Friday, December 01, 2017

My Big Small Town

Best service in the city. Go if you need a new eye doctor. 
I woke up in screaming pain one day this past week. I opened my eyes and felt like someone was stabbing a knife directly into my right eye. I could not open it, I could not move my left eye without my right feeling like it was being scraped by sandpaper.

My youngest, God bless her, brought me a cold washcloth and a cup of coffee with cream, just the way I like it. I laid in bed, unable to move my eyes, or move in general without being in pain, for an hour. I patiently waited for 8 a.m. to roll around so I could call my eye doctor for an emergency appointment.

I called and got the office voice mail informing me that on Thursday, of all days, their hours are from noon to 8 p.m. But...there was a phone number to call for urgent care. I called; it was my eye doctor's cell phone.

I left a message and she called me back within 2 minutes. She made arrangements to see me that morning even though the clinic wasn't open.

By the time I arrived the pain had subsided substantially, probably due to the ibuprofen I'd been popping and the lack of eye movement. She confirmed what I suspect, which is that I had somehow scratched my cornea (I don't recommend doing this). It probably began healing overnight, but upon awakening in the morning ripped the healed cells back off my cornea, thus the stabbing pain at that time.

She called in a prescription to the pharmacy for antibiotic drops and gave me directions on how to care for it while it healed. We chatted about our kids; her oldest is in 1st grade, my youngest in 7th, at the same school.

I drove straight to the pharmacy, where I was greeted by Meg, who knew that a prescription had just been called in for me, but there was another waiting for me as well. Psst...I didn't even give her my name, first or last. They just know me there. I'm not sure if it's a good thing that the pharmacy staff knows me that well, but in this situation, it was incredibly reassuring.

I walked out of the store, smiling to myself, thinking about what an amazing small-town service experience I had while living in a major metropolitan city. As I stepped out, I saw my neighbor, an 89-year-old woman who has lived on our street her entire life, waiting at the stop light for the light to turn green. She and I waved to each other, the light turned green, and off she drove, eyes just inches above the dashboard of her large sedan.

Yep, I definitely live in a small town. In a big city.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Pinnacle of Skating Season: North Shore Inline Marathon

I have not been skating much this summer, like last summer. Last year I developed plantar fasciitis which meant my feet were in extreme pain for two days after skating. This year, my feet are a bit better, but still not great.

I've only been out on my skates a few times this summer. I did the Minnesota Half marathon the first weekend in August, and it was exhilarating. I had forgotten how awesome it feels to skate on an open road, without having to worry about bikers or others on the trail. Before I knew it I was at mile-marker 7; I couldn't believe the race was halfway over! I finished in a little over an hour and was surprised at how quickly it had gone by.

That weekend I signed up for the North Shore Inline Marathon, six weeks after my half marathon.

I only got on my skates once more between the half and the full marathon. I was not well-trained, but I didn't really care, I wasn't going for a certain time, I was going for the thrill of it. Kristi and the girls came up with me for support; my own cheering section!

The thrilled started a little early. The drive up Friday night was awful. About 20 miles outside of Duluth we hit fog that got thicker and thicker. Soon I was peering straight in front of the car, hoping to not lose sight of the lines on the road. There was no exiting the highway because I couldn't see where the pavement began or ended, and could not tell if other cars were nearby. That was not the kind of thrill I was hoping for. We made it safely to the hotel, nearly 1 1/2 hours after we should have arrived.

The morning of the marathon looked no better. We drove to the shuttle pick-up in dense fog. Once there, it began to pour. Lots of skaters were consulting with others on whether or not they were going to do the race. I had braved such terrible driving to go there, there was no way I wasn't going to try. I figured that unless they canceled the race, which they would only do for lightning, I was going to skate it.

By the time the bus got to the start line the rain had stopped, the fog lifted and there was no discernible wind. The pavement was wet but in good condition. Road improvements over the past year meant that the majority of the 26.2 miles was on smooth pavement -- no cracks or "tar snakes" to gum up wheels. Due to the wet pavement course marshalls were recommending no drafting, making what is usually a very social event one of solitude instead.

The first two miles are almost completely downhill. It felt wonderful to just tuck and go. The storm had churned up Lake Superior, which was visible to my left, angry and gray.

