Monday, June 30, 2008

Pick a Road

You know the Robert Frost poem about two roads diverging in the woods? It's been popping into my head a lot lately and makes me wonder if it may be how God works with free will.

I know, it's scary to think about how my brain works, isn't it?

Bear with me. I've been watching a lot of news coverage about the horrible effects of the floods around my area. At first it was a constant state of urgency about the water levels and people needing to evacuate different neighborhoods. One news station was running solely on generators and kept apologizing for the fact they hadn't showered in three days because they were in the heart of the hardest hit area and had no running water.

To be honest, that part of the tragedy was easier to watch.

Now we are hearing about the long-term effects. The contamination. The waste. The ruined homes. The plans to demolish. The homeless. The jobless. The exhaustion. It breaks my heart. And somehow, so many of the people interviewed talk about the hope they feel, the resolve to rebuild and make their lives strong again. You can tell it's at the core of who they are, because it's their instinct to believe in hope even when their eyes are so very weary.

There was recently a news piece about a church community that had lost their building, and another faith denomination had offered their church as a place of worship. The interviewer was asking different people about their situations and how their faith has pulled them through. Some people said they knew things were going to be ok and they couldn't make it without their faith. Others just simply said they didn't know how God could do this to them. And I think it's a valid question; when you talk about God having a plan for us... then wouldn't the bad stuff be in His plan as well? But that question lacks a key component: free will.

Free will means that stuff is going to happen. We make choices every day that affect the outcome of our lives. We choose where to live. We choose who to marry. We make decisions about our education or having children or where to have dinner. People with more power in society decided where to build towns and levies and infrastructure.

And then it rains.

I don't think God looked around this Earth and decided one day to mess with the people of Iowa. I think all of our decisions and our ancestors' decisions came together with a natural rain and it created an opportunity for a flood. Free will. Stuff happens. Could God stop it all? You bet. But He promised us He wouldn't. He gave us free will and the opportunity to make ourselves strong again.

That's where the poem comes into play. (I told you my brain would take you there eventually.)

I think in front of every person who is hurt, God lays out paths in front of them... roads, if you will. I don't think one is necessarily better than the other, but they are choices for us to make. You can rebuild your home, you can move away, you can relocate to higher ground. And whichever road you choose to walk down, I think God is on it making sure you see the potholes you could fall in, the pebbles you could trip over and the sunshine that could warm your face through the trees. In every instance, I truly believe He is putting the possibility of blessings on your path if you're willing to reach out and take them.

I'm not so crazy as to believe any one of the roads will be easy. You might choose a road of self-pity and despair for awhile, but eventually you'll stumble on a blessing that will make your path smoother. It's not about God making sure bad stuff never happens. It's about the fact that He holds us when it does. That's what dad's do best. They don't stop you from trying new things. They don't tell you not to take any chances. They cheer you on when you choose to try. They tell you that anything is possible. And when you mess up, when you fail, when you fall... a dad picks you up, brushes you off and wipes your tears away. Then he tells you to try again.

The flood victims are in the stage where they need to be brushed off and their tears wiped away, but I believe with my whole heart that there will be roads diverging in front of them, and God will be there cheering them on as they try again. Because that's what fathers do.

Friday, June 27, 2008

One Month Later...

Seriously, I've been writing this blog for a month now... every day. Can I tell you that I'm psyching myself out over the fact that I've written every day, which means I've created an expectation that I will have something to say every day. And I know all of you who know me are going to roll your eyes at this suggestion... but what if I run out of things to talk about?!?

No, really. I only have so many stories from my childhood. And I'm not some sort of well of deep thoughts. I'm basically a "what you see is what you get" sort of girl, and there may come a time when you've seen all I got.

You know what I mean.

That's the trouble with the way my life has panned out... days will go by when nothing even remotely interesting happens to me. I mean, if you go to work you inevitably get stuck in traffic or see someone at a convenience store with crazy hair or get gum stuck on your shoe. If you stay at home with your kids they inevitably say something adorable or stick a cheerio up their nose or something. But when you exist within four walls like I do, sometimes the most exciting thing that happens is when it looks like Riley is winking at me. Ironically, I find it terribly entertaining... but I'm not sure I could fill a whole blog post about it.

So, in order to maybe have a couple extra days of material stored up, I think I'm going to post on weekdays and take the weekends off. That's when most people seem to be checking the blog anyway (I won't tell your bosses what you're doing at work... I promise). And if the day comes when I post endlessly about the paint peeling on my walls, feel free to email me with questions or topic suggestions... I'm always happy for the input. It may save you from hearing about the adorable winking dog for the 53rd day in a row. You never know, it may come to that. But I think I had an interesting enough childhood to get through another month or so. We'll have to see!

In the meantime, have a fantastic weekend - hope it's filled with sunshine for you all and I'll meet you back here bright and early Monday morning...


Thursday, June 26, 2008


I was going through some old files on my computer trying to make a little more space on my hard drive... I'm a bit of an obsessive picture taker/scrapbooker, so computer space is a valued commodity. I had a folder that was marked as college writings, and I went through them one by one, reading and deleting files that held old English papers I can't believe produced good grades. Boy would I analyze books differently now that I've actually lived a little.

I came across this file, which was not a paper for a class. When I started reading I went back in time like it was yesterday. It was the spring of 1997 and I was finally about to graduate from college. I didn't have a physical diagnosis yet and I was trying to finish up classes while working part time at an advertising agency. I was in pain all of the time and trying to push past it to continue the life I was trying to make for myself. 

Most of the time back then I was able to grit my teeth and deal with the emotional rollercoaster I was on, trying to map out what my new future was going to look like. I knew how I was supposed to be handling it, but the stability or acceptance I feel today was still a long way away back then. It was hard for me to read it, but I'm going to share it with you so you don't think I got sick and immediately jumped to acceptance with this. There were moments when my spirit hurt so much more than my body, and the night I wrote about back then was the worst of them.

I was attending a Wednesday night Mass at St. Stephen's, which was a weekly ritual for my friends and me. I was in too much pain to sit in the pews, so I sat in a comfortable, over-stuffed chair in the lobby and watched Mass from there. The first line to the opening song was "Sing to the Lord with shouts of joy..." and that night it was simply more than I could take. So the following is my low point back in 1997, and reading it makes me wish I could go back and tell that girl that her health would get worse, but her spirit would be fine.


"Sing to the Lord with shouts ... " But the "of joy" part was never really heard. I watched. I listened. And I felt such an ache inside of my heart I thought it might stop right there and then. I think it's what people call despair. That feeling of being so alone when there are so many people near you that you wonder if you will ever experience joy again.

It all seemed like the cruelest joke anyone could play. I was listening as the guitars and piano thundered in together as though they were connected. And a feeling of exuberance and anticipation consumed the chapel with the filling breath, turned in a moment to a song. Their voices sang. The cantor laughed at someone in the fourth pew who must have come in at the wrong time -- or was simply so happy it was catching. Friends turned around to say hello to each other and everyone in the chapel was a community. A community of support, of understanding, of believers. What should have been an inspirational scene, I am ashamed to say, left me alone and panic-stricken.

Alone. I was there with all of them, yet very separate. It was as if I was watching on a big screen t.v., big enough to be true to life. But I was in my easy-chair watching it happen to other people. I was alone in the lobby seeing, but not feeling, that connection… that wonderful sense of being and celebrating Christ with one another. I wouldn't exactly call it a Christian attitude. Actually, I would call it self-absorbed. But as they sang with shouts I cried with tears and I cried alone. I couldn't breathe and all I could hear over and over in my mind was "Sing to the Lord with shouts ... "

Shouts. I wanted to shout. I even wanted to shout to the Lord. The part that scared me was what I wanted to say. I had worked for so long at accepting and trusting that what has happened to me will work out. That it will have its purpose and somewhere I am growing and learning to be a better person. But in that moment I simply wanted to know why. Trust? Have a deeper faith? Why me, why now, and why in this way? I had just watched over eighty people taking part in something that used to be my life. I watched them in those split seconds feel that connectedness that reminds us continuously of why we are all on this earth — to be witnesses to one another.

Witnessing. I guess that's the one thing I've tried to do with my pain. I tried to be the best little invalid that I could be. But as I sat there crying so hard I couldn't breathe and praying with all my might and sincerity to please, please have my life back, I wondered where all of this had really taken me. I prayed so hard for the feeling in the pit of my stomach to go away. I begged to feel nothing rather than feel this. I felt as though I was grieving for something somewhere. But I didn't know what it was. Just something. Just who I used to be. Just how I used to feel. And even though I prayed with my entire being, the feeling was still there. I knew I had to get a hold of myself. I had to get away.

