The Education Of Victoria Faith


My firstborn daughter graduated yesterday, Visitors, and it rocked.

Victoria Faith was the smallest of my biological crew, weighing at at 6 lbs 12 oz. She had the biggest head of the bunch, though, and makes a habit out of apologizing to me every birthday. This running joke still cracks me up.

That head proved to be stuffed with brains, as this kid talked at about eight months, showed remarkable fine motor coordination early, and not an iota of interest in walking until she was nearly 2. Early childhood specialists know that could be cause for concern, so we had that enormous head scanned to check for problems, anomalies and incubating aliens. Nothing out of whack, just a cantaloupe held up on a fragile neck-stalk, and we had to be careful until she grew into it.

Grad Cap Fits

It normalized, eventually.

Victoria Faith was, of course, one of four reasons why I felt the burning desire to start Evergreen Academy. As most of you know, Visitors, Jefferson County Public Schools is a flaming train wreck, and is getting worse as time goes by. (More on that later)

Jeffco was in bad shape in the nineties, and I simply could not abide the idea of sacrificing my children on that particular altar. Victoria Faith was a case in point. When she was three, she had a preschool teacher that went a little overboard on phonics instruction for preschoolers. Three year olds should not have direct phonics instruction, and I was constantly correcting that particular teacher. That said, Victoria Faith made these mysterious synaptic connections, and one day when she was four, Chris caught her reading Curious George out loud to herself. Fluently. With expression.

Faith’s intellectual development proceeded by leaps and bounds after that. I knew what was going on, and as with all my kids, I handpicked their public school teachers when they entered public high school. Largely, Faith’s public school teachers were a good influence on her, and Chris and I mitigated the influence of the bad ones.

Salutatorian Faith

She rocked the Salutatorian stage.

Chris and I started saving for our children’s post-high school education after they got their Social Security numbers. (With four of them, we knew we better start early. ) When Chris died,  all of the kids really dialed in on the financial arrangements for college.  All of them could see me working hard for that goal, and were hugely appreciative when Poppa wrote the occasional check for that purpose. All of them stayed on task, but Faith’s path was the most torturous, in my opinion. THREE sections of Organic Chemistry? Organic Chemistry FaithThat says “Orgo III Reaction Guide – Wheeee!”.  (I have very sarcastic children.)

Jeep picture with Chris

Victoria Faith was about thirteen when this picture was taken. Chris was diagnosed shortly after.

Chris left us when Victoria Faith was sixteen, and that considerable brain power was knocked cleanly off the rails. Victoria Faith, like all of my children, was devastated.

I have never gotten permission from my children to detail  here what they experienced when they lost their father. Life was shattered for all of them. They loved their dad. Life, though, has this tendency to go on.

Faith End of Freshman Year

Victoria Faith struggled through her first year at DU. She made it.

Fem in Stem pic

She developed her own interests, and her own delightful friend group.

Robin and Faith

Distinctive Thesis Award -Faith

 

 

 

 

She made a wonderful, wonderful connection with this woman, Dr. Robin Tinghitella. Dr. Tinghitella  is a PH.D primary investigator at DU’s Tinghitella Lab, where like minded-scientists study rapid evolutionary change in organisms such as crickets and sticklefish. (http://mysite.du.edu/~rhibbs2/Robin_Tinghitella/Welcome_1.html) With Robin’s rigorous review, Victoria Faith earned a Distinctive UndergraduateThesis award.

All of this with me providing the most minimal, diminishing guidance. Visitors, those of you who , like me, have been visited with loss, remember the days when it seemed like nothing would ever change? Loss is here. It is defining. It rains on my days, it deepens my nights. I will not see the clear light of day anytime soon, maybe not ever.

Mom and Faith Graduation

Faith in auditorium

 

 

 

 

 

Things change, Visitors.

Things change for the better.

 

Like a friend of mine once said – “What are you going to do with it now? ”

Faith and Mom Walking

I’ll keep you posted.

Much love,

Victoria

On Weddings and Victoria’s Garden


Here’s a picture of a good friend of mine.

Rose was a beautiful baby!

Rose was a beautiful baby!

I knew Rose shortly after she was born. She came in this dress to my wedding, staged right here in 1987.

Life, Death and Sandwich Mothering


Hi gang, it’s nice to see you again. I recently made contact with my friend Bird Martin at http://everyonehasastory.me/        Bird has a heroine role in my life. When I first started blogging after my husband Chris died of colon cancer,  Bird Martin was the very first person who made any comment at all on my columns.

It was a revelation. I wasn’t just talking to myself? Egads. Someone else might actually listen, and perhaps, even, BENEFIT from what I had to say? It couldn’t be so.

