Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dogs vs. Kids

I had a bit of a long day at the doctor's and my body is certainly feeling it, so I'm just going to leave you with a short story for today. (The appointment went fine... nothing major to report; I'll tell you all about it tomorrow when I've gotten a little energy back.)

Mom came to town to go with me, and when she brought me back here to the house, Riley was... ecstatic. Lots of energy and barking and freaking out to let us know how much we were missed. Right away he jumped up into the chair by where mom was standing so he was at her hand-height and started his begging routine. I explained to her that when he gets on a chair next to you it's so you'll pet him - I don't bend over well so if he wants me to pet him he's learned to come up to my height. Not being able to realize the difference in people, he assumes everyone has that same affliction.

When I was in college, my friend Susie had come home with me for the weekend and my nephew Alex was home as well. He was about four at the time, but totally got the concept that Aunt Sara had a sore back and he needed to be careful.

I was sitting on the floor throwing him a Nerf football, which he would catch and then come barrelling at me... but he always stopped just short of me and would give me a hug while yelling, "Touchdown!"

Susie thought this was so sweet and wanted a turn as well... so she sat where I was on the floor, threw the football and Alex came barrelling at her. And knocked her flat on her back.

He obviously wasn't confused about us having the same affliction. 

And that, my friends, is today's lesson about the difference between a dog and a kid.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Spilling Secrets

Remember last week when I wrote about how I love sharing other people's joys and living vicariously through them? 

That hasn't changed.

So, I've known a secret for awhile. That happens a lot... people telling me their secrets. And I just got permission last week that I now could tell that secret to anyone I wanted. Right now I'm just hoping my friend remembers that I have a blog. Because I want to tell all of you.

My friend Nicole... the one who loves New Kids on the Block and using walkie-talkies with me... is PREGNANT. 


Can you tell I'm excited? Just imagine the biggest grin you've ever seen, and you'll know what my face has looked like for weeks. Nicole and her husband Josh have two of the cutest little girls you've ever seen, and I can't think of luckier babies on the planet than these twins. They are going to be welcomed into a beautiful family.

I have to say that since I was one of the first to know and have been praying obsessively for the health of these two little beings (who I have been lovingly referring to as Jekyle and Hyde), I feel quite a bit of responsiblity for them. 

And they way I figure it, I have about six months to convince them that one of those babies should live here with me.

Think they'll go for it?


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Open Doors

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Wouldn't it be lovely if all of us could take life so easy sometimes? I love this picture because it's as though he's looking at me with a bit of disapproval. As if he is saying, "You must be joking... how can you worry when there's so much napping to be done?"

I really don't worry too much in my life anymore. I mostly get anxious only when I feel like my limitations are letting other people down. I hate not getting to attend a birthday party or show up when someone needs me. But the one time worry about my own life tends to get the better of me is when any sort of doctor appointment comes around. My main doctor, Annie, is the exception to this rule as she is the kindest, most thorough and caring soul I've ever met.

But specialists of any kind tend to get the better of me and my nerves. Past experiences tell me they are usually impersonal, quick to judge and dismissive. I know that sounds harsh and certainly not true of all, but for me it has been true of many. A few years ago I was referred to a rheumatologist about an hour from my home who was the opposite of all those things. I walked into Dr. Bagheri's office, he talked to me and had read my file (which is unusual) ... and most importantly was very knowledgeable about my disease.

My friend Meg had driven me to the appointment and I think after the hour ride there she was about as jumpy as me. Apparently I didn't hide my nerves well... but going to the doctor had almost become a phobia for me and if I could have turned around and walked out the door I would have. But I knew I needed help and better medications and instruction about how to best handle this disease. I remember walking back out of the office, looking at Meg with a dumfounded expression and telling her that he was nice. And informative. And he was going to help me. Her relief and disbelief mirrored my own and we practically giggled all the way home.

Over the course of a few years Dr. Bagheri prescribed every possible medication there was for me to try. And all but one (the one I'm on now) I had some sort of reaction to... and not the simple side effects that get better over time. No, I have reactions like constant migraines or my throat swelling shut. As I jokingly say to my mom: breathing is so overrated. Sounds ridiculous but when you are desperate enough to beg the doctor to let you try the medication you've reacted to again ... and insisting that you can put up with "a little risk" you know you're desperate for something to work.

Over time there were no more medications to try and the hour trip to the doctor was causing more pain than I could handle, so Dr. Bagheri referred me to a rheumatologist here in town. And the panic started all over again. I assumed I couldn't get lucky more than once ... but I went into Dr. Palma's office and he was kind. And helpful. What a stroke of good fortune. He too has had me try a few medications, both of which caused breathing reactions and setbacks... and as much as I want to give up trying sometimes, I know that I can't be anything less than grateful for a doctor who actually wants to keep pushing until something good happens for me. So if there is something new he wants me to try, I will keep trying.

I go to the doctor tomorrow, and this time I find myself a little more like Riley... relaxed. I won't worry about my doctor this time. I worry instead about trying to put my life and new symptoms into words. I worry about trying to relay to him all the breathing problems and exhaustion that have been just as bad as the bone and nerve pain... because complaining is not my strong suit. He'll walk in the room and ask me how I am and I'll say "fine" even though it will be obvious I'm not. And then I'll remind myself that I'm supposed to complain, even if there's no solution for me yet. Until then I will simply pray I have the right words to say and that he is open to hearing them.