Away. But where could I go? I thought of my apartment but it was too much of a reality. I needed a cabin in the woods where no one could find me. Where I could go until this feeling was gone and my acceptance was back. I didn't want to see anyone who knew me. I didn't want to see pain in anyone's eyes when they saw my pain. It's like a mirror reflection that is sometimes comforting because I know they care and sometimes terrifying when it becomes reality that this is happening to me, and that I cause this pain for others. In time I calmed down enough to reason with myself. I had just panicked. It would be better later.

Panic. I guess that pretty much sums it up. I can go along and do my best to do what's right, but in the end there is always that panic that reminds me of what I had and what I want back. It stares me in the face on that big screen t.v. that's big enough to be true to life. And I can't run from it. So what's left? I can pray.

Pray. Pray for more faith. Pray for more trust. Pray for forgiveness in this self-absorbed weakness when I should learn to be grateful instead of beating myself up for being less than what I was. Pray that somewhere in this I stop grieving for that something somewhere. Pray that I can be faithful to the struggle and become whatever He chooses for me. Pray that in the end, when I look back on this struggle, I will be grateful I had the chance to panic — because hopefully, it will help me discover peace.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Monkey Business

A few posts ago I mentioned that my Aunt Janella and Uncle Ron came to visit me; what I didn't mention was that there was a reunion of sorts. Meet Ron, Janella... and Monkey.

Cute, right? That monkey was given to Janella when she was a little girl, and it was the coveted toy for all of us kids when we would go to visit Grandpa and Grandma Frankl. Their house on McCook Lake had tons of exciting things to do... there was swimming and boating, slot machines in the basement along with an old victrola. There was even a big old bearskin rug (with the bear's head still attached... scared the stuffing out of me when I was little) that sprawled out across the floor. But when we went for the toys, we all loved Monkey.
That poor thing was worn and tattered with holes and patches. All signs of being loved consistently for many years. After we were older Grandma took Monkey to some stuffed-animal guru and had him restored for Janella. Whoever did it did a wonderful job because he looked like the Monkey we all knew and loved... just with a face lift of sorts. When I was in college at UNI and Janella was preparing to leave for her missionary work in Bolivia, she had me come into her office at the Student Center where she worked and Monkey was sitting there in the chair. My friend Kate was with me and thought I had lost my mind when I went ape (pun intended) over the toy.
Janella wasn't taking many things with her and wanted me to have him for safe keeping. Kate was rather embarrassed to walk out of the building with me as I was holding Monkey on my hip, much as Janella is in the first photo. But she started to grasp the importance when we saw my cousin Janet, who also went to UNI, and she almost wrestled me for custody of the toy right there in the lobby. But I was more agile back then. I won.
Obviously Janella has been back from Bolivia for quite some time, but Monkey has remained safely here with me. And I offered to let her have him back when she visited... but I think she knew she'd have to get past someone else first, and Riley wasn't giving him up without a fight:
True love conquers all.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I have a love/hate relationship with steroids. I love that they decrease my pain and help me breathe better. I hate everything else.

Do you have something like that in your life? Something you are so grateful for and despise at the same time? Because I'm telling you, when I talked to my doctor and she said I have to start on steroids, I had a little sigh of relief at the thought of breathing and wanted to kick the door all at the same time. So, I'm getting ready for all the usual side effects of being nauseous, hot and sleepless. And let's not forget that my body takes all of one dose to remember how to get puffy. My favorite part.

But, oh my God, I might start breathing again!

You see my dilemma? On the one hand I can be puffy... on the other hand I can breathe. Puffy or breathe? Puffy or breathe?

To keep it in perspective, 30mg is low for me and I hopefully won't be on them for long, so I'm going to do what I tell others to do in situations such as this... I'm going to buck up and take it like a woman.

Really, people... you didn't actually think I was going to say take it like a man, did you? If you did then you haven't watched this:


Monday, June 23, 2008

Life Goals


Quite a few years ago I was working at TeleProfessional Magazine. I really loved everything about it. I loved the administrative and organizational parts of it. I loved getting to do interviews and write articles. I really loved the proof-reading, which my brother Steve once told me makes me the oddest person he knows. But to me, it was like getting to play every day.

I had goals back then, about what I wanted to do professionally and how I wanted my life to turn out. I have a friend who has a special kind of date night with her husband so they can talk about finances and personal goals for their family. And I think that is good and necessary and responsible... something more couples should probably do.

The way to look at goals changed for me when my doctor first approached me about applying for disability. Maybe approached is the wrong word. I was sitting in a hospital bed (one of the three times I was in the hospital that year) with my laptop open, typing up dictation from an interview I had done so I could write an article. I'm sure you can imagine the look on her face as I'm hooked up to an IV of antibiotics and a Demerol drip... working was not what she had in mind for me to be doing. Recovery was more important at the time, but I was still in the mode of fighting to maintain a life that had already changed. My mind just hadn't caught up to the reality of it yet.

I would say Annie (my doctor) looked surprised, but I think disapproving was more the word for it. How in the world did I expect to get better and fight off an infection when I was expending all my energy working? That was happening in that hospital room, but it was the pattern my life had been following for awhile... I would get sick or be in a pain flare, just start getting better and then resume life as normal. And that normal would wear me down and start the cycle all over again. When I finally applied for and was approved for disability, I had to figure out what my goals in life were now going to be. And eventually I came up with this:

    Life Goals:

  1. To not be ashamed to stand before God.
  2. To fulfill God's plan by living the best life I can with what I am given.
  3. To be aware and present in every moment.
  4. To love what I have and not yearn for what I lack.
  5. To spread the Joy, not the fear.
  6. To be intentional in all things.

So far, I haven't had a situation come up in my life that hasn't been covered by these goals. It's how I want people to remember me, the impression I want to leave on people I meet. They are lofty goals. They're not easy to reach every day. But they are what I was left with when I took away the idea of having a career, having a family, having financial security or some sort of status in society. I think it's something I had to look at, but it's something I should have been looking at all along.

So, that's my story of figuring out who I want to be. And if you are thinking about who you are, where you are going and how you want to be remembered, I recommend starting with number six... being intentional with your life. After that, most everything starts to fall into place.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Unconditional Love

IMG_1504 ibw

Have you ever seen a face exude more sympathy? I see this expression when he snuggles with me at least once a day. To clarify, I get the look once a day ... the snuggling is non-stop around here. He's very co-dependant. And I just want to make him happy.

Now, if I had my druthers, I would make it mandatory that everyone own a Riley so they could feel this much unconditional love at least once in their lifetimes. Seriously, being this loved makes a person happy. And happy people are kind to each other. And kind people don't fight. And when you don't fight there are no wars. Which basically means, people... Riley would be responsible for world peace. And when they present him with the Nobel Peace Prize, he will say he couldn't have done it without his loving owner who always made sure he remembered to take his antidepressants.


Disclaimer: This post is brought to you by my tired brain on (prescribed and necessary) drugs. Any questions?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Expecting Gold

I was reading through some old posts and I realized just how much I refer to life being about the silver lining. That's not just some sort of "Pollyanna-ish" way to look at life for me. There is a quote on the wall in my alcove by Maurice Setter that says "Too many people miss the silver lining because they're expecting gold." I love that quote not because of the optimistic silver lining, but because of its focus on the expectation of something better.


I think our expectations of what we want life to be often overshadow the good things that are already in front of us... and that's when we miss the silver lining. When my sister was going through a divorce, we were on the phone talking about hard decisions and out of my mouth came these words that I would later cling to for myself as well... "All God asks of us is to live the best life we can with what we are given." The point is, we are all given different blessings and different crosses to bear, which means we can only take care of what's in front of us in that moment and do the best we can.

I don't know if it brought any relief to my sister, but as my life changed over the years it proved to be something I needed to hear. I needed to remind myself that my old gifts were gone, and they didn't serve me in living my best life anymore. I had new gifts and crosses given to me, and I had to rethink how to live my life with them. It took awhile to find my new normal, and that continues to change on a daily basis. But when my focus is on living the best life I can with what I have in that moment, I always find my silver lining. I'm not expecting the gold I used to have. I'm not looking for the gold that I think I should have. I'm looking at the silver right in front of me and saying thank you every day.

