Sunday, June 30, 2019

An Arm Lost but Not Hope


Much has happened since I last wrote, as is becoming the norm. In fact, so much has happened, I don’t think I can even summarize it. I don’t even plan to; my goal with this post is to briefly recall the accounts of Friday, June 14th: the night my wife lost her right arm to a lawnmower.

I had gotten home from work at 5pm, which is unusually early for Summer when air conditioning work picks up but it had been a cool, breezy day with rain on the forecast. There had been a lot of rain this Spring and I was finding it difficult to keep up with the mowing around the farm that Heidi and I were renting. More like house-sitting; the grand old farmhouse and surrounding barns were worth more than what we were paying in rent. Along with paying a small monthly stipend, I was responsible for snow removal and lawn mowing. A large 62”-deck zero-turn riding mower was provided and it took roughly 5 hours to get the lawns looking nice and clean again. Because it had rained for nearly two weeks straight, I would attempt to mow in between cloudbursts. My landlords Kenny and Mary Beth would stop in to mow as well; it was truly a group effort to combat the teeming lawns. I was glad for the cool weather and rains; work was a little bit slower and it allowed me to get home early and spend a little extra time with my wife and sons. Canon, our second son, was fresh from the hospital. Arriving three weeks before his due date, Heidi had given birth to Canon by a traumatic c-section. The surgery itself had gone without a hitch, but we had hoped to give birth to him naturally so it was our emotions that were traumatized. Heidi greeted me at the door when I arrived home and said “Excellent timing! You can get some mowing done before it rains!” Her grin was full of energy that I didn’t feel myself. “Uhhhhghghghghghg” I exclaimed, trying to invent an excuse to get out of mowing. It was a Friday night and I just wanted to be lazy. But Heidi declared that the mowing needed to be done before Mary Beth came swooping in to help us out again. “It’s our responsibility; let’s do it.” She said. 

I headed out to the barn that housed the lawnmowers and found not just one but two zero-turn mowers sitting inside. The mower I normally used was sitting there beside an older, slightly smaller model of the same lawnmower. I raced back into the house. “Hey honey, you wanna be my mowing buddy? There’s a second mower! Come on out and help me.” Heidi was excited about it and started strapping Canon into a chest carrier. “No, he’s asleep. Leave him inside and come out with me!” I said. I had Owen sitting on my lap. He’s mowed with me before and behaves quite nicely for a 16-month old; sitting very still with big, comfy earmuffs clamped over his ears. Owen enjoyed mowing with his daddy. Heidi didn’t want to leave Canon alone in the house while we swooped around on noisy mowers, so she brought him along. I started up her lawnmower and showed her how to operate the controls. “Have you driven one of these before?” I asked her. “Yeah, once I think.” She replied. Her reply didn’t assure me that she knew what she was up against; these mowers operate differently than other mowers. The brand is Walker. I’ve waited to share that information until now, because many people aren’t familiar with the brand. Often when people hear “Walker mower”, their brains envision a push mower that you walk behind. Not so. Walker mowers are common around our area and are known to be high-quality zero-turn riding mowers that leave your lawn looking like the 17th fairway of a golf course. I had grown up using both my grandpa’s and father’s Walker lawnmowers and was intimately familiar with how they operated. One of their features is that the same levers that move the lawnmower forward also turn and reverse the lawnmower, depending on how they’re pulled. Pull the left directional lever toward yourself, the mower turns left. Pull the right, it turns right. Pull both together and the mower reverses. The faster you’re going forward, the more abruptly the lawnmower jerks to a stop and tries to reverse. The lawnmower’s speed is controlled by a throttle lever which is operated by the right hand. The left hand holds on to the two directional levers. To reverse, one would normally bring the throttle back all the way and then reverse using the directional levers. The mower is designed with the cutting deck in the front. This way, the mower can quickly and easily mow around trees, bushes, and other obstacles. Heidi hopped on her lawnmower and was soon dashing around the property mowing like a champ. We mowed sections together so I could keep an eye on her. Several times, Heidi yanked the mower into reverse too quickly, which caused her mower to buck. I stopped her and told her that she couldn’t do that; my stern, worried glare bouncing off her infectious grin. She was having way too much fun to be intimidated by a jerky little lawnmower. “Okay!” She hollered. “I’ll be careful!” And she was. She quickly got the hang of the mower’s behavior and began to mow like a seasoned champ. Canon slept peacefully on her chest as we raced hither and yon. 

