Saturday, March 25, 2017

Dumbfounded: My State Most Days

     Even at my great age (I recently had a birthday) I am still astonished by how much I do not know. This is in reference to things both big and small. On a daily basis I discover some idea, concept, place, or thing that I had no previous knowledge of.
     The other day my sister sent me a link about Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome, AKA ACHOO.
     Now, this is actually not one of my unknowns as it is something that I deal with quite often. It does, however, remind me of a small but important lesson I learned over a decade ago. Or Re-learned. Or was reminded of, as I often forget.
     I was busily working away on the factory floor, helping my team build the headliners for BMW SUVs. A colleague complained that he had a tickle in his nose and really wished he could just sneeze and get it over with. I cheerily told him to just walk over to one of our super bright lights at the end inspection station and gaze up in it briefly as it would surely induce the sinus clearing sneeze he was looking for.
     He looked at me somewhat quizzically. My co-worker Krista asked if I had just gone plain loopy. Now it was time for me to be baffled. I walked over to the light to show them what I meant. I looked in to the light and a sneeze soon followed, just as it does when I exit a dark room/building and walk out to a bright, sunny parking lot, or any other similar scenarios.
     The thing that was most surprising to me was I thought this was something everyone experiences. It was an assumption on my part that it would be common to how everyone experiences the world.
     It was a small but good admonition not everything is a shared event, feeling, or thought. It also reminded me, again, to not make assumptions about what others think, feel, understand, or have had as a common experience.


                                                             

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Not Quite Tapped Out: Good-bye, 2016!

     It has been a rough year. I am part of that encampment, that group of folks that seem to be stunned by everything that is happening around them. I know some brilliant things have happened. I know in reality, it has been a typical year filled with a mixture of good and bad. But for some reason, the discouraging moments have been particularly difficult. I'm not sure why that is. I know I bear some of the responsibility for that, in that we all are ultimately responsible for our own emotions, how we react to our circumstances, and in that how we either thrive or barely survive is often a matter of our own choice.
     I also get that time is an illusion. The whole concept of the ending of one year, the starting of another year, the opportunity to lay to rest some bad moments, and to grasp the chance for starting over-I get that this is a man made concept, a thing we have created to help us cope and to give us the illusion that we have more control than we really do over all things. But, I am ready for the fresh start of 2017 and the letting go of the negativity that has accumulated in 2016.
     I think one of the last shining examples of how complicated 2016 has been for me, happened on Christmas Eve day. I was happily humming along, having dear family and friends in town, having worked only a half day the day before at my day job-the one that pays the bills, and it seemed that 2016 might actually fade out rather peacefully.
     Then I saw the pile of mail my husband had brought in. And on the top of the pile was the self addressed/stamped envelope. But that couldn't be possible. I had turned in the manuscript only two months ago. The publishing house I had so carefully researched said it would be more than six months before you could expect to hear back. As my stomach sank, I still clung to a glimmer of hope, because that is just what I do.
     Nope. There it was in black and white, the last piece of the dream that had been residing quietly at the back of my mind, my fall back thought when the day to day of life and work was too stressful, that this wee little story was safely under consideration at the publishing house. Not any more.
     Back when I was actively promoting my other storybooks I would speak at local schools and do readings of my three storybooks. One of the questions I would always ask the students was what I should write about next. Hands down, the most popular request was to write about Christmas. And that is what I did with this little storybook I had so carefully crafted over the last couple of years. It was loosely based on a real incident in my own childhood. It had been well received by my test readers.
     And yet, on Christmas Eve, what I had hoped would maybe be my best present of the year, now seemed like one last cruel joke.
     If that was how I wanted to leave it, that is what it would be. And for a few moments it really was. I wallowed in that sorrow. I mentally railed against this harsh blow. I let the despair wash over me, almost causing me to stagger as I sat down to re-read the rejection. I had even adored the name of this publishing group. I would have been so proud to say I had a book published with them. I let the tears well in my eyes, and then I blinked them back.
     I still love this little storybook. I still think it is worth sharing. I will continue the quest in 2017 to try to find a home for this wee Christmas tale. That is my choice. I choose to continue.
     The day after Christmas, I had the opportunity to go with some of my siblings to Chicago. It was everything good that you would hope for in a day trip to Chicago. The weather was fabulous for a late December day, actual sunshine and blue skies as we traveled to the Field Museum. We went to see the Terracotta Warriors display. These are artifacts from the tomb of China's first emperor. I can remember reading about this find in National Geographic way back in the day when I was a kid.
     It was truly amazing. It was stunning to see the craftsmanship of the figures, to learn a bit about the people and culture and time that they came from, and to witness artifacts that are thousands of years old. One of the figures was a cleric official, not all are actually warriors. The emperor had all types of figures made, everyone he would need in the afterlife to make sure that his eternal life went well. This cleric has on his belt the tools he would need for writing and keeping records. They also had a display of the instruments that would have been used at that time for writing. This made me heart hum with happiness.
     We also had time to look through so many other displays, including ancient Egypt. In that display there was also a section of writing tools because the scribes were important in that society as well. They were important for business, for religious ritual, recordings of histories, and for inventory of properties.
     For thousands of years, the scribes, clerics, storytellers, and writers have been important assets of their societies. I am only one teeny little component of that in our current society, but I am content with that choice. I choose to keep moving forward as a writer, a storyteller, and one who records some small moments of truth along the way.