I had forgotten that for much of the course, skaters have to climb up and then the terrain flattens out, then climbs again. There's no coasting downhill for several miles. And then there was mile 11, a long, slow downhill, curving gently to the right.

The lake was practically in front of me as I began, sounding like an ocean in the crashing of its waves. I tucked low and began down the hill, gaining speed. Faster and faster, until I checked my watch and saw that I was going 24 mph. Cool air, crashing waves and speed=exhilaration.

The rest of the race felt wonderful until about mile 21, when my lack of training became apparent. I felt like I was using every last bit of strength and was moving in molasses. There are a couple of big hills near the end when we get off the interstate -- a volunteer walking along the side of the race course was going faster than me. How embarrassing.

Finally, the finish line! Kristi and the girls were cheering me on and I couldn't let them down. I completed the race in 1 hr 57 minutes, beating my goal of 2 hours by a few minutes. It was such a wonderful feeling, knowing I had made it through the sludge of the last few miles to finish with gusto.

I've already signed up for next year's marathon. This time, I'm going to train for it.

Just minutes after finishing. So great to see my cheer team at the end (including the one behind the camera).

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Our Dog the Celebrity

I don't mean to brag, but it turns out our dog Beauty is a celebrity.

There's a certain place we go where she is greeted by name the minute we walk in the door. Staff stop to pet her, and they can barely contain themselves taking turns to give her treats.

That place is Walgreen's.

This is one of the pluses of living in our walkable, dog-friendly neighborhood. There's a Walgreen's three blocks from our house, and they let dogs shop with their owners. Between our family of four we've got five prescriptions on auto-renew; we are there a lot. Plus it's an easy stop for a gallon of milk, some chocolate, or other items.

We know most of the employees by name. There's Kris, who walks to work 2 miles one way. Only during thunderstorms or blizzards does he take the bus. And John, the pharmacist tech, who recognizes me and knows to look for prescriptions under one of two names when I appear at his window. And Muhamed, who is afraid of dogs but tolerates Beauty. Of course, Monica is our favorite, because she feeds Beauty treats one after another right out of the box behind the register, and then usually steals one or two into our bag as she's checking us out.

We walk in and whomever is working the register usually greets the dog before s/he sees who is accompanying the dog. "Hi Beauty!" we'll hear upon entrance.

Beauty usually checks register #2 first -- if no one is there, she'll walk around to register #1 and sit politely, waiting for a treat. The minute she sees an employee in a light blue shirt in any aisle, she walks up to them and sits down, eagerly waiting for a treat.

If you let her lead the way, she'll walk you straight to the pet food/dog toy aisle, where she will sniff everything in earnest.

She doesn't usually get to have one until we check out, and then the farewells begin: "Bye Beauty! Bye pretty dog! See you again!"

Some day I'll teach her how to give out her autograph.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Concert Ticket for One, Please

On Friday night I joined dozens of my friends and fellow U2 lovers and went to the U2 concert at the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Except I sat alone.

I knew many of my friends were planning on going, had probably purchased tickets the second they went on sale. Because our family life has been so unpredictable of late, I didn't buy one. As the date came closer and closer, I knew I couldn't miss one of my favorite bands for the second time in three years. I nabbed a cheap ticket from a neighbor on and made plans to go alone.

Turns out that I was able to have dinner beforehand with my childhood friend Lisa and her sister, Kathy, who traveled from Green Bay to the Twin Cities to visit and take in the concert. We walked to the stadium after dinner and then parted ways. I headed up to the top-most tier, second to last row from the back wall.
Lisa and Kathy, two of the four "Hirsch girls" as they will always be to our family. 

Looking out the massive glass doors of the stadium onto downtown Minneapolis on my way up to my seat.
I chatted for a bit with the couple next to me, who had also purchased their tickets from the same couple I had. But once the concert began, it was just the music and I.

I danced. I sang. I stood up when nobody else around me was. I belted out every word to the lesser known songs when no one else was singing.

The visual show was incredible. Inspiring. Magical. I am so glad I took in this experience.

The Joshua Tree, opening scene.

The real Bono is the white spot in the blue light on stage. The visuals were unbelievable.

