” cancer procedure with my mama and everything seems like it’s going to be okay, there are still so many hurts in my heart and the presence of God is not felt within me.

I made a hard choice at the flower shop this year and hard choices mean hard roads.  It was a difficult journey coming and going and leaving the shop during one of the most prosperous weeks the shop will see this year so that I could be with my mom during her surgery and recovery.  Without a full-time florist, how do you flower shop, right?  During Mother’s Day week.  A group of awesome angels and Toby geared up to rescue me and I tried, through the miles, to give them direction as much as I also tried to let go.

The experience at UCSD wasn’t just about my mom.  There was this inevitable “break” that would happen at the end of all of it.  Me and her and Oscar’s ceviche and the beach for a few weeks of recovery time.  The biggest break I’ve gotten since my oldest was born 12 years ago.  A break I fought, but a break I realized I needed.  And, just as I succumb to it, it’s scooped away into the emptiness it came from.  And the month turns into just days and I come back late to work early and hard and I’m left feeling well undeserving of rest and quiet and finances and goodness.

That’s the thing with me.  Always unworthy.  I can work hard and get all this seemingly “extra” money, but there is always medical debt. There is always a prescription.  You get one bill paid off and turn around to find eight more.  Lesions scattered across my brain MRI, new lesions, at least five, and I get the call from my neurologist’ assistant, “Everything on your MRI was normal.”  This is not normal.  The radiologist even notes that this is an abnormal presentation of Multiple Sclerosis.  At what point will I really get help?  And how much will that cost?  I’ve invested at least one college education into my health and have no long-term help.  There is no light at the end of the tunnel except that of heaven.

The pain is  everyday.  Sometimes a leg, sometimes an arm, shoulder, neck.  This “Stiff Person Syndrome” thing, that I have positive blood tests for, that nobody will treat me for, is seemingly progressing.  Spasms, cramps, inability to walk far…  no escape.  The only thing that helps it is rest and sleep and there are not enough hours in the day to sleep it off.  Sleep I often wish I won’t wake up from.

I went through this school of hard knocks with ministry, hoping that somehow, being devoted to Him and His word would somehow benefit the rest of my life…  it doesn’t work that way.  Just because you serve, doesn’t mean He offers you protection from the pain.  Just because you love Him, doesn’t mean He will make it easier.  I laughed at scripture, really laughed, that said He was with me holding my right hand.  He is not with me right now.  I often wonder what I’ve done to earn this life and  what I need to do to get Him to help me. I am at a loss.  I can’t even believe His promises because I don’t want to be hurt by His abandonment anymore.  I know I’m not good enough, let’s just, both, settle on that so I can stop trying to love you and you can stop rejecting me, ok?

I cried on my way to church the other day.  A faith choice to go, my feelings telling me I’m going to continue to get hurt chasing after this Jesus, especially here.  The church, my once beloved church, long since feeling like home to me.  A hard reality that I’ve been working on since last October and beyond.  A church, ironically, where my husband is now the associate pastor.

On the day when he serves communion, his first time being approved to do so, was the first time I didn’t take it.  The first time since becoming a Christian eight years ago that I didn’t celebrate in Christ’s death by consuming the bread and juice, a remembrance of Him.  Wouldn’t you know, that I’m in this empty pew, Toby up front to pray over the sacrament, and sure enough the pastor of the church comes to sit by me.  Then, the tray of bread and juice is served to me by two of my loves, my Brucey and Ster, and I have to audibly tell them I’m not partaking.  Then, the pastor’s wife comes to sit by me after she is done helping to distribute communion to the congregation.  The one day I don’t take the elements because I know my heart is long from being right with God,  I have my husband officiating, my pastor and his wife sitting on each side of me, and I can’t even just pass the tray, I have to verbally and shamefully turn it down.  Of course it happened that way.

I probably shouldn’t, but I feel super embarrassed.  Super stupid that the two most meaningful people in the church sat at my right and left while I sat empty handed during one of the most intimate rituals one can partake in for our God.  It was humbling and hard.  My lips didn’t move in worship that morning.  I sat, eyes mostly closed, clenching onto tears.

Sadly, this is most of my days.  Waiting for the pain, always on the defense.  Facebook became one of those places.  Not only because people, good “Christian” people bring me down, but because I gave up on sharing the story, sharing His glory, when I realized that I was only going to continue getting attacked -spiritually, physically, emotionally.  Unable to continue spouting out how great things are, when deep down I didn’t feel loved and protected and hope for the future.  His promises empty.