Saturday, July 2, 2016

Really, We Are Fortunate!

     Hard to believe it is already July. Almost time to celebrate another holiday, our country's Independence Day. I know there will be many who think we don't have much to celebrate this year. There is too much turmoil within our own borders and with our relationships throughout the world. And that is true. And yet, every day I am given a glimpse of how really fortunate we are overall.
     The other night I had the privilege of being able to go out for dinner with some of the other "host moms" from the program we participated in last year. We all were able to host a student from outside the U.S. to stay with us during their winter break for two weeks and also during a month of their summer break. We received updates on all the kids, learned how they were doing in their assigned trade schools now that they are out of their high school programs. Some are doing well, some struggle. We are trying to learn how we can partner from a distance and still provide encouragement, guidance, and assistance as they work to make a, hopefully, successful transition to adulthood.
     So often, we feel we have limited choices here. Yet, at least we have choices. I know that depending where you fall your choices are limited, but not like anything these kids are facing. I just learned that due to their backgrounds and the type of school they had been given over to for care since they were young children their lives will be restricted forever.
     The students we found to be bright, engaging, kind, and fun loving, were at a school for children that were considered to have been born with some kind of defect. This basically means that even though they have graduated out of this school, there is a permanent mark on their record. They can never have the right to vote in their home country. They can never own a home. They can never have a driver's license.These are kids that can speak 2-3 languages, tear apart and put back together a computer, repair a bicycle when it breaks down, cooked beautiful dishes from their home country while they were here, and yet, because they were once judged less than, will never be allowed to catch up or succeed.
     It can be hard to succeed here, depending where you are born and what resources your family has. It can be hard to move from one atmosphere to another. I spent years working on the factory floor. I was proud of that. I helped make car parts for a company that supplied to The Big Three. My grandfather spent years on the assembly line building cars for Checker Cabs. He retired from that job. I remember his cake with the taxi cab on it. I was proud to carry on that tradition. My other grandfather was a ding man at Kelvinator, repairing refrigerators on the assembly line. I did something similar for a time at a local furniture factory repairing filing cabinets when I was out of high school.
     And yet, I longed to do something different, something more. I didn't always want to be known as a factory rat. I had tried college right out of high school but had not succeeded for a variety of reasons. But by the time I was well into my thirties I was ready to give it another go.
     I managed to finish my BA degree and then began the long process of working to convince employers that I was more than my work history showed. It took a lot of effort. I began to realize that the saying is true, "The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence" or the other side of the door in the factory. Life off the factory floor is not always easier. It is in many ways, especially nice generally not having to deal with extreme heat in the summer, but there is still stress.
     I have managed to make that transition. I was allowed to change my goals, to dream my dreams. I was given chances. I still vividly remember the day I walked in and saw my phone, with my name and number on my desk. It was amazing and validating and so very frightening. It has been an amazing journey so far, as I learn and grow on the job. There are days when I am still so overwhelmed that I don't quite know what to do, but I never forget how really fortunate we are that we can work to make changes in our lives. We really do have a lot of independence!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Five Is Not Too Many