The wind was picking up as the sun began to set. It was nearing 7:30pm and I was ready to call it a day. We were almost finished with the yards; there were two left. I decided to call it quits after the lawn that we were working on, which was a hilly section behind one of the barns. I was mowing behind one of the barns and came back around the corner of the building to find my wife underneath her mower. 

My heart stopped.

I killed the blades on my mower and deposited Owen on the ground.

I ran.

Heidi was screaming; her right arm was shattered, torn, and mangled. The hand was untouched, attached to the rest of the arm by skin and ligaments. She was laying on her stomach in a growing pool of blood. The lawnmower was still trying to push her down a hill but the blades were stopped. I pushed the throttle back to its stop so that the mower would stop pushing Heidi. The mower deck was on her back, so I lifted it and pushed against the mower to try backing it up the hill. My wife was screaming for me to get Canon; she had fallen on top of him and he had gone silent for a moment. She was afraid that she killed him. I pushed the mower off Heidi and reached for Canon. He was screaming, the breath returning to him after it was knocked out of his lungs. I pulled him out of the chest carrier. The legs of his little blue onesie were soaked crimson with blood. I had no phone with me and I remembered that Heidi’s phone was inside. I screamed for Heidi to stay with me, please Oh God just stay with me as I ran back to the house. I grabbed her phone and dialed 911, blubbering and sobbing to the dispatcher that my wife had been in an accident. I was still gripping Canon, who was shouting and crying. The dispatcher heard me blubber “lawnmower accident” and “blood” and heard the baby crying, so she sent every available emergency response unit within a 10-mile radius. I ran back to Heidi but my call with 911 dropped due to poor cell service in that section of the yard. I managed to get a bar of service and call back. I was quickly transferred to the dispatcher that I had been talking with, who calmly helped me apply a clean cloth to Heidi’s bleeding shoulder. I had removed my belt in case I needed to make a tourniquet, but the dispatcher told me to hold off; since paramedics were on the way. Heidi was calming me down at this point, telling me that everything was going to be okay. I was in hysterics, bawling and sobbing and screaming. I had prided myself in times past for keeping a cool head under duress, but I found myself overwhelmed with the sense that I was losing my wife. She was very white but still conscious. “Check on Canon, please,” She said.

I ran over to where I had set Canon down in the grass in order to try reconnecting with the 911 dispatcher. Canon was squalling and all four limbs were moving. I pulled open his onesie and found no scratch on his body. The blood on his onesie was from Heidi. 

My landlords Kenny and Mary Beth arrived first. They had been close by and heard the call go out over emergency frequencies. Kenny is a firefighter and once he heard the familiar address, he came immediately. He found us in the yard far from the driveway and was able to direct the ambulance and first responders to our location. The first responders checked Canon and determined he was in good shape, but recommended that I take him to the hospital for further evaluation. A paramedic placed a tourniquet on Heidi’s right shoulder and, once I thought it was tight, cinched it two twists further. Heidi screamed and screamed. I was grateful I had not tried to rig a tourniquet by myself, because mine would have been far too loose to do any good. A paramedic asked me if I’d like Heidi transported by helicopter or ambulance. 

“Which do you recommend?” I asked him. 

“Fastest way possible.” He replied. 

“Air Care, please.” I said. 

As it turns out, the ambulance was faster. Heidi would have to be stabilized before she could be transported by helicopter, so the paramedics opted for ambulance. It was a short trip to the University Hospital; roughly 20 minutes if you have to obey traffic signs and speed limits. The Air Care helicopter circled the field next to our home and left without landing. 

Neighbors showed up to take care of the boys. Canon was still softly crying but was warm and cozy in the arms of one woman. Owen, who had contented himself to play in the yard with his large earmuffs on, was oblivious during the screaming. Heidi told me later that when I had run into the house, Owen had come over to her and she was afraid that he would see her mangled arm. “I wasn’t able to hide it,” she sobbed to me as she recounted “I prayed,  ‘Jesus, shield his eyes.’” Her prayer answered, Owen was more interested in her lawnmower, and he had crawled over to inspect it. Now with flashing lights and nearly 20 people in the yard, Owen was getting very sleepy. I carried him into the house as Heidi was being loaded into the ambulance. I set him down in his crib to go to sleep. Some friends of ours had arrived and stayed by his crib, singing to him and reading stories to him. I collected a few things for Canon and hopped in my dad’s waiting van to be taken to the hospital. I had felt that I would be able to drive myself but the paramedics told me I was not allowed to drive myself to the hospital. On the way, I was grateful for their refusal as my adrenaline gave out and I was completely sapped of strength. Once arriving at the emergency room, Canon was checked quickly and thoroughly. The waiting room in the ER was three-quarters full but a one-month old baby with bloodstains on his clothing takes absolute precedence. The patients waiting in the ER lobby didn’t seem upset by the cut in line; in fact, they hushed almost reverently. Doctors quickly surmised that Canon was in good shape. He was hungry and alert and all his limbs were moving. There was no swelling or bruising; Heidi’s padded baby carrier had protected him. 