I guess all of this rambling is to tell you, and remind myself, that no matter how many brick walls you run into in this life - that wall somewhere has a corner. And if you keep walking around the corner sooner or later you'll find an open door. I'm so grateful I did.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monkey See, Monkey Do

What's that saying? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

If that's the case, then boy am I flattered by these two boys! :)

These are my friend Susie's boys, Jonathan and Tyler. You probably recognize Ty as my godson (aka sassy britches) from a previous post... and I am proud to say I am Jonboy's "fairy godmother" because we like all things to be equal and I'm fine with sharing the love. There aren't a ton of toys in my little condo, but I obviously have an abundance of walking aids. These are all old versions of what I now use, and the boys know exactly where to get them when they walk in the door.

I believe Tyler now has the "I'm an old Grandpa" walk and talk down pat, while Jonboy enjoys the thrill of leaping forward on the crutches like they're an amusement ride. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that none of the antics result in them needing a walking aid themselves.

You can see how much they've grown by this photo I have of them with canes a year ago:

They're so much taller now... even without the heels :) And I'm totally flattered that they seem to love all my accessories!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Filling Up

You know how sometimes seeing other people happy completely fills you up with joy of your own?

I just had that experience on Wednesday night.

I made a lot of really good friends in college, and one of the main places that happened was through St. Stephen's, the Catholic Student Center at UNI. The first week I was at college as a freshman I went to the weekly Wednesday night Mass... my Aunt Janella worked at the Center, and as the time approached for Mass to begin she was a little panicked because the cantor and accompanist hadn't shown up.

So here I was, brand new to college and not knowing a soul... and cantoring the entire Mass a cappella. Thank goodness I didn't have much notice because I didn't have time to be nervous. If you're ever wondering how to meet people, I recommend standing up in front of them and singing... it worked for me.

It was obviously a quick indoctrination and many of the older students took me under their wing... and as years passed I did the same for others. There are so many people who have come in and out of my life because of our shared experiences at St. Stephen's, and I've noticed that even when I lose touch with some for a period of time, when I see them again nothing has changed.

Let me take that back... hair changes, marital status changes, the number of children they have changes... but their hearts are the same. My friend Doug (the one who taught me how to instant message) was in town for a conference and our friend Pam drove into town to meet up with him. And lucky me, they met at my house. :) I'm fortunate that quite a few of my friends from college ended up staying and raising their families here, so my good friend Jenny came with her kids as well and we had a little mini-reunion of sorts.

And it filled me up. All three are so happy, successful and wonderfully content with their families. And with all the changes in their lives they are still the funny, loving and kind people I knew. I am always amazed and so incredibly grateful that my life was filled with such quality friendships at such a young age.

I was going to take a photo of my old friends but my camera was in another room, and quite frankly it seemed like a lot of effort to go get it... so instead I'm posting a random photo of my friend Jenny's kids. Mainly because they were so completely well-behaved at my house while we adults were reminiscing that I want everyone to see what these angels look like.  :)

P1000510 This is Bailey (my gorgeous goddaughter), Ava and Jonah. Sweet, eh?

If you ever have the opportunity to get together with old friends, even if you think your lives are too different to have anything in common anymore, I just want to say DO IT. Take advantage of the moment. It will fill you up.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One More Cheeto Thing

As I was writing the previous post it reminded me of a time, about five years ago, when the Cheeto buzz came to be. We here in Cedar Falls were hearing through the National News, as well as Jimmy Kimmel Live, that Algona had acquired The World's Largest Cheeto and that a parade was being planned in its honor.

A parade. In it's honor.

Again, the pride is overwhelming. Personally I found it to be a hilarious little anecdote and had many conversations with people asking me what I thought the parade would look like. Since I really only attended our high school Homecoming parades, I tried to imagine the possible float. The only thing that came to my mind was a Garrigan Golden Bear eating the Cheeto for a snack... and I had this sneaking suspicion that wasn't going to be a viable option.

I actually missed the Jimmy Kimmel taping, so didn't get to see for myself how big the hoopla really was. Again, I'm sure it was spectacular. But shortly thereafter I was at a bar with a guy I was dating, meeting a large group of his friends for the first time. We all got along great, chatting and drinking away, when at some point in the night one of the girls asked me where I was originally from. So I told her... "Algona. Home of the World's Largest Cheeto!" 

After she recovered from laughing so hard beer spit out of her mouth, we had a lengthy and sarcasm-filled discussion about the grand Cheeto. Then my date sauntered over to the table and realized our seemingly in-depth, intellectual conversation was about THE Cheeto... and he might have been just a little bit incredulous. Maybe it was embarrassment. Or maybe he was just impressed by our Cheeto aptitude. I believe the comment was... "The two people in my life who can talk more than anyone else on the planet can think of nothing to discuss but the Cheeto???"

And we couldn't... we were quite content to laugh about Cheetos and come up with Cheeto scenarios, and maybe at that point we stayed on the Cheeto kick just to get under someone's skin a little bit.

But as I sit here now, single ... once again writing about the Cheeto, I think I'm beginning to see this may be where it all started to go wrong.

Due to my stay-at-home status, I'm not exactly a dating machine (read: not at all) so I figure I can safely talk about Cheetos to my heart's content. But if you are dating, heed my advice: if your man can't handle talk about the Cheeto... it may mean he's just not cheesy enough for you.

(Bad joke, I know! I know! But we're talking about Cheetos here... how did you expect this to end?!?!?!)   :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

World's Largest Cheeto...

Are you ready for this?

The town where I grew up, the place that made me the woman I am today, has a claim to fame. Algona is the home of the World's Largest Cheeto.