     I wish I could say it was all on my husband, but it isn't. I would argue that at least one of them picked us out himself and moved in, rather on his own. I always felt 3 was a bit much and that we were really pushing things at 4. But it was when the 5th one moved in this summer that I sort of felt we had crossed a line.
     My sister has a steadfast rule of thumb, you should only ever be at plus one. If there are two humans living in your residence, that means you should really only have 3 cats. One human in the home, limit is 2 cats, and so on and so forth.
     When we got married, we were a blended family. My husband had two male rescue cats from a shelter near his mother's home up north. Taz and Munch were litter mates and brothers, peaceable companions. I had my little orange shrieking Princess Nala, also a rescue. She has always been small and fierce. She enjoys her humans but reigns mercilessly over the other cats, always huffing and puffing and hissing at them if they get near her.
     Overall, we were a happy little family and enjoyed each others company, aside from the occasional spats and swats from Nala. She enjoys playing with her humans and her assorted feather fishing poles, but if she thinks another cat has even dared to cross her shadow's path, she tends to lose it.
     But, as with all creatures, age sneaks up, even on stealthy cats. Our boys ended up with kidney disease, and we lost Taz to complications from a tumor 3 years ago. 2 seemed so much less than 3 as we all adjusted to his loss.
     Several months later there was a call from our vet. An elderly lady living in a near by senior apartment complex had found a stray hanging about on her patio furniture. She called our vet and asked if they knew of anyone that would provide a loving home. She already had 2 cats and that was the limit for her complex. We agreed to meet him, but through miscommunication she ended up calling an animal shelter to come get the kitty, so then we had to go through them and apply to adopt this magnificent boy.
     Simon joined us at the end of the summer. He had lost weight and had a sort of kennel cough by the time we got him home. It was a bit rough as we had to give him pills and keep him isolated the first few weeks. He was also clever and would hide the pills under his tongue and spit them out later. He has always been a bit too smart for his own good.
     And so we went on happily for the next year, content with 3, at our happy maximum again. In our neighborhood there was also an outdoor cat that wandered happily from home to home. Surprisingly friendly, he would sit on our front porch with my husband, back when he used to sit outside and smoke and read. For years, every evening they would sit there companionably . Then my husband quit smoking, but he would still sit outside and read so Squeaks could come visit.
     Squeaks would often come stop by when we had company. He would run over and actually interact with people as they got out of their cars and walked toward our house or as they left. They would pet him, scratch his ears, and he would chatter, as if asking questions after their health and well being.
     He was a mighty hunter and would often leave gifts for us by our garage door. One time he left a pair of perfectly splayed birds wings, as if he had placed them there gently like our own little guardian angel.
     We took to leaving our garage door open, so in winter he could hop up on a lawn chair and curl up for a nap. He still seemed like he belonged somewhere else, so we never tried to force the issue.
     Then there was the chilly November day when he was curled up tight in the chair and did not respond when we called his name. Ordinarily he would come running from across the street if you called out his name.  We tried calling his name repeatedly. He sort of opened one eye, but it seemed to roll up in his head. I called our vet right away and they took him right in. He had a massive infection because several of his teeth were broken, maybe in a fight. He already had ragged ears. We got him the antibiotics he needed and the vet removed the infected teeth. We brought him home to heal. We alerted the neighbor that seemed to be his original owners and they were fine with him staying with us. We always joke that Squeaks picked us for his retirement home and that he chose wisely!
     So, that was it for the next 2 years. I was a little embarrassed when people would ask, do we have pets and would hurriedly explain how we ended up with 4 rescues, hoping if I talked quickly we could just move on to the next subject.
     And then my husband mentioned his coworker was in a tough situation and would have to move to a different apartment and would not be able to take their cat with then. He said they all tried to find other options but that he agreed that we could at least take this cat temporarily. I was not thrilled. I could already imagine other people's judgement. I was a little afraid they would be true when saying we had lost it. I really didn't want to be known as the crazy cat lady of the family. I shouldn't have been concerned. My brother said, no, I wasn't the crazy cat lady, I had just married the crazy cat lady. This made me snicker and opened my heart up a bit more to the situation.
     And so, that is how Jerry, as he was called, came to live with us. I never would have picked him out as he is a domestic long hair and we already have enough issues with lots and lots of cat hair in our home. But he was so elegant with his giant gold/green eyes, black velvet nose, and black fur with a thick white under coat . Our vet says it is called being smoked or smoky. His under coat is so thick it is almost as if he has two coats of fur.
     I renamed him Vader because he seemed so regal and coolly detached. Nala can hiss and spit at him as she does with all the boys. He is not phased. He just sits down next to her and curls his tail around himself, sitting quietly with her until she stops puffing herself up and growling. When I am working in my office, he will carefully crawl up on my lap and sit, purring in his soft, soothing way. He has helped alleviate a lot of the stress and anxiety that I feel in association with my work.
     If I had been asked, I would have said we did not need another cat, not even a rescue. I would have been wrong. And really, in his own way, he has brought as much comfort to me as we  could ever bring to him.