In the haze of the moment, I couldn’t figure out how Heidi had gotten hurt. Had she fallen and gotten hit by a blade as it was slowing down? Surely the mower was off; but why was it still trying to move when I got to her? So many strange things were unanswered and confusing to me. After all, there’s a disconnect safety in these lawnmowers that kills the engine and mower blades as soon as the rider gets off the seat. Was Heidi still in the seat when her arm got caught? I couldn’t see how that was possible. My father-in-law Alan examined the mower and discovered the answer; the seat safety had been disabled. No one has come forward and admitted to disabling the safety, but it’s a common practice.  Heidi was coming down a short hill and wanted to slow down. Rather than slowing down with the throttle, she instinctively jerked back on the directional levers, which caused the lawnmower to buck her off in front of it. Instead of stopping immediately when Heidi was bucked off, the lawnmower continued to drive and mow on its own. The lawnmower pushed her down the rest of the short hill and across a gravel drive; a total distance of 45 feet. She had been on her back for the majority of the bulldozing, but as the lawnmower started pushing up onto her, she had reached her right arm up to shield Canon from the mower. The still-whipping mower blades hit her right elbow. The jolt of the blade hitting her bone is what broke the shear pin; a pin that sacrifices itself and stops the blades in order to prevent the mower blade gears from grinding when something hard is struck. The mower, still pushing, rolled Heidi over onto her stomach. Her right arm was outside of the lawnmower when I reached her, but her back and left arm were obscured underneath the mower deck. As I moved the lawnmower back, I could see pieces of bone, tendon and ligament scattered on the ground underneath the mower. Heidi’s right arm had deep gashes all the way to the top of the shoulder, but the worst of the damage was at the elbow, where no bones remained. The skin on her forearm was torn into ribbons but was still holding what was left of her arm to her shoulder. In the moment, as I watched the tourniquet get applied and the deep gashes up the bicep, I was certain that Heidi would have to get amputated at the shoulder. 

Heidi’s parents had been alerted that there was a terrible accident and met me at the hospital. Once Canon was cleared, we journeyed to find Heidi. I was asked to fill out some paperwork. Was I aware that Heidi’s arm was in poor shape? Yes. Was I aware that it may need to be amputated? Yes. The aides with the paperwork told me that Heidi’s hand was in good shape and could be eligible for a foreshortening procedure; that is, they would preserve the hand and reattach it higher up on the arm. But the final decision would be up to the head surgeon, a Dr. Buckwalter. I was allowed to see Heidi before she was wheeled into surgery. A small row of staples had been placed in her head where a small gash had been found. She was heavily sedated but was actively fighting the drugs and trying to come up out of her sedation, her mothering instincts still firing on all cylinders. She was not able to respond to my voice, but Heidi and I have a little squeeze that we give each other; the first person squeezes three times to signal “I love you” and the second person responds by squeezing twice, signaling “you too”. When I squeezed Heidi’s left hand three times, she squeezed back twice immediately. I burst into tears again. Shortly, Heidi was wheeled toward the operating room.
Heidi’s parents, Alan and Jean, stayed with me in the waiting room, along with my pastor Floyd and his wife Elaine, my friend Ryan, my sisters Shelley and Sheryl, and my parents Barry and Debby. Other friends stopped in to pray and to cry. One friend prayed specifically against trauma in my mind, against nightmares and flashbacks of the accident. He asked the Father to show me where He was during the accident. Immediately in my mind I saw myself running toward Heidi under the lawnmower, but this time there were two massive angels flanking me, and they were the ones that helped me not only lift the lawnmower, but push it uphill off of Heidi. A third angel was on the ground under the lawnmower, arms and wings wrapped protectively around Heidi and Canon.