But it was. Bird and I developed a rollicking friendship, culminating with a visit to Colorado. Over the past year though, life has intruded, and we had fallen out of touch. I determined (or “Purposed” in Christianspeak) to catch up on her blog, and am backtracking. (Bird, dear, I am on October 2013)

Our lives have run parallel courses, and I am wondering how many of you are walking the same road. My dad has been sick too, Bird. Last fall, he fell in his house, and wasn’t discovered for nearly a day. Up to this point, he had refused daily care, accepting only the three hour daily visit from the local Visiting Angels helping agency. My brother and I check on him daily, of course, but his fall happened after all of those ‘safety checks’ took place. Of course.

Can't put 94 candles on that!

Dad just had a birthday. Can’t put 94 candles on that!

So, we went through the tiresome process of rehab, where these sparkling new hospitals treated my father like a number, and we eventually found him a place a mere three miles from our homes, which he seems to enjoy. His intellectual abilities are slowly fading, and he needs more and more care.

It’s difficult to ‘mother’ my dad. Once again I’ve gotten some pretty solid advice from people who sit around and think about this stuff for a living. I’m told as much time as I can give him, I ‘ll be glad I did later. Those of you who’ve been with me for a while, know that at the beginning of victoriasvisits, I wrote a lot about being constantly pelted by death for about 18 months. First Chris, then my dear friend Mickey, then Emily Berkeley, Tom Seedroff, and many others. It got old.

Being around Dad sometimes has that effect. That makes me terrible, I realize. Playing cards with Dad at his new place, and wondering, “Hmm, this could be the last time I play cards with Dad.” How morbid is that? Dad is aiming for three digits, which is cool. I think it would be hilarious to have a centenarian in the family. But I keep on remembering Mom. January 7th, 2010, she gave my daughter a birthday card, told her she looked gorgeous and wished her a happy birthday. That night she blew out an artery in her brain the size of a pencil and was gone in eight minutes.

What to do, though? Not hang around Dad because he could drop at any second? Hell’s bells, he coined that one. “Kids, I have one foot in the grave already, so be aware!” Got it, Dad.

Nope, not an option. I muster up the strength, drive over there, play cards, eat cake, and drop off Engstroms Toffee beside his bed. (He forgets I bring it to him, so his care provider and I joke that he must think the Candy Fairy comes from time to time.)

In the mean time, get a load of this bunch.

Aroo! Down we go!

Aroo! Down we go!

The Lierheimer gang at Vail. Where did these adults come from?

The Lierheimer gang at Vail. Where did these adults come from?

Chris and I used to joke that we’d be poor in our dotage, but we’d have a great bunch of little powderhounds. It’s true! The bigger kids all had spring break at the same time, so they came back from their various colleges and we took off to Vail for a few days.

Chris and I were a great parenting team. Boy, do I wish he were around for this one. See, we believed very much in the power of habits, and repeated activities simply being normal. So, we committed that each kid would get ten years of concentrated ski instruction. (Nothing too intense, Copper has an 8 week program we did for years, then extra family days, of course)

The point being, that when they were done with that, each kid could ski anything on the mountain. Then, when they start to scatter and live their lives, as they are beginning to do, the thought process would go something like this:

“Hmm, what to do with my two weeks paid this year? Huh, a few days in Colorado skiing with the sibs? Sure! Sounds like a blast!” Mothering these kids through this and various other transitions to adulthood takes a lot of intentionality.

Planning to see my increasingly childlike dad is also quite a trip. But right now? I think I’m good with it.

What do you folks think? Sign in below if you’re a sandwich mom or dad, let’s hear your stories.

Much love,

Victoria

Faces of Love: The Unlikely Joy of Peter Wiebe


Love: The Blessing and the Curse

Jesse 2010 - 2011 225To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.

Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

C.S. Lewis. (Isn’t that true? And so terrifying. To love anyone is to risk having your heart shredded.) 

It’s nice to see you, fellow Visitors. During the Sabbatical in a Teacup I mentioned to you that I had met some remarkable people in this oddly wonderful blogging community. I’d like to introduce you to one that I met a while ago, a gentleman named Peter Wiebe, who writes thresholdofheaven.com.

Peter lost his oldest son Jesse to a rare form of childhood leukemia on May 11, 2011.

Peter’s blog is a chronicle of thoughts and actions during his son’s journey to heaven. Peter is a dedicated Christian, and, like me, has had his faith sorely tried over the past stretch of time.

Valentine’s day is coming, it will be my third without my lover and best friend,Chris Lierheimer. Chris was a generous mark for all the Hallmark holidays, he just loved to give cards, candy, flowers, dinners, all the trappings.

I was often too distracted to make much of this sort of thing, which generally led to a lot of frantic night-before shopping and planning. I was just glad to have my loved ones around me, and to make sure he got his special grilled steak. (And, usually something else from my namesake Victoria’s Secret, since he’s been such a good boy.)

