Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Grandma Flo's Holy Water Blessings

I've been thinking a lot about my Grandma Florence lately. September 20th was her birthday and it seems impossible she's been gone for over eight years already. My mother's tiny, red-haired mom may have looked slight, but she was anything but a push-over. Her house was always equipped with Pringles and malted milk balls, and at least once a visit when you were sneaking some from the kitchen you'd hear the phrase, "You kids go outdoors and play!" in her raspy, I-mean-business-tone.

IMG_0013                       (Grandma and Me, Christmas 1996)

Grandma Flo spent her life as a nurse and it was truly a job that held a great amount of pride for her. At her wake she was dressed in her nurse's uniform and the number of people who talked to us about her caring for them was astounding. Astounding, but not surprising, as she would sometimes forget a name but could always tell people which room they had been in and what their condition was, even if forty years had passed. She took her duties very seriously.

And while she often seemed serious, she had a softer side too. She loved watching her Cubs and made the best peanut brittle I've ever had... and she loved us all very much. She wasn't one to hug and fuss over you, and there weren't a lot of "I love you's" showered around, but I have a card she sent me after I sang at my Grandpa's funeral where she wrote that she was proud of me, and it means the world to me. I also have a gift from her that I treasure:


This is my night-light of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it's sitting on one of my dressers that was part of my grandparents' wedding suite of furniture. I love being surrounded by things that belonged to people I love, and this furniture and night-light are no exception. Grandma was more faithful to praying the rosary than anyone I've ever known, and she gave me this light along with a cassette tape of how to pray the rosary when I was in high school.

It was shortly after I had stayed overnight at her house... my parents were on vacation with my aunt and uncle and I had gotten sick with bronchitis while they were gone. Ever the nurse, she didn't think I should be staying home alone and so I stayed in her guest bedroom. I was sound asleep and I woke up, scared to death, because there in my room was Grandma Flo in her nightgown saying her rosary. Apparently it was her routine to say her prayers in the guest bedroom and me being asleep in there didn't derail her mission in the slightest.

The part that woke me up, however, wasn't the rosary praying... it was the being-doused-with-holy-water moment. I learned that night that after Gram would finish the rosary she would take her holy water bottle and spray it in the direction of where her children and grandchildren lived while asking God to watch over them. I just happened to be laying in the general vicinity of one of their locations and got a little extra blessing myself...

That's when I realized that while Grandma wasn't one to shower us with hugs, she was definitely loving and protecting her family in her own way. She loved us and prayed for our well-being and happiness with repetition and dedication, and after that I started praying the rosary as well. It's my way of carrying on what she started, and it is still my way of being connected to her.

IMG_0011 softlight

So when I say my prayers at night, I skip the holy water ritual but continue to say my rosary for Grandma Flo and all the people she loved. And I've no doubt my prayers are heard because while she may look innocuous, I can guarantee she's up there in heaven making sure the right people are listening.  :)

Monday, September 29, 2008


When I'm on the phone with friends, at some point in the conversation they get exasperated with their children. There are questions to be answered, fights to be resolved, or tears to be dried. And I love it. There's something about eavesdropping on the chaos that makes me feel like I'm in the thick of it.

I love getting to imagine the scene on the other end of the line... seeing Tyler wiggling in his pj's while he sings along to his toy recorder, "One little birdie, sittin' up high..." or picturing Ben running in the house all red-faced and sweaty with the door slamming behind him as he yells to his mom that he needs a snack. Hearing Nicole's girls giggling or hearing Meg whispering to her daughter because Miss Taylor has handed her a note saying that she has a question (ever the polite one). I love picturing the sounds of living.

My friends, on the other hand, love when they have the stolen moments of peace and quiet on the phone. They usually call me from the car on their way to pick up the kids or on their way to the store when no one is with them. They call when the kids are out playing or when they're in the kitchen doing dishes (because that's a time they are guaranteed to be alone).

My friend Susie thinks I'm a jinx to the quiet. Her boys can be out playing or in bed or watching a movie, and the moment I get on the phone all hell breaks loose. Every time. Someone needs something or someone has to show her something or the dog knocks over a chair. Some random thing in the universe inevitably sprinkles activity back into a previously calm life.

It drives her crazy, but I think it's God's way of sprinkling my life with a little entertainment. While I regret it's at her expense, I love hearing every giggle, every exasperated question and every crash that follows. They were camping this weekend and Susie told me that out of the blue my boy Tyler told her that he felt bad for me. She asked him why, and he said because I was sick a lot... and that he can't come see me because he has a cold and that would make me get sick. The sweet little love of a kid.

I can't help but sit here and think if he only knew that all of his antics in every day life bring me more joy than I can measure, he wouldn't feel so bad for me anymore. I'll refrain from explaining it to him though, because I imagine in another ten years he'll try to use it as an excuse for being ornery and causing trouble. I can picture him as a teenager, with a serious tone and a sassy grin, "But mom, I'm doing it for Sara. We'd hate for her to be bored."


Friday, September 26, 2008

Jury Duty

Yeah, someone obviously missed the memo that I can't leave my house.

I find it so funny that the world keeps turning and I'm not on some grand list informing people that I'm not turning with it. But since that list doesn't seem to exist, for the first time in my life I've been summoned to jury duty!

I obviously sent in a letter from my doctor explaining that jury duty and I wouldn't get along so well, and am assuming that I'll be excused from the process. But getting the summons got me thinking and I realized that even if I was fully healthy and capable:

I'd be the worst juror in the world.

Seriously. The thought of passing judgement on someone beyond a reasonable doubt... I don't think I'm decisive enough. I have watched WAY too many procedural dramas and movies (The Fugitive, anyone?) where people were wrongly convicted or the DNA gets mixed up at the lab or, let's face it, witnesses lie on the stand.

On the other hand, if I was on a jury where someone hurt a child, I would convict them without even hearing the evidence for fear that if we were wrong and freed a guilty person then we could put another innocent child in danger.

See my problem? It's called an imagination and mine would work overtime. That whole "based in fact" thing? I would be sitting in the jury box wondering about the entire life stories of all the key players and trying to figure out their motivations. For crying out loud, I try to analyze my dog's behavior on a regular basis and he can't even talk back when I cross examine him. (Although he can certainly throw me a lot of attitude.)