An hour and a half after Heidi was wheeled into surgery, Dr. Buckwalter emerged from the operating room. He was a kind man in his late 30’s or early 40’s with what looked like two pounds of soft curly hair tucked into a massive surgeon’s cap in the shape of a portabella mushroom. He walked over to me and sat down on the only chair left in the waiting room; a little plastic toddler seat. “I’m going to be really honest with you, Shawn. Your wife Heidi has just undergone a life-altering experience,” He said kindly and softly. “I took a look at her arm and made the decision to amputate at the middle of her bicep,” He described as he drew a line with his hand through his own bicep. “There really just wasn’t enough structure left for us to rebuild her arm. I hate that we have to meet under these circumstances. I would never wish to have this happen. But your wife is going to be okay. She’s going to be just fine.” After hours of not knowing what was going to happen to my wife, Dr. Buckwalter’s words were like cool, refreshing dew. He didn’t mince words but was open and frank. He answered all my questions. 

Would Heidi’s balance while walking be affected?
No, not really. 

I thought maybe the shoulder would have to be amputated?
No, the shoulder is in good shape and we just had to stitch the skin in a few places. Her shoulder has full range of motion and should make a nice recovery. 

Dr. Buckwalter described how he had tagged each of Heidi’s nerves and folded them into the stump, for later retrieval if needed. He pinched off the arteries and cut the stump so that he could stitch it all up. In his opinion, the stump would make an excellent base for a prosthetic, if we chose to go that route. He recommended we pursue a prosthetic immediately once the swelling reduced, to give Heidi the best chance to acclimate to it. In his view, those patients that adjusted to life without a limb had a tougher time getting used to a prosthetic later, versus those patients that started living with a prosthetic immediately. He repeated the phrase “life-altering” a few more times, and I replied “but it’s not life-ending, is it?” to which he responded with a grin, “No, not at all.”

It took another hour for Heidi to come up out of the general anesthesia. Once she awoke, I was escorted to her bedside. I saw the bandaged stump and her groggy face and once again wept. But these tears were different; I was so glad she was okay. Heidi lifted her face toward me, still hazy from anesthetics. Her first words to me were "I'm sorry I lost my arm."

Heidi was surrounded by absolute angels during her three-day stay at the hospital. There were countless nurses with hearts of gold. Several of them donated breast milk to Heidi for Canon. Heidi’s mom Jean kept Canon and stayed overnight to let Heidi be near to him as I went home in the evenings to be with Owen. Dozens of family and friends visited and left us with gifts, flowers, words of life, and their prayers. Many came to encourage Heidi and left more encouraged by Heidi than when they arrived. But Heidi has that effect; she is a beam of pure light from the Father.
Heidi rated her pain as a 10 out of 10, which raised the hair on the back of my neck because she rated her terribly difficult labor and delivery of Owen as a 9 out of 10. “I would gladly give birth to both of my children again instead of this pain,” Heidi said one day through the haze of multiple painkillers, “but I would give my arm up again in an instant to save my baby.”

On our third day in the hospital, Heidi walked with me to a rooftop terrace to get some fresh air. The outdoor terrace was attached to an atrium that had a baby grand piano sitting in it. Heidi sat down and played with her left hand. We both cried. 

Heidi was released from the hospital as soon as she was able to manage her pain with oral medications. She has been faithfully taking those medications but the pain has persisted. Heidi experiences a great deal of phantom pain; pain felt in her hand and wrist that are no longer there. At times, she describes that her right hand feels as if it had been dipped in boiling tar. At other times, it feels as if her hand is caught in a gear, grinding and tearing her nonexistent fingers. At various times Heidi would scratch my right hand to satisfy an itch in her missing right hand. Heidi is taking the maximum dose of several high-power drugs, including a narcotic, which the doctors are monitoring closely and the pharmacists worry about incessantly. I asked one pharmacist if Heidi runs the risk of addiction to the narcotic, and she replied that addictions form when using narcotics for chronic pain rather than using them for temporary pain, like from an amputation or surgery. Dr. Buckwalter is confident that Heidi’s pain will reduce over time, although he mentioned that 25% of amputees suffer debilitating phantom pain, 25% feel nearly none at all, and the remaining 50% span the full spectrum between the two ends. In time, we’ll know where Heidi lies on that spectrum, but we pray that the phantom pain will subside and leave her at peace. 

Last week, we moved from the farmhouse rental to the home that we plan to raise our family in. We love it here, at the House on the Hill, but rebuilding Heidi’s life still looks daunting at times. We take each day, one at a time. I was fortunate enough to take two weeks off work to tend to Heidi. Mama Jean and my mom Debby have been close by to help with children and love on us. Church friends have brought meals in abundance. Heidi’s cousin Jennifer has stopped in each morning to help Heidi fix her hair. Heidi’s cousin Ashley came from South Carolina to spend a week with us and take care of Heidi. My sister Shannon took good care of Owen and my brother-in-law Randy helped me move several truckloads of our possessions to our new home. We have been completely overwhelmed with the love and outpouring of prayers, finances, gifts, and sympathies of hundreds of people all over the world. We are loved, and we love you all in return. Please continue to pray. Heidi is strong-willed and a fierce warrior, but this valley is very dark. Heidi has spent time each morning intentionally engaging in worship, by singing or listening to worship songs. At times Heidi has had friends come to help her worship. This has boosted our hearts considerably. God is still on the throne, still sovereign, still good. "Jesus is going to receive so much glory through this," Heidi says, tears in her eyes. 

