Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Pause for a Health Update

Lindsey behind the lens of my Dad's camera, in Michigan.'s Lindsey?

She's fine.

She went through quite a health spell this past winter/spring, missing 6 weeks of school, missing many more days after she returned, and having a not-great end to her 8th grade year.

What we discovered, through many tests and trials, discussions and theories, is that her anxiety was so high that it was affecting her physical health. It caused such severe stomach cramping and nausea that she lost 5 pounds in four weeks, the girl who doesn't have a pound to spare.

Yes, a mental illness causing a physical illness. A true, real, physical pain that has no expected, typical cause.

We already knew that Lindsey has anxiety, which we thought was under control. We learned a lot of things about nutrition, the digestive system and her anxiety triggers.

Smiling mouth, pained eyes.
We learned that eating small meals four to five times a day seems to work well for her. Sugar in excessive amounts really whacks out her system for a good 24 hours. (No desserts. No pure juices.)
While she does not have celiac disease, gluten really does a number on her system, so gluten is still off limits.

She is under the care of a team of physicians who are working together, between her nutrition and her mental health needs, to get her back on track. And now, at the end of August, I feel like she is finally back to herself.

In the meantime, her dad and I much of what's going on is related to her anxiety and how much is related to her being 14? We have no idea, we've never parented a teen before. Poor firstborn, gets to be the first to trial-balloon every parenting technique we have.

We are grateful for all the parents who have shared their journeys with us, who have broken the code of silence to let us know what they've faced behind closed doors.

We are grateful for our friends, for Lindsey's friends, for our family who have supported us through this. And we are grateful to live in a city that has such incredible resources for health care. While it took us a while to navigate the system to figure out who to call or who to talk to, there was always someone there to help, in specialties we never knew existed.

At the end of the day, Lindsey will be stronger. More resilient. Amazing, at anything she chooses to do.

And we will be her loving parents.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Lasagna and Dad

My dad visited me last night.

He gave me one of his classic big bear hugs, the kind would envelope you in warmth from head to toes. He said, "My God, it's good to see you, it's been such a long time. I can't wait to catch up."

I was preparing a lasagna, two single servings (homemade, of course). I took it out of the oven and the aroma filled the kitchen. Of course my dad loved food of all kinds, especially lasagna, which he asked for his birthday dinner every year for decades.

I put the finishing touches on, and we sat down at the table in the kitchen of the house I grew up in Sheboygan Falls. As we sat at the table, Dad said, "Well, I wish your sister could join us, but I understand that she has to work."

We tucked in to the meal, and the scene closed.

I awoke with a sense of being visited, of missing my dad, of truly seeing his spirit. And after a few minutes I realized that he was right -- my sister was working that evening, she was working right that minute.

 I texted her to let her know that Dad had visited, and we had the nicest text conversation about it, as if Dad had just left my kitchen.

These visitations are bittersweet, reminding me he is gone, but knowing he is near.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Pecking Order and Your Food (They are Related, Really)

 You've probably heard the term "pecking order," it usually means something about corporate  or social hierarchy, also expressed as "Sh*t rolls downhill."

Except there's an actual reality to pecking order. They're called chickens.

You know, those pink, small pieces of meat you buy from the grocery store? That chicken. My daughter was 4 before she realized that a living chicken was the same thing as a roasted chicken breast on her plate.

Long ago, back when farmers were farming for their families mostly, and hoped to sell a few items on the side to support their family, they raised chicken by what we now call "free range" methods.

Chickens could roam freely through the farmland. They could go anywhere they wanted, eat anything they wanted. And they established a pecking order, because that's how chickens work as a species.

The strongest chickens would "peck" the smaller and weaker chickens for food and water, which would peck weaker chickens in turn, and a social order was established. Chickens were hurt. Many had wounds, lost their eyesight, their mobility and their lives.

Cartoon of a chicken pecking another because showing an actual photo would be graphic and cruel.
Farmers got frustrated losing so many of their chickens. The birds had clearly suffered. It was expensive. So they started putting the chickens in cages.