And man, am I proud. :)

I had to search for this photo on Flickr as I have never actually laid eyes on the large cheeto in person, and seeing it now gives me a slight urge to hide under the table. Not because I'm embarrassed of being from the town of the World's Largest Cheeto...

Nope, it's because they obviously forgot to consult my mother on tasteful design. Then again, I don't know what design would go better with a cheeto than a purple pillow and some gold spray-painted pine cones.

Who knows... maybe it is increasing tourism. It certainly does scream, look at me! I have a few outfits I wore in high school that probably screamed the same thing, but since it's my blog and I have creative control you'll be spared those photos.

One frightening image from Algona is more than you'll ever need.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Doggone Crazy

I know you'll find it hard to believe that my perfect angel pooch could possibly do anything wrong. I mean, that sweet adorable face of his just sits in his kennel innocently waiting for me to come home after I've been gone from his sight, right?

The following photos are ones that I took over two years ago, before I realized he developed his separation anxiety and need for medications...

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For the record, I had set the garbage bag up on top of the dining room table since I knew I was leaving, but didn't want to try to carry the bag to the dumpster. I had actually been in that situation before where I did something "manual" like putting garbage in a dumpster, and then was unable to go out with my friends because it would flare up my pain. But I wasn't risking it this time, baby. I was using my noggin and thought setting it on top of the table would be totally out of reach for the pipsqueak dog.

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So, it was on this particular evening that I learned my dog could jump so high he could have a career as a circus performer. He apparently kept jumping next to the table until he caught a corner of the bag in his teeth and it fell over onto the carpet.
Notice in the first photo he is powerful enough to drag the heavy bag I didn't want to risk lofting into the dumpster all the way across the room... leaving in it's wake a trail of garbage that required clean up. My clean up. After an evening out for supper when I had already expended all my energy.

IMG_1297 "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen... "

And this is what a dog looks like after he's had a bath in the sink because there was left over spaghetti in the garbage and he managed to get an orange stain all over his mouth. You would be able to properly see the fine work I did making him shiny white again if it wasn't for the bars blocking your view. He was in prison longer than I care to admit on this blog.

So let's be real... I don't leave the house much anymore, but I don't come home to World War III in my living room either. Always reminding myself of the silver linings, people. And Riley has a silver lining of his own... he enjoys my stay-at-home status because when he lays in his kennel now it's for relaxation, not imprisonment... most days. :)

Monday, July 21, 2008

I Wish For You

As adults, we often find ourselves muddling through our lives... our arms out in front of us feeling our way through life one step at a time. We face hard realities and we move forward the best we can. We know life holds beautiful times and trying times and we have enough experience to try to make sense of what we are given, either way. I know how to hold onto joy and I know how to let go of disappointment. I know how to accept my illness and not be afraid of what is and what's to come.

But I don't always know how to explain it to a child.

Really, even though this sickness and pain stuff is in my face 24/7, I don't spend a lot of time dwelling on it anymore. Oh, there are moments... but mostly I just live my life. I focus on my dog, on other people's kids, on my nieces and nephews, on my friends and their excitements in life. If you're having a baby, I immerse myself in it so I have a joy to focus on, too. If you're building a house, I am decorating it in my head just for the fun of it. If my niece wants to show me her cheerleading routines, I'm going to pay attention and cheer with enthusiasm. If Megan calls me to play me her piano piece over the phone, I'm going to listen and encourage for as long as she wants to play. They share it all with me and I soak it in like sunlight to a flower.

I am really good at sharing their lives, paying attention, feeling their moments; but how do I share my life with them? 

That's a question I think of often and still don't have a good answer for. My sister-in-law Patience was here on Saturday with her kids, Cooper and Avery... my godson and my sweet niece.

Avery often walks into a room on her tip toes with her little hips sashaying... talking non-stop and showing off her dance or cheerleading skills... not afraid of performing or receiving adulation. In other words, she's a reincarnation of me at her age (poor kid). And my Cooper... he's got such a heart in him. He's the one that got me thinking about this today as he jumped up every time I slowly got out of my chair. He got to my crutches before me and had them ready in front of me to grab onto and start walking. Such kindness. Such thoughtfulness. And such a big job for a 10-year-old boy to have to worry about me.

I wanted to teach them how to do cartwheels and round-offs. I wanted to go on excursions with them and gather sticks for bonfires. I wanted to show them my serious dance moves (don't laugh... I used to have them!) and give them confidence in everything they do. And here they are, trying so hard to take care of me. It makes me so proud of them and breaks my heart all at the same time.

Like everything in life, I suppose, it's about finding a balance. Some way of being honest enough that they trust I will always do my best to tell them the truth, and being tough enough to put on a good face so their young selves don't worry so much. There's a certain amount I can't hide from them... sometimes it's obvious I'm sick; you can hear it in my voice and breathing. Or when a pain jolts and there's nothing I can do to stop the reaction in my body. But I try to smile and keep talking... make eye contact so they can see I mean it when I say it's ok.

I see them getting tougher with it too, and I hope it will help them more than worry them. I hope they will encounter someone someday that is tired or in pain or sick, and they won't be afraid to talk to them, help them, understand them. I hope that all of this worrying on my part is just that... my part. Because I only want them to remember the way I listen to them, care about them and cheer them on. I want them to have confidence in their abilities and belief in themselves. Even when I can't do all the things I think I should be able to, I want them to know that in my own way I'm giving them my whole world ... and that I wish for them nothing less in life than the joy they give to me every day. 

Friday, July 18, 2008

An Angel Smiling

This is the image I can't get out of my head this week.