I’ve actually been gathering the strength to look at pictures this year.  The one in the previous entry is one of my favorites. My mom was a stunning woman her whole life, and this morning, before I went to work, I studied a series of pictures we had taken of Mom and Dad on their 60th wedding anniversary.

Bent and stooped, graying, they both had the goofy smiles of their youth, and their love for family and each other radiated from the picture.

When Peter posted this shot on the fourth, it took my breath away. Study it with me for a minute, will you? Jesse’s departure seems imminent. He can’t eat, thus the nasogastric tube. His body seems almost transparent. Frail, like that of a cocoon about to be shed.

Peter is vigorous, with good color and strong hands. Only in his eyes do you see the pain of a parent about to lose his firstborn son. Go to the blog now-thresholdofheaven.com- and read a remarkable story of redemption and love between this father and son.

I have found that people often avoid cancer blogs. No one likes to be reminded of their mortality, especially if one’s views of the afterlife are uncertain. Peter, like those of us who lay claim to the promises of Jesus Christ, looks forward to the day when he will see Jesse whole again.

But today is really all we have. Jesus doesn’t promise us tomorrow, only that we will be with him in Paradise. So what shall we do? Where shall we go? Shall we insulate our hearts, wrap them in airless containers to harden and fossilize? Or shall we be like Peter, and love extravagantly? Peter and his lovely wife poured their hearts into Jesse’s journey, and were broken for their faith.

But what else to do? When you love a child, a woman, or even an animal, it’s an extension of your own heart. The rewards are tremendous, and the risks, commensurate.

I have a series of pictures I would like you to see over the next few weeks, fellow Visitors. I call them the “Faces of Love”. They are from fellow travelers, and cover a different kind of landscape. One that I think you all will find just as beautiful and heartwrenching as any other landscape on the planet.

Much love,

Victoria

PS- Let me remind you to the introductions so far:

Everyone has a Story – birdmartin.wordpress.com.

Evan Sanders at thebettermanprojects.com

and finally Peter Wiebe at thresholdofheaven.com

Love, Death, and Everything In Between That I Call Mine


Evergreen Children’s Chorale is having their spring show season starting on Thursday, April 26 at Center Stage. It’s an eight show run, and these kids are pros. I’m sitting here in the darkened back row, watching the final set, and it is just overwhelming.   Does that type of thing ever hit you folks sometimes? Nearly sixty kids, singing and dancing their hearts out. Gorgeous little faces belting out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, it just makes you want to weep with joy.

I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that each of us has a broken piece of mirror that reflects the face of God. Nowhere is that more true than in the faces of  hardworking, talented, singing children.

I wonder sometimes about the way things work out. What gifts we get from our Heavenly Father, who loves us more than anything. Here’s one-

Christopher, number one son, was six months old, then, POW, he was twenty. Amazing!

Here’s another:

Sixty one years ago this beautiful woman met my dad. They invented The Denver Hydrocephalus  Shunt, and saved thousands of lives. This January, she went to be with her creator.

Somewhere, I know Chris is doing something like this. I would never want him back, because I know he’s so much better now.

I don’t weep for him anymore. I weep for a future I can’t quite  see. Perhaps someday.

Sixty years ago men like my dad made a world of difference. I pray we still have men of courage, “Men with stout hearts” like we did then. Men who went to war, men who served, brave men who sacrificed their time, money and considerable energy to right wrongs and make the world better. Even in the little things, men who do the right thing, just because.

When beauty had faded, and accomplishments dimmed, men and women stayed together because they were fond of each other. Sometimes it still seems like Mom’s around.

And now, today. I, the widow, and my dad, the widower, get to sit beside the fire and have tea. What a gift.

Much love,

Victoria

Author’s note: the photo credits all belong to Christopher Lierheimer. Watch this kid, you can find more of his work on Facebook. He’s getting better.

Thanks,Dad! Veteran’s Day, 11/11/11


Navy Lieutenant Jack Newkirk, the Admiralty Islands, 1944

I believe I learned what the term ‘degaussing’ meant way before I learned barely any childish vocabulary at all.

In 1944, my father, John Newkirk, was 24 years old. Nearly five years previous,at age 19, he had  completed an epic Harley ride across the country, riding his 1930 Harley Davidson VL Big Twin  30V8229C. He went from the 1939 world’s fair in New York to the 1939  World’s Fair in San Francisco.  This unique journey was chronicled in my brother John Newkirk’s  inspirational biography The Old Man and The Harley. (Thomas Nelson, 2008) 

After that remarkable ride, he went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and graduated with a degree in metallurgical engineering in 1941.