Gives a new meaning to "harvest moon." 

It's not the first time I've gone to events on my own, the first one being Creed in 2010. I had loved the band at their height but lived in Mankato at the time, and going to the concert in the Twin Cities was a bit more daunting then. Now, on what I suspected would be their last tour, I couldn't miss them. I ended up connecting with a gay couple next to me during the concert, and we went out afterwards for a drink.

Another time two of my favorite guitarists, Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, were in a tour called "The Hendrix Experience," with some of the top guitarists paying tribute to Jimmy Hendrix. No one was interested in going with me, so I bought myself a ticket and went. I ended up leaving that one early because I had forgotten to bring ear plugs and I was so close to the stage that I was seated in front of the wall of speakers. I love a good Joe Satriani solo, but knew I was doing my ears damage when my head started ringing. When I walked out into the crisp March night the world was muted and didn't sound quite right until well into the next day. Oops.

When "Les Miserable" came back around the Twin Cities I wanted to go, even though I'd already seen it previously with my husband early on in our marriage. He had no interest in seeing it again (he also doesn't watch re-runs on TV, unless it's a Star Trek series), so I bought a ticket for one and went. I had forgotten how moving and tragic the music was; I cried through almost the entire thing. It didn't matter -- no one knew me.

One plus of buying a single ticket is that you can buy them at the last minute and get much closer to the stage than if you needed to buy two seats together. I sat in the 16th row at Creed with a walkway in front of me; yeay for extra space for dancing!

My sister goes to lots of events on her own. Sometimes I feel badly that I am not able to join her, but experiences like this one make me realize that it isn't lonely to go to events alone, it is freeing. I don't have to worry if someone else is enjoying him/herself, or if I've picked a place that meets his/her needs. I don't have to make extra stops for food, drink, or bathrooms, outside of what I need for myself.

I don't want to ever regret not taking in an experience because I wasn't willing to do it alone. So thank you, U2, for an unforgettable concert.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

An Open Letter to Superintendent Ed Graff and the MPS School Board

Dear Mr. Graff and the MPS Board of Education,

The chaos of the beginning of this year's school year at Southwest High School is a great example of why you don't make significant administrative changes three weeks before the school year starts.

You already know about the kids who showed up Day One with a half a schedule, or were double booked for classes in the same hour. (Hermione's time-turner, which allowed her to attend multiple classes at the same time at Hogwarts School of Wizardry, is a piece of fiction, by the way.)

Did you hear about the classes so packed that not only were there not enough chairs for students to sit, but there wasn't enough room in the classroom to put those chairs, even if they could be found?

Or students who believed that their schedules were set, only to show up on Day Two or Three and be told that they were being pulled out of one class and put into one they hadn't signed up for, to make room for students who need their spot in order to graduate?

What you probably don't know is the impact this has had on those whose schedules were set and never changed, like my daughter, an incoming freshman. People who try to dissect what's going on in our public school system talk a lot about the numbers. I want to demonstrate the impact on a single student, my daughter Lindsey.

My daughter has a 504 plan for severe anxiety disorder. Her anxiety about attending high school has been heightening ever since she entered 8th grade and realized that it was her last year of middle school. Yes, that's a full year before high school began for her.

Her care is being managed by an incredible team of medical professionals, working on nutrition, psychiatric care and therapy to help her anxiety get under control. Many days it takes all of her strength and courage just to leave the house.

She called upon that strength to attend two days of freshman orientation, and to attend the first official day of school on Wednesday with upperclassmen.

In the meantime, I had been reaching out to various people at the school to try to address the needs outlined in her 504 plan. We were not able to pull together a meeting before school started, which makes sense now, considering that the administrators who were key to this process were missing. During this time, multiple things happened at school that intensified her anxiety.

On the first day of school one of her teachers strictly told the students that once class begins she would be locking the doors and no one would be admitted without a pass. This is the day after freshman orientation, when students were told that teachers would be lenient with kids who are late to class while they figure out how to get around the school. Being locked out of a classroom is my daughter's nightmare; because she's still learning the school and didn't want to be late to any classes she didn't use a bathroom between classes for the rest of the day.