I am as weak and poor spiritually than I have ever been, even pre-Jesus.  We have enough money to get by, but there isn’t a future of prosperity for us, despite how hard we will have to work.  There is not a doctor in Idaho that can help me and I don’t know who to go to and I’m not wasting anymore of my time or money pursuing empty attempts at getting help. The physical pain is my only constant.

I am at this point that I have to accept that this is life.  I was born to suffer and endure emotional, physical, and financial pain.  I’m at this breaking point where I need to decide if it’s worth it.  Where do I go from here?  There is nowhere to run.  There is no God holding my right hand guiding me to a place where I can be favored like my mom and Toby.  These two.  If I didn’t have them and some of God’s goodness that I was able to breathe in when I’m around them, I probably wouldn’t have any favor at all.  I am both thankful and hurt that I can’t be loved the way they are.  The way things just happen and align for them always.  Not much effort on their behalf.  And, I’m here drowning…  it doesn’t take long before you realize that you’re the one that doesn’t fit into this Kingdom.  And it’s so hard fighting it.  And, I’m tired.  The deep, dark sadness inside of me festers bigger and my worth has wore down to just shreds that once were.

I’m sorry that I am not a source of hope and joy and spiritual enlightenment today or always.  Sometimes, like now, it’s just too hard to fake it anymore.  Pain too close to the surface. Just, too much pain…

 

This Cancer Thing

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There are several layers to this cancer thing.

You’ve got the patient.  Most obviously in this case, my sweet mama, Sue.

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Pictures with “Magaw” February 2016.

You’ve got the cancer.  Depending on the cancer location, type, and staging, you have a very unique and specific disease process that responds as uniquely and differently to various treatments.  We’re dealing with adenocarcinoma of the small intestine.  I say “we” are battling this cancer, because in a lot of ways, this has become a group fight:

You’ve got the caregivers.  Those whose lives are directly impacted by the patient’s cancer and treatment.  My sister, D’Ann, husband, Toby, the three little critters, and me.  Family near and far.

You’ve got the concerned loved ones.  Some that you’ve known forever and some that you’re lucky enough to meet along the way.

You’ve got the medical staff.  Everyone you encounter:  janitors, nurses, lab techs, radiologists, and even those doctors.

If you’re really lucky, if you’re really blessed, you somehow also get this really great community of supporters cheering for you.

We are sincerely blessed.

As we come back from mom’s cancer surgery and HIPEC treatment in San Diego at the University of California, it’s taken a bit of time to let the dust settle and fully consider what just happened.  The roller coaster has whirred, screeched, twisted, and upended all of us, most intimately, mama, and as we slowly lurch back into the level resting position at the end of the ride, it still takes a moment for us to gain our feet and to brace ourselves again.  A new chapter.

We’re home.

The cytoreductive surgery  to remove all of the cancer and heated chemotherapy went…  they went amazing!  It is a little shocking to report that, all in all, there were 21 tumors taken out of mom’s abdomen, liver, large intestine, omentum, and rib cage.  19 in this surgery, 2 in March.  They were all relatively small, marble sized to one mass that reached index card size.  By comparison to other patients who receive this cancer treatment, mom’s tumor load was considered “low volume.”  They fight way bigger wars than this and win!

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How we found her the day following surgery.  So many bells and whistles.

They sloshed the chemotherapy around in her belly for 90 minutes following a surgery that took about 5 or 6 hours.  We were initially told the whole procedure would take 8-12 hours.  We saw her in recovery by about the 9 hour mark.  The pain was intense, but she was closely monitored as an ICU patient throughout the evening.  ICU was overfull, as was the remainder of the hospital.  Mom ended up staying in the post-op chaos for a few days too long, until a room cleared up.

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This is in recovery within a few hours of the surgery.  She stuck out her tongue for the kids.  I think she was in level 8’ish pain.

Sporting an incision down her belly, about 14″ long, there were good days mostly, with a few bad pain days as they  tried to adjust and taper her medication.  The tumors behind her liver were growing, oddly, through her abdominal wall into the muscle.  This muscle had to be removed, a large resection of about 5″ in diameter.  Ow.  This site is still causing sharp stabbing pains, muscle spasms, and intense soreness.