In cages, the strongest chickens could not get to the weakest. They could not establish a "pecking order," and they had no need to. Their world was as small as the cage they were in -- they didn't give two clucks about the chicken in the cage over there.

Mortality decreased. Production increased. And farmers could finally sell more eggs than their families consumed.

Yes, this is simplistic. Yes, this does not take into consideration all that is known about animal science today. But...the clamor for cage-free eggs does not take animal science into consideration either. Because guess what: forcing farmers to raise chickens in the old way, the "cage free" way, is forcing them to have more chickens die. Do they get paid more for eggs raised from cage-free chickens? Not necessarily.

As a matter of fact, in California, where legislation has required that shelled eggs, the kind most of us know from grocery stores, must come from cage-free farms. Instead of paying, say, $2.00 a dozen, they cost $4.00 a dozen to cover the losses. (And by "losses" I mean the higher chicken mortality rate.) The people who advocated for and voted this into law order their groceries online, get them delivered to their house, and pay twice as much for eggs as they paid before, and don't think twice about it.

In the meantime, the family that is barely scraping by, the one with a single parent working two jobs, can no longer afford eggs. At all. Since the $2.00/dozen eggs are no longer available due to legislation, they are left with what is available at the food bank; powdered eggs, which are not required to come from cage-free chickens, if they purchase eggs at all.

Then the price of eggs drops, because the demand did not keep up with supply. The cage-free farmers don't actually get $4.00/dozen, they get more like $2.50, because people without the means to buy $4.00 eggs stop buying them. Now the farmers are in a lose-lose proposition, and because this is the law they can't go back to raising chickens the way they used to. Some choose to raise some other livestock, thus reducing the supply of eggs, permanently keeping fresh eggs from the lowest socioeconomic people in our society.

This is not a free capital market.

I am not an economist, nor a food producer. I am a consumer, seeing and hearing the news, and listening to people who don't know what "GMO" means clamor for non-GMO food. (FYI, "honey crisp" apples exist because of GMO practices. So do poodles.)

We are not them. They are not us. 
I am sure there are more factors pressing upon the market than the one I just described. I just ask that people listen and be open to more possibilities than the one being spooned to them by advocacy groups, no matter the intention. Being organic, cage-free, non-GMO is not necessarily better, just different. Choose wisely.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Final Tween Year

One day Marissa asked me why Lindsey's birthday parties were always so cool and elaborate and hers were always so "blah." I explained to her that since Lindsey was our first-born, we loved her more and made sure her parties were extra special.

No, of course I didn't. And of course that's not true.

I told her it's because Lindsey plans her own parties, has for years. She put together her American Doll themed party when she turned 8, her murder-mystery party when she turned 13. She planned the food, activities, invitations, all of it. I simply execute what she has put together. Marissa's 11th birthday party had been planned by Lindsey as well, a surprise spa party.

The last time Marissa had a sleepover I asked her for weeks to come up with activities for all of her friends, things we could have them do. She would not give up a single idea until 30 minutes before guests were going to arrive, at which point she announced all of the amazing games they would do. Which, of course, they weren't, because none of it had been purchased or planned. That turned out to be one of the worst birthday parties she had, with drama between grade-school girls being the main party entertainment.

This year was different. She made a guest list weeks in advance. She took a henna summer class and loved it so much, she wanted a henna artist at the party. Booked.

A friend had a "walking taco bar" for her party and she loved it so much she wanted that for dinner. Got it.

Lindsey suggested a costume game from a friend's sleepover that was entertaining. On it.

We had leftover sparklers left from the 4th of July in Michigan, and a beautiful backyard to use them in. Made it so.

And God bless my sister, she came over the morning of the sleepover and made all the homemade waffles for 10 girls, coming off a 12-hour night shift. She disappeared before the girls were even up as she had to sleep for the next night's shift, like a waffle angel.