And I know I can't just apply this to my own life... I have to apply it to the people in my life as well. If I am really allowing the people around me to live the best life they can with what they are given, I can't put my own conditions on them. Some people have been given more of a capacity for compassion, some for actions, some for being loving. I have to trust that people are doing the best they can, so instead of expecting gold from every person in every situation I can be thankful for the silver lining they inevitably bring to my life in other ways.

Same applies to my body and my health. I am always prefacing any plans I make with the stipulation that I won't know until the day of if any of it will happen. Heck, I really won't know until the minute of. Back when I was able to get out and about, my friend Meg had picked me up one night to go watch Susie's husband Mark play in his band. I knew before we left that my day hadn't gone smoothly, but I was sure I could push through the pain and go with them. I got in her car, and during the very short ride to Main Street the shooting pains in my leg had me shifting around trying to find a comfortable way to sit. We got to the bar, I got out of the car and took about three steps on my crutches - and I was stuck. I couldn't stand up straight, couldn't walk to the bar, couldn't walk back to the car. [Yes, it was as embarrassing as you are imagining.] Susie and her brother Steve helped me to the car and Meg drove me straight back home.

I was hoping for gold, but I wasn't expecting it. Deep down I knew there was a huge chance the night wasn't going to play out as I had hoped... but I didn't miss the silver linings. Steve and Susie were there to help me into the car. Meg wasn't worried about missing the first set and instead made sure I got home ok. And here's the biggest silver lining of them all: all of those people would try again with me any time. Really, how can I be anything less than grateful for that?

Now, let me just say that sometimes disappointment weighs heavy on me. But in my disappointment, the same rules still apply... I do the best I can with what I have. Is it usually all I want to do? No. But in the end, focusing on the silver lining is what gets me through the day.

I really think, in this life, we find what we are meant to do when we stop focusing on what we are kept from doing. I have to remind myself of that sometimes, but the more I acknowledge that silver lining, the less I notice the gold that's out of reach.

So tell me, what silver linings have blessed you today?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wall Doodles

I don't personally remember this event... to be honest, I'm not even sure if I was born when this happened, but I do know I was small enough that I wasn't in trouble.

When my siblings were little, there were a lot of them for my mother to look after. The first four children were born in such rapid succession that when my grandfathers would attend one of their baptisms, they would say good bye to each other by waving and saying, "See you for another one next year!" So you can understand if my mother had a moment of silence, she took it. On this particular day, however, the silence should have made her a bit more nervous.

When she went upstairs to check on my siblings, she discovered the quiet was because they were busy writing and coloring on the walls in the hallway. I'm sure they felt as though they had made great works of art, but mom was a little less than thrilled with their Picasso-esque antics. She trotted them all down to the basement and sat them on a couch, with pillows in between them so they couldn't look at or mess with each other, and declared they were just going to have to sit there and wait until their father came home to deal with this. I think she was too furious to even think up of a punishment and was sure dad would be equally upset.

My siblings all say they sat on that couch stewing for what seemed like forever, worrying over the punishment that was coming. I assume after mom told dad the story, he assured her he would take care of it and some sort of appropriate punishment would occur. But I think deep down he must have found more humor in the situation (a direct result of NOT watching six kids all day, no doubt) because as he approached the nervous children on the couch he said something to the effect of, "Umm... yeah... don't do that again." Not exactly a terror-inducing scolding, but I think the time spent nervously waiting on the couch was enough for my siblings to get the message.

I, through hearing the story many times over, learned it was not a good idea to write on the walls. But man, I always had the urge. When I moved into my condo and was rearranging I had an idea to revamp a closet in the room that I had made into my TV area. A friend helped me take off the doors and put my desk inside. I later added some curtains and... voila! I now had a work alcove (aka, a really fancy term for a desk in a closet). The rest of the room was painted red, which made the glaring white closet stick out like a sore thumb... but the idea of taking everything out of the "alcove" to paint it was more than I could handle.

Since it needed color, and I still had this hankering for doodling on walls, I took some colorful sharpie markers and went to town. I've surrounded myself with positive quotes that I love, and over time added sayings here and there, as well as some paint backgrounds and pictures the kids have colored for me. I LOVE IT. It's my favorite spot in my house and every time I glance up I'm reminded of a quote, a good thought, a positive moment. I can be having a bad day, but when I am surrounded by good things, I can't help but think of good things. It works for me.

IMG_2077 IMG_2076 IMG_2075
Since running out of wall space for my doodles I've started painting and writing on canvases as well. I'll show you a few someday, but for now I've included some photos of my little alcove getaway. Don't be afraid to break out of your shell, people, and write on a wall if you are so inclined... it'll make you feel like a kid again!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Let The Sunshine In

Oh man, it was a sunshine day on Monday! It was so nice out that I decided to skip watching the tie-breaking round of golf for the US Open, opting instead to sit on the patio and soak up all the fresh air.

Here's the patio I covet on rainy days and cold winters (just ignore the weeds popping up through the bricks... that's what I do):

It's simple, but it's mine and you just can't beat the fresh air. And did I mention no rain? This is the view while sitting in my favorite chair:

The key here is that fact that it is GREEN. Not snowy white... but rather beautiful, lush, green and dry.

Now this... this is what I see every time I get ready to sit in my favorite, comfy patio chair:

Can't you just hear him: "Hmm... what? Who me? You want to sit where?"

So once I got all cozy and comfortable, snuggled up with my dog in the chair, I opened my book and started to read. A nice breeze was blowing, the wrens were serenading me and Riley was keeping a watchful eye on the rustling leaves of the hasta. It was a perfect afternoon.

Now, perhaps you recall me mentioning in a previous post about being jinxed and Murphy's Law being written with me in mind? I recalled it as I sat there and my chest started to tighten, my breathing getting more difficult and my ears starting to itch.

Man, I hate allergies. As was explained to me by my ENT, allergies are connected to your immune system... and we all know how stellar my immune system is. Needless to say I am allergic to just about anything and everything anymore. From vital medications to a whiff of perfume, I find myself not just inconvenienced but full-on, throat closing, unable to breathe. You may notice in photo number two that some of the shrubs on the side of my building are beginning to flower. Flowers are the worst. Or this might be because of stuff in the air from the floods... but it could have been anything that set off my lungs. I've stopped speculating on causes and have learned to just go with the flow.

So here was my view while reading a book inside my house after using an inhaler and dosing with Benadryl:

But on the bright side (it's all about the silver lining, people) Tiger and Rocco played one of the most exciting games of golf I've ever watched. Can't see something that exciting from the patio, no siree...
Just so you know: I can get a little sarcastic when I don't feel well... :)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reason to Relay

When I was in grade school we had traveled during the winter to an away basketball game one of my siblings was playing in. While at the game, a huge blizzard had hit and continued to rear it's ugly head as a caravan of cars headed back to our hometown. You literally couldn't see your hand in front of your face it was such a complete and total white out.

As the caravan crept along my dad had to walk to the front of the line and sit on the roof of the lead car in order to tell them if they were still within the lines on the road. He sat, perched in the cold, until we came to a farm house he recognized as belonging to a family that went to our school. They weren't home, but the caravan of cars all parked at their acreage and we filed into the house (I have no idea how they got in) to wait out the storm.

The winds were so strong that Dean Dodds, who at my young age seemed like the largest man I'd ever known, carried me from the van to the inside of the house to keep me from getting blown backward. We made it in the house and it was nothing short of a modern day Little House on the Prairie. The men went to light the fire in the fireplace while the women went to the kitchen to see what could be prepared for food. The mood turned from ominous to fun once the large group of people got into the house and we played cards and listened to the grown-ups retell the happenings of the previous hours.

It was getting late and we were obviously all settling in to stay for the night, so mom took me to a back bedroom where we shared a bed with Dean's wife Doris. I had known Dean and Doris for as long as I could remember, but when I went in Doris had already taken off her wig and was propped up against the pillows in bed with just her handkerchief on her head.

It was the first time I saw cancer.

I didn't know why she didn't have hair; I didn't even know she was sick. I do know I probably stared longer than I should have, but Doris seemed unaffected and just smiled at me. I don't remember being scared... but we never talked about it at the time or after that. I think I later asked my mom why she had a wig and mom told me she was sick, but the word cancer was never uttered.