Exhibit A:


So I'm a little relieved that I'll be sticking with Law & Order on television instead of the real-life version. I've been over the moon about the fact that fall shows are finally premiering and there is something to watch other than reality television... but I think it's better that I'm not a part of any sort of courtroom drama in real life.

Thursday, September 25, 2008



It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.


This quote describes where I'm at most of the time. Don't get me wrong, other than the rowdiness of my dog there's not a lot of noise or trouble happening in my house. I'm talking about the noise in my mind, the trouble in my body and the hard work of keeping moving despite the effort it takes most days.

It's taken me a lot of years to get to a place where I can feel accepting of my life as it is and as it will be. There were so many years of fighting to be who I had imagined I would be at this point in my life. And the fighting turned out to be more exhausting than the accepting. It reminds me of a story I heard at church once about a man who didn't want to die and leave his home and his family. He was sitting on a beach thinking about his life and holding on so tightly that when he died, he had in the palm of his hand sand from the beach on Earth.

The man sat outside of the gates of heaven, but they wouldn't let him inside until he had let go of all he had been clinging to. But he refused to let go of the sand from the beach. It was his connection to his life, his family and his loves. One day he grew weary and decided it was time to move on, so he opened his hands and brushed away the sand he had been holding.

The moment he did this simple gesture he found himself on the beach he loved surrounded by everything he cared about. That was heaven. It was everything he wanted, but before he could have it he had to let go.

I found that experience when I let go of trying to be something I used to be. When I let go of my earthly ideas of who I should be and how I should live, I got everything I really wanted. I have authentic relationships that are based on real connections. I am closer to my family. I have opportunities to be creative and expressive, it just came in a different form than a job. I am loved and respected and cared for and cared about.

What else is there that I could need?

Now, the reality is that the noise and trouble creep in all the time. There are moments when I keep the shades drawn because the sunshine outside is just a reminder that I can't be outside and a part of it. There are those moments when I see myself in a new photograph and am startled that I don't see the same face I always knew... it's a face that's a little swollen and medicated and sick. Sick with a smile, but sick nonetheless. There are moments of watching people dance and longing for the days of being carefree.

But that's where the Peace comes into play. If you read that quote at the top of this post, you notice it doesn't say that peace in your heart wipes out the noise and the trouble and the hard work. It just makes them bearable. It makes them the background noise to everything that's important. And what is important is that God gave me gifts and I used them. And if I don't have those gifts anymore I believe it's because He doesn't have a need for me to use them anymore. But that doesn't stop me from seeing the gifts that remain. The gifts that come from the hard stuff. The gifts that allow me to have peace in my heart while the noise and trouble and hard work rumble on.

I got everything I really wanted, once I let it all go.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Official Ear Wiggler

This little man right here is one of my most favorite human beings on the planet. And he has bestowed on me the great distinction of being his fairy godmother:


He's my Jonboy (full name Jonathan). I tried to convince his mom to name her second son James Robert so I could call them Jonboy and Jim Bob, but she named the second one Tyler instead. Whatever. She did let me be Tyler's godmother so all is forgiven.

Anyway, I love this kid. He has the biggest heart on the planet and already has more natural musical talent in his little finger than I've managed to accumulate in my 35 years of life. And he cracks me up on a regular basis.

His mom, my friend Susie (the one who tried to corrupt me and forced me to smoke cigarettes), called me the other day to tell me about Jonboy's latest accomplishment. They were running late for school and he was supposed to be brushing his teeth and getting his shoes on. She hollered at him to get to the van and he came running into the living room, no shoes on and a big grin declaring:

"Mom... I can wiggle my ears without moving my eyebrows now!"

I mean, come on people... practicing that in the mirror HAS to be a worthy excuse for being late for school, right?

And I know I tend to take credit for every cute thing my friends' kids do even though we have no genetic relation, but I feel the need to clarify that I'm the one who showed him how I can wiggle my ears in the first place. It's one of my few talents and I can't help it if the kid wants to emulate me.

The truth is that I started teaching him these important skills when he was barely old enough to talk. Like when I showed him how to hold his fingers like devil horns and say, "Rock on!" while doing a little head bang. It's beside the point that I taught him that in the lobby of our church during Mass when he was getting antsy.

And I have no doubt Jesus appreciated the gesture as praise.

It really is a miracle so many people have entrusted me to be godmother to their children, isn't it?


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Spoiled Rotten

You know, sometimes I feel like the most spoiled human being on the planet. Not only did my grandparents make the effort to hop in the car and come see me, but they came bearing gifts.

[A note to my siblings... I always knew I was their favorite.]  :)

Grandpa Gerald and Grandma Rita moved back to Iowa from Texas a few years ago to be closer to their nine (yes, you heard that right... nine) children, but I haven't been able to travel and spend any time with them. My Aunt Janella and Uncle Ron moved back to the area recently as well so they all got in the car last week and took a drive to check out the corn fields and see a couple of their granddaughters.

sara and grands

Ok, now I'm not going to lie to you. This is actually an old picture of me and my grandparents. We took new ones but this is my favorite photo of us so it's the one I'm sharing ... call it a perk of being in charge of the blog. :)

Truly, it was such a joy to have them here for a few hours. We talked about family and watched my cousin Maria's incredible winking baby on the ultrasound video a few times... or as many times as it took for Janella to finally stopping begging me to hit play again.

And as we were talking there were those moments when, as a granddaughter, you try not to say the wrong thing... like when Maria needed a recipe from me. She kept referring to the recipe she needed as, "You know, that Better Than -- Cake"... said with a little eyebrow raise.

And I, in order to save her said, "Oh, the Better Than Anything Cake?" To which Janella said, "Isn't that called Better Than Sex Cake?"

(We've never claimed Janella was a quick one about things.)

So I said, "Yes, it's called Better Than Sex Cake. I think Maria was just trying to avoid saying sex in front of her grandparents." Grandma chuckled a little at that one.