What a special way to celebrate turning 12.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Long-Distance Loss

My dad and I have lived in separate states for most of our lives, since I was 14, actually. He and my mom divorced and he moved to Arkansas, where he would eventually meet and marry Terry, my stepmother.

You can imagine what a unique father-daughter relationship this made for. Our relationship was mostly phone conversations, with visits sprinkled few and far between. 

When I was in college, he would call to see how life was, tell me to hang in there and keep studying. He himself was struggling with a business that was not doing well, one that eventually went bankrupt.

One Friday my sophomore year he called to let me know he and his girlfriend Terry had gotten married that day. I was reeling from having just learned that my boyfriend had advanced cancer; I could barely take in the news. Dad understood, and let my need to lean on him during this time overshadow his exciting news of his marriage.

When my boyfriend passed away 9 months later, Dad was the first call the morning after his death, at about 6 a.m. He was an insomniac and he knew I would be up, having never really slept that night. 

"I'm sorry," is all he had to say, and the sincerity and depth of those two words made me break out in fresh tears. He didn't make it to the funeral; he didn't need to be there. I had other family and friends around to support me, and I knew he would be on the phone when I needed him. 

Years later, I called him to let him know I was engaged to a man he had met only once before. Our wedding day was only the third time my dad had met his son-in-law, the second being the night before, at the rehearsal. 

My husband and I traveled to Arkansas, to my dad and stepmom's rustic log cabin in the woods, what seems like now a scant number of times. Money was tight for them and for us, and travel wasn't easy to their rural area of the country. Dad started making driving tours of the Midwest, coming up to Minnesota to visit, then heading through Wisconsin to Upper Michigan, hitting Indiana on the way back to visit my sister Kristi before returning to Arkansas. He made many of these trips alone, as travel disrupted Terry's schedule so much as to be detrimental to her health. But then, we would return to our phone calls, with plans to visit again in a couple of years. 

He visited when our first-born daughter, his first granddaughter from either of his two children, was six weeks old. He marveled at our new neighborhood, at how much we could walk to, and looked at the baby every once in a while. When he returned home and developed the photos from his visit, he found he had a camera full of architecture and flowers and only one of his granddaughter, which I had insisted on taking. This would become a running joke for years, with my taking pictures of houses and asking if he felt like visiting. 

"I don't think we'd see each other any more often even if we lived next door," Dad speculated during one particularly lengthy, in-depth discussion. "Your lives are so busy, and we both are so accustomed to just talking to each other, I don't think we'd know what to do if we saw each other more." He was probably right.

We got into detailed discussions of the latest book we were reading, and we often gifted books to each other for Christmas. One year Dad bought me Travels with Charley, an autobiographical account of John Steinbeck's travels across the U.S. with his dog, Charley, during civil unrest in our country. I was so fascinated that I picked up all of John Steinbeck's works and read them one-by-one, even those I had to read previously for school. John Steinbeck is now one of my favorite authors, alongside Mark Twain, whose autobiography Mark Twain Volume One was also a gift from Dad. 

The Color of Distance by Amy Thomson is another book that stands out to me that Dad recommended. I was so amazed by it that the minute I finished it I read it again with fresh eyes. Years later it still sticks out in my mind as an amazing find I would've never picked up had it not been for my dad.

For many years, my dad was my career counselor. I could call him with an issue or problem at work, and he would ask questions and listen. He would not give advice, he'd just get more details of the entire situation, often making me think more deeply about the situation myself. Then he'd think on it. And think. 

The next day or the next week, depending on the complexity of the problem, I'd get a call back and he'd start with, "Say, I was thinking about your situation last night, and I have some ideas." By "last night" he meant some time between 3 and 5 a.m. He was a notorious insomniac whose best thinking was often done at night. 

He would then come up with some brilliant perspective about the problem that I hadn't considered, or some wording or dialog that would help flip it on its head to those I was dealing with.

For many years he has not been able to be my counselor, he was so involved with his own health and illness, as he needed to be. In the past several years I would leave work and want to call him to ask his advice, but I couldn't ask that of a man who was struggling with his devastating health issues. 