Five years ago this past Monday a gorgeous, fun, spirited and happy 11-year-old girl passed away from cancer. Kaitlyn is the oldest daughter of my friends Nick and Kelly, and big sister to their daughter Megan... and this smiley face is the symbol of her life.

I don't know how to explain it when I tell you that such a sad time is one of the most treasured times of my life. So often we experience a death in our lives and want to run away from it; leave it behind so sadness doesn't follow you. But that's not how it was in this case. Heartbreaking, yes. Sad, terribly. But in her struggle with cancer and even in her death, Kaitlyn taught all of us about living more than anyone seven times her age could hope to.

Megan asked me out of the blue a few years ago when it was that I became their friend... and this is one of those rare times I can't pinpoint the moment. Kelly and I became close friends in that year before Kate died, but I really think the week of her death and wake and funeral turned us into family. The kind of friendship where, whether they realized it or not, they were going to be stuck with me for life. But Kaitlyn had that effect on people ... the ability to bring them together. This little girl who put up the fight of her life, who never lost her spunk and looked out for other little kids in the cancer wing, brought a whole world of people together as they all fought along with her.

And she did it all while smiling.

I'm sure her mom could tell of many times when orneriness was more prevalent than a grin, but only a cool and happy kid would want to rock out to Bon Jovi's It's My Life on her way to Mayo for treatments. Or know all the words to Barenaked Ladies If I Had A Million Dollars. They had fun as a family and it's obvious in every photo you see of her with extended family that they loved each other beyond words.

I had the privilege, along with so many others, to be there with their family at Hospice when Kate died. At different times that day the room was filled with people who loved her... her young friends holding her hand... people gathering around her to pray for her or remind her of stories. And even when crying and reminiscing, there was always a touch of laughter. Because she brought that out in people. Even before she was gone it was obvious we would never think of her without eventually turning to a smile.

I know so much of that week was a blur for her parents, but pretty much every moment of it is seared in my memory. And this week, five years later, I can't help but stop each day and remember where I was. Yesterday, Thursday, was her wake service and today was her funeral. In the days between when she died and the services their house was a revolving door of people, and because their friend Joe and I were singing at the services there was a lot of planning to be done and decisions to be made. And I am so grateful that I got to be a part of it. I didn't know how to make it better for her family, because there is no way to make it better. But we did make it a celebration.

Nick walked into her wake service with a big smiley face balloon, and spoke so eloquently of their girl. He captured her spirit and her joys and her young wisdom that touched everyone. The wake and funeral were beautiful, and at the cemetery there was a warm wind that circled everyone and made it impossible not to feel the spirit that was there. The sky filled with colorful balloons that were released in her honor, and that night as we all gathered at their home no one wanted to leave. It was like if we stayed long enough, if we didn't let the week come to an end, we wouldn't have to really say goodbye.

But we did leave, and five years later Kate's spirit is just as present as it ever was. And when we talk about her she brings us together as much as she ever did. She lived 11 years on this earth, and that kid truly lived her whole life. She touched people and left a mark. She accomplished what we all are trying to do... she laughed and she loved and she caused trouble and taught lessons. She really lived her life.

And she did it all while smiling.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mmmm... Raccoon

Here's an interesting dilemma in my life: my condo complex has a raccoon problem. See that photo below? It's of the world's largest raccoon. And it's in my parking lot. Even more disgusting is the fact that right after this photo was taken it slithered down into the storm drain. That's apparently where it lives.

I added those handy-dandy red arrows to make sure you could tell what blob I was talking about, seeing as it is a bit on the blurry side. That's because I took the photo at night, without the flash, through the window of my sliding glass door. That, and the fact that Riley was jumping up and down, knocking me off-balance, begging for the chance to save us from the raccoon that could eat him for a midnight snack. He's a protector, that 10 pound ball of fluff.

Mostly, the raccoon has been stalking my neighbor, Candace. On more than one occasion he/she has cornered Candace in the parking lot while she was walking her dog, Martini (who is about Riley's size but smart enough to be scared out of her wits). Candace was throwing garbage in the dumpster at one point and the animal leaped out of the dumpster at her. If there is anything that could get me to throw down my crutches and run, I'm pretty sure that would be it.

Last week, Riley and I were laying on the couch when he sat up ready to fight and I heard this annoyingly high-pitched screaming coming from outside. And there, on my patio, was the huge raccoon FREAKING OUT. 

So, after calling my friend Susie to tell her about the crazy raccoon, I called Animal Control. Otherwise known as the most unhelpful people on the planet. (If someone from Animal Control is reading this, I'm sorry. But in this case it was true.) I explained to the woman that there was what I assumed to be a rabid raccoon on my patio and could they please do something about it? Ummm... yeah. Not so much.

Apparently the animal control people only have a contract with my town between the hours of 8 and 5. Even though it was before 5:00 when I made the call, catching a raccoon would require traps to be set out overnight and since they aren't contracted to come out during the night they wouldn't do it. Why, you ask? Because it would be inhumane to let the raccoon sit in a trap overnight.


Then the woman proceeds to ask me if the raccoon was female. She said it may be up around my house freaking out because it was in labor. I told her I had no idea if it was male or female. Did she think I went out to pet it and give it an exam? I mean, seriously. Then she asked me if there is a food source outside, like a dumpster. I explained to her again that I lived in a condo complex, so yes, there were dumpsters on every corner.

The woman then told me that if we could remove the dumpsters it would help the situation.

I'm just going to let you digest that comment for a second.