Poor Maria. But since she was sitting there seven months pregnant and all, I'm pretty sure the cat was out of the bag already anyway. :)

Mostly I just loved getting to hug my grandma a few times and hear old stories that Grandpa likes to tell about when he drove cattle on horseback from Wyoming... or when his buddy drove a pink Cadillac off a cliff and there was no damage so they never told the guy's wife about it... or when he talked about where Grandma hid his liquor from him in their old farm house, and how he found it and took nips from it anyway.

I'm pretty sure that story right there explains why, in the house I remember them living in while I was growing up, there was a hidden door in the paneling on the wall. You'd press on the panels and it would open up to reveal a secret wet bar behind it. It was like living in a James Bond movie. My Uncle Donny would always get me vodka from there and it wasn't until I was much older that I realized my biggest vice was really 7-up. Good times.

Let's just say Grandpa has had an interesting and ornery life. And when he told us some stories about a few priests he knew, he pulled out the Irish accent that makes every story just a little more fun. Bless Grandma's heart, she took the whole crazy ride of life with him and has come out of it one of the sweetest and strongest women you'd ever want to know.

I'm also most pleased to report that Riley took a liking to all of them and spent quite a bit of time in this position:

IMG_2628 bwb  He also went on a long walk outside with Janella and made sure no one was left out of the opportunity to pet him and feel loved. Actually, Grandpa found it funny that when he and I held hands, Riley would get up by us and try to separate our hands with his nose.

Uhmm, jealous much?

By the end of the day Grandpa thought that maybe they should get themselves one of these dogs. That was an idea on which Grandma quickly put the kibosh despite Janella's proclamation of being willing to help care for it. I promised them all they could have visitation rights with Riley as often as they like as long as I get to be part of the visit. :)

And as long as they bring me gifts like these:


IMG_2646Yes, that is homemade applesauce, homemade rhubarb jam, fresh tomatoes and apples. And if any of my other aunts and uncles would like to compete for my affections, I'm just saying they would have to come up with something good... because this was awesome. (Note to Aunt Mary: you can still buy me off with McDonald's french fries.)

Not to be outdone, when my cousin Maria showed up she came with this little bag of goodies:IMG_2650Chocolate chip cookies anyone?

I'm just saying... I was spoiled rotten. And the hugs were by far the best part of the day. And they made my whole year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Community Life

Here's something I've discovered about myself over the years... the more I think I am able to do something on my own, by my own power and by my own strength, the less I am able to achieve.

I was listening to one of Pastor Pete's sermons where he talked about the fact that God never expected us to do things on our own in this life. That's why He gave us the greatest commandment to love one another... not a command to love and rely solely on ourselves. God believed in community living, and as an example of that He created a community in and of Himself. He is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit because one being in and of itself is not enough to produce real life, total thought and complete love.

That thought right there is such a relief to me... understanding that it's not about me creating my best life... it's about me living the best life God needs me to for a community of people.

I think there are so many people in this world trying to help me keep the focus on myself. Almost any book I read about self-improvement talks about the power I have within me to be my best self. I can't tell you how many times I've heard guests on Oprah or other talk shows discuss how I am the source of my own happiness. How I can find within myself and my own mind the power that allows me to be happy and wealthy and healthy and fulfilled.

And, in my own life, I think it's the opposite.

I'm not saying we shouldn't believe in ourselves and do our very best and choose happiness. I'm saying I don't know how to do that without first knowing that it's not about me. It's not even about me living my life and relying on God to help me through. Because that would mean I was driving and God was giving me moral support. I am saying that my life only works if God is at the wheel, if He's reading the map and if He's making the turns. 

I have to make the choice to get in the car. I choose to be joyful and put my whole self into the journey, and I choose to love the destinations He brings me to. I choose my attitude, but the driving is all up to Him.

There are times I get tired. There are times I get annoyed with His choice of scenery and traveling music. There are times I don't enjoy the companions He picks up and places in the car with us. But when I stop and realize it's not all about me, I start to notice that the companion may just need a friendly ear to listen to them or a word of encouragement to change their attitude. The choice of music may contain a message I or others in the car need to hear. And when I focus on the community I'm traveling with instead of my own weariness, life just doesn't seem to weigh me down as much anymore.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if God himself requires a community of three within His one being, maybe we shouldn't try so hard to do it all in our individual selves either. I personally am going to continue to pray that when I start thinking I can take the wheel and control my destinations, God reminds me it's a community effort and nudges me back to the passenger seat. 

I find the view to be much better from there.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Winking From the Womb

Technology is amazing... I think we can all agree on that. What is CRAZY amazing is 4-D technology that can bring you video of an unborn child.

When my grandparents came to visit this week (which I'll tell you more about in a later post) my cousin Maria came to hang out with us as well. She is currently seven months pregnant with a gorgeous little girl who will soon be coming into the world to meet her two older brothers.

How do I know she's a gorgeous little girl, you ask? Because I've already seen video of her that has ridiculous clarity. Do you know what else I saw? That she is totally ready for anything life throws at her... I know this because she gave us a sign. She winked at us.

I'm so not kidding. Look at the video below and you will see the little stinker open one eye for a second. She is brilliant. She isn't even born yet and she knows how to wink.

I think she gets it from me. :)

My aunt and uncle (the proud grandparents) are currently in Europe and I hope they are checking my blog so they can see their newest granddaughter displaying her superior winking skills. I can't wait to meet this little genius.

Ultrasound from gitzengirl on Vimeo.

Since we're on the topic of babies, and I do mean babies... my friend Nicole just found out her unborn twins are GIRLS. She and her husband are now going to be the proud parents of four little beautiful girlies, and the bows in that house are about to double. Wow. Fun isn't a big enough word!!!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Supah Star

I know what this picture looks like. It looks like my dog is waiting at the front door to see if someone is coming.


What is it really, you ask? It's a totally freaking intense episode of Wild Kingdom. And my dog is the predatory creature. The victim?

The most annoying cricket on the planet.

Seriously. I have been about to lose my mind during the night while hearing the distant sounds of a cricket chirping in my head. I was starting to wonder if it was just me... don't they say the symptoms of an aneurysm are tasting metal or smelling burnt toast or something? (Or is that a stroke? Or am I just making that up?) Regardless... I was starting to wonder if hearing imaginary cricket sounds was the symptom of something until my dog CORNERED THE PREY.