As his cancer treatments advanced he lacked the concentration to read, so we could no longer discuss the latest book we were reading. The only topic of our conversations for the past several years was how he was feeling, his treatments, the next course of action and hope for positive results. 

Phone call by phone call, I lost my dad. 

My stepmother Terry feels his physical loss every day. Every day, she wakes up and he's not there. She goes to bed alone. She has to do things around the house that my dad used to do. Hers is a profound, life-changing, daily reminder of his absence.

For me, I am left with memories of good conversations, of his voice on the phone, of laughter shared. And yet, in the cool early mornings, when I used to call him before I could call anybody else, I miss him. The minute I get in my car to drive home from work I miss him, as that's when I often called to download my day to his ever-listening ear.

Every once in a while I'll call the house and it's almost a treat when Terry doesn't answer, so I can hear my dad's booming voice on their outgoing voice mail. I hope she never changes it.

Miss you, Dad. 

Sunday, July 09, 2017

More Laughter Than Tears

As my dad requested, his memorial service was around the 4th of July in Munising, Michigan. He always loved the 4th, and dearly loved his hometown. He could think of nothing that would be more enjoyable than to have family gather on that holiday to celebrate his life and then enjoy his hometown's holiday offerings. He specifically requested the Corktown bar, as his aunt and uncle had owned it once in the long-distant past.

Kristi and I scanned photos, planned the service, and otherwise worked to get everyone together.

He would have said that we were making too big a deal, he would have demured. And yet, he would have been inwardly pleased at all the hoopla.

Family came together from Arizona, Illinois, Arkansas, Florida and many others places. Classmates came in from downstate ("Lower Michigan" to the non-Yoopers) and Munising itself to pay tribute. His childhood friend, Joe Hase and his wife Barb came to the service as well, which tickled Kristi and I pink, as Joe's name is mentioned frequently in dad's writing as someone who got into a whole lot of trouble with Dad over the years.

As he would have wished, there was more laughter than tears. More stories than sadness. His tales live on in his blog and the hearts and memories of those he told them to.

Kristi and I in front of the Floria window at the United Methodist Church in Munising, MI, purchased by our great-grandma Toot, $5/week until the $100 window was paid off. 

Hugs to Terry from Joe and Barb Hase. 

Terry, Jessie and Tracy at Dad's wake. Yes, he wanted smiles.

Dad's cousin, Jon Floria, and his wife Cynthia. They were such a treat to get to know!

Dad watched over the gathering with a manhattan in front of him, compliments of his wife, Terry. 
The most wonderful part is that all the family came together to honor him. Even the younger generation nieces and nephews, who did not know him the way we did, knew there was something special about him and his ways. He was always genuinely interested in people, easy to talk to because he made you do the talking with his questions of curiosity.

Because of him, this group of people came together, people whose connections to each other may not have otherwise survived the trials of time and distance. New connections were made, to be preserved in more stories, more gatherings and fun.

To the occasion.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Whose Hand Got Cut Off?

Our youngest proves to us frequently that listening and hearing are two different things.

While on our summer vacation to South Dakota two summers ago, Wayne was telling some story to me (me, mind you, not to all occupants of the car), about someone at work who asked someone to hand him his sandwich. Marissa, who always seems to be on the cusp of listening to our conversation, misheard the word "sandwich" and asked, "Who's hand got cut off?"

Throughout the rest of the trip, whenever she would ask "What?" we would reply, "Whose hand got cut off?"

Last week the four of us were in the car, driving back from the girls' soccer game. They are both taking a summer recreational soccer league, and were placed on the same team, which makes it convenient as can be for us to go see them both play.

We were talking about a teammate of theirs who plays goalie. She is a great goalie, and a few times during the game took a ball to the head or chest, shrugged it off and kept playing.

"She sure is resilient," I said.

"No Mom, she was born in Russia," Marissa said.

It took us a while to figure out that she thought I said, "She sure is Brazilian."