Ok, moving on. She then informed me that really, because our town is growing farther out we are actually encroaching on the raccoon's home... so it's really more us irritating them than them irritating us.

I realized at that point if I wasn't willing to join hands with the raccoon and sing "Kumbaya" I wasn't going to get very far with animal control. So apparently the raccoons have a permanent home in the storm drains. 

All of this, believe it or not, reminded me of a story from my childhood. (You all knew it was coming eventually, didn't you?) There was a sweet little old lady that lived in the teeny-tiny town of Irvington, near where I grew up. We called her Grandma Colwell, even though we were of no relation... but we had known her forever and she babysat my dad when he was little. 

Irvington, to give you perspective, had a building that housed a general store, post office, restaurant, gas station and hotel. All in the same building. Growing up we would ride our horses to see Grandma Colwell and she'd give us a nickel to buy candy at the General Store. Basically, think of the Walton's and you've got the picture. 

My dad would sometimes take me with him to see Grandma Colwell and have lunch with her. She truly made the best apple pie I've ever tasted, but other than that my main staple at her house was peanut butter and jelly. Thank God. Because she would concoct dishes for dad and herself that I never really had an interest in trying. I may have been young, but I wasn't stupid.

I remember one particular afternoon when dad carried the dishes into the kitchen and came back out looking green. We sped in his truck the mile down the road to our house where he went inside and was not seen for awhile.

You've guessed by now, right? Yep... she fed him raccoon. My dad ate roadkill. And if Grandma Colwell was alive today I'm pretty sure she'd have a solution to my raccoon problem.

I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Daily Affirmations (by Riley)

I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.

(If you don't know what this means, then you didn't watch enough Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live in the 90's.)


When I saw this photo of Riley, I obviously thought of Stuart Smalley, but it also totally made me think of my friend Katie. We were best friends in high school, rode the bus together since kindergarten and then went to college together at UNI. I love her to pieces and so when I tell you this, it is meant in the nicest, most loving way.

She's obnoxious.

And she made me laugh a lot. Growing up she was a total girl and a total tomboy all at the same time, and her family ...  they were not quiet people. When I would eat at their house and we would say the table prayer, by the time "Amen" was uttered you had better have your hand on the dish and the spoon to your plate or you'd wind up with a piece of bread and nothing else. In my family we each took a dish and then passed to the left. It was a culture shock... and a whole lot of fun.

There isn't a big long story as to why this photo reminds me of Katie. It's just that she didn't lack in self-esteem and didn't need to remind herself she was good enough. Actually, she often referred to herself as a "Pretty, Pretty Princess."

I'm so not kidding.

We lived together off campus (in a small house... before the Big House) but in different rooms. Some nights when we were all in bed she would shout for me to tell her a story so she could go to sleep. I always made her give me a sentence to start and I would take it from there. Nine times out of ten the first sentence would be, "Once upon a time there was a Pretty, Pretty Princess named Katie, and everybody loved her."

And after I stopped laughing, I would weave a tale and turn her into the wicked witch by the ending.

Sometimes it pays to be the one telling the story.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hello, Thailand!

I love technology. Probably because when we were growing up we thought Pong was the most technologically challenging game EVER... so pretty much anything beyond that is impressive to me. When I went to college and my friend Nicole had a word processor (for the younger readers... that's basically a typewriter that could save one document to a floppy disk) she was the hit of our dorm floor. I borrowed her superior technology frequently so I didn't have to trek to the computer lab in exchange for maybe helping her "correctly word" a few papers of her own. To clarify, I didn't write them... I just "worded" them. Big difference.

We also tried to force technology to happen a few times, to no avail. On a summer trip home to my parents' house, Nicole and I were driving in separate cars and couldn't really stomach the idea of following each other for 2 hours and not talking. And because we were brilliant but poor college students who couldn't afford those new-fangled cell phones we decided to do this:

Don't try this at home, kids... because walkie-talkies don't work in moving cars. Thank God cell phones became an affordable option.

My world really opened up when I got a home computer during college. It was a used model and had the capacity to write a paper and check email. Imagine my surprise when I was writing an email one day and my friend Doug, who was in a student exchange program, instant messaged me. I had NO IDEA what was happening, and he had to type me instructions about what buttons to push and how to respond. Thank God I had friends who kept me relevant. He just IM'd me the other day to fill me in on his wife and three kids... sometimes it blows me away how much our lives have changed on every level.

And now, here I am ... literally confined to my home but thanks to technology, connecting with the world. I've been doing this blog such a short time and have gotten emails from people in Thailand, Switzerland and Belgium. Who knew a cute dog could attract attention from people so far away? [Even my brother Hoody figured out how to leave a comment on a post. :)] It's been lovely feeling so connected to the world again without having to leave my little sanctuary... thanks for being on the receiving end of my little quips, people. It's been nice having you around.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Big House

I'd like you to meet the Big House Girls...

Amy, Susie, Wente and me (Wente was forced to wear that crown and "cape" in celebration of her engagement, but I think she looks pretty cute with it on)

We all met in college and lived together for a few years in... you guessed it... a big house. :) I feel the need to inform you all that we were intelligent, creative individuals and I have NO IDEA why we started referring to our home as the big house. All of our friends did too, and it didn't seem odd at the time. Now, however, when I say it to people they think it sounds silly... like how my friend Katie used to say they were having long spaghetti for dinner. Like short spaghetti was an option? A bit of stating the obvious. Anyway, regardless of how it started we lived in The Big House and became The Big House Girls and had Big House Parties. Good times.

