Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Real Life Incredibles

     In my day to day life I know so many incredible people that are doing amazing things. They are real life super heroes. They make me want to be a better person, to make better choices, to slow down and really listen to the people that surround me in life.
     I have a dear friend I have known since I was 5 years old. That in itself has been such a gift to me, 4 plus decades of friendship. She was always a leader, even when we were little kids, always a great student, and an all around good kid. And she has become this incredible adult that is doing amazing things in so many communities as a social worker-for children, for those with severe illnesses, and so many more.
     Her latest, most important work of service and of her heart was as she cared for her terminally ill mother. My friend was careful, kind, loving, gentle, and managed to keep her families characteristic humor intact as she posted about their struggles, hopes, fears, and happy moments, even in this.
     She leads by her example. It makes me want to be a better daughter to my mother while I still have the opportunity to do so. My mother and I don't always see eye to eye. She has had issues with severe health problems, depression, and other things  since I was a small child. Somewhere along the way, it ended up contributing to me being a bit head strong, which can be difficult when both parties in a relationship share the same traits. 
     But my friend's example causes me to pause, to really listen, and to remember. My mother's mother is gone, a grandma that I loved dearly. One way I can still actively love my grandma, is to love her daughter and help when I can. This can mean a box of doughnuts from her favorite bakery, a driver to a surgical procedure, or a pan of homemade lasagna-from my dad's recipe.
     I live in the Midwest. We are currently experiencing the thrills of a polar vortex. As exciting as that sounds, it's really not. There are whole populations of people in grave danger because of the extreme cold, my elderly parents being part of one of the vulnerable groups.
     So, the other day started off rather poorly in a series of unfortunate occurrences-a million inches of lake effect snow, and the street plow and sidewalk plow coming through at about the same time. This led to my husband's car being stuck at the end of our driveway. 
     My husband and I were feverishly trying to shovel and shove his car free-when out of the darkness emerged a real life super hero-a gentleman with a truck with a plow-said his work was closed and he was driving around helping people. He helped us free my husband's car and plowed our driveway. 
     I was hoping to ask him to check on my very elderly parents when I was going to pay him. He didn't want any money. I was speechless and started to sob. I hated to ask if he would check on my parents-but he asked what was wrong-and then he wrote their address down and said he would drive right over. 
     He said-"Oh, that's right by my school." It turns out he is the principal of the middle school by my parents house. And he did just that-drove right over and plowed out their whole driveway-so my almost 80 year old father will be able to take my mother to her doctor appointment later this week. 
     I have always been a huge fan of Holland Public Schools for what they do for the students--and I also want to say how grateful I am for what they do for our whole community! 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Fare Thee Well