In Jesus' name, let it be so.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Graber Christmas Letter 2018


A warm, cheerful, heartfelt and tardy ‘Merry Christmas’ from my family to yours! Also, I extend our wishes that your New Year is filled with all of the very best blessings, including finances and health and laughter. My New Years’ blessing might be tardy too, depending on which day you read this.

Heidi and I would have loved to send you a personal Christmas card, but we didn’t set aside enough time to get it done. So here is our Christmas card! You can print this photo out and hang it on your refrigerator. 
 Merry Christmas from Shawn (353 months), 
Heidi ([redacted] months), and Owen (11 months). 




 Photo credit: Lynda Halteman

Much has happened this last year in the Graber household, and I’ll try to briefly highlight some of the events of the past 12 months. I’m having a hard time concentrating, because my wife is still cackling about the thought of me describing anything “briefly”. 

On the last day of January, my wife started having contractions. We were two weeks earlier than our due date and had recently returned from a lovely “babymoon” getaway. Owen took 24 hours to arrive and was born February 1st

On February 16th, we took Owen home from the hospital. He was having difficulties breathing when he was born, so he spent his first two weeks in the NICU. We are so grateful for all the prayers, love, and money that were poured over Heidi and I during that stressful time. Owen is now chipper and lively and makes horses look sickly in comparison.



In March, I took Heidi to the hospital. She was suffering from intense abdominal pain, which turned out to be a gallstone stuck in her bile duct. The gallstone was removed, but bile had backed up into her pancreas. Gallstones are fairly common, but Heidi’s case had advanced into the very-rare-and-sometimes-fatal Necrotizing Pancreatitis. Nearly 75% of Heidi’s pancreas was dissolved. Heidi was in the hospital for two weeks, where Owen and I made frequent trips to her bedside. Doctors had hoped to stabilize Heidi enough for surgery to remove her gall bladder, but with her pancreas in such a fragile state, we were sent home instead. Heidi was placed on a feeding tube for 10 weeks with a pump that constantly fed her a liquid diet of what looked like Ensure and tasted like fiber supplements. Those months were filled with a lot of tears. Heidi felt like her bonding time with Owen was hijacked by the two hospitalization events. During Heidi’s stay in the hospital and months recovering at home, we were given donations of breast milk from several incredible mothers. We had hoped that Heidi would be able to return to breastfeeding but we still had to transition Owen to formula. On top of that, Heidi was unable to eat anything when we met with friends, hung out with family, or went to social events. Only during a fast do you realize how often people gather around food…even Bible studies often have snacks or dessert. Heidi’s feeding tube would often clog and leave her starving. Yet through all these soul-crushing trials Heidi maintained her sweet spirit.

 Heidi talking with her team of doctors

 My brother Shaylon's birthday was in April, and I helped 
him build his massive Lego Batmobile


In May we attended the Pella Tulip Festival. Heidi was still on her feeding tube and was more than ready to get out of the house. The Tulip Festival was a beautiful field trip. Owen spent the day in a stroller and thoroughly loved it. I ate some Dutch-themed fair food, which was greasy and delicious but didn’t come with a complimentary set of wooden clogs like I had hoped. 


 Windmill in Pella, IA

 I got to see my dear friend John Lamansky at his Priestly confirmation. Here John and I are with Rebecca. We three were teammates years ago in Future Problem Solving. 

In May I completed my four-year HVAC apprenticeship training 
and became a licensed Journeyman.


Our second anniversary came in June, and we spent a weekend together with Owen in a local hotel. You know those moments when you feel like you procrastinated too long on something important? Failing to book a hotel until they were all full during Memorial Day Weekend was my moment like that. Heidi and I love to travel and would have enjoyed a road trip to another state, but the accumulation of traumatic events had left us too weary to even consider a trip. 


A weekend after our anniversary, I met with several of my high school classmates for our 10-year high school reunion. It was so good to see them again. 