Susie and I were best friends, and while I knew Amy and Wente (whose name is really Sara) from church we didn't know each other all that well. The three of them were all in grad school studying to be speech pathologists (which is why I know terms like aphasia and try to sound smarter than I am). Amy and I have talked often about how before we moved in together we would have thought we had nothing in common, but we turned out to be so much alike it was scary. I love it when life surprises you like that.

I'll be telling you lots of Big House stories in the future, I have no doubt, but for now I'll tell you that these three girls are amazing, supportive and life-long friends. Right now my friend Wente is having to say goodbye to her dad who passed away last week. Yesterday was the wake and today is the funeral and it's times like these when I normally would move heaven and earth to be there for her. I wish more than anything I could get in a car and travel. We're taught how to be good friends when we're in preschool and are told to share and be kind and considerate. But no one teaches how to do that from a distance ... fill in a gap of space and let someone know you care when words seem inadequate and a hug would say it all.

The words I can say is that Wente's dad should be so proud of his kids. His health had been deteriorating for quite some time, and while it was time to stop medical treatment and release him from the hospital, none of them wanted him to go to a nursing home. He was a farmer who took good care of his big family and every one of her siblings stepped up with their mother when it counted to take care of him. He was released from the hospital to his home with hospice care, and his kids made a schedule for the next two weeks so one of them would always be there with him. He made it home to the farm, and passed away the next day with every one of his children by his side. We should all live such a blessed life and have such a beautiful tribute in death.

If all of you reading this could just say a little prayer for Wente and her family today I would appreciate it. Maybe it will help her feel the hug, even from a distance. 

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tough is for the Weak

There's a lesson I seem to be constantly re-teaching myself: being tough and being strong are two completely different things.

Years ago I had an employer who really enjoyed dispensing wisdom on anyone who would listen. Being in this person's employ pretty much meant I was a captive audience.

At the time I was still using my "tough it out" method of getting better. It's that whole mentality of people who walk around coughing and sneezing while declaring to everyone that they don't get sick. It's mind over matter. They're tougher than all that illness crap. Well, I was quite certain I was tougher than all this pain nonsense, too.

I wouldn't just go to work; I would stay until I could barely walk out of the place. I would be walking down the hall at the end of the night, holding onto the wall to brace myself as I limped along... determined that I could just push through it. Sooner or later my body would catch up to the idea my mind had placed before it: You'll be strong or die trying.

It didn't help that my employer enjoyed telling me that everything in life is mind over matter. You just have to decide to be well. You decide to never get sick. You decide to not have pain. You decide to be successful. If you decide something and tough it out it will happen... and if it doesn't it's because somewhere inside you weren't really committed to it. The straw that finally broke my back (if you forgive the appropriate expression) is when it was declared one evening after seeing me walk out of my office limping that if I had enough faith I would already be healed.

Which goes to prove that working for a church-going individual doesn't mean you'll be working in a positive environment.

But I have to tell you, I owe a lot to this employer. Everyone is truly put in your life for a reason because it was in that exact moment when I decided what I didn't believe. I didn't believe God was sitting somewhere waiting to see if I really wanted to be well... if I would jump through enough hoops to prove myself to Him. And I didn't believe that it was all in my power. I realized He was waiting for me to give it up and put it in His hands. And that, people, requires strength.

I have forgotten that and re-learned it many times. The most recent being this past week. I have been trying so freaking hard to be tough. I have been so weak and sick at moments that I really thought the ground would open up and swallow me whole... and I'll be damned if I was going to lay down and let it happen. I was so agitated by it I'd pace around my condo (which, if you could see me walk would be using the term loosely) or try a different medicine or eat a different food or throw my dog a toy; anything but lay down and let it take over. I had a lung reaction weeks ago when sitting outside, but by God I went out again when my breathing got a little better to see if I had somehow gotten tougher in the last week. One guess as to how that turned out.

And then I had enough strength inside me to just lay down. I let it take over. And dear God, I was tired. And I still get dizzy and nauseous and weak, but wouldn't you know it - when I have the strength to let myself lay down and be weak, I get a little stronger. It doesn't last, but it's given me precious moments of stability.

I just had to stop being tough and start being strong. Strong enough to live the life I'm given instead of the one I think I'm tough enough to make. I didn't live my life back when I had a job and activities. I pushed through my life trying to get to one that didn't exist. I was being tough back then, but there is a strength in letting go that I wouldn't trade. No matter how many times I have to re-learn the lesson.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


My pup is a wuss.

It's true. For a dog that's not just all bark... the dude has bite... he is a total mama's boy-wimp. And I think it's adorable.

I was throwing around his favorite toy and he went diving into the other room to get it when he barely brushed past the couch. Maybe the tip of his fur came in contact with the corner. Maybe. So he turns around to see if I noticed and puts his head down, slowly ambling toward me.

I, being the single and childless woman that I am, go toward him with my arms out and he lifts one defeated paw in the air as if it say, "Yes, please come to my aid." I pick him up and he rests his head on my shoulder, pitiful and beaten by life.

It's fantastic.

Can you imagine how ridiculous I'd be if I actually had children? 

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Rest Quietly

I haven't been feeling well lately.

I know that sounds ridiculous - I never really feel well... but it's been more than my usual. I've been feeling weak and dizzy and nauseous more often than not. And last night as I woke periodically I was frustrated by the fact that in my dreams I felt unsteady and nauseous. I was searching constantly for the culprit and I would wake feeling as though I was falling. I just can't seem to escape it.