Back then it was still an unknown. It was still rare in my world. And now it seems to be as common a word to children as talking about a cold. I am sure there isn’t a person reading this who hasn't somehow been affected by cancer. My Uncle Bob died last year of cancer, my friend Mary Burns' husband John lost his cancer battle previous to that. And it is because of my friend Kelly's family that I am involved with Relay for Life.

relay photo
The photos above are of Marv and Kaitlyn, Kelly's dad and daughter who have both died of cancer within the past five years. Kelly, her husband Nick and daughter Megan created a team called The Smiling Kate's, which I'm a part of. Their involvement in Relay started when Kate was still with us and they all worked together to raise money to fight this disease, and also enjoyed the camaraderie and fun that the event creates. Back when I was more able-bodied I had the opportunity to sing at the opening of Relay a few times and it remains one of the most meaningful experiences I've ever had.

I am very aware of my shortcomings, so I can tell you unequivocally that I am the world's worst fundraiser. A natural salesperson I am not. My pitch would go something like, "If you don't mind, I mean... if you maybe have the ability to help, if it's not too much trouble..." You get my drift. Our local Relay is this Friday and Saturday, so here's what I'm going to do. If you have been looking for a way to help someone, this is an easy way for you to go about it. Click on this link and it will take you to my Relay page where you can donate. No pressure; just an opportunity.

This year I'm going to make my donation to remember Doris Dodds and all those whose lives have been touched by cancer, so other lives don't have to be.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


grandma twirls

I wonder now, looking at this photo, if all that dancing in the kitchen really started at some point with my Grandma Rita. When my dad's parents would come stay with us one of the best moments was always getting to twirl with Grandma Rita in the morning. We'd still be in our pajamas and would wait our turns to dance and do twirls. As you can see in the picture, Hoody (Steve) was right behind me waiting for his moment to be a ballerina, too. All he was missing was the matching nightie.

There are very specific memories that come to mind when I think of being little with Grandma Rita. Like how she held her curved paring knife to peel an apple with the skin curling into one long strand. I know it's silly but I can picture her hands exactly. I loved going to their house on McCook Lake where we'd eat apples and watch the squirrels come up to the top patio and eat the bread we had set out for them.

And better than the apples were her german pancakes with warm applesauce. I honestly think her home is the only place I've ever eaten them, but I'm convinced they only tasted as good as they did because we ate them off of her special red and white china she and Grandpa had bought on a trip to Germany. I felt so special and grown up eating our breakfast together at her table. She has a way of making the little things seem like a big deal, and yet if you tell her how great she is she'll wave you away with her hand as though you've gone on about her for an hour already. Humble and loving and a wonderful twirler. All the ingredients for a fantastic lady.

Today is Grandma's birthday, and I'd give anything to show up at her doorstep and do a couple twirls with her... but she'll just have to settle for these memories of mine. Sending lots of warm wishes and good memories your way, Grandma... we all love you!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Iowa Pride

I have had a number of people ask me over the last few years if I've ever thought of moving someplace where the weather is more stable. The answer is: of course I've thought about it... but I know deep down I never would. I know it sounds crazy with how my body reacts to changing temperatures and storm fronts, but the truth of the matter is that the quality of my life isn't only measured in relation to pain. I couldn't imagine living somewhere without my friends, or at a greater distance from my family, but I also couldn't imagine leaving the quality of Iowa neighbors.

As I've watched the towns in my region get hammered by tornadoes and devastating floods, I can't help but be grateful I live around these people. When I've watched disasters hit the country at different times, there are almost always the news shots of looters, vandals and violence. It just hasn't happened here. In the last week, when there has been 24/7 news coverage keeping the victims informed about where to find help and the status of their homes, I have heard only one news story of vandalism. The local newscaster informed us that the convenience store he stops at every day for a snack on the way to work was broken into after the mandatory evacuation was enforced.

The flood damage to the store occurred only because someone had broken the door to get in, which allowed the water to enter the store. And this is what I love about small town Iowa... the two anchors spent nearly five minutes chastising the anonymous vandal. They talked about how this affected the store owner as well as the morale of the people in the town who are fighting to save businesses instead of damaging them. They reminded the viewers that we are Iowans, and we are better than behavior like this. They suggested that we are people who assist our neighbors, not people who undermine others for our own gain.

Now, I've never lived in a big city... but the few times I've visited and watched newscasts, robbery and murder and vandalism are reported in succession without any shock or astonishment. But here, when situations are dire, the news is informative and encouraging... with a bit of a homily on morals thrown in for good measure.

So on Saturday evening, when a headache started settling in and my pain increased, I knew another storm was coming. And even though it gets discouraging to go through this weather roller coaster of pain, the last thing on my mind was where I could go to escape it. My thoughts were about how much rain might be in store for us and how much of that would be traveling south to the towns already devastated by the flood. Thankfully it wasn't enough to add too much trouble, and while it will be awhile before people can get into their homes, the waters are at least beginning to recede and the forecasts are holding out hope for dry days ahead.

Actually, we could have three days in a row without rain and temperatures in the 70's this week. And if you want to know where to find me, I'll be sitting on my patio with a book, appreciating every moment.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dad Jokes

Golf cart rides with the grandkids dad grandkids

Happy Father's Day to all you dad's out there! I'm sitting here chuckling, thinking of all the different ways I could talk about my dad in this post. He's a guy I could tell you a million funny stories about as easily as I could tell you the touching ones, and I think that's what makes him so great. He's got a little bit of something for everyone.

First and foremost, dad thinks he's very funny. And he is... but he's funny in that shake-your-head-and-laugh-at-how-much-you-love-him kind of way. To give you an example, if you would come to our house for dinner he might ask you if you'd ever had boneless chicken for breakfast. And you'd look at him quizzically until he said, "Eggs... get it? Boneless? Chicken?"

Tell me, could you keep from laughing at that?

My friend Laura Karlen came to live with my family my senior year of high school, and when all my siblings were home one weekend we were sitting at the table chatting over dinner. Laura was telling us all about something that had happened in her day when dad looked at her and said, "That's terrible... just like toilet paper." And Laura looked at him and said, "Oh, I get it. Tear-able. Like toilet paper is perforated."

I kid you not, people. All six of us kids looked at each other in astonishment because, while we had heard him say that to us all of our lives, not one of us knew what it actually meant. We all thought toilet paper was terrible because you wiped yourself with it. This was obviously a case of just hearing something so often it became second-nature without seeking explanation.

Or it could be that we all didn't ask for an explanation because when you do, you get a history lesson. When I asked my dad how he was doing one day, he replied: "Oh, about two in a hill." So I, of course, asked him what in the world that meant. Which means I then had a lengthy conversation about how farmers, back in the old days, would plant two seeds instead of one when planting on a hill so if there was water run-off they would have a better chance of one seed staying in the ground. So, two in a hill was a good thing. See... aren't you glad I asked him? Don't you feel just a little bit smarter all of the sudden?

Dad is not only funny... but he was a great dad growing up. He climbed up trees and fell out of them tying up rope swings for us. He could throw us so high in the air we'd get dizzy... but always managed to catch us. He loved going to the lake boating every weekend and didn't mind having to hop in the water to help us get our skis on. [And he taught us how to ski like he taught us how to do everything... by always starting with, "Now, if a guy would just (insert instructions here...)"] He bought my brother Jim a sailboat and would go out on the lake with him to bail out the water and keep themselves afloat. In other words, even if things were a pain in the butt, he didn't mind doing it if it meant you were happy.

And that's the main thing I can tell you about my dad. He's happy when his kids are happy. He's happy when his neighbor is successful. He's first in line to lend a hand when hard times befall you. He's the guy you want to watch your back.

And he's funny. What more could a girl ask for?

Happy Father's Day, Dad... You are loved!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oh, Lucky Day

So, if Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, Thursday the 12th must be extra good to make up for what's coming. Seriously. It was an incredibly lucky day for me this week.

I was recently informed that my Ill and Handicap waiver, which allows me to have someone clean the house and get my groceries, wasn't going to be renewed. My case worker told me not to worry, that it happens all the time. I just needed to write a letter, have my doctor write a letter with documentation and then I would have a phone hearing to appeal the decision. So I wrote my letter, as did my doctor, and I waited to hear about the next step in the process as I did my best not to worry and gnash my teeth. And on that great day, Thursday the 12th, I found out that the gnashing of teeth would be unnecessary because they reversed their decision without a hearing, and my waiver is renewed!

I know there is a lot wrong with our health care system. I know there is so much paperwork and bureaucracy involved in every aspect of it. But I just wanted to take a moment to say how grateful I am that this aspect of it has worked for me. I have been able to adapt to my life on a personal level because of the fact that this waiver has made the logistics of living a non-issue for me.