For how much Riley loves marking his territory, the cricket was just lucky he didn't pee on it. But apparently his antidepressants are working because growling at the dangerous cricket creature seemed to be enough for him.

I got a tissue and slowly snuck up behind Riley so as not to startle the cricket, seeing as my reflexes aren't as fast as they used to be. But by the time I got there the cricket was begging me to put it out of its misery and get it away from the growling white creature ... so I obliged and flushed the little sucker.

And then, I did the only reasonable thing I could do. I did my own celebratory version of Mary Katherine Gallagher's "Supah Star" without the deep lunge, because joy does not begin to adequately describe the feeling of cricket silence:

Now, if it would have been as cute as this crazy-disney-looking-cartoon-creature I took a photo of at mom and dad's a few years ago I might have spared its life. But to be honest, I think this big of a prey might have been out of Riley's league anyway. :)


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Paging Super Nanny

Does Super Nanny make house calls for dogs? If so, this is me making one.

I LOVE my dog. I know that's shocking to all of you because I don't mention him much. But it's true. And I'm trying to raise him to be kind and courteous with good manners.

I'm failing.

My friend Kelly came over for supper the other night and I felt like one of those mothers who wants to kill their child but doesn't know if they should blow a gasket in front of people or ignore the incessant whining in the hopes of not escalating the behavior.

Yes, I realize this is ridiculous dilemma to have about a dog.

I know that most people with a dog could handle this situation. Put the darn thing in his kennel and be done with it. One problem: you haven't met my dog. The very idea of him being more than an arm's-length away from me leaves him in near hysterics. If I was to take him to the other room, put him in his kennel (a beautiful wicker kennel with a blanket and pillow, mind you) and come back to the table, the background music for the meal would be the loudest, most high-pitched, panic-stricken yell you can imagine.

Trust me. You don't want to experience that.

And I know Super Nanny would tell me to stick to my guns and maintain a time-out situation until he calmed and apologized. I tried that once when he was younger. An hour later I decided the risk of being kicked out of the condo association for excessive noise just wasn't worth it.

So back to the meal with my friend. Normally, when I am here alone with the pup and he has no competition for my attention he lays quietly and naps or maybe paws at my hand for me to pet him. But when another human enters, all bets are off. I had him on a short leash next to me at the table but the tugging and pulling and whining to get Kelly's attention was incessant.

So here's where I pulled out my most authoritative voice. (Anyone who knows me is laughing right now.) But I did it. I got in his face and loudly said, "Enough. One more word and you're in your kennel."

I kid you not, he pulled his head back in a startled jerk and the expression on his face was pitiful. He batted his eyes in stunned amazement and looked as though he was about to cry. Kelly and I looked at each other and she said, "Oh my God, did you see his
face?" And we both busted out laughing.

I am such a sucker. I couldn't even keep a straight face with a DOG. The longer I am responsible for Riley the more I realize that, as much as I wanted children, I may not have had what it takes to raise them. You know, essential qualities ... like a backbone. And the ability follow through when they look pitiful.

We moved from the table to the couches and Riley immediately settled down into the dog I know and love and lounged by us while we chatted. Two minutes after Kelly left, that ornery pup was laying in his kennel fast asleep, exhausted from being a pain in the butt.

That's when I realized he wasn't being a pain because of the food. He was being a pain because of the table. I was in a chair and he was on the floor. You know, like a DOG. When we moved to the couches where he could sit next to us and be equal to all the relevant happenings, he was fine.

I created a sassy little monster, people. His name is Riley and he thinks he's the human in charge around here. And he thinks I'm his pet.

The problem is, I think he's right.

IMG_1652 fixed

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I Wasn't Mean

I was reading a blog last week called Without Wax; it's written by a pastor of a church in Nashville and it's been a nice source for me to listen to sermons online since I can't get out on Sundays to make it to Mass.

On that particular day the title of his blog was "My Heart is Heavy" and he wrote about a man named Phil who had recently committed suicide. He had never met the man, but it was discovered later that Phil had attended his church for a few weeks before taking his life. Of course no one at the church was responsible for not knowing this particular man needed special attention, but it's hard not to look at the "what ifs" in life and wonder what would have made the difference.

I can't shake that story this week, mainly because it brings up the same feeling it does every time I hear someone has committed suicide. The feeling of wondering what could have made the difference.

A guy in my high school class, coincidentally also named Phil, killed himself a few years after we graduated. I wish I could tell you he was a friend of mine, but that's the problem. I knew him. I came from a graduating class of 50 people, so everyone knew everyone else. We were in a speech/acting competition together and did a scene from Our Town. I was never mean to him. I just wasn't a friend to him either.

When we heard he had died a small group of us went together to his funeral. I remember looking at the row of people I was sitting with and realizing that we were all friends with each other, but none of us were good friends with Phil. I knew things about him. I knew that he was great with mechanics... we called him Motor Mergan because he could fix about anything. One day in the hall my friend Katie dropped her calculator and it shattered into a million pieces. Phil picked up all the pieces he could find and reassembled it... but was a few pieces short of being able to make it work. The point is that he took the challenge to try. And he had the mind to figure it out.

Back then, I thought knowing things about someone was enough. I knew things about him but the truth is that I never knew him. I knew he had a couple of friends but I never wondered if he had anyone who took the time to ask him how he was, ask him what he wanted to do with his life, or to tell him that they believed in him.

I know I was just a teenager, but when I hear stories like this it just hits me again that it's not enough to not be mean or to not add to the problem. If I leave someone unaffected then I am part of the problem. It's a lesson that we should all learn as kids in high school, and it's a lesson I don't want to forget now. No one can be everything to everyone, but I at least want to make sure I'm paying attention.

It's easier to say I wasn't mean to him.

It's better if I realize I could have been his friend so the same thing doesn't have to happen again.

It's a life lesson from a life lost.

Monday, September 15, 2008

In Seclusion

Excuse me for wallowing in negativity for a moment. Being negative is against everything I want to be, but dude... I miss being outside. And so does my dog.


