Okay – so where to I start???

Where on earth did this summer go???  My brain seems to have gotten away from me since May 1 – I’m not sure where to begin with the various updates…

Well.  I suppose I’ll start with the story of a Hero.

Once upon a time, my Mom’s sister Mary gave birth to a bouncing baby boy that she named Christopher.  Christopher, or Chris as most people called him, grew up to be a dashing, brave and selfless man.  A modern day knight in shining armor.  Chris became a Chicago firefighter.

My cousin Chris was killed in a restaurant fire on Chicago’s west side in the early morning hours of August 9th.  He was 31 years old.  To say he was an inspirational person is a grave understatement.  Being that this particular side of my extended family is quite large….  (A-hem.  Extensive to say the least…)  I can’t say I was as close to Chris and Kim as we should or could have been growing up – but I wish I had been.  What I’ve learned about my cousin in the past couple of weeks is nothing short of astounding.  Eye opening.  Inspirational.  Amazing.  He was a paramedic, a fireman; he taught emergency medical response at the University of Chicago hospital; worked with neighborhood kids to get them off drugs; he traveled around the country to teach at other fire stations and hospitals.  He was light-hearted, but full-hearted; with a smile so many people commented on throughout the events of those long, hot and heart wrenching days.  Firemen – and in this case, Chris – put their lives on the line every single day.  They sacrifice their own lives for the lives of others.  Unfortunately, sometimes accidents happen – and unfortunately, this time the accident involved my cousin, Chris Wheatley.

Chris was the first fireman to die in the line of duty since 2007.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with such a public funeral – but what took place was something I could have never envisioned.

They buried my cousin with full honors.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor by the International Association of Fire Fighters.  The mayor of Chicago spoke at his funeral, and the governor of Illinois came to his wake.  Chris’s casket was saluted by literally thousands of firefighters in a final farewell.  Military jets flew overhead at the cemetery, falling into the missing man formation. Bag pipes played solemnly at every stop in the funerary procession. Citizens of Chicago’s south side lined the streets from the funeral home to the church, then again from the church to the cemetery.  They held flags and signs.  Saluted or put their hands over their hearts.  Children wore their toy fire helmets and sat on the curb in toy fire engines.

You don’t know how hard it is to listen to bag pipes when you’re burying the family member they’re playing for.  Lord have mercy. I think this was the most difficult funeral I’ve ever been to.

For some amazing photos from Chris’s wake and funeral, see this link here *and* this link here.

I drove from western Montana to Chicago for Chris’s funeral.  I drove there to support my Aunt, my cousin Kim (his sister), and my uncle Danny.  I drove to Chicago to be with my (extremely large) extended family to lay to rest one of the most amazing souls to have graced this earth.

I drove because I had a brand new car that would make it the 3500 miles round trip.  I drove because I needed a break from reality.  I drove because airplane tickets were $1200!

I drove The Suby:


This is the replacement for my old squeaky, creeky Jeep Cherokee.  It’s a 2008 Subaru Outback PZEV (which stands for Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle).  I haven’t owned a nice, relatively new vehicle in many, many years.  The last new vehicle I had was a Dodge Dakota that I crashed into the front end of an oncoming 18-wheeler, while skidding on black ice with.  Needless to say the truck was totaled.

But the squeaky, creeky Jeep finally gave up the ghost after hauling a pile of people fly fishing about three weeks ago.  I got it for free about 5 years ago – so I can’t complain.  It was a good little Jeep.  And luckily my fly fishing visitors and I made it back to town without incident – but it was clear the Jeep’s days were numbered.  So on a bright and sunny Saturday morning, I walked into the local Subaru dealer and signed up for indentured servitude.

I am now, officially, in debt.

Not wild about the indentured servitude, but I am happy that I have a safe, reliable car that will hopefully be with me for many years.  The Jeep was 15 when it was put out to pasture.  So I should be able to keep Suby Snowflake for a good 13 years or more.

So let’s see…  what else?

Well, LLM sold the homestead.  It’s still “The Sanctuary” until May 1st when he turns over possession of the place to the new owners.  He somehow worked this deal where they closed on the place a few weeks ago – the new owners are paying the mortgage – but they don’t take official possession of the house and land until May 1, 2011.  So LLM gets about 8 months of free rent before he has to figure out what to do with himself.

But he’s been logging up in NW Montana – chopper logging and cutting some really big wood – so he’s been in a much better mood lately.  I’m very grateful for that.  His mind is free.

Since he’s been logging out of town (aka: timber tramping), the chickens were fostered out to a guy LLM knows.  So they’re living the high life, squirting out eggs, eating watermelon…  It’s like a “chicken bed and breakfast” over there.  We went to visit the chickens on Sunday.

Summer’s been awfully mild.  It’ll get hot for a couple of days, then cool off for a few.  We’ve received intermittent rain all summer long, which has helped tremendously with the fire season… or lack there of.

Looks like I’ll be doing quite a bit of traveling over the next few months.  I just got back from Chicago – and while I was there I visited friends and family, went to my favorite neighborhood in the City for dinner, toured a Hindu temple in the suburbs.

Next I’ll be heading off to Salt Lake City and Snowbird Ski Resort in about four weeks, then off to Maine and northern New York in October.  December will have me back in Chicago for a holiday visit (since I stayed home last year), and January I’ll be traveling to Tennessee for work.  In between those trips I’ll be continuing to can veggies and chicken, grinding flour for home baked bread, and following LLM over hill and over dale in search of the elusive Wapati later this Fall.  Then crossing my fingers for a good local ski season and copious piles of snow until Spring peaks out in early May.  Once January hits, my schedule seems to slow down tremendously.

Well…  This post is getting pretty long, so I’ll cover the summer gardening update and food preservation news in a separate post in the next day or two.

In the meantime, there’s a spectacular sunset that’s calling my name.  The evening sun is glowing orange on the trees.

Categories: Chickens, Debt, Food Storage, Misc Musings, Property Hunt | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Okay – so where to I start???

  1. Lanie Alexandria Costeas

    Awesome writing Robin. Your words about Chris had me in tears. It was fantastic seeing you while you were in town. I am grateful. It is great to hear that LLM is in better spirits these days. My mom stole your pear honey!!!! She fell in love with it. Keep canning and tending to those cluckers! ❤ Love the girl who has no idea what a squash looks like also known as the girl with the worst melons ever!!! LOL!!!! (Goes to show you can move the city girl to the small town but you can not take the city out of the girl!!!! Love you!!!! This blog is seriously fantastic!

  2. mary

    This is so beautiful – THANK YOU! I am so happy that I wrote to you about the juicing and found your blog and read this beautiful commentary on your experience when we lost Chris. I am forever blessed and will never forget you, your Dad and Dawn sitting in the lobby of Blake Lamb there – together – to honor Chris. I love you all and will forever be so grateful of your kindness, concern and love, We are a family who cares for each other and know that we all ARE family. I am so proud to say that I am your Aunt.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it Aunt Mary. 🙂 Chris was a truly amazing man… you have SO many reasons to be proud. ❤

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