From left to right (classmates noted with *): Shawn* & Heidi, Onassis and Sarah* Rivera, Terry* & Samantha Miller, Harmony* Headings, Bethany* Kramer
We missed our classmates Ilene and Joanna! 

Celebrated Father's day with four generations of Graber boys: 
Grandpa Lynn, Father Barry, myself, and Son Owen

In July, we traveled to Michigan for a Maust reunion at my uncle Larry’s home. He and Aunt Cherie live on the edge of a magnificent lake and we spent five days splashing, swimming, playing games, kayaking, tubing, and eating more ice cream than I thought was humanly possible. Uncle Larry had rented an ice cream machine and furnished over 200 ice cream cones. Thanks to the diligent efforts of myself and my fellow cousins, the cones were gone in the first 36 hours and we switched over to bowls. We had a lovely time with my Grandpa Clayton Maust, who passed away shortly after the reunion. At the end of the reunion, I sensed this was the last time I’d see him alive. As I cried and thanked him for being such an amazing blessing to me, he wept and blessed me one last time. 

 
 
This photo of Grandpa Clayton and Grandma Thelma 
was taken in 2016 at my wedding

A few weeks later, we traveled back to Michigan for Grandpa’s funeral. Several of us grandsons were the pallbearers, and I shared this memory at the funeral:

-----
Back when I was a young whippersnapper, well, younger and snappier than I am now, I wasn’t sure how to go about finding a bride. Grandpa Clayton had managed to find not one but TWO beautiful soulmates, and he let me in on his secret:

“Marriage isn’t about finding someone you can live with;
It’s about finding someone you can’t live without.” 

Grandpa left an amazing example to follow; he was humble, good-natured, open, honest, and kind. I took it for granted that Grandpa loved Bernice, [and when Bernice passed away] loved Thelma. I took it for granted that he loved his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Over the years I realized how rare and precious that is; a man who loves and speaks life over his family. 

Grandpa was generous with his time, his possessions, his wisdom, his laughter. He was able to discern what was important and what wasn’t.  I watched him navigate effortlessly through hundreds of emails to find the ones he needed to read. The emails from his children and grandchildren were read, as were all emails with “THE MAUST CORNER” in the heading. He was searching for some important stock trading articles and found them. As for the rest of the emails blurring past, he didn’t seem to be bothered. The unopened, unimportant emails totaled over 13,000.

The last time I saw Grandpa Clayton was a few weeks before he passed away. I thanked him for all the ways he blessed my life; for setting a Godly foundation that I had long taken for granted. His rich bass voice that once flowed so smoothly was gone. He had to labor to speak, but he responded anyway. His last words to me were “I bless you.”

He’s now with his first love, Jesus Christ. I knew this “goodbye” was coming, but I also know that it’s temporary. How wonderful is that? 

-----

Myself and my cousins with Grandpa's casket


Also in July, Heidi and I ran up to the Iowa State Fair for an evening. We went to see Casting Crowns and Matthew West in concert. It was a hot, sticky Summer evening but there was a lovely breeze as the sun set. Heidi and I shared an extra giant corndog and strolled around the closed-for-the-night agriculture booths. We took it easy on the greasy fair food this time, since Heidi was still feeling tender in the stomach and I was feeling tender in the wallet. But the fryers were churning out all sorts of deep-fat-fried delicacies.

Oreos? Sure.
Snickers Candy bars? Yep.
Pickles? Got those too.
Sticks of butter? Deep-fat-fried and served hot before your eyes right next to the cotton candy. 

I’m not sure how the Iowa State Fair got to be such a big deal, but it’s one of the largest fairs in the U.S. In 2017, 1.1 million people passed through the gates during the 7-day event. For a state that only has 3 million residents, that’s mind-boggling. “It’s because Iowans have nothing else to do! Hyuk hyuk!” I can hear the Pennsylvanians say. Surprisingly, 2018 was my first time at the Iowa State Fair. It was lovely and I’d go again. 

In August Heidi took me flying for my birthday, which was a complete surprise. Like, I got to fly a small four-seater airplane.
 Heidi rode along and got only a tiny bit airsick. 

Heidi served a Low Country Boil for my birthday and it was tremendous. 

 
Heidi and her friend Harmony flew to North Carolina to visit some 
of Heidi's cousins this Summer. Heidi took Owen and spent a week 
out there. Shawn missed them both sorely.

On September 19th, Heidi had her gall bladder removed. Heidi’s gall bladder had to be removed in order to prevent any additional gallstones from harming the remains of her pancreas. Before her surgery, the doctors had Heidi take a pregnancy test. This was because they didn’t want to perform surgery if there was a pregnancy. The test returned negative, and a laparoscopic [small cameras and tools fished through three tiny holes] cholecystectomy [removal of the gall bladder] was performed. The surgery went smoothly and the doctors were very pleased with the operation. 