This picture was taken last year when Riley was longing to walk through the screen on the window and romp in the grass. And this year? I would be so unbelievably happy if I could open the darn window. There is something in the air that I am reacting to so my house is shut up tight as a drum and the air from my air conditioning fan is as fresh as it gets.

My friend Meg and her daughter Taylor dropped by on Sunday afternoon and since I haven't even attempted to breathe outside air since July I thought I'd give it a try. When they pulled up I walked Riley out onto the patio to greet them and stayed outside for less than a minute.
There were no immediate symptoms so Meg and I instantly started planning on what day this week we were going to spend sitting outside in the fresh air. Then a couple minutes went by and the itching started and the losing my voice started and the not being able to breathe started and the popping of Benadryl started. Annoying. Super Annoying.
I know I live in Iowa, where farming comes first. And as much as I want my dad to have a fantastic crop of corn I'm letting you all know right now that I'm praying for a good, hard freeze. Because if it kills whatever is in the air I will bundle up and sit on my patio while there is snow on the ground.
That's how much I miss being outside.
And thus concludes all negativity on my part. We will now resume with regularly scheduled programming already in progress.
Update: No, I still can't go outside but I just heard from my cousin that my Grandparents are coming into town to visit on Wednesday. And it's been a few years since I've seen them so I'm just a little excited. See... just when life gets frustrating something fantastically positive happens. Take it from me, people. You never have to look too hard to find the good stuff. Even if you are looking at it from inside the house.   :)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Just Say No To Drugs

So, I may have mentioned once or twice or 53 times that I have trouble falling asleep. Because the source of this issue is pain, I take narcotics as well as muscle relaxers, and eventually the doctors added Ambien to the mix as well.

While I still wake up often during the night the Ambien does help me fall back to sleep, but it doesn't help at all with initially falling asleep. Sometimes I actually think it causes me to unintentionally fight going to sleep. I take the meds and start thinking of all these things I want to get done, and the idea of being tired is the furthest thing from my mind.

There's also a warning that comes along with Ambien that claims you may have what is called "traveler's amnesia." That term basically means that if you don't go to bed and fall asleep immediately after taking the medication, you will be wide awake and going about your usual business but will have no memory of any of your actions.

That happens to me A LOT.

I'll get up in the morning and discover that I've rearranged all of the pillows in the different rooms of my house. Or pictures that were hanging on one wall are now hanging on another. I go to my inbox and realize that I've replied to emails and have no recollection of doing so. One morning I woke up, looked at the top of my computer and saw this:


But I don't remember doodling it.

The most interesting moment was when I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror and realized that at some point during the night my hair had gone from this length:

sara christian avery(Have I mentioned lately I have cute nieces and nephews? This photo is about five years old, but they are still just as adorable.) 

To this length:

IMG_0024 lc

Now, I have been cutting and coloring my own hair for years, so it's not like I had done something I normally wouldn't do. It's just that I didn't have the desire to cut that many inches off my hair. And I certainly didn't remember doing it.

Here's another interesting little fact about me, while we're at it. See my beautiful sister Laura in the photo above? My hair used to be as straight as hers. And during the summer between graduating from high school and my freshman year in college, my hair went from pin straight to spiral curl. In just a few weeks.

It's just one more symptom in the disease of "weird-crap-happens-to-me-itis" that I've developed. I'm just sayin'... I never know what's going to happen next.

Or if I'll remember it in the morning.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Talks Too Much

Doesn't he just look like he's got something to say? IMG_0599
(This picture was taken last summer... when we blissfully spent most of our time lounging on the patio.)

He may not be able to speak, but rest assured Riley finds a way to get his point across to me if he wants something. There are moments, though, when I look at this crazy dog and wonder what in the world is going through his mind.

For example, why is it that for the 45 seconds it takes to brush him each night he freaks out and sounds like I'm torturing him as he bites at the brush, but he'll sit on the counter for 45 minutes perfectly silent, still and calm while I come at him with a scissors to cut his hair?

In case you've ever wondered, this is how much hair I have to cut off my dog every two months:


And in case you're curious, this is how cute he looks afterward:


And because I can read his mind, this is his look when he's trying to say, "Whatchu talkin' about Willis?" (He calls me Willis sometimes. He's weird like that. And if you don't know who Willis is, then you're not old enough to read this blog):


As for me, I've never really been accused of holding my tongue or being the quiet type. And I wish so much that my mom would have kept all of my report cards from when I was in school, because I'm now convinced that those comments teachers leave on the back of report cards are actually predictions for the rest of the students' lives.

Mine always said the same thing every year:

  1. Sara is a joy to have in class.
  2. She talks too much.

Yep. That's pretty much been my life in a nutshell. I'm a joyful talker.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lifeline Induced Heart Attacks

So here's something that happened on Monday that I'm pretty sure is a situation unique to "stay at home" disabled folks like myself.

I have a little button I'm supposed to wear around my wrist, which is connected to the Lifeline office. (I say "supposed to" because I'm still stubborn about wearing it and thinking I'll be associated with the I've fallen and I can't get up lady.) If I hit this little button it sends a signal to a box in my bedroom and a call is placed directly to the Lifeline people. They come over the line and ask if I'm okay or if I need an ambulance.

Once a month a voice comes out of the Lifeline box and tells me that it's time to check my Lifeline connection. That happened on Monday so, as I do every month, I hit the button and waited. And waited. And waited. And no one came on the line.


So I picked up the phone to call them but since it works through my phone line I couldn't make a call. Finally the phone rings on it's own and it's the Lifeline people calling to check and make sure I'm alright since the normal procedure didn't work. I assure them I'm fine and was just testing it... and then they say this:

"Well, we called your friend Jenny to let her know that you alerted us to a problem and that we hadn't been able to talk to you. Should we call and let her know you're okay?"

Uhhmm... YES. I hang up and wait for my heart to start beating again because my reaction is the same as I'm sure Jenny's is in that moment. One that would cause panic and require swear words to come out of my mouth. (Which, in all honesty, is not an uncommon thing for me. I just try to keep it clean here on the blog.)