The reality is that I get in my car and drive very few times throughout the year... at one point last year I realized I hadn't changed the oil (sorry, Dad) in nearly two years, but in that time I also hadn't put enough miles on the car to make it necessary. That is partly because I go through stretches of time where I'm sick and my stamina is not enough to walk to the garage let alone drive. And it is partly because I'm a safety girl (to quote Julia Roberts from Pretty Woman in a very different context). I won't drive a few miles down the road to have my blood work done unless I am 100% sure I feel strong enough to get there and back. I relish the moments I do drive - there's a freedom in it that is hard to let go of - but I also know that given how my last year has gone, driving around isn't going to happen often.

And while driving somewhere and back in a short period of time is one thing, driving somewhere, walking across a parking lot, shopping through a store, walking back across a parking lot and driving home is an impossibility. I couldn't do those things on my own, which makes the waiver a Godsend.

Beyond getting groceries and running all the errands that need attending to, is the fact that maintaining my home is difficult as well. As much as I keep a neat home, it would not be as clean as I would want it to be without help. Simply scrubbing the floors and vacuuming are tasks that wouldn't just wear me out... they would do me in. And as amazing as my friends are, it’s not easy to ask friends to come care for you and your home. Linda and Dawn, who do my shopping and clean my house, are the sole reason I can exist with such ease in my home. And now, because my waiver is renewed, I don't have to figure out how to manage without them.

So, I figured that during this time when Presidential candidates are debating and everyone is complaining about the current state of our country, I would take a moment to say how lucky I am that this one aspect of it is working for me. I can't wait to see what good news I get on the next Thursday the 12th that rolls around!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday the 13th

It's a superstitious day, people. FRIDAY THE 13th!!!!!

I was having a phone conversation with my friend Kelly a few weeks ago when she told me the closing date on the house they have been building was finally set for the 13th of June. She was so happy that all of the construction and meetings and decisions and ... did I mention decisions? ... were finally going to be finished, until I casually said, "Oh, it's on Friday the 13th."

Apparently when a person is stressed out from building a house and living in a cramped apartment with her husband, kid and dog, finding out your move-in date is doomed by being steeped in superstition isn't all that great of a thing.

I, of course, wanted to reassure her. "My birthday is on the 13th, Kelly... I have had five different birthdays on Friday the 13th and nothing bad happened on any of them. I lived through it and look how great I turned out!"

Silence. More silence. Then a trepidatious reply, "Are you kidding

Then it hit me... I am seriously one of the unluckiest people I know. Murphy's law was written for me. And I am on the phone trying to convince her that the 13th is not a jinx at all. Well, I didn't get her convinced but we were definitely distracted by all the laughing about the alternate universe my mind is apparently existing in.

This isn't the first time I've been made aware of my complete and total denial of my reality. My first instinct is to react to a situation like I'm perfectly strong and healthy. Last year a friend of mine was feeling light-headed and nauseous when we were in public, and I knew she was shaky so I asked her if she wanted me to help her walk to the bathroom. She looked at me like I had three heads and finally asked me how I was going to catch her if she passed out. Aaahhh... right. Hand her my cane, maybe?

This winter I was on the phone with Susie when she mentioned that she was explaining to a co-worker about me and said (accurately) that I was disabled and pretty much home bound. Those terms never cross my mind... I mean, I can hardly walk and I go months at a time without leaving my house, but disabled and home bound? What was she talking about?

My brain may take it to the extreme, but I think selective denial is how we all get through this life. I know a few years back when my mom showed the grandkids how great she could do a cartwheel, she truly believed in her mind she was 18 and it wouldn't hurt a bit. And then she did a fantastic cartwheel that hurt a lot. I'm sure when dad goes water skiing he forgets from time to time that being a hotdog might be biting off a bit more than he can chew. But I think it's ok to live a little by turning a cartwheel or popping up on some skis or pretending to be able-bodied if it keeps us young and active and healthy in our minds.

So, I've decided the disabled part I can totally accept - but home bound makes it sound like someone chained me to the door or something. You all will play along if I just say I'm a stay-at-home disabled chick for now, right? I'd just hate to tempt fate and jinx myself by completely leaving my mind's lovely alternate reality... I mean, it is Friday the 13th, after all.


Thursday, June 12, 2008


Oh my goodness, people, I just had the funniest conversation I've had in a while. And it comes as no surprise that it involves my friend, Nicole.

We're having a normal phone conversation... talking about life, her gorgeous girls, what her plans are for the week. Then she makes an excited declaration, "Oh my gosh, GUESS, just GUESS what I am going to see in November."

Blank. No idea. She and her husband Josh went to the opening of Grease on Broadway last year so I wasn't sure I could think of anything to top it.

Then she starts to sing, "Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh..." To which I answer, "Hangin' tough."

Ok, I'm just going to stop right there for a second. It's a freaking miracle I knew how to finish that line. I had, of course, heard of New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) back when they were popular the first time around, but they were never a band I listened to or really cared too much about. Then I went to college and met Nicole. And she has no shame in admitting she was (and still is) a die-hard fan. We were hanging out in our friend Shaun's dorm room in Campbell Hall when she opened her closet door and had a NKOTB poster hanging up. I started to laugh a little because I thought it was kind of funny, but then Miss Nicole jumped up and started singing one of their songs. She and Shaun didn't just sing it, people. God help them, they knew the MOVES. Then I thought it was really funny. Thank God I met these people, though, because they didn't judge me at all for knowing all the moves to Grease Lightning...

So I'm not the least bit surprised that Nicole and her sister are going to the concert. I'm a little more surprised that they found a neighbor who is more excited than they are to go to the concert with them. And I'm dying laughing right now at the fact that Nicole has taught the NKOTB dance moves to her two little girls. They are either doomed or the luckiest little girls on the planet. Either way, they are learning some pretty serious dance skills...

This is Nicole, back in the 90's... she's not showing her moves,
but she sure seems to know the words...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What and How

I've had a record number of visits from my dad's siblings in the last week. First his brother Gene came to visit, and on Monday his sister Janella and her husband Ron came to town. I'm feeling a bit spoiled.

Janella is my godmother and has been a great influence in my life throughout the years. She is married now, but was previously a presentation sister and when I first came to college she was employed at St. Stephen's, the Catholic student center at UNI. It was so nice, my freshman year of college, to have that familiar face a short walk away whenever I needed a little piece of home. At the start of my sophomore year she left St. Stephen's, and the country, to do missionary work in Bolivia.

When she left I was healthy and active, and I felt somewhat unstoppable. It was during the second semester of my junior year that my physical problems began, and it was at that time I received a letter she sent from Bolivia. I hadn't been struggling long and wasn't yet facing the bigger hurdles that were to come. But in that letter she wrote a very simple sentence that would serve me well in the coming years. She told me she had learned in her life that the question "why" never led to answers. She tried to ask herself "what" and "how" - and the answers to those questions usually led her in the right direction.

That was it... she didn't explain it or go into detail, but it stuck with me. And it's something I have followed myself. I don't find the "whys" of my life to be helpful. I don't know why I am sick and in pain, and I don't think I ever will. Nor do I need to. I guess I like to think that somehow, when I was a spirit in heaven, God showed me my life and all that it would entail. I imagine looking at the good, the bad and how both affected the people around me. I like to think that I saw all this and said yes. Yes, I will take all of the bad with all of the good and serve a purpose.

Maybe it's a far-fetched notion, but can you imagine if that is how it works? If I said "yes" to this life, then the question of why things happen is irrelevant. If I said "yes" to this, it was because God saw a purpose in my life and how it would unfold in a greater plan. What more of a reason do I need for living than that?

Don't get me wrong. When the difficult stuff happens I get sad and discouraged and frustrated - I just don't sit in it for long because I don't want to miss what's in store for me next. My only real fear in life is that I have a purpose to fulfill, and if I'm not paying attention or I'm busy wallowing I'll miss it. That's where the "what" and "how" questions come into play. What needs to be done? And how can I contribute? For the record, I don't achieve this perfectly every day. It's a goal that I pay attention to. The more I pay attention, the more I notice around me and the easier it becomes to pay attention again the next day.

So, if you wonder what gets me through the day, that's it. Believing that the difficult things are just as important to my purpose as the easy things, and how I choose to deal with both affects more than just myself. Believing that I was put here for a purpose, even if I never know exactly what it is or why it happens. Trusting completely that I am living to fulfill even what I don't understand. That doesn't just get me through the day... it makes me treasure every moment of my life.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Floods, Fires and Cars, Oh My...