     It is hard to believe that another year has gone screaming by. At this point in my life I had always imagined I would have things more figured out than I actually do. I always pictured that with age comes wisdom, understanding, and financial security. It turns out that is not really so.
     Most days. I feel like I know less than I did decades ago, when I cheerily walked across the stage to collect my diploma, tangible proof that I had learned what was needed for a successful life, right?
     Try as I might, I think most days I fail to truly understand those around me. I work at adhering to the tenets of faith I was raised with, to treat others with compassion and grace, and to try to serve and give more than I take. At best, I might succeed at this fifty per cent of the time.
     My husband and I found ourselves embroiled in many trying circumstances this year. I am still trying to process all that has happened. One incident started way back in June when a sort of friend/acquaintance that we knew from years back, from volunteering at a yearly festival event, reached out to us, saying she was about to become homeless, could she stay with us.
     What to do? Yes, we have a guest room, but that is for when our family comes to stay with us at holidays, as we have many family members that live out of town.
     I did the easy thing first, posted about the need on social media, searched Craig's List for available rentals, and tried to find alternate housing. There were some polite inquiries, but no good fits. One issue being our friend's lack of steady employment and complete loss of savings and any other type of funds. This person had been a victim of an online employment ad and was scammed of her life's savings.
     We wrestled back and forth. In our house we were raised with Biblical ideals-"defend the poor and fatherless, do justice for the afflicted and needy." We were also taught the New Testament ideals-"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me..."
     In the end, we invited this person in to our home with an initial deadline of one month, to give her time to find a job and save first and last months rent. We provided meals, she could do laundry, and she had her own room. At first she seemed to be trying, she got a job right away. but lasted only through the orientation. Another job followed, that lasted for a day or two. And another job, and another.
     Finally, the deadline came, we needed the space for our own family, and the woman left. Only to come begging weeks later, knowing our guest were gone for now, begging to come back with us.
     By the time she returned, it was evident that she had deteriorated considerable in the few weeks she had been gone. She had already lost a lot of weight, but had lost several more pounds, fifty or more since the beginning of the summer. The things she would say and do, made no sense. She was in a car accident because she had been on her phone, allegedly submitting resumes online while driving busy downtown city streets.
     We realized we were in over our heads. I kept track of tidbits of information she gave us, jumbled as it was, and tried to write up a cohesive narrative. I was hoping to find some clue on how to locate her family, as it seemed they all lived in other states.  I spent weeks researching online, looking for employers names, cities, matches on social media and business platforms.
     Finally, when we were getting rather frantic about the situation, I found a nephew. He was able to put us in  touch with a sister. The sister was so grateful that we had kept her "baby" sister safe, even when it was not clear what was happening. She came up within a week of first contact and was able to take her "baby" sister home with her.
     It turned out that this poor woman had developed a rapid onset dementia, something that appears to have some sort of genetic influence as a 2 older sisters and their mother had all passed away from it.
     I am still not sure what lessons we were supposed to learn in all this. For one thing, it is easier to say you believe something than it is to live out that belief. This was truly a test of our personal credos. It also turns out that I enjoy reading mysteries FAR more than I enjoy trying to piece them together in real life.
     It is hard to understand this whole series of events. It consumed so much of our 2018. We are glad that we were able to get this person safely to her family in her moment of crisis.
     The challenges of 2018 were great, but so were the pleasures. I suppose that is how life unfolds, lots of ups and downs, and plenty of plodding along on level ground.
     Here's is hoping for the best for all of us in 2019!



Monday, July 30, 2018

Orange Pop Explosion

     A few weeks ago I saw another story about an amazing child that managed to save someone's life. This time a little girl, practically a toddler, managed to use her daddy's phone to call her mommy. Somehow the child was able to select the correct app, swipe at it, and put a video call through. All this was done even though no one had explicitly shown the child how to do this. Ever.
     The mommy was at work and suddenly receives sobbing call from little girl that daddy has fallen down. The father, a man in his late twenties to maybe early thirties, was actually having a stroke. He had no known health history issues prior to that moment.
     Due to the child's call and the intervention of some close neighbors, the father has survived this health crisis and is now in recovery and rehabilitation. The heroic young child saves the day and her daddy.
     I was never one of those types of children. Early on, I had the chance to display the same type of heroics, the same opportunity to put myself on a successful trajectory. According to family lore, I did nothing of the sort. What follows rather explains the sum of my existence.
     I was about two and a half at the time. I don't really have any clear memories from that age. My paternal grandmother died that year. I have no real recollection of her, just the images and remembrances provided by others. That is also what this story is, a re-telling of other people's old memories.
     My father was at work. He tended to work long days, double shifts, on the days he was not also in school working on finishing his bachelor's degree with his GI Bill Funding. It was just me and my mom in a tiny ranch style house with avocado green aluminum siding. It was the seventies after all. We lived on a corner lot in a developing subdivision, so there were really no close neighbors at the time.
     If I had cried about my predicament, there would have been no one to hear my tears. I am sure I would have at sobbed first as I tended to be a bit of a cry-baby.
     Apparently my mother had a bit of a health issue one day. She fainted and then must have hit her head on the edge of the dresser in their bedroom. She was out cold until my dad got home from work that night.
     I discovered the issue when I must have gotten hungry and went looking for her, abandoning my toys in my playroom and toddling off in search of her. It appeared that I found her, pulled at her, and tried to wake her, but nothing worked.
     Clues of my movements that day are how the story was pieced together. One of my toys was found by her side and I had apparently put one of my blankies over her, maybe thinking she was suddenly taking a nap.
     Did I then try to drag a chair to the old wall mounted avocado green phone that matched the avocado green kitchen walls? Did I try to run for a neighbor or summon a neighborhood collie to collect the sheriff for help? Nope, not this kid.
     I did manage to pull open the door of the, yes, you guessed it, avocado green fridge. I managed to get out the single wrapped slices of cheese, buttered some bread, and made a sandwich. I also apparently was very thirsty and pulled out a bottle of orange pop that had a stopper in it.
     When I pulled that stopper, boom, sprayed all over the ceiling. It was the pop still dripping from the ceiling and the trail of scrunched up cheese wrappers that helped show how I occupied my time until my dad got home from work that day.
     I have no idea what was done to help my mom, how I was comforted, or what happened after he got home that day. The telling of the story always ends there, with the moral being that at least I didn't starve. I knew enough to feed myself, if not to go for help.
     And that is sometimes how I still roll to this day. At least I generally know enough to get food. Also, now days it would be seen as, you have to help yourself first, then you will be in better shape to help someone else. Get on your own oxygen mask, then help the next person. At least that is what I tell myself when I hear this story re-told at some family gathering.
   