Just like in my dreams, in my waking moments I find myself constantly trying to seek out a reason: Is the pain causing it? Has my body just had enough of the pain and needs a break? I don't think so. I don't think it's any more intolerable than usual. Is it the weather? It must be the weather. It seems I am feeling bad right before a storm begins to approach. But I was at my worst when it almost missed us, passing by sheepishly and only offering a sprinkling of rain. But it definitely got better after the rain had passed.

Is it this unseen culprit in the air that has been torturing my lungs? This invisible antagonist that only seems to be pestering me? As I woke in the morning and nothing I did settled me I finally tried a Benadryl and it seemed to be a little better. Is all of this weakness and nausea due to that tainted air that got in my lungs and through my system?

It's maddening trying to figure it all out sometimes. There are too many factors... too many variables. The truth of the matter is that it's probably all of them creating a perfect storm on any given day. My immune system is weakened; my body is susceptible to the changing pressure in the atmosphere; it's sensitive to the unknown in the air these floods have probably left behind. And every fiber of my being wants to fight it off... figure out the culprit... find the solution... take the medicine. Energy wasted.

I glanced at my wall and saw this:

"It is such a folly to pass one's time fretting, instead of resting quietly on the heart of Jesus."

So I'm taking my own advice today. I'm going to stop searching and wondering and figuring it out. I do that enough in my sleep. Today I'm going to stop passing my time fretting. I'm going to lay down with my pup, watch a movie and rest quietly on the heart of Jesus.

Take a deep breath for a moment to do the same yourself...

It's a relief, isn't it? Maybe tomorrow my perfect storm will turn into a perfect rainbow. For today, I'm resting quietly.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

You're So Vain

I've created a monster.

Every time I try to capture my pup on video running through the house like a crazy dog, he sees me grab the camera and stops to strike a pose.

Right before these photos were taken, he was doing his low run through the house... tearing from the living room, back the the red room, sailing through the air to land on the couch and then turning around to do it all over again.

And you're missing it.

Because he's vain. And I taught him to be vain by doing this:

So pretty much, you may never see him running and doing cute things on video because the only trick I have ever taught the dog is how to sit still for a Cheerio... and he now thinks if he sits still every time the camera is out he'll be in Cheerio heaven.

And no, I'm not totally insane... I know you're not sitting at home weeping about not seeing my cute dog run laps. But if you knew what you were missing, you'd be begging me to train him to run around for Cheerios. I guarantee it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Come Bearing Gifts

So, people... how was your holiday weekend?

In the midst of my stewing about remaining stuck indoors and missing all of the 4th of July fireworks, food and festivities, I got company! Mom and Dad were heading to my sister's house for the holiday weekend, and due to her working a half day on Friday (I love it when I benefit from other people's dedication) they came to see me at the start of their journey. Considering my sister's house is North of them and I am well South of their home, they definitely took the scenic route to visit their single daughters.

Regretfully, I wasn't feeling exactly up to par last week as I was weaning myself off my short run of steroids, which for me seems to produce a dizzy, nauseous blend of fun along with some increase in pain. My rheumatologist calls it a rebound effect... I call it annoying.

But I digress.

In my favor is the fact that my parents enjoy ordering in food and watching movies as much as I do so we tend to get along fine in the entertainment area. But the real fun came when they brought me a hand-me-down... my three favorite hyphenated words.

So I inherited this lovely window covering:

Score one for me :)

Mom recently moved her store location (she has a store called Interior Designs) and could no longer use this lovely bamboo shade on her new storefront window. So sad for her, so happy for me. It's ideal because while people can't see in, I'm still able to see out... and so far Riley has been less prone to barking at every stray leaf that accidentally blows by. I have a feeling the people in the building are all going to write thank you notes to my mother soon.

The only problem is that mom's windows weren't as tall as mine, so the shade is a bit short... and my window looks like those people who wear floods because they think pant legs shouldn't touch the top of their shoes:

I love the shade so much I don't really care, and Riley seems to enjoy laying in the bit of sunshine at the bottom. Susie and I might try to put a strip of dark brown fabric across the bottom to lengthen it (she is required as I have no sewing skills), but I can't decide. I think the addition could look very classy... and it might be an idea for all of you out there who, after reading this post, have come to terms with the fact that your pant legs might be on the short side. Fabric on the bottom could just be your new fashion statement.

And because Riley saw the camera, he felt a need to be a part of the action (he does that a lot). Brace yourselves, people, for a return of the tongue: 

"I smell barbeque..."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Kids These Days...

I have such great memories of the 4th of July, and all of them involve being on the lake. When we were young, as I've mentioned before, we loved to go to Clear Lake on Sundays. But we also took a week during the 4th of July holiday and rented a cabin at the Methodist Campgrounds with our friends, the Bakers. (I was always very grateful the Methodists didn't mind us Catholics moving in on their territory.)

Mick and Sally Baker have two boys, Andy and Chris... and their small family was inundated with a myriad of Frankls during the week. Not only were there six of us kids, but I often brought a friend or cousin... and sticking with the Catholic tradition there were times when a few nuns or a priest here and there would come along for a little sun. We had so much fun. The cabin we stayed in was big and old and basic. And perfect. We could run around, lounge on the old couches in our swimsuits and eat anywhere we liked. And we ate like no one had ever fed us before, but since we spent the entire week swimming and skiing and playing volleyball, it all pretty much equaled out in the end.

There were staircases leading upstairs on the right and the left side of the cabin, separating the girls quarters from the boys ... and the week consisted of pranks between the two. We weren't all that creative... saran wrap over the toilet kind of stuff... but for kids who never went to summer camp, we thought we were ingenious.