One part of her 504 plan allows her to leave a classroom if the content being discussed is triggering for her, yet none of her teachers know this, so her overall anxiety just being in the classrooms was heightened.

She thrives on structure and was excited to get started on lessons. Yet the chaos of students being moved from classroom to classroom meant that teachers were not yet starting lessons until they knew their classrooms were set. Two days of name games for everyone to learn everyone else's names? I told her to bring a book to read, but again, her teachers don't know about her 504 plan or her anxiety, so she did not feel comfortable doing so. I asked if I could email teachers directly to let them know, but she doesn't want to be "special" so she absolutely refused to let me.

A friend was suddenly re-assigned removed from a health class she had signed up for to performance theater, because the spot was needed for a graduating senior who needed the class. The uncertainty of knowing if Lindsey would have the same schedule one day to the next only made her anxiety worse.

The freshman dance, which was insensitively scheduled on Eid ul Adha, was canceled because someone finally realized it should've never been scheduled for that day in the first place. For Lindsey, that was the carrot that had been getting her through the week, and it was suddenly taken away.

Finally, Friday morning, her courage was depleted. Every day she called upon a well of strength that no one outside of her understands, and every day events happened that made her anxiety worse. I could not assure her that lessons would finally start, and I could not physically move her into attending. And so she stayed home.

She missed nearly two months of 8th grade due to her anxiety;  this is now only the 3rd day of high school and she was out of courage.

I finally got a hold of a social worker at SWHS in person on Friday, and the poor woman got the wrath of fury that she absolutely did not deserve. The staff are doing everything they possibly can on the "important AND timely" box of priorities. Because of that, my daughter's "important but NOT timely" needs did not get met.

She is now under doctor's orders to NOT attend school until we can make the environment less triggering for her. I need the school's immediate help to put her 504 plan in place ASAP so she can attend for at least part of the day.

I am a huge proponent of public schools. I believe in them, I believe that every student deserves a quality education, that our society is made better by the education of future generations. Yet my faith in MPS' ability to provide this education has been shaken, and it is not the fault of the staff at the school, who are furiously working to fill the void of these sudden absences at the top of the school.

Why would three top administrators at one of the district's largest and most successful high schools be removed three weeks before the start of the school year? How is it that the district under-estimated the attendance of the school by nearly 200 students, so that it is not properly staffed at the beginning of the year? Why can't class schedules be accurately assigned before the start of the school year?

Our family has the resources to go elsewhere, and it appears that finally, after 9 years of a public school education, we will be leaving for private schools. This makes me sad for the public schools, because those with the resources to make them better leave, and those without have no choice but to stay. And we wonder why public schools are in decline.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I Was Okay Until You Asked if I Was Okay


My boss's father recently passed away quite unexpectedly. He had a history of heart troubles, but he had been healthy of late. He even recently traveled to Minnesota from the east coast to visit family, and was feeling good up until the morning he died.

The family is saddened that no one else besides his wife got to say good-bye to him, and yet, truly, isn't this how all of us want to go, quickly, not linger on in the care of someone else?

In the days that followed, his widow did not want to go out. She would look out the peephole of the condo door before taking the garbage out, because she didn't want to run into anyone and have that person ask how she was.

Many of us are like her. We are fine on the outside, seemingly functioning, taking care of ourselves, getting up in the morning, eating, working, even laughing.

But the minute someone asks "Are you okay?" it becomes very obvious that we are not.

Living with anxiety or depression is like that. It can sometimes take all your strength to get out the door, to leave the security and comfort of your home. Even the very thought of leaving brings tears, but finally, by God, you're out the door, into the world.

And then some well-meaning person sees red-rimmed eyes, the aftermath of the effort to join them, and says, "Are you okay?"

Well dammit, you were until someone asked. Suddenly all of the struggles you've worked so hard to shove away deep inside are right there on the surface, exposed. You find yourself on the verge of tears, fingers trembling, face reddening at the lie you have to tell.

For me, my well-perfected answer is, "I'll be fine, thank you for asking." End of conversation, or at least I hope.

Except, I have people in my life who ask, "Are you suuuure?"