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Adulting" Can Be Overhwelming

     It has  been a while. It isn't that I have nothing to say, more along the lines of it seemed pointless. It was a tenuous dream at best, that of being a "legit" writer. But to feel it slipping away was a real, heavy loss. Especially when it seemed that for all the progress I thought I made, it might really be only a fantasy in my own imagination.
     In June, I was rolling along, much as usual. I had a small speaking engagement for a local theater class. The students were very receptive to my chat about one of my storybooks. Happily, that was the case, since the main class project was a play version of "Emily Cat's Tale." I do wish I could have seen it, but my day job schedule does not currently allow for such luxuries since the bulk of my hours are worked on the weekend, and the show was a Sunday afternoon, which works well for the majority of the population in our area, just not me.
     Then we had the joy, after a suspenseful month of working out details, of having our student return from Ukraine. The month of July flew by. There was so much we wanted to be to do with him, to have him experience, since we knew this would be the last time he could come stay with us as he was ageing out of the system for orphan care.
     We were able to take him to the beach, he jumped off the pier into the big lake, and that memory is on video for him. We took him riding the dunes at Silver Lake, something I had never done before either. We had a graduation party for him and brought all our family and friends together at our house. It was an amazing outpouring of love and generosity. Friends I worked with years ago came bearing gifts and words of encouragement for our young man.
     And then he was gone, and the house seemed smaller, quieter, diminished. And in that silence, another blow was dealt.An email arrived that I almost deleted. I didn't recognize the sender, you see. My publisher for my three storybooks was sold. The status of their digital content is still in question. I am not sure of my storybooks platform, how long they may be available, or if they will cease to exist, much like a dream after waking.
     Four years ago, I was given an amazing opportunity when my first storybook, "Green Goo" was published. It seemed that after decades of work, doors were being opened and everything was falling in place that  I secretly hoped for over the years. And by the end of July, it seemed as if the doors of opportunity were slamming shut in my face.
     And I have to say, it was all too much. Close friends had been struggling with health issues. It is hard too watch friends suffer through death and loss, feeling that there is nothing that you can do to ease their pain in any real way. And then there were the every day disappointments in life like feeling inadequate at my day job and also loosing the narrative thread of current writing projects took me right off track. So I stopped writing anything at all. It seemed like maybe the time had finally come to admit that my time and energy might be better served by letting go of my dreams and waiting to see what might come to fill that space.
     And then the opportunity came to again sponsor a children's gift prize at a world renowned cake competition. I presented the opportunity to my new publisher. And they denied it. With a heavy heart I went to the cake competition program director and explained my situation. And-she helped me come up with a work around. I created coloring packets and a certificate of recognition instead of a gift certificate. She allowed me to promote my books in that coloring packet. I was still able to participate!
     And then she said the best thing she could have said, that next year we will work on this earlier in the season. Such a small thing, and yet it spoke of another year, new possibilities, and not giving up. She mentioned I could use images from her own cake creations in a storybook. If I self publish, then I could do a give away of my own storybook by this time next year.
     The fog began to clear, ideas started to churn through my mind again, much as they used to do, and I wanted to hurry to write them all down. I don't know what will happen, if this can happen, but I do know that I am going to go for it.
     As my overall emotional status has improved, it again allows me to think that anything is possible, that even whatever small gestures we make in gratitude will make a difference. This has allowed me to again embrace all the many things I have to be grateful for such as family, friends, a place to live, work to do, and people to share it with.
     I may not be able to help sponsor a refugee family or take in a foreign orphan this Thanksgiving, but we were able to put together a household care box for our local rescue mission and we will be donating food for their Thanksgiving feast. Small gestures to be sure, but I am again embracing my firm belief that those small gestures can all come together and lead to bigger change for the better. "Adulting" was feeling overwhelming for a while, but I think I am willing to give it another go.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Why Bother? Because This Will Make a Difference