The storms and rain have been so constant and unrelenting this year, which means we are having flooding problems in my town. The news just broke in saying there is a mandatory evacuation for downtown Cedar Falls, showing video of the levy and large numbers of people sandbagging in the hopes of keeping the water at bay. They are warning people to be prepared that we may lose electricity and our water supply, and keep emphasizing that the water levels are going to be worse than the flood of 1993.

I was in college at the time of the 1993 floods, and when you're younger everything seems a little less dire, doesn't it? We lived a few streets down from the Hill, which is where all the local college bars are located. One night, as we watched a river of water flowing down the street, my roommate Shaun and I had the brilliant idea of putting on our swimsuits under t-shirts and shorts and walking through the rain to the bars. It took all of three steps to lose our flip flops and, being the bright college students that we were, we ran the rest of the way there barefoot. How we didn't step on something that required a tetanus shot is just pure, dumb luck... and it was a ridiculously fun night.

That was the tame part of my flood experience that summer. The flooding in Ames was dire as well, so my brother Jerry and his wife Amy wanted to go help sandbag around Hilton Coliseum. Their oldest daughter Anna was only about 5 months old, so I offered to drive to Ames and watch her so they could help with the sandbagging efforts. At the time I was driving, only one road into Ames was left open and the line of cars on that road was endless going into town. The cars were moving at a snail's pace as the troopers were directing traffic, so a lot of time was spent sitting still waiting to move another inch in the right direction.

In the previous month I had been calling dad periodically with concerns about my car, an Oldsmobile Cutlass that was a bit unpredictable. It didn't have the little gauges that told me the exact temperature levels, but a little orange temperature light kept coming on and staying on for long periods of time. Being that I know nothing about cars I thought I should share this information with dad, but his response was that it was just a "dummy light." He told me not to worry about it - he was sure it was a problem with the light itself and not the car.

Which brings us back to that afternoon and the slow moving line of cars on that long stretch of road. I was rocking out to the radio with my air conditioning on, waiting for the next lurch forward when I heard this popping sound, followed by a clunk. Then smoke started billowing in through the air conditioning vents and something certainly smelled like it was burning. I turned off the key, leaped out of my car and did the only thing I knew to do... I started pointing at my car and announcing that it was on fire.

The gentleman in a truck behind me was kind enough to hop out and help me get my hood open, put out the fire and let the car cool off. A state trooper came by to say, "Yep... your car was on fire..." and told me I could ride with him into Ames. He dropped me off at a Hardee's where my brother Jerry came and picked me up; when I got in the car Jerry had other exciting news for me, which at first I thought he was saying just to mess with me... he told me that my new nephew Thomas had been born that day, a full six weeks before he was due. Seriously, people, what more could possibly happen?

Funny you should ask...

Jerry dropped me off at his house, and then went driving to the location of my abandoned car. He called from his cell phone as he was getting close to find out the exact location when he suddenly burst out laughing. "I think I found your car," he said. "It's surrounded by fire trucks."

When we pulled my car to the side of the road, someone must have closed the hood and it was hot enough that it started on fire again. Because I had locked it up and taken my keys with me, they couldn't pop the hood and the fire required trucks to come. Now, I should have been more concerned about my car and the contents in the trunk, but my only response was to ask Jerry to please call dad for me and tell him. I sooo didn't want to be the one to do it.

When he got back home he told me he called dad, who started inappropriately laughing as well. Apparently I had complained enough about the car not working that he took me seriously and had traded in the car the day before. We didn't even own the burning vehicle anymore. Of course, dad settled a fair trade with the dealer later, and after a few days of watching Anna we met dad and I got in a new-used-Oldsmobile and headed back to college.

So, I'm not looking forward to the prospect of losing water and electricity and my mind along with it if the Internet fails me ... but today's lesson is that there is always a silver lining, people. My car is not on fire.

Hope you all are safe and dry, and enjoying the extra edition of my blog today :)

Learning to Shuffle

When I was little, I was a total mama's girl. And a daddy's girl, too, if I'm being perfectly honest. We lived on an acreage outside of town, and it wasn't like I could just ride my bike down the block and meet some other kids my age... so being around home, around my parents and siblings, was all I really knew.

One summer I went to spend a week with my dad's brother Gene and his family. He and his wife Jeanie have three daughters who are just a little younger than myself and I was really excited to go and play. Until our car was pulling into their driveway and the pit formed in my stomach, and the lump in my throat... homesickness. This wasn't going to be good considering I hadn't even left the car yet.

But if you have to be a homesick kid this was the right house to go to. With three girls in residence there were plenty of toys and their basement was set up like a baby-doll heaven. We played Barbies and school and set up house for our babies. At night when we went to bed, instead of just saying the nighttime prayers I was used to they would say a decade of the rosary. So it was during my sleep over week I learned the fine art of counting on my fingers how many Hail Mary's had been said so I'd know when my turn came if I should start in on a Hail Mary or a Glory Be. Isn't it crazy the things you remember about being little?

Not only did I learn more about the rosary, but my Uncle Gene taught me how to play a mean game of King's Corner and how to shuffle the deck of cards into a bridge. That was a seriously cool trick at the time, let me assure you. I loved how their whole family would sit at the table together after supper and play game after game of cards. Even Theresa, their youngest who is quite a few years younger than me, had already mastered the games and took great delight in the fact that she could give me a pointer or two.

And my Aunt Jeanie was so patient with the homesick little girl that got dropped on her doorstep. One day we were out in the garden picking strawberries and I just couldn't hold it in any longer. Tears were running down my face and I was so embarrassed that I couldn't stop crying. Jeanie came outside and said that I must have gotten too much heat; maybe I should come in from the sun for awhile. So we walked inside and she called my mom for me, and they surprisingly showed up the next day for my trip home.

Gene and Jeanie and their family still give so much kindness to me... they stopped through with my cousin Janet and two of her gorgeous little girls to spend some time with me on their way to a birthday party on Saturday. It was so good to sit and chat with them and be reminded of my time with them all those years ago. I don't know if they even remember the week I was there, but I remember like yesterday... just like I hope my nieces and nephews will remember all of our little excursions and the different ways I've shown my love to them. But I'm learning no matter how young you are or how old you get, the little extra love that's given to you always remains fresh in your memory.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sassy Britches

Susie and I met back in college and instantly became best friends. She is one of those people I mentioned in my previous post whose whole extended family has adopted me as their own. Her mom is actually the person who grocery shops for me and makes me incredible food when I ask her to... she's my personal guardian angel. And I loved her dad, Jack. He was this combination of sweet and ornery, and loved to stir up trouble. My favorite look on his face was when he would glance at you out of the corner of his eye and get a half-mouthed grin because he knew he had just gotten under someone's skin. He was good to me and I know he liked me because he gave me a lot of crap. That's how you really knew you were in.

One of the first times I spent an extended amount of time with Susie's family is when I went home with her for her Uncle Gene and Aunt Mary's farm sale/auction. I'm such an idiot at these things because I totally don't know the etiquette involved. When I saw her brother Mike coming across the lawn I got excited and waved and yelled out to him... and almost bought a vacuum cleaner. Yeah, I was so not subtle. But her parents, Jack and Linda? They were smooth. I stared at them all day as he was up on the stage holding up items and she was with us in the crowd. They would do nothing more than blink their eyes at each other... maybe give a tiny head nod... and before you knew it they had bought an item. It took being in sync to a whole other level.

Susie's dad died in a car accident in September of 2002, which means he got to know her oldest son, Jonathan, but never got to meet Tyler. And let me tell you, he would get a kick out of this kid. If I believed in reincarnation I would say that he should have been named Jack 2.0. That combination of sweet and ornery I was telling you about? It's all wrapped up in Mr. Tyler. He's even got the grin. And being that he's my godson he might have me wrapped around his finger just a little bit.


When I was on the phone with Susie the other night that ornery part of Tyler was coming to the surface and I said, "Boy, he's a little sassy britches tonight." Which made her promptly turn to Tyler and say, "Your godmother is on the phone and said you're being a sassy britches. And she can take away your birthday."

WHHAATT??? I promptly made her take it back and clarify that I would never take away his birthday. And of course she had that funny, ornery tone in her voice during this whole exchange. I could almost see her grin over the phone.

Wonder where she got that from?


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Soul Mate Kind of Friends

Here's a cool thing about my life... at every stage I have met great friends, the kind that are life-long, even-when-you-haven't-talked-in-a-year kind of friends where things are natural and you always wish the best for each other. I am crazy blessed with a lot of those kind of friends.