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Defend Who?

     The world is a very confusing place to me. The truly surprising thing about this situation is that I really believed that by now, it would not be. In my younger days I thought surely that by the time I reached a certain age I would have figured out how the world worked, what the right thing to do would be in any given situation, and how to easily tell right from wrong.
     Really, the only thing I know for sure, is just how much I really don't know or understand about anything; from laws, to politics, to psychology, to technology, and on down to what motivates people at an individual level.
     I know I often simplify situations and problems because they seem so basic to me. It seems to me that a society's lasting strength depends on their ability to defend/support/protect the most  vulnerable among them, whether that is children, the mentally or physically ill, the poor, the hungry, the lonely, or those that are afraid-for whatever reason.
     If I happen to express dismay about a situation where it seems to me that some children are being traumatized or frightened. I indicate I think that if that is true, it needs to stop. All I am saying is that if children are being hurt, it needs to stop. It seems simple. It seems like something we could all easily agree on.
     People counter with-what about this other group of folks that are being hurt? Well, that is true. I am appalled by that as well, but it wasn't what I was talking about at this time. 
     Others counter with, well, someone else started this issue years ago. Okay, that may be so. I was unaware of it then. I think one whole point of life is-we are always to try to do the best we can with the knowledge we have. I can agree, maybe I was unaware of an issue in the past. That really doesn't mean I should not speak up about it now.
     If I took that approach, say, at an individual level, it would be as if I knew a child down the street from me was being abused because I suddenly saw the physical evidence when they walked by my house to catch the bus. I might be horrified and say to my neighbor, did you see that child with the bruises, we need to call protective services. And what if the neighbor then countered, oh, this has happened for years. Why didn't you report it years ago? What would be the point now? Well, I was unaware of the past issue. Now that I know, I need to do something. It seems really basic
     But what? What can I do? I am one person. How can I have a positive impact on others? I really don't come in to contact with very many people. What can I do? I can sign a petition. I can go to a protest. I can volunteer for groups that help children that have been endangered. I can donate money to help these groups.
     I can also make an effort to remember what it is like to be in a certain situation, such as being a small child that is afraid, and share that with others. This is one way I can work at better developing a sense of empathy for those that are vulnerable.
     I remember when I was around 3 I got lost in a local grocery store. I had already had a bad few days. My dad had been in the hospital. His appendix burst and he had emergency surgery. I stayed with relatives that loved me dearly-from grandparents, to aunts and cousins. I was perfectly safe, and yet I cried for hours and hours each day. There was no consoling me. I only wanted my parents. 
     Finally, the day came when my dad was coming home. He still could not carry me, but he could walk just fine. We stopped off at the grocery store on our way home. I walked in with my parents. They didn't notice when I strayed away from them and stopped at a drinking fountain to get some water. They were probably only two aisles away, but when I couldn't find them, the wails were ear splitting. This was 40+ years ago and I can still see every detail, from my white jacket with blue trim, the strands of hair hanging in my face as I sobbed, the nice lady with the net scarf on her hair asking me if I was lost, the bright fluorescent lights, and my complete feeling of terror. I was in a safe place, really not far from my parents, and I can still remember how I felt in that moment. 
     Minutes later I was reunited with my parents and my tears were dried as I was advised to stay close to them and ask for help if I needed a drink, to not just wander away on my own. When I was "lost" the reaction of other people around me was quick, and I was safely returned to my parents in moments.
     I hope that whatever situations I come across, that if I find someone that is vulnerable, that I will work quickly to aid them in a positive way, whatever that way may be. I hope that if I stick with that as my personal policy, maybe life will not seem as overwhelming as it still seems to me, even at my great age.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Already a Wash?