And unless this person is a confidante, someone who is in my inner circle of people I connect with, lean on and share my life with, usually s/he is just curious. People living with anxiety or depression do not just walk around spilling their guts to everyone who asks "Are you okay? Are you suuuure you're okay?"

Those who are dealing with the aftermath of a loss, like my stepmother or my boss's mother, often don't need or want to rehash every last detail of their loved one's final hours. Some do, but then you never need to ask "Are you sure?" because they'll be talking your ear off and you'll be nodding and looking at them while practicing your sympathetic expression.

Those suffering from anxiety or depression look a lot like grieving people; if you were a part of their healing circle, you would know it and wouldn't be asking "Are you suuuure?"

I guess my point is...

Please ask "Are you okay?" and be okay with whatever answer you get. If you somehow feel urged on to ask, "Are you sure?" stop yourself and instead say "Let me know if I can help." If you can, that person will let you know.

Sometimes this small kindness is all it takes.

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 wanted that for dinner. Planned 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."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I Can Wait

Today is my eldest daughter's 8th grade graduation. She is excited to have middle school behind year, nervous for her high school years.

When I was pregnant with her, people with children would tell me, "Nothing prepares you for becoming a parent." (Some of the most unhelpful "advice" I've ever been told). Now I keep hearing those with graduating high schoolers or adult children say, "Don't blink, these next four years will go so quickly."

Thanks...I think. As if the first 14 years weren't a whirl.

When she was a newborn, I couldn't wait for her to be big enough so I could take her skating with me in the jogging stroller. When she was finally 6 months old, I took her around the lake for the first time. When I put some speed on, I looked down and she had her hands up next to her head, a look of wonder on her face, which slowly became a smile, then a giggle, and then a full-on laugh.

At age one I couldn't wait for her to learn more words, so I could be done with the pointing and the crying and the random temper tantrums because we could not understand her desires.

When she was 2 I couldn't wait for her to be done with diapers, especially since we had a second baby on the way.

The family at Dana Lake. You can hear the whining, right?

When she was 6, I was thrilled when she move to a larger booster seat so she could finally belt herself into the car. Now I just had to contort my body into strange pretzel shapes to get one child into the backseat, while she sat there safely buckled in, waiting to go.

When she turned 10 I was excited for her to move on to movies that others in the family also wanted to watch. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Disney animated film, but there's only so many times you can watch "Finding Nemo" before you don't care if he gets found.

When she was in 7th grade I couldn't wait for her to be old enough and responsible enough to not need before-school and after-school care. For the first time in years I could just get myself ready and out the door, knowing that the eldest would be responsible enough to lock up after the two girls left for school. We suddenly had extra money in our budget that could now be used in other ways.

We used some of that extra money to have date nights, because we no longer had the added expense of a babysitter whenever we went out. We went on our first spring break trip as a family, where many fantastic memories were made.

Now she and I connect in different ways. We share books. She'll find a good series on Netflix and we'll watch it together over the course of a few weeks. I can share some of the movies of my past that tickle my funny bone, because she'll get the humor of them, too.

Yes, she is surly at times, prickly, impolite, pick your adjective. But she is also expressive, funny, sensitive and caring.

These next four years? I can wait.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Felix Felicis, or "Lucky Potion"

My birthday was Friday. I love my birthday every year, it doesn't seem to matter what number it is. I was fed by my company for two of my three meals, and went out to dinner with my Big Sweetie to Murray's steakhouse, established 1948, and in general had an amazing day.

My amazing day continued into Saturday, when I was running errands. And I mean...errands; a whole lot of running around that had built up over the past few weekends. And I noticed something from the very first stop.

Everyone was soooo nice. I had a consult with an orthodontist and they managed to squeeze me in for impressions for a new retainer. I returned flowers to Home Depot and they gave me a full refund for a partially used flat. At the local vinegar and oil store they gave me a 10% discount because they knew I would bring back the bottles. Caribou Coffee gave me my free birthday drink even though it was only supposed to be good on my actual birthday.

Small things all around, but all day long. What could it be?

Was it some leftover birthday glitter? I think so. After all, I had a smile on my face all day. Every person I greeted was with a smile and a pleasant greeting, which was returned in kind. Plus, it was raining all day long, so stores were generally less busy and clerks were happy to take extra time with shoppers.