But I also have a number of people in my life who are soul mate kind of friends. These are the people that I can maybe remember the first time I met them, but have no idea how we got from saying hello to knowing each other backward and forward because getting to that point usually took only one conversation. I was thinking of this topic because my friend Kelly and her daughter Meg were over the other night and they are those exact kind of people. I got to be the lucky person who Megan needed to come see because SHE GOT HER BRACES OFF! and I feel so soul-mated with this kid that if it wouldn't have been a production, a big surprise she couldn't wait to share, I would have been a little heartbroken. Yes, I know... braces wouldn't actually break my heart. But the fact that her almost-14-year-old self thinks I might be a smidge cool enough to share things with... it makes me feel just a little bit like a rock star.

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I'm sure I'll be writing about many soul mate friends on this blog (Susie being one of them... I promise she's a fabulous soul mate friend, and not just a girl who pushes cigarettes on me *smile*) because they are all such an essential part of my day-to-day life. They are the ones who so effortlessly let me live vicariously through them and their families, making my life feel absolutely whole and complete. I've not only been welcomed into their families but their extended families as well. I get to be a part of their kids' lives, but more importantly they don't mind that I love their kids like my own. They put up with the crazy dog and come hang out at my place with me anyway, and the ones who live far away keep in touch like we live just down the block. I am blessed, people. So here's an idea: when you read this take a minute to call one of your friends that you maybe haven't talked to in a while and tell them how blessed you feel, too. I guarantee it will make your day as much as you will make theirs.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Your Hair is Pretty

You know how sometimes you're just annoyed to death with someone but you bite the inside of your cheek for fear of saying something that will make everything worse? Or you're in the middle of a conversation and you need a great comeback but none come to mind? (For the record, not having a comeback is the story of my life.) If so, I may have an easy solution for you.

When my niece Anna was little she was the most articulate little thing you could imagine. Somewhere around the age of three or so, a large number of us were gathered at her parents' home on the weekend of an Iowa vs. Iowa State football game. Anyone from Iowa knows this is a sacred sport weekend for the rival schools, and being in the hometown of the Iowa State Cyclones meant the game was being taken more seriously than you can imagine. While a large number were gathered in the living room watching the game, a few of us stragglers were still finishing up dishes in the adjoining kitchen.

Enter Anna. She walked into the kitchen wide-eyed with a hand on her hip, declaring the need for a family meeting. She informed her mother that she had heard "inappropriate language" (I kid you not) and there needed to be a discussion about it. Her mom, while all about open communication, knew better than to interrupt this particular game and convinced Anna to wait until the game was over. Thankfully, Iowa State won or this next part might not have been so funny or well tolerated.

When the game was finished the TV was turned off and somewhere around a dozen adults sat on couches with all focus directed at the three-year-old conducting the meeting. She made sure all eyes were on her and began...

"I was hearing inappropriate language when you were watching the game. I heard words like shit, damn and ell (meaning hell... cutest mispronunciation you've ever heard). And in THIS family, we use loving words like good job, I love you, your hair is pretty."

At that point I had a pillow shoved so far down my throat to keep from laughing I thought I might die right then and there. And it would have been so worth it. She was the cutest little swearer I'd ever seen in my life.

And here's where I get to my point of this post. The next time someone is driving you to the brink, use LOVING words. Go ahead. Tell them their hair is pretty. I swear to God I'll never let it slip what you're really trying to say.

Friday, June 6, 2008

If You Want the Rainbow

"If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."

This is one of my friend Kelly's favorite quotes, and believe it or not it comes from Dolly Parton... the great philosopher that she is. With the way the weather has gone so far this spring, you can understand why this quote seems to stick out in my mind a bit.

Storms have proven themselves to be difficult for me. I used to think old people were exaggerating when they claimed they could tell a storm was coming in their joints. Now I know they were either playing it down or my body is just a ridiculously excellent meteorologist. The pressure and the increased pain in areas of my body that I can usually count on to be a little less troublesome never ceases to amaze me. I think I'm lucky that I have a curious mind because I find the whole process to be somewhat interesting, despite being unpleasant.

Along with the increased pain usually comes some form of headache... anywhere from an annoying pressure to a lay-in-the-dark, don't-move-a-muscle, pray-to-God-tomorrow-comes-quickly migraine. The only addition to this equation is the fun of getting to care for Riley, as he usually starts throwing up if the migraine lasts more than two days. God I love that dog, but him mimicking my symptoms would be easier to deal with AFTER the headache is gone. Truth be told I feel so bad I'm making him sick that I end up cuddling him more than he does me. I'm kind of a softy that way.

Since I'm always open to new callings, I am often asked by friends to give them my own special forecast... Do I think school will be called off tomorrow or just a late start? Will the track meet be on? How will camping be this weekend? And my all time favorite was when dad wanted to get into the field but wasn't sure if the ground would be dry. I hated to break it to him that I can only tell what the weather will be like in my general vicinity... not two and a half hours away. Sweet of him to have so much faith in me, though.

One thing is always consistent during my storm troubles... I really look forward to the rainbow. I hold on for the headache to go, the sun to come out and the little extra energy to show up after being so exhausted the previous days. I begin to feel like I'm starting over, starting fresh... like I've been granted a reprieve from something worse than my normal self, which suddenly makes the normal not seem so bad.

Do me a favor and remind yourself of this the next time you have to go through a rainy season: There's nowhere to go but through it. Whether that means you have to white knuckle it or maybe be cuddled a little on your way through, I promise if you keep plugging away to the other side the sun will come out and the blessing will be there. God promised you the rainbow. And He promised to be right there with you in the center of the storm. All you have to do is put up with the rain.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Old Dog... New Trick

Last night three friends were over at my house for faith sharing. We usually do a great job getting to the chapter we've read and discussing the questions it poses for us. Admittedly we sometimes get sidetracked on tangents here and there... but I'm sure somewhere in those tangents our faith comes into play as well. 

Sometimes we also take the whole "breaking bread together" literally and order chinese food. Just to make sure we have enough sustenance to share to our full potential, of course. We dished up our sweet and sour chicken, joined hands and Susie prepared to say grace. And that dog you see pictured all over this blog? He felt the need to join in as well. As soon as we joined hands and he realized he had no involvement in the process, he vocally reminded us of his ability to pray, which prompted Susie's prayer to begin with, "Oh, Lordy!"

For whatever reason, as is so often the case, my mind immediately went to a memory about one of my nieces and nephews. When my oldest nephew Alex was a little boy, probably about four years old, he and I were having lunch together just the two of us. We sat at the table and I said we should say grace. I'm used to the very Catholic way of doing things, but my little guy had more evangelical experiences than his aunt. He put his head in his little hand, swaying it back and forth, and began in his best southern drawl (imagine the italicized parts are exceptionally drawn out)...

"Jesus, we just want to thank you for all this food. I just wanna ask you to help me to be a good boy. And bless us, Jesus. Amen."

It was so sweet and pure and honest, it made me want to eat him up for lunch. He's still just as special at 16 as he was all those years ago, but I think the fake southern accent is probably gone when he prays now...

I'm afraid I'm still more on the Catholic side when I say grace, but I think this photo will show you that I've done my best to improve Riley's skills at praying before meals.

Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Just Like You...

I'm not entirely sure what seed got planted in my head to make me decide to start this blog. It just seemed like a good idea one day so I putzed around on the computer and in no time it was up and running. It was almost too easy, but I suppose if it wasn't I wouldn't have dove into it without thinking about it a little more. It's only been a week of writing everyday but I'm really glad that seed was there. 

I used to work at a magazine in town, which has long since been bought out and moved to California. I'm pretty sure the name isn't even the same anymore. I look back now and realize I was so incredibly lucky to get a little piece of my dream before this disease took away my freedom to work. I got to be a part of getting a magazine published. I was able to write articles and have my name in print. I got to travel to trade shows in Chicago and Denver, and did interviews with major companies. I got to be a part of something that is tangible and that's pretty amazing to me.

I think a lot of my life, looking back, worked out that way. I was never a major player at a magazine, but I got to be a part of producing one. I was never a well-known singer, but I was appreciated in my community. I only sang at church and weddings and funerals, but I think I touched people when I sang and I know they offered me a lot when they listened. I was never a celebrated actress but I got to be in plays and musicals and relished every moment.

It's amazing that when you look at what you have, instead of what you won't or don't have, you usually see that in one form or another you've gotten what you wished for. It may not have been yours for long enough, or it may not have been as big as you dreamed it would be, but it was there. 