Heidi, getting fitted with a sweet hospital gown that had 
warm air ducts in it to keep her comfy.

 Owen and I surveying the flooded yard at the trailers
 Heidi came to the rescue with coffee and donuts while we pumped water out of the shop

In September and October, Iowa experienced torrential downpour after downpour, which flooded our shop twice. Graber Heating celebrated our 80th Anniversary with an open house. We hosted over 200 friends and family only days after our shops were flooded. Many friends came to help us clean up, which we are supremely grateful for. 

If I asked you to tell me “where is the most photographed location on earth?” You might say “Eiffel Tower, Paris” or “Taj Mahal, India” or maybe “Kim Kardashian’s bathroom mirror”. These are all close, but incorrect. Evidently, it’s a location in Northern Canada, and I went to look at it with my own eyes. In October, I traveled to the northern reaches of North Alberta, North Canada to attend my dear friend Brooks’ wedding. Brooks had tried to get his fiancĂ© Fallyn into the U.S., but the process is complex and expensive and could take several years, so he elected to move to Canada and get hitched there. I road-tripped with several of my close manfriends (Jordan Shebek, Shane Schwartz, Truman Shetler, and Stu Yoder) and we had a blast. We’re still on speaking terms with each other after more than 60 hours of road time in a single vehicle, so I count that as a win. I keep saying “North” because Fallyn lives in Peace River, AB., which is 20 hours NORTH of the U.S. Border. The scariest thing is, after all that driving, we were still only north enough to reach the bottom islands of Alaska. There is so much land that keeps going northlier and northlier… I can’t even process it. 

Speaking of the border, we crossed with a nearly-illegal amount of cheese. My friend Stu had brought along nearly 80 lbs of the stuff in giant tubes. Cheddar, Pepper Jack, and Marble. The crossing guard asked us if we had any dairy along with us. When we mentioned the truckload of cheese, she nearly croaked. 

“Are you planning to sell any of it?” she asked, while frantically short-selling all the stocks she had in Canadian Milk Farming.
“No, we’re gonna eat it or give it away to friends,” we replied.
“Normally, you’re only allowed twenty dollars of dairy per person, but I suppose I'll let you through this time” she said.
“Oh, we have under that. There’s 5 of us so that would be $100-worth of cheese. How much did you spend on this stuff, Stu?”
“Oh about 85 bucks or so,” he replied.
We were under! But the crossing guard seemed a little incredulous. 

Stu, cheese aficionado, napping during a sunrise in Canada.

 
 Shane, Truman, Jordan and myself in Canada next to a giant Moose statue 
While in Canada, we swung though Banff and Jasper, two large national parks located in the Canadian Rockies. To say the parks were beautiful would be like saying “the Pacific Ocean is damp” or “Grabers tell stories sometimes”. We drove to Lake Louise, which is (according to the Lake Louise official website) the “most photographed location on the face of the earth”. In the Summer, over 15,000 people visit the lake EACH DAY. My friends and I arrived right at the end of the touring season. With heavy snows making their way into the forecast, several of the roads and trails around the lake had been closed for the year, along with all of the restrooms, strangely. Shane and I remarked that the “CLOSED FOR THE SEASON” signs hanging on the bathroom doors could be used year-round and nobody would know the difference. But even on a cloudy, overcast day, the emerald-tinted crystal-clear ice-cold water in the lake was sensational. Lake Louise is fed by six glaciers and is over 230 feet deep. It’s not as deep or as blue as Crater Lake in Oregon, but it does give Crater Lake some stiff competition in the beauty department. In fact, all of the things we saw in those two parks (three, if we count the brief detour into Yoho) were absolutely beautiful. My dear friend Jordan has toured much of the Western United States and has visited Yellowstone and Yosemite and many other national parks but as we walked and drove through Jasper, he declared that the Canadians had us whipped in the Rocky Mountain department. The Canadian Rockies are really, really beautiful. Of course, Canada plays this nicely by putting Saskatchewan in your way before you get to Alberta and the mountains. After hours of driving through what we now refer to as “North Nebraska”, even a speed bump would have looked magnificent. 


 Lake Louise, Alberta
 

Found some elk grazing in a campground. Classic Canadian wildlife just struttin' around.