I thought about all the posts I've read about men telling women to smile, and how insulting and abrasive that is. Yes, I would never like to be told by anyone to smile, unless that person was a speech coach. Yet smiles can make the day so much more pleasant. Everyone I encounter with a smile has one in return.

I guess that's my Felix Felicis, my lucky potion. My way of making a little bit of the world kinder.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Lunch with Grandpa

From L to R: My dad, Phyllis, Carol, Dean and my Grandpa, seated
I dreamt I had lunch with my Grandpa and my dad.

It was in my grandpa's small apartment, my mind's vision of some of the places he's lived, merged into a strange concoction of his living space, as dreams tend to do.

The three of us sat around a little table, my father's large frame shoved into a small kitchen chair, his knees hitting the bottom of the table. The meal was peppered with doses of conversation and laughter. I can imagine it was every day stuff, the light that doesn't stay on in the kitchen, the Packers upcoming game, getting the oil changed in a car. Actual conversation was not a part of the dream, just the feeling of togetherness and commonness, of knowing each other so well that conversation isn't needed, just pleasant.

After the meal was done, I picked up plates and started to clean up Grandpa's kitchen. My Aunt Carol walked in, seeming to know when the meal was done so she could help and be a part of the banter. She and I cleaned the kitchen, then we all sat down and visited for a bit. She didn't stay long but popped up and said she had to go back home, and that it was nice to see me.

I awoke with tears in my eyes. Such a lunch was never possible. My grandfather never lived close to my dad and my Aunt Carol at the same time. When we got together with family, it was few and far between and it was a big deal, usually a holiday.

After the sadness passed at having visited with those long gone, I realized that they must have sent me the vision. My father loved his family dearly. He had great respect for his father and reveled in his sister's effervescent joy. Now the three of them are together, probably enjoying heavenly diversions, but the only way I could understand that they're together is by a vision of what it means for humans to commune with others -- by sharing a meal.

My grandfather died in 1996, my Aunt Carol four years ago this past March, my father this past October.  I think this means they found each other and love each other as much now as they did in life.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Genders Go Camping

Say what you want, there are some inherent ways that boys and girls are different, whether a person identifies as one or the other.

While chaperoning at Marissa's 6th grade retreat, the girls in my cabin got about an hour of free time before lights out. During this time, they took showers, got ready for bed, then often spent the rest of their time braiding each other's hair, telling stories or joking around. One girl, a budding artist, sketched quietly in her bunk, the "scritch scritch" of her pencil heard throughout the conversation. Marissa worked on word searches with a friend and engaged in the room's banter.

How many braided heads can you count?
I took this picture on the last morning of camp -- clearly braiding each other's hair was a popular activity in many cabins for the girls.

In the meantime, I compared notes with a parent who was chaperoning in a boys cabin.

When it was free time, none of the boys took a shower. Instead, they took all the thin mattresses on all the beds and spread them across the floor to make a huge wrestling pit.  The chaperones drafted brackets and they had themselves a wrestling match. The loser of the previous match was the announcer for the next match, while someone else would flicker the lights on and off as the boy trumpeted, "And this corner, we have the ever amazing, ever strong...Evan!!" And they were off.

This chaperone is the dad to two girls and was looking forward to chaperoning a boys cabin because he never gets "boy time," as he put it. I suspect he was the biggest kid in the room.

They had very different ideas of fun, both pursued with enthusiasm.

The 6th Grade Retreat, subtitled "Apparently I Camp"

Marissa and her favorite chaperone.
Each year the 6th grade class does a two-day camping retreat to Camp St. Croix in Hudson, WI. When Lindsey was in 6th grade she didn't want me anywhere near the camp, but Marissa asked me to chaperone.

"You know I don't really camp, right?" I reminded her. I don't do well with bugs, or sleeping bags, or walks in the woods to get to the bathroom. Plus, I was guaranteed to embarrass her at some point over the 3 days, intentionally or not.

It didn't matter, she wanted me along, and so I signed up.

I and a friend were assigned co-chaperones in a cabin with 8 6th grade girls, most of whom were Marissa's requested friends. During the day I was in Marissa's activity group, which was a different set of kids besides those in the cabin, so I got to know more of the kids in her class.