The photo below is of my brother Jim, myself and Andy Baker (yes, I look like a boy with that haircut... I'm aware) building card houses. I sucked at it, but Andy would sit with me and do it every year anyway. He's now a big-wig medical examiner, and I take full credit for making sure he had a steady hand and keen eye. I'll remind him to thank me next time I see him.

Kids these days (I can't believe I'm old enough to say that) don't think a vacation counts unless they are in an airplane, on a beach or at Disneyland... but I wouldn't trade a week at Clear Lake in a run-down cabin for anything. We not only had fun, we were really together and I cherish the memories. I don't think the Methodist Campground exists anymore, but I have to imagine there is still a spirit of fun to the place where we were for so many years.

Happy 4th of July to you all... I hope you are somewhere with your family making memories.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Doggie OCD

When I joked about Riley's OCD tendencies at the end of a previous post, I really wasn't being sarcastic. Take for example his nightly bedtime ritual. When I get into bed, he sits to the right of me and starts licking my hand. Then he goes to the bottom of the bed... where he scopes out the room and lets out a little growl, as if warning the darkness not to approach. At this point he either comes to the top edge of the bed on my left hand side where I lift the covers and he goes underneath them to sleep next to my left leg, or he goes around the head of my pillows to the right side of the covers. If he goes under the covers on my right hand side, he steps between my ankles to curl up between my feet.

Every night.

Left hand side, next to my legs. Right hand side, between my feet. That's not normal, right?

One night as the ritual started I put my right hand under the covers so he couldn't start licking it. I thought it would be an interesting experiment, but that poor pup FREAKED OUT. He stared at me like I had just beat him and then was digging at the covers and whimpering/crying trying to find my hand. It worked him up so much I decided he could lick my hand every night for the rest of his life if it made him more at ease.

He might be a little crazy at times, but how could you not love that face?

I find that as my life has gotten a bit more unpredictable in the past few years, I have gotten a lot more habitual as well. Some of it is just a physical necessity. I pretty much eat the same thing every day... I know what my stomach can handle, and the more I keep things consistent, the less nausea comes into my day. I love organizing, which is mandatory when living in a small space. But I've also found that having everything in it's place does save me a lot of wasted energy rummaging around looking for stuff. Knowing how to keep things consistent and make the most out of my physical abilities allows my day to run a little more smoothly.

But unpredictable can be good now and then, too. For the first few days I was on steroids last week I started out on a higher dose than I am at now. And it was such a lovely thing to be unpredictably more mobile. Oh, I had all the typical side effects I don't like... but I also found myself getting up from a chair and being able to stand up straight. I noticed I was just less fidgety and uncomfortable. And I savored every moment of being able to stretch a little easier.

Of course, they don't want me to stay on the higher dose for long. So when I got up one morning after lowering the dose and realized I felt like I always do, it was like the day after Christmas when all the presents have been opened, the company's gone and you have to go back to work. Reality. But every now and again, when life throws you a curve ball like not being able to breathe well, it's nice when it includes a couple days of pain relief too. It makes having to roll with unpredictable changes a little more interesting and a lot more tolerable.

I wonder if that's how Riley feels when he decides to duck under the right side of the covers instead of the left... maybe it's not OCD... maybe he's just keeping his life interesting, too.   :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Falling in Love with Music

It's amazing what you can find when you snoop around YouTube. I'm not sure if any of my siblings other than Laura actually read this blog, but all of them should certainly remember this singer:

The rest of you may think he's odd, but when we were young my parents loved to listen to Roger Whittaker. I can remember getting into our big old blue van (and not a van like the minivans of today; a real van with the u-shaped couches around the table in the back) and heading to Clear Lake to go skiing, with Roger Whittaker filtering through the speakers.

I know, not exactly the kind of music to pump you up for a lake outing, but I really did love this cassette tape (just be impressed we moved beyond the 8-track). We were always a family that had music playing, but there was something about Roger Whittaker's voice that made me aware of singing as a story-telling process. It was one of the first times I realized a person could get lost in thought while listening and actually feel the emotions in your skin. It's how I wanted to sing someday; making other people feel what you were at the moment.

Just so you don't think we were all some sort of hippie kids wanting to listen to Roger Whittaker 24/7, I'll have you know that my brothers tried very hard to listen to a cassette tape of KISS... until my mom saw what the cover looked like with the white and black make up and confiscated it. And if we wanted to listen to Olivia Newton John's Let's Get Physical, we had to do jumping jacks. I swear to God, people, I can't make this stuff up... 

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

For the Birds

Before all this breathing nonsense started a few weeks ago (the steroids are helping, by the way), I was able to catch a couple pictures of my little wren family that lives in the bird house right outside my sliding glass door. I cannot believe how much I enjoy these birds and the beautiful melody they sing. I always thought of them as something to shoo away for fear they'd leave their droppings on my patio, but they've been excellent tenants and have kept the area around the house quite tidy. Let's just say they'd get their deposit back if they decided to move to a classier neighborhood.

They first laid claim to the bird house last year... and unlike my Grandma Rita I have absolutely no knowledge of birds whatsoever, so I had to snap some photos of them to email mother and have her tell me what they were. The bird house was given to me a few years ago by my friend Susie, who gave me the hummingbird feeder in the photo below for my birthday this year:
Which is only funny because the woman hates birds. Apparently they used to swoop at her head when she'd walk into the barn on the farm where she grew up. Blonde hair must have been an enticing addition to their nests, because I was in a lot of barns growing up and not one bird went for my brunette head.
Thus disproving the theory that blondes always have more fun...