     Toward the end of last year I really enjoyed seeing all the videos on a popular social media page that showed individuals that made commitments of a 100 days to some sort of endeavor and then recorded their journey. It didn't matter to me if it had to do with weight loss or facing fears, I found it all pretty exciting and inspiring.
     This seemed like such a better way to set a goal, as opposed to committing to a WHOLE year with a New Year's Resolution. Surely, I could handle 100 days, right? I just needed to decide what aspect of myself I would work on for that 100 days. 
     Would it be best to focus on healthy habits, maybe making sure to eat fruits and vegetables each day for a 100 days or doing some sort of exercise to strengthen various sagging body parts?
     Maybe I should write a page a day for 100 days. If I worked on a screenplay, that would finish a whole screenplay. It could be a good start to a mystery novel or it could equal a little over three picture-book manuscripts.
     I brought up the subject to one of my brothers. He said he knew one person that was going to try to do one good deed each day for 100 days. WHAT?!?! As resolutions so often are for focusing on self, it never occurred to me to make the 100 days about anyone else. Now I had a whole other aspect to consider.
     After much pondering, I finally came upon an idea that might fit all these various categories. I could write notes. 100 days of writing messages to send to people. This would help me work on my writing, at the very least causing me to have more discipline toward writing than I ordinarily do on my own. One point of the notes would be to express some sort of gratitude or admiration for the individual that I am giving it to. This would help me to have a healthier mind and body as I focus on gratitude, something I always need help with doing. Hopefully this will also help brighten other people's days in a small way, thus at least doing something small for another.
     Feeling pleased with my plan, I was excited to begin in the new year, only, I didn't. I started out the year with some sort of virus that robbed me of strength, focus, and a desire to even get out of bed. I produced copious amounts of mucus, spending days hacking and blowing and feeling so very sorry for my self.
     I already felt defeated. I had already looked on the calendar and had marked my 100 days, April 10. Only now, I did nothing for the first 5 days of the year. In the past this would have been enough for me to just give up the whole project. Not this time, as it is a new year with a new attitude.
     I am starting my new year 5 days late. And that is okay. My first note has been completed and I am ready to work on the next 99!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Lot of Times, Jimmy Does Know Best