What a time!

Marissa and her cabin mates: Berit, Allison, Marissa, Carolyn, Eleni, Anjali, Erika and Hattie
Girl power at the archery range.
The first day was all sunshine and warmth. (Warmth in April=55 degrees). The group played games in the "Enchanted Forest," where they had to use teamwork to cross a path or balance a board with all teammates on it. The evening activity was a townhall where kids voted to preserve St. Croix or sell it to a developer who spoke an awful lot like Donald Trump.

Day two promised rain, and it started just after breakfast. It poured, then lightened up enough for Marissa's group to go to the pond for an aqua ecology lesson. The other chaperones and I quietly took bets on the side on which kid was going to fall in; I won. I know, not very chaperone-like, we can't be perfect role models all the time.

The second night's activity was the campfire. I told Marissa that the counselors had asked me to sing "Kum Bya" to the entire grade and that I had agreed to do it. The reaction I got when I finally told her I was kidding was priceless.

Marissa turned a new shade of red when she found out I wouldn't be singing.
The last day was the best activity ever, Predator and Prey. All the kids are split into animal groups; wolverines, skunks, rabbits and others roamed the property looking for food, water and shelter. Those at the top of the food chain could hunt those down the food chain, while others, like Marissa in the rabbit group, spent their time running and hiding. We all roamed fields, woods and water playing this game -- the places to hide were immeasurable, and with 150 kids playing, it was an absolute blast.

For me the biggest downfall was the lack of sleep. A hard and small mattress meant my shoulder was shoved into my ear for most of the night, and by the last day I awoke with the start of a migraine and tight shoulders. Not to mention the two bathroom requests in the middle of the night which required a chaperone to walk with a child to the bathrooms.

This was far outweighed by watching my daughter enjoy the outdoors and play with her friends, and by getting to know the other students and parents in her class. I'm so glad I was able to be a part of her memories of this trip.
Marissa's cabin which sleeps 12 people.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Our family has been watching "Parks and Recreation" on Netflix. By far our family's favorite character is Ron Swanson, the government employee who does not believe in government. He hates people, he hates parties, and he absolutely hates healthy food.

The characters on Parks & Rec swear, but instead of swearing, they bleep out the words and blur out the person's mouth so you can't tell what they're saying. Even in the original airing you never heard them curse, it's just a technique that's humorous, for some reason.

Marissa was watching an episode yesterday where Ron has to organize an employee appreciation picnic, something Leslie Knope, Amy Poehler's character, usually does. He is telling others what he's going to have at the picnic and says, "And there will be no bleeping vegetables."

Marissa didn't hear what he said, so she turns to me and says, "There will be no fucking what?"

The look of surprise on her face was hilarious. We all had a good laugh.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Struggling in Secret

Overwhelmed. That is the only word for all the emotions I'm feeling.

Overwhelmed by the issues facing Lindsey. Overwhelmed with the amount of information I'm learning about GI conditions, about natural treatments and cures, and the impact diet may have on a person's digestive system. Overwhelmed by thinking of the possible causes of Lindsey's issues, be it a physical ailment or an emotional one that affects her physical body.

More wonderfully, overwhelmed by the support and advice of my tribe.

Here's what I've learned through sharing our family's story: lots of people have been through this. Many parents told me stories of their teenage children struggling with digestive symptoms for which no "standard answer" was found. Each of them went down different paths of doctoring, diet, supplements and therapy. Most of them eventually got to an answer, but for some, the answers took years. Years. That might be fine for adults, but for teenagers, that's their entire adolescent experience.

My question is this: Why are we all struggling in secret? Let's share our stories, pool our knowledge, and find the quickest and surest path to health. Yes, the causes are different, the ultimate answers are different, but the symptoms are the same. How are families getting their children to school when they are struck by random bouts of diarrhea? What diet changes did they find worked? What didn't work?

Keep in touch, keep talking, share knowledge to help those coming down this path after you. I can guarantee I will do the same for you.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Leave of Absence

One thing that always brings a smile to Lindsey's face: Beauty.
Nothing has yet solved Lindsey's GI issues. Not the detailed food diary she's been keeping that we are pouring over, looking for potential food triggers. Not eating small, bland meals every two hours. Not the GI specialist, with whom we had probably the absolutely worst visit with a physician that I've ever experienced. Not a daily dose of Zantac, herbal teas, probiotics and other medicines.