The moment I hang up with the Lifeline people the phone rings and it's Jenny on her cell. "Are you ok? We're getting in the car."

I tell her I'm fine and I'm soooo sorry, and again, I'm fine. And again, I'm so sorry. Then her house phone rings and I tell her to get it because it's probably the Lifeline people. So she answers and it's them and they say I'm fine and she's back on the phone with me and OH. MY. GOD. that was stressful.

So I'm alive and she goes to take her kids to tumbling and suddenly I'm left with the realization that the bad day I thought I was having with the rain and the pain and tiredness ... it could have been a whole lot worse. I could have actually needed the Lifeline people. And Jenny could have actually had a heart attack.

I wonder how that would have been written up as a headline in the paper: Woman Has Heart Attack Over Lifesaving Call.

Irony at its best.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Unexpected Destinations

Years ago I was randomly flipping through channels trying to find something to watch other than reruns of M*A*S*H for the 534th time, and I came across a movie that had Tyne Daily in it. I have no idea what the movie was called and I only caught the last five minutes of it, but I stopped anyway because, well, it was Tyne Daily. And I can't think of anything she's ever been in that I haven't liked.

She was giving a lecture in a large auditorium about what it was like raising a special needs child. I was just in the beginning stages of adjusting my life to this illness, and what she said in that movie affected my attitude more than any advice I had heard before or have heard since.

I'm obviously going to paraphrase as I don't remember the exact wording, but in the movie she said that finding out you have a child who is sick is like taking a trip to Italy. You spend your whole life dreaming about this amazing trip. Others that go there tell you stories about the city, the architecture, the people, the food. You study the culture and learn the language, save up your money and get on the plane.

And then right before you are about to land, the stewardess gets on the microphone and says, "Welcome to Holland."

You stand up and shout, "But I'm not going to Holland. I'm supposed to be in Italy. I've prepared for Italy and that's the only place I want to go. I don't want Holland."

But there are no more flights to Italy, and you have no choice but to stay in Holland. You complain and you brood and you tell everyone you see that you were meant to be in Italy. And then you stop and look around. And you realize Holland isn't such a horrible place.

It has a slower pace than Italy. But the people are kind and the flowers are beautiful and they have their own culture to admire. And you start to realize that while you planned and longed to live in Italy, if you let go of the disappointment of being left behind you see that maybe Holland is exactly where you were meant to be.

And you learn to appreciate it's beauty.

And you find things to be grateful for in your unexpected destination.

Tyne Daily caught my attention on television that day. But her words changed my outlook on life. Whether it is a huge life change like being sick or simpler changes in day-to-day plans, I often stop to remind myself that it's ok. I just thought I was going to Italy but I landed in Holland. And I've learned to stop looking at where I think I'm supposed to be... because that's when I'm able to see the beauty in where I am.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Holy Blog Hits, Batman!

If you look toward the bottom of the column at the right, you'll see how many blog hits I have. That number means that in the last three months, you all have collectively visited my blog over 10,000 times.

Holy blog hits, Batman! That's INSANE.

Now let me clarify for you people who are new to the blogging world... there are blogs out there that get that many blog hits in a day. I'm sure there are some that get that many in an hour. But I'm not talking about their blogs... I'm talking about my new little pipsqueak blog where I talk about my dog and my wacky family and my random thoughts. Insane.

And I know what I'm about to say might sound ridiculous to you. I might be about to tell you all what a dork I am. And you all might want to tell me to get a grip.

But whatever... sounding ridiculous has never stopped me before.

This silly little blog has seriously changed the fabric of my day-to-day life. A blog. Not a lightening bolt of inspiration or meeting the love of my life or holding a newborn baby. No... my life has been changed by a blog.

But really, since I don't leave my house the whole love-of-my-life or newborn-baby-thing isn't logically going to happen. And as much as I enjoy being creative there are no great lightening bolts of inspiration raining down.

What I do have is a flutter of excitement when I get up in the morning. And mornings in my life in all other ways prove generally to be kind of sucky. I know, not a profound word to describe it but the description fits. But now when I open my eyes and my body hurts and I have to make myself get my feet on the floor, I'm thinking about whether or not someone has left a comment and wondering what I'll write about tomorrow.

And I know I'm supposed to be all cool and existential and not really care that you all are reading because it's supposed to be about being creative and such. And I did start this to write and be creative again.

But I care. I do. I admit it. I'm not cool and existential because, while I thought it would be all about the writing... it's really all about connecting. And connecting with all of you has made it a little more fun to open my eyes in the morning.

So I guess what I'm saying is... thanks for being the Robin to my Batman, people.


Friday, September 5, 2008

It's All Good

This is painted on my wall of doodles and, if you know me, you're probably sick of hearing me say it.


It's not an avoidance saying, like when you ask me how I'm doing and I say, "Groovy." That's just an easy way for me to say that it could be better, but really it's fine and I just don't feel like explaining it. You should try it... either people don't know how to respond to "groovy" so they don't press it, or it sounds like a good enough answer that they accept it. Either way, it's all good.

See... snuck that other little saying in there... did you notice?

I catch myself saying it a lot (mostly because someone once pointed out to me that it's a redundant part of my lingo) but it's only because I mean it. If I'm having a day where I have a headache, my theory is that at least it's not a migraine, so it's all good. I can't drive my car right now, but I'm saving a fortune in gas, so it's all good. Basically, it just means I really trust that life works itself out.

The reason I'm adding it to today's post is because I've gotten a few emails since I started this blog asking me how it's possible I don't have any unpleasant childhood memories, since I only seem to write about the cute and funny ones. My answer: Are you freaking kidding me? Life is not all sunshine and roses. We are human, people. But it's all good.

Here's the thing... number one rule on my blog is that I would never want to hurt anyone's feelings. All of our memories can contain something that isn't perfect or that hurts our feelings, but if that's what I focused on in life I'd be a pretty miserable person. Writing this blog and getting to tell these fun stories is such a lovely way of remembering all the good things that come along with the bad in life. And if I have my druthers, I'm going to be happy and celebrate the good.