That's why I really think I started this blog. I got tired of telling people what I used to do and who I used to be. I used to be a writer. I used to be a singer. I used to love to dance. When my friend's daughter Alex was a little girl we would spend a lot of time snuggling on the couch and talking about what she dreamed of doing or being. One day she looked at me and said, "When I get bigger I'm going to be just like you." Then she cocked her head and looked right in my eyes, obviously wondering what exactly that meant. Her eyes lit up and she declared, "I'm going to be sick!"

After I picked her mom up off the floor and revived her from her faint, I did my best not to bust out laughing and explained to her that I liked doing a lot of things, and she should just be whatever made her happy.

But for the record, Alex... I'm a writer.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Simple Kindness

When your life takes unexpected turns, if you are paying even the slightest attention you see basic life lessons magnified to extreme degrees. For example, I have always preferred to be the doer. I want to be the one who helps out a friend, sends the encouraging note, organizes the party. I want to be the helper, not the helped.

Life lesson number one: you must be willing to do both in equal measure.

Being the helper is not always a selfless act in the end. I've derived a lot of pleasure when I've been useful to someone or when I've been able to lessen a load. I find that the minute I start feeling sorry for myself, if I can find a way to do something for someone else my mood lifts immediately. And it's not because of that saying that you can always find someone worse off than yourself. I really hate the idea of comparing hurts or trials... just because mine looks worse it doesn't mean yours doesn't hurt your heart more. No, it's because no matter how big or small, doing an act of kindness is simply the right thing to do.

I paid attention to how I treated others, how I wanted to affect the world, but I never noticed as much what others did or did not do. Until I needed help. Boy are people willing to be kind and wanting to be helpful... and boy was it hard for me to let them. I didn't look at it as them getting the same kind of satisfaction as I did when I was a helper. I assumed it was burdensome for them, and by being a burden I wasn't lightening their load anymore. But when I took a step back I had to acknowledge how hard it must be for my friends to watch my body and abilities slip away from me and not be able to do a thing.

It was on a night when I had just gotten home from a hospital stay in Iowa City and three of my friends came to my condo to hang out with me and welcome me home. We were all laying in my bed chatting and my friend Meg noticed the bruises on my hand from the IV, went and got some lotion and started massaging my hand for me. It was the most overwhelming act of kindness to be cared for when you're tired, in a way you didn't even know you needed. People make grand gestures, and I am grateful for that. People think of ways to help that I would never even think of asking about. And I am grateful. But the lesson I've learned is that it is in paying attention to the actual need that makes the biggest impact, even when it is as small as a hand massage.

I began to notice little things all the time. I had gone to visit someone about five years ago, and we were heading into Hy-Vee to pick up something for dinner. I was walking with a cane at the time, and moving slowly. It wasn't until she reached the doors to the store that she realized I was still halfway back in the parking lot. It didn't offend me at all, but it made me realize how fortunate I was that when my friends walked with me in the mall, they walked with me. And they never commented on it, or made a big deal out of it. They adapted to my pace, and for that I am so grateful.

All of this has made me realize that it's also my responsibility to let them help. I notice it the most in my nieces and nephews and how easy it is for them to be kind. My nephew Thomas is always the first, even in a room full of adults, to ask me if I'd like his chair. My niece Anna, when I couldn't go into a room with everyone else and watch a movie because the carpet was wool and I would have a reaction, shrugged and said she'd seen it before. She would rather do something else anyway so she hung out with me. Kindness.

And last summer, when I was home at mom and dad's I was walking up the stairs from the basement, which sometimes feels like climbing a mountain to me. My 7-year-old nephew Christian walked by the top of the stairs and noticed me coming. He stopped and said, "Just a minute, Aunt Sara... I'll help you." I opened my mouth to say that it was ok, he could go play and I'd be up in just a minute. But I stopped and said instead, "Thanks, buddy. That would be so helpful." The look on his face is why I'm writing this post. His face lit up as he put his arm around my waist. His little body didn't help me physically at all, but his spirit and his smile helped my heart. And I know he has it in him to do the same for someone else someday.

That makes a lot of this worth it.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Bad Influence(s)

So I was trying to think of a lighter tone to take for the blog entry today, and if I ever need to get a smirk on my face I only need to think of a story about my friend, Susie. (If you're reading this, Suz, I promise to be gentle...)

For you to understand the irony of this story, I have to start with one of the first times Susie and I ever went out together. Or rather, the time I forced her to get off her butt and join us for a drink. We were in college at UNI and a bunch of us hung out in the lounge at St. Stephen's, the Catholic Student Center. (With that knowledge alone you should feel assured that this story is going to be fairly tame in the grand scheme of things).

Myself and two friends were talking about where to go out that evening... now that we had done our churchly duties it was only fair we partake in normal college-kid duties as well. It was at this time that we happened by a lovely, blonde-haired girl watering ferns along the window ledge, trying her best to conceal the fact that she'd been crying her eyes out.

I stopped, having met her once before, to make sure she was ok... the time before when I saw her she had commented on being homesick so I thought she may just need a friendly face to let her know college was SO much better than being at home. But after a short conversation I quickly surmised that she was crying over a boy. Stupid boys. And lucky for Susie... we had a cure for crying. She'd be joining us for a drink and did not have right of refusal.

We felt it was a critical mission to keep her from crying in the plants, in her apartment or anywhere else she could think to go. Because WE weren't crying and we were certain our good moods would be infectious. As much as she tried to him-haw her way out of it, we were on our way for our night of fun and frivolity. The fact that we had no idea the bar we took her to that evening had a gay night is really beside the point... the four of us girls at a table seemed to fit in fine. We drank, danced, laughed, sang... and found out the next day that it might not be the most appropriate place to go on a Tuesday night.

The point of all that is, in the beginning I thought I was corrupting poor Suz. And then we got to know each other and she quickly learned that going out for a drink is about the wildest thing I'd ever done.

Flash forward a few years to Susie and I living at the big house with friends of ours (not a prison, just a really big house). Susie has a condition with her heart that I can't remember the name of off the top of my head, which was causing her to have dizzy spells. When she mentioned the problem to her doctor, he made the decision to take her driver's license away for a period of time, which to anyone would be devastating. And it was for Susie as well. Because I hate to see a friend upset more than anything in the entire world, I promised we could do absolutely anything that might make her feel better. You can see how I got myself into trouble on that one.

Her license was only good until midnight, so she and I packed up her Hyundai (you have to pronounce it Hi-YUUUUUn-Die to get the full effect of our mood on that trip) and started on our way to visit her parents' farm. Because when life hands you lemons, you go home to see your mom. Susie drove until the clock struck midnight and then we stopped at a little gas station to switch drivers. It was a finality that was not making Suz feel any better, and she decided in that moment she knew exactly what would cheer her up. She wanted me to smoke a cigarette.

It drove her CRAZY that I had never smoked before and had no intention of trying. I obviously paid better attention to the Just Say No lecture and her new mission in life was to make sure I had the experience to find out just what I was saying no to. I gave in to the pressure and walked into the Prairie Dog truck stop acting as though I had been smoking all my life.

Woman behind the counter: What can I get you?
Me: A pack of Marlboro's, please.
Susie (whispering in my ear): Do you want to try those lights over there? Just to start?
Me (defiantly)
: No, because I don't want anyone telling me later I didn't smoke a REAL cigarette!
Woman behind the counter: Hard or soft?
Me: HUH?

I decided on the hard pack because I figured the cigarettes would stay nicer and not get crushed... ever the organizer that I am. And, of course, we needed a lighter. And this is the one I just had to have:

If the woman at the counter hadn't figured out by now I was not an experienced smoker, she certainly did when I thought all the lighters were broken. Then she showed me the child safety feature. Yep, I was that girl.

We took our smokes (like my lingo?) and our handy-dandy lighter out to the car to find that a trucker had blocked us in, and he was nowhere in sight. It was going to be awhile before we got on the road, so I (at midnight, mind you) rolled down my window, put on my sunglasses and did my best Sandy-Gone-Bad at the end of Grease impression and smoked a cigarette. And it was enough of an experience that I never felt the need to do it again.

Of course, when I had lunch with my brother Steve at the Olive Garden that week and was telling him all about it, the only part the waitress heard as she dropped the bread sticks off at our table was, "I felt like such a skank... we were doing it right there in the parking lot."

Needless to say, he never took clients to the Olive Garden for lunch again.