(I’ll hawk my brother’s wares any day. Get the book. It’s on Amazon, and is a wonderful, uplifting read with terrific photo essays. )

Dad decided to join the Navy, and was ranked a lieutenant almost immediately because of his degree. He had many jobs that I really wonder if 24 year olds are brave enough now to undertake.   I think the most interesting one was his job leading a degaussing crew in the South Pacific. To save your curiosity, here is what it means

de·gauss http://img.tfd.com/m/sound.swf (d-gous)

tr.v. de·gaussedde·gauss·ingde·gauss·es

1. To neutralize the magnetic field of (a ship, for example).

Dad’s technical background, water skills, weapons expertise and physical fitness qualified him for a position in an elite Naval Diving Unit in San Francisco Bay. Part of his training there including degaussing.

Our naval vessels at the time were ferrous, or mainly iron. Iron has a magnetic field,  and iron ships act like a giant magnet. Our German enemies ingeniously developed mines that would be attracted to iron objects, or at least have triggers that would detonate these bombs if something iron passed nearby. Here is a picture of a trigger that was removed from this bomb.

                     
Now, I’d encourage you to stay with me, because this is actually pretty interesting stuff. Refer to a website called  eaglespeak.us, a fascinating site that has all to do with ship history, for more details.
 At the start of WWII, the Germans developed a this kind of  magnetic trigger for mines- one based on the mine’s sensitivity to the magnetic field of a ship passing nearby. (The trigger is the first picture, the mechanical looking device)  The design of such mines fortuitously fell into British hands, allowing them to develop countermeasures for such mines:

The British experienced a stroke of luck in November 1939. A German mine (you see that in the segmented black eggshaped object) was dropped from an aircraft onto the mud flats of the Thames estuary during low tide. As if this was not sufficiently good fortune, the land belonged to the army, and a base with men and workshops was at hand. Experts were dispatched from London to investigate the mine. They had some idea that the mines used magnetic sensors, so everyone removed all metal, including their buttons, and made tools out of non-magnetic brass. They disarmed the mine and rushed it to labs at Portsmouth, where scientists discovered a new type of arming mechanism.-eaglespeak.us (How lucky was that? And how brilliant?) 

So, if we understand that a ship is basically a giant magnet, then we can more easily imagine that the trigger would be set to a unit of measure called the ‘milligaus’. Gauss is a measurement of the strength of the magnetic field; the ship would concentrate the field at that point. The mine’s detector was designed to go off at the mid point of the ship passing overhead. How brutal.
Now, before we go on with the lecture, just picture that for a minute. In World War Two, our navy had ships of all kinds. Relatively little ones, with names like ‘escorts,’ ‘frigates’, or ‘corvettes.’ These were of the two thousand to five thousand ton variety. Lightly armed, they were maneuverable and fast.
The broad category of  enormous warships includes battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and submarines — all of which saw active service against enemy craft during World War II. These ships were among the most enormous of the time, often in the eighty to ninety thousand ton displacement category.
Both of these categories of ships, and everything in between, were costly assets for the navy, and damage or destruction of these things could heavily influence the war.
Picture being an active duty sailor on a mission. You are innocently escorting a destroyer when your world is obliterated. Your escort has passed over several of these mines, and they have exploded as your ship crossed them.
You can now see the importance of degaussers.
Dad likes to call his time in the South Pacific things like “a cake walk”, or ” time in a country club.” Typical of the greatest generation, they like to minimize their accomplishments. I have found that the most interesting people are always more than they appear to be.
The picture you see here is Dad in the Admiralty Islands, a group of eighteen landmasses and atolls in the South Pacific, north of Papua New Guina and the Solomon islands. Manus island was the largest. A shallow channel separated Manus from it’s nearest neighbor, Los Negros. Together they formed Seeadler Harbor, where countless ships were demagnetized, or degaussed.

Dad wasn’t shot at, and never really feared for his life in the most immediate sense. But in a very real way, he and his crew saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers who manned these ships, by demagnetizing  them and keeping them from blowing up. Remarkable.

Dad on Manus Island. With a mustache never seen before or since!
Dad Returning to the Admiralty Islands, Fifty Years Later
I wish I could say I had the same faith in our young men now as I did then. I am afraid for this generation. Afraid for their sense of justice, and their sense of selflessness. The young men of World War Two had a clear sense of right and wrong, and didn’t hesitate to risk their lives to preserve it. I don’t see the same sense of manliness, the same sense of respect for women, or the same desire to protect the weak and the powerless. I see men more entitled, men used to the gratification of the now.
I have a man in my house, next February Christopher will turn 20. I think, and this is just a guess, but I think that Chris and I did our part with Christopher. Generally, he is a young man with a sense of right and wrong, and a sturdy respect for women. He is careful with other lives that are less powerful than his, you can see this in his gentleness with small children and animals. He stands up for his convictions, but gives mercy and grace when needed. He is interested in pleasing God and his important adults, and finding his place in the world.
Perhaps there are more like him, perhaps they are even in the Navy. I hope so, as history tends to repeat itself, and we will surely need them.
Much love,
Victoria