But if you really want a story about how evil we can be, I will provide. :) When I was up at Mayo Clinic having testing done and things weren't going so great and doctors were making me re-do tests rather than make a phone call to get results from the one I had done the day before, my mom and I were getting a little tired and testy.

So we sat in a waiting room full of people and started a very snarky game of, "Oh, We Could Help Them." Pretty much anyone that walked in the room we decided what clothes they should never wear again, what hair style they shouldn't ever attempt again, and for the love of all things holy the make-up that should be TONED DOWN.

It's wrong to judge. And to pick out others faults. And it was the most fun we've ever had in a waiting room ever. See... we're not perfect. And as we decided in that waiting room, neither was anyone else.

When mom came with me to my doctor appointment here in town about a month ago, she walked in ahead of me (I was moving pretty slowly) to put my name in at the desk. She walked in, turned around and came directly back out into the hall with a grave look on her face.

"Brace yourself, Sara. I know it hurts to laugh."

We walked in and a gentleman was sitting there with his plaid pants, striped shirt, suspenders and a golf cap. I laughed. It hurt. And we weren't bored. It was all good.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Micro S'mores

No... this title doesn't refer to miniature little teeny-tiny s'mores. (Although bite-sized s'mores would be both handy and a lot less messy.) This is simply a delicious way for me to have my snack without the use of wood, fire and a big backyard! And because the only requirement is a few seconds of microwave usage, it also doesn't count as a cooking segment here on the blog. Didn't want you all to think I suddenly went domestic on you.

In past summers my niece Anna and my nephew Thomas have hung out with me at mom and dad's for a week or so before heading back to school. We spent one year having a Harry Potter movie marathon, and last year our marathon was Lord of the Rings. We hid out in the basement while mom and dad slept, stayed up until  2:00 or 3:00 in the morning watching movies and ate all of the junk food in the house.

IMG_0938                (Thomas and Anna doing some crazy back cracking. I obviously sat this part out.)

(Riley snuck on the table to find leftover scraps and spilled ice cream.)

One evening there was no ice cream left and I felt it was finally time to teach these kids something worthwhile. Hence, the tricks of the microwave s'mores were passed on to the next generation.

Conveniently, my grocery delivery from Linda was tonight and I put marshmallows and Hershey's kisses on the list to satisfy my sweet-tooth cravings. So you no longer need to feel sorry for me and I can commence with my high-tech cooking demonstration. (Are you sure you're ready? Because it's pretty intricate.)

First you put half a graham cracker on a plate. (Should I slow down, or are you following so far?) Take a large marshmallow and split it open a little so you can fit a Hershey's kiss in the middle, like so:


Now flip the marshmallow over so the chocolate is on the bottom:


Stick it in the microwave on high power for about 15-20 seconds or so (just stop it before the marshmallow explodes). It should look something like this:


Mmmm... getting hungry, aren't you? Then you stick the other half graham cracker on top and eat away...


And if you're a really nice person, you let your dog lick the plate:


Now, I'm not going to lie to you and say they're as good as burnt marshmallows roasted over a bonfire... but in desperate situations it's a whole lot better than squirting leftover Hershey's syrup directly into your mouth. That's a promise.


As a small note of correction, I've made a change to the recipe. I imagine you all assumed I only ate these once and then put away the ingredients never to be used again in order to avoid the excess weight that would surely follow. But really people, what would be the fun of that?

No, I realized and consequently feel the need to share with you, that if you split the marshmallow open lengthwise you can fit TWO Hershey's Kisses in the s'more when it goes into the microwave. Still run it on high for 20 seconds and you will have a more balanced ratio of chocolate to marshmallow.

And we all know that life these days is about balance. Just trying to do what I can to bring some to all of you... even if it is in the form of crazy-good junk food.

Always here to serve, people. Always here to serve.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Revealing Gold

I subscribe to an email that provides daily inspirational quotes. In all honesty, most of them aren't that inspirational or are so abstract it takes half a day to figure out what in the world they mean. It reminds me of when I took a course in college about Chaucer where my professor didn't teach us about Chaucer's works as much as he stood up in front of the room and read to us aloud in Old English.

I got a lot of napping done in that class. And it was one of those times when having the ability to write abstractly about nothing and make it sound convincing came in handy.

Today, though, my email quote was one that made me stop before I hit the delete button. I liked it. It's this quote by Tolstoy:

"Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold."

I've spent a lot of time in my life looking at ways to grow, be that in my relationships with other people, in my faith, in my career or in my every day life. There are so many books out there that talk about pursuing dreams, enriching your marriage and growing in your spirituality. There are ways to educate your mind and increase your value both financially and personally. And none of those are bad things.

But sometimes I think the more I read about how to work toward things, the further away I get from the truth of who I already am. It's like the walls in my Grandpa Joe and Grandma Florence's old farm house. When we went back to see it before it was going to be torn down Mom and I stood in the dining room and she talked about all of the different wallpapers she remembered being in that house. We took a corner and peeled back a bit of the paper to reveal another underneath. And another. And another.

I can't imagine how many layers must have been there because instead of taking down the old paper when it got worn, Grandma just added a layer. And I think a lot of us do that with who we are.

Sometimes it's life that adds the layers on us. We have grief that we don't know what to do with so we put it on and wear it until it becomes comfortable. We have jobs that have to be done with work that we can't seem to leave at the office, so we add a layer. We have to make sure our families are fed and happy and cared for, that our kids have every opportunity and make it to every activity. We worry and rush and worry some more. And we add a layer for each.

Sometimes, like those strips of wallpaper on the drafty walls of an old farm house, the layers add a little insulation. There have been many times in my life when I've been scared or overwhelmed or unsure of myself, and the layers came in handy. A new wallpaper over my worn self-esteem kept everyone thinking that I had it all together. I remember starting college and thinking that people would only want to be around me if I was confident and self-assured.

But when I insulated myself from appearing scared or unsure I also could have insulated myself from people who, as it turns out, love me at my weakest as well as my strongest. I'm just lucky that at some point my layers peeled away enough for me to make that discovery.