We arrived in Peace River, Alberta and found, to our delight, a bare minimum of snow. We had expected that we’d have to fashion igloos out of ice blocks in order to survive the first night, but instead we were treated to a balmy 40-degree afternoon. “Oh yah,” the locals said “we had aboot 29.5 centimeters of snow a month ago but it melted. This is kinda rare weather to be having this time of year, eh?” 

Brooks gave us a tour of his wife’s hometown and made sure we got a hot, steamy bowl of poutine, which I wouldn’t mind seeing as a booth at the Iowa State Fair. A massive pile of golden French fries slathered with gravy and cheese curds? Ideal. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it, mostly because my body requires the extra saliva to survive the salt intake. While shopping for some groceries, we discovered why that crossing guard seemed so astonished at our cheese hoard: an equivalent amount of cheese would have cost us $250 in Canada, or three beavers and a good hatchet.

Brooks' wedding photographer captured this excellent moment in the Canadian bush.

At Brooks’ wedding, we helped set up the reception hall. Over the coffee table was a banner that read “SWEET LOVE” so I found the craft supplies and made a banner with the word “MAKING” and added it above the first banner. The groom and the bride found it and, instead of tearing it down hastily like I suspected they would, left it up for the entire wedding and reception. 

 
In November Heidi and I moved out of our trailer. I had been living there for 8 years, two of those years with Heidi. She had transformed the place, repainting every wall and bringing her sparkle and charm to the decoration and layout. She had built such a cozy nest for Owen; we really were reluctant to leave. But we found ourselves caught between two events: the sale of the trailers and the purchase of a home. We needed an in-between house. Heidi and I prayed and prayed about it. Some dear friends of ours offered us a giant farmhouse to stay in and house-sit for them, so we jumped at the chance. It has truly been an answer to prayers. At the time we were moving, Heidi and I were just telling close family that we were pregnant, so it felt extra bittersweet to leave our little trailer that we had prepared together. Heidi and I made the choice to move together, but I still felt awful that our move happened during pregnancy. A preggo momma wants to feel safe and secure. She wants a cozy little nest for her baby. Moving into a new house is the opposite of all of those things. But yet again my wife met each new challenge with bravery and determination, even when we discovered that the house was very, very cold. There had been a woodstove in the living room but it had been removed and replaced with nothing, mostly because the homeowner wanted another woodstove but his children wanted something a little less high-maintenance. They ordered a gas-fired stove to replace it, but it took four weeks to arrive. (My dad and I joked that, upon placement of the order, an elderly man took a pickaxe into the mountain to extract the ore to make the stove.) In those four weeks, we kept the house from freezing by using little electric heaters. There were several windows that had been left open over the Summer, and we didn’t find the last open window until AFTER the blizzard that left 12” of snow on the ground. With 19-degree air pouring through a small window in the cluttered office, we finally discovered why the adjacent laundry room always felt so drafty. Heidi has been marvelously adding her signature to this house. We’re here for just a year, but in the meantime, Heidi has made it our home. It has been a lovely adventure. 

The farmhouse is connected to a smaller guest house, which in the Amish circles is referred to as a “Dawdy Haus” I don’t speak Pennsylvania Dutch but my online searches tell me I’m in the right ballpark. Several helpful references I’ve found online tell me I’m referring to a “Granny Flat” in Australia or a “Mother-in-law house” in Norway. We’ve become good friends with the young couple that lives in whatever-it-is that’s connected to us. Their names are Merlin and Kimmy and they have a darling little girl a few months younger than Owen. We’ve played Rook late into the night on several occasions with them. 

Speaking of wee little children, we’re expecting! Heidi is due June 5th. We traced back the due date and discovered that Heidi was about a week pregnant when she had her gall bladder surgery. Evidently it was too early for the pregnancy test to detect? We were again grateful for how well the surgery went, since there appears to be no harm or trouble with our Lil Sprout. When Week 20 rolls around, we’ll find out the gender, but Heidi already suspects it’s a girl. Her reasoning is that with this pregnancy, she’s craving all the sugary and sweet things that she normally doesn’t crave. So evidently boys aren’t sweet?? She craved radishes and beets and all sorts of red vegetables with Owen, so I’m not sure what that says about boys. 





This year-end summary has really reminded me of all the things we’ve been through this year; so many blessings and trials all intertwined. I haven’t hardly even scratched the surface of all the things we’ve been up to, but this will suffice for now. God has carried Heidi, Owen and I through so much this year, and we give Him all credit for our health, our home, and our happiness. We love each and every one of you and wish God’s presence in your lives this coming year!

With love,

Shawn, Heidi, and Owen.