     Most people that know my husband know him as somewhat serious, an avid reader, and someone that has a knowledge of just about everything. This comes in handy because he is a good conversationalist, which is useful when meeting new people. He is able to ask thoughtful questions.
     I didn't know him when he was a child so I have only ever known him as Jim or the more serious James. For some reason, though, the young people and children we have in our lives quite often call him Jimmy.
     This just makes me smile and brings a happy feeling to my soul. Most of the time that is now how I thing of him now, hence the title for this post.
     And the reason I am thinking on this is because I have spent quite a bit of time brushing our long hair cat black cat, Vader, again today. I am just lucky that he comes to me and hops up on my lap when he wants brushing. It makes it so much easier to care for him. It is also so soothing and relaxing to me to brush his log, soft fur.
     Vader is also the inspiration for a new children's story I am working on. It may be a high/low concept chapter book or a beginner reader chapter book. I have not decided. He is also a playful cat. The thing he likes to do the most is chase shadows. I have taken several pictures of him doing this and even tried to take a video clip for the first time with my little old flip phone. I have never had a cat that enjoyed this type of game.
     I still struggle with having the discipline to work on my stories and write. This past year has been one of the most difficult of my life, but that is for another post, another time. The main point of bringing up the difficulties is that Vader and our other cats have been a great comfort and source of companionship for me.
     And this brings me back around to Jimmy. There is thing that not everyone knows about him. He has a very generous and caring heart and that extends to rescue animals. He is the reason we have the fabulous black cat that has been such a great companion to me. If he hadn't insisted we did have the resources, room, and time, we would not have this little one. I would have missed out on a great blessing.
     All this also reminds me of one of my favorite books from when I was a kid, "One Kitten Is Not Too Many." That was a favorite early reader of mine. I may need to buy a copy of it again someday, just because it brought me so much happiness when I was younger.






   

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Just Like That

     So, a few weeks ago I was happily wrapped in my soft Star Wars blanket in my recliner, chatting away with my sister in our little chat box online, minding my own business. One of our favorite TV shows was on in the background and my husband was reading his Kindle over on the couch. 
     All of a sudden out of no where I had a searing pain tear through my side. It took away all my thoughts. It was all I could do to just end the conversation and let my sister know that I was retreating to bed. I scooted off to the bathroom, hoping that an over the counter medicine would be able to combat this misery. Then I crawled in to bed and waited for sleep.
     Sadly, I ended up back in my recliner, twisting about in pain, trying to find a way to sit or lie that would alleviate the intense, unending agony. It just wasn't happening. 
     As I was writhing about in my chair, I happened to glance up at the ceiling in the living room. And that was when I noticed the odd stain in the ceiling. A stain like that should not be on a ceiling in a living room, I thought to myself. And then I was done with that thought as there was only room in my brain for the screaming pain that was reminding me that something unhappy was occurring in my side. 
     Fortunately, I recognized the pain. I knew this foe. I also knew that all I had to do was make it until morning and then I could call my doctor. Then I could get an x-ray and hopefully confirm what I figured had gone wrong.
     Little did I know, it would be another whole day before I could be fitted in for an appointment and x-ray. Two days later I was able to be seen by the doctor. And then they said there was nothing visible on the x-ray so a CT scan was needed. 
     Happily, the doctor did prescribe a lovely pain pill. I am a light weight, so it knocked me right out, even at a small dose. And that was why I missed the call later that night that I would be a work in for surgery the next day.
     The surgery went well due to the care of all the nurses, doctors, and technicians. I was back home and in bed before evening. And I was grateful for a new dose of pain medication. There was a whole new piercing pain from the procedure. The medication seemed to smack it down well. 
     However, over the course of the next couple days, it seemed to quickly lose its effectiveness. I called my doctor asking what I should do. The bottle said one pill every four hours. He said I could change it to one pill every three hours if it seemed to be wearing off more quickly or two pills every four hours.
     And suddenly I had more insight in to the slippery slope of how addictions can start. I was stunned at how quickly my body got used to a dose of medication, how I needed to up the dose to find the same relief that would allow temporary escape from pain and sleep. I felt a wave of sympathy and understanding in a a whole new way for anyone that has struggled with an addiction. It was a tiny bit clearer to me how this can happen to about anyone.
     I was fortunate. My healing process followed a fairly typical timeline and I was able to transition from prescribed pain medication, back to over the counter, and then back to needing nothing on an hourly or daily basis. So many people are not that lucky. Their pain doesn't end, not after surgery, not after the bone has supposedly healed, or the last stitch removed.
     I was able to finally focus on other things again, such as why there was the stain on the ceiling. It turned out there was a need for calking along a seam in the roof and a few replacement tiles. One good thing that came out of my nights of misery.
     My healing was also helped by having soothing, purring cats for my lap and some good books to read, to distract my mind while my body healed. A warm, purring cat curled up on the lap is ever so comforting.


     

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