And that's why I like this quote. Truth is like gold. It is unchanging. The truth is that we are born into this world and we are loved by God before we've done a single thing to earn it. In a lot of our growing and searching, what we are often searching for is a way to be good enough for people to love and accept us. Sometimes I think we'd accomplish that easier if we'd stop searching for ways to be better and peel away the layers first. If we would just stop and wipe away all that isn't gold, we'd see the truth that who we are is already loved. And always has been loved since before we were born. We just have to stop long enough to make the discovery.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dissed on Skype

You know in yesterday's post, how I raved on about my perfect and lovely nieces and nephews?

Well, a bunch of them were home at Mom and Dad's for the holiday weekend. I haven't been able to travel for some time so my brother Steve's family gave me a webcam for Christmas last year, bought one for themselves and also one for my parents. It's fantastic because even while I can't be home for holidays, the family can Skype me from my parents' house and keep me updated as to all the happenings. (It was a great gift; I highly recommend it for anyone thinking about it.)

So anyway, I was sitting here twiddling my thumbs this weekend when my computer started ringing. It was Anna and Thomas, my two partners-in-crime who have been known to keep me company in summers past when I would spend a few weeks at home with mom and dad.

Here's how the conversation went on Skype:

Me: Hey... are you guys having fun without me?

Thomas: Yep.

Me: What? Really? Have I taught you nothing... you're supposed to lie to me and say nothing on Earth is fun without your Aunt Sara.

Thomas: Well, we grilled out and had a bonfire and ate s'mores and sat in the hot tub. It wasn't bad.

Anna: Oh! We gotta go. Food just arrived.


More than being disillusioned and in shock that they could have fun without me, the conversation left me hungry. I started imagining mom's potato salad and 7-layer salad ... and those s'mores.

So I went to my fridge to see what I could find to feel like I was home.


Dude... after yesterday's post about my Hershey's syrup discovery and this conversation about s'mores over a bonfire, I am so putting junk food on my grocery list. And teaching the next generation to be better at lying to me!  Thinking

(Don't worry, there is food in my cupboards. It's just that none of it contains chocolate or marshmallows. Or anything remotely decadent. The green apple Smirnoff was pretty good, though.)


Addendum: I had to attach this little bit of information that happened Monday night after I wrote this post. My nephew Cooper skyped me (he wasn't home at mom and dad's). Cooper loves to skype and play Webkinz with me at the same time, and he called tonight so he could talk to me before his first day of school tomorrow. I love that kid. Anyway, Avery gets her turn in front of the camera and she always searches a little more for something to talk about, but really likes to talk.

So this is what she said to me, word for word (I wrote it down): Sometimes, the world is full of confusion, and sometimes the world is plain. But with you...

She trailed off, having no idea where her almost-8-year-old brain was going with this. So I helped her: But with me the world is...?

And she finishes with: But with you the world is perfect.

Seriously. A conversation like that is so much better than chocolate and marshmallows on a graham cracker.

Monday, September 1, 2008

No Parades! Hooray!

Being that it's Labor Day and all, it would only make sense for me to make this post somehow tie-in with the holiday. Here's the problem with that: I don't really know what we're supposed to be celebrating. I'm sure it has to do with working or labor unions or something, but since I don't work and have never belonged to a union I'm not very well-versed on either subject at the moment.

The only thing I can even think to say about the holiday is this: The only benefit of not being able to leave my house is the fact that I don't have to sit on a hard sidewalk in the heat watching bad floats go by in a parade where they throw stale candy at me.

I know everyone is supposed to love holiday parades, but it was just never really my thing. I'd rather be at a barbeque having a brat and a beer than watching junior high bands march by while playing some rendition of Wipe Out.

So instead I thought I'd do a random little questionnaire my blogging-friend Anita sent to me. I am pretty sure there are rules about forwarding it on and such, but I'm not really into all that. It makes me feel like I'm doing one of those chain letters that tells you if you don't send it to 15 people you'll have bad luck for the next seven years. I have a friend that always sends those emails on to the exact number of people just to be on the safe side, but what can I say? I'm a risk taker.

Then again, with the way my luck goes I may be the poster child for what happens when you laugh in the face of superstition!

Ok, so here are the sentences I'm supposed to complete:

1. I think I might... need to start putting some sort of junk food on my grocery list. I have a lot of apples and bread and oatmeal, but the other day I was so desperate for chocolate I found an almost-empty bottle of Hershey's chocolate syrup in the back of my fridge behind my water distiller and actually squirted the last bit of chocolate right into my mouth. Probably not the best snack while trying to lose those prednisone pounds, but it was manna-from-the-heavens good.

2. I am a bit of a... well-organized procrastinator. I love the preparation part of a project so much more than the project itself. My favorite part of digital scrapbooking isn't actually making the pages. I love to Photoshop the photos until they are "just right." I could sit for hours and make sure all of my supplies are organized and categorized on my computer and then sort all of the photos for what layout I'll make. The actual designing of a page takes no time compared to the organization I put into it. I know, I'm a freak. 

3. I have been... recommended to the Bishop as a possible candidate for being a nun. It was when I was graduating from high school. When he mentioned it to me at our graduation Mass I told him that I would be happy to consider it when women can be priests and be married. Funny, I never heard back about that. 

4. I am addicted to... the TV show Alias. In another lifetime I so want to be Syndey Bristow. Watching old episodes is the only thing that can distract me while I'm trying to do some form of physical therapy. While I'm stretching on a therapy ball and watching Jennifer Garner do a rounding scissor kick (is there such a thing? because I think I just made up that terminology), in my mind I'm prepping to be a secret CIA operative. As I'm typing this I'm just now realizing the connection I still have to the Bionic Woman. I'm all about taking down the bad guys.

5. I can... wiggle my ears. I can make them both go up and down at the same time or alternate them. It's not the coolest trick in the world but it's awfully entertaining to three year olds. 

6. I might be a redneck since... I was in the room when my dad ate raccoon. :)

7. I have... 10 of the coolest, smartest and kindest nieces and nephews in existence. I also have 5 godchildren who are all smart enough to someday rule the world.  And if you ever ask me about the best part of my life I'd be happy to show you photos of each of them and go on endlessly about their greatest qualities. I'm proud like that.