We were told there would be a 50% chance that something that would require medical intervention would happen – an infection, a bleed, a somethin’.  The only kink in the system became the adhesive from a band-aid on upper epidural site.  There was a clear bandage placed over this line to keep it in place on her spine, just about shoulder blade level.  She was able to press a button to release medication into the spine which blocked the pain from her rib cage down and still allowed her legs to function.  The band-aid, about 3″ x 3″ , by day 3, created a rash the size of Rhode Island on mom’s back.  The rash blistered, festered and grew.  There is still a deep brown tone to her skin where the reaction occurred.  This requires hydro-cortisone cream.  Of all the things that could have gone wrong, we get to rub some cream on it.  Sincerely blessed.

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She walked up more steps than the physical therapist had asked her to.  Stretched her IV cords.  Show off.

By day six after the operation, mom had surpassed the expectations of the physical therapist.  Dr. Baumgartner and his nurse, Lisa, were both encouraged and pleased with mom’s post-surgical resilience.  They released her over to me on day seven.

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Leaving the hospital!  See ya, Thornton!

At this point, I had flown back and forth to San Diego, twice, as I wrapped up Mother’s Day and more at the flower shop, with very little to no rest a night or two.  I relieved my sister from her 12-hour hospital days and she immediately flew home and went back to work upon landing in Boise.  Mama taught us to work hard.  Not gonna lie… it was daunting.

Upon getting to our hotel, I grocery shopped, started a medication log, and then we slept.  For two days mom and I slept and ate sandwiches and did laps around the balcony of our hotel.  And we slept.  Sincerely blessed.

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Aunt Shannon took the kids to build a bear.  Dressed in Wonder Woman attire, she says, “We love you Magaw and mommy!”

Instead of a 14 day hospital stay, we ended up making it a 14 day stay in San Diego.  Mom literally rocked it.  I believe all the of the prayer has kept this genetically aggressive tumor from reacting the way it is wired to act, God’s protection.  Somehow, mom is just defying the odds of this cancer prognosis.

This year we found out mom’s cancer was back in January.  We were told in February that doctors in our location could do nothing more to help her.  She was given the choice by her oncologist to let the cancer grow and take chemotherapy after the disease had advanced as a way of “slowing the cancer down” and prolonging life.  Mom had taken this regimen of FOLFIRI and responded poorly.  It made her feel sicker than the cancer.  We left the oncologist’ office feeling down, but hopeful that our surgeon would be willing to help us by removing the tumors.

The Idaho surgeon refused to operate and refused to help us find a surgeon who would help us.  That was a sad day.

In the following weeks we were denied service by MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. – reportedly the best cancer institution in America.  Without hesitation, I called a number in our back pocket.  A Facebook comment by a long-distance friend.  We called the Moore’s Cancer Center at the University of California – San Diego.  That phone call was the first time I had hope in a long time.  Thank you, Kate.

We ended up with a phone interview with our new surgical oncologist, Dr. Joel Baumgartner, in late February.  This led to a laparoscopic procedure in San Diego in late March.  We also went to San Diego in April for a pre-operative visit.  And, finally, we are home from our May visit with the best possible news.

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Mom and her doctor.  This was taken the day following surgery.

Somehow, it’s a little hard to celebrate.  I think we are all scratching our heads thinking, “What now?”  I mean, really, just heal and hope, right?  It is a new blaring reality that mom will need follow-up visits with doctors in San Diego and we will start this in July.  It’s not over yet.  You try to keep both feet on the “miracle” side of the line, but you know there is a scan in a few short months and more San Diego.

At this point, I know two things.   There is no way to predict what will happen in the future and I am just trying to rest and breathe and lay it all at His feet.  This is so hard for me.  The second thing I know, is that it is impossible for me to thank all that need to be thanked at this point.  I must give all glory to God, because there is no way to put a name to every act of kindness that has been shown to us.

Super blessed.

Another layer to this cancer thing:  the story itself, as a whole, and the hope it provides.  If anything you see in us offers hope for you or your loved one’s cancer, know that it is God shining through us as He has offered this path for us.  It is one of the hardest, frustrating battles that we will fight, and it has taken a lot of courage on everyone’s behalf.  Getting to tell the doctor and his staff thank you for being willing to try the save my mom’s life was humbling and hard and real and it wouldn’t have happened if all of the other layers – the love of those near and far, our family and friends both new and old, the angels He has planted among us, the rejection, the open doors, the prayer, the financial support, the plane tickets…  all of God’s intricate design working together for our good.

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