Of the four full weeks in February, Lindsey missed school for three of them. She missed two straight weeks, went back to school for a week, then the stomach issues came back again full force.

I felt guilty leaving Lindsey home alone for hours at a time while everyone was at work or school. And I know she wasn't taking the best care of herself. We would come home to see the doses of medication still sitting on the countertop, herbal tea packets unopened, and for lunch she had a bag of gluten-free chips. Yes, she's a usually a mature, responsible girl, but when it comes to caring for her health, she is still 13.

The stress for our family became apparent when what was supposed to be a "quick" run for a blood draw over my lunch hour turned into a 4-hour ordeal. We ended up waiting in the emergency room for a blood draw, because that was the only place in the hospital that would use a "j-tip" for the procedure, which makes it completely painless.

Guess what waiting for a procedure you're already nervous about does? Yep, it increases your anxiety.

Lindsey nearly passed out during the procedure. It's a good thing she was already prone, or we would have been picking her up off the floor. She actually doesn't remember much of it because she was so out of it.

Instead of going back to work, I ended up stopping in the office to pick up my laptop so I could work remotely for the latter part of the afternoon. I missed a strategy meeting that I was looking forward to participating in. Lindsey apologized to me for taking so long for what should be a simple blood draw.

My child, apologizing to me, for having anxiety around a condition that is causing her pain. This was too much.

That evening Wayne and I decided that I would take a leave of absence from work to manage Lindsey through this, whatever "this" is. I was trying to work a full-time job while working another full-time job as Lindsey's healthcare and education manager. It wasn't fair to my employer, to Lindsey, and especially to me.

Unfortunately the timing is bad at work, with a couple of people having recently left the organization. I was willing to work some hours at home to keep projects moving along, so we arranged it so that I am working part-time on a temporary basis, able to come back to more hours when things get better at home. I am so grateful to work at a place that is so understanding and accommodating.

And so this week our new reality begins. We are all hoping that we can get to a diagnosis and a solution for her soon. I do not wish for this to become our "new normal," I'd rather go back to our old normal, thank you very much.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

What Now?

How ironic that I just posted about solving Lindsey's tummy troubles and trying a dairy-free diet. I wrote in such hope that perhaps dairy-free would be the answer, while also wishing that it wouldn't be because this Wisconsin girl finds dairy-free cooking/eating to be exceedingly difficult.

What's more difficult is taking the day off work to spend 5 hours in the ER with your daughter who cannot eat a thing without pain.

She missed school on Monday due to diarrhea and a stomach ache. She didn't eat all day, ate dinner with us that evening, and spent the evening curled up in a ball in agony.

I was hoping that a good night's sleep would help (now I ask myself, "help what?"). She awoke late Tuesday morning groggy, having not slept well due to a stomach ache all night. I couldn't coax her to eat until 11:30 or so. She had a brunch of a fried egg, gluten-free toast with jam, and a small side of potatoes. Granted, not the most balanced meal, but not the worst thing I've seen 13-year-olds shovel in their mouths.

She went up to her room and 20 minutes later I checked on her. She had beads of sweat on her forehead and was rolling in her bed in pain. She probably would have thrown up had it not been for her fierce aversion to vomiting.

We were in the ER by 12:30 and discharged around 4:30, not bad for a major metro emergency room. After an X-ray and a blood draw, they determined that she has no blockage, no inflammation, no other exceedingly obvious problems that would cause these issues. We already had an appointment with a pediatric gastrointestinal specialist (which is pronounced "expensive"), but not until late March.

The good news? All the scans the GI specialist would want are already complete, and Lindsey's anxiety around a blood draw doesn't have to be dealt with in the near future.

The bad news? She went home from the ER still uncertain as to whether or not she could eat without pain. Sure enough, about 30 mins after her gluten-free, dairy-free dinner, she had a stomach ache and diarrhea. But she managed to keep it down and isn't losing weight.

I suspect we have more tests and screens in our near future. And, I'm hoping, answers and relief.