     My husband and I had an incredible opportunity this past January. We were able to host a student from Ukraine in our home during his winter break from school. He attends a small boarding school for orphans near Poltava Region, Kobelyaky 39200, Ukraine.      We discussed foster parenting in the past. We could never agree if the timing was right. It seemed to me that we were waiting for the perfect time, to have what would seem to be enough money, or a secure enough job, or enough time. It felt like we would need to be perfect in order to even attempt to care for a child that may have experienced extreme amounts of brokenness in their lives. It appeared we would never be enough so the discussion got shelved.
     Then I saw a story about a little boy, well, he was thirteen, and still hoping for a forever family. So I brought up the subject again. This could work, this might be ideal, as my husband really wasn't keen on the idea of caring for little children. But the timing seemed off again, as my husband was scheduled for surgery toward the end of the year. Again, the end of the conversation.
     It was toward the end of December when I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a brief notice posted by a friend of mine. She was looking for host families for some students that would be coming over from Ukraine for two weeks. Now, here was a possibility. This was as short term commitment. Two weeks wasn't too long. It would be a way to test ourselves, to see if we really have what it takes to "parent" or care for a child. They were the perfect age, 14-16. If it goes well, we will be encourages to try to do more, if not, well,, it is only two weeks, surely we all would survive the two weeks.
     We went through the interview, we made our commitment, and then the nesting began in earnest. We have had an extra room for years, just never outfitted it in any way. I rushed about, buying a bed, sheets, towels, anything else we might need. We were pretty sure a young man would be staying with us, but it still was such a guess as to what sheets to get, what patterns, what colors, what fabric. We wanted him to feel welcome at every moment. We researched foods, what to get to make him feel at home. The Nutella was by far the best choice!
     And then the weather. It had to be one of the worst storms of the winter when the children and their chaperons were trying to get here. There were delays and plenty of worry. And then suddenly he was here. I could only imagine how he must feel. I was so nervous, but he had traveled thousands of miles with the trust that someone would be here to happily greet him and safely welcome him in to their home. I had made a large poster with a greeting in Ukraine, for when we thought we would meet at the airport. Turns out our meeting place was a local McDonald's as the last part of the trip was by car instead of plane. I brought the sign anyway, to welcome him to town. And then we were on our own, in the car, heading home, me and this magnificent boy, neither of us able to speak the others language.
     All I can say is, I am glad to live right now. We had borrowed a phone from my husband's parents and it had a translate app on it that was incredible. You could speak your own language into it-and then pick the language to translate to and it would print and verbalize the translation. I would say with 85% accuracy and this allowed us to begin to connect.
     My husband was still working, so I showed our young man to his room, where the bathroom was, how to work the shower and faucets, where he could find his supply of snacks and water. I gave him the gifts we had bought and wrapped, our fake tree still being up as we thought its lights made the house more festive and inviting, and the huge stocking of candy and treats we had for him. 
     And then, what to do. We sat and smiles at each other. And then it occurred to me, one of my dreams had always been to have a child to read to, especially now that I am published, to read one of my own stories to. So I explained that I had written some books for younger children, bit would he like to hear one anyway? He was enthused. So we read through "Green Goo." And the humor did translate fairly well, in part due to Trey Chavez' fabulous pictures. 
     The two weeks went way too fast. It seemed like he had just arrived and it was already time to think about sending him home. We were able to do many fun things, go to museums, go to stores, and my husband took him to several local college basketball games. We had meet our families, go to family dinners and outings, and just spend time hanging out. That was one of the main objectives to provide the opportunity to interact with family and friends and give the child the feeling of what loving, healthy relationships look like.
     From him we learned about trust and courage, about following a dream. He shared with us that it had always been his dream to come visit America and he never imagined it would be possible or that strangers would treat him and the others so kindly. We were shown that we all have so much love we can share and that sharing will make a difference.
     We hope to be able to share that love with our student one last time, our Ukrainian child. He graduates from his school at the end of May. Technically, he is now considered an adult. Since he has aged out of their care system, being as he will be 17 in October, he is not eligible for adoption. He will be given a grant to attend trade school in the fall. He is eligible for one more trip to America, and that is what we are hoping to be able to do for him. We hope he is able to come stay with us for five weeks this summer. Five weeks to encourage him on his life journey, to show him that he is able to make choices to have the good life he wants to have, that it is within his abilities to some day own his own business if he wants to, to have his own family if he wants to, or to travel the world when he finishes trade school, that he does not have to live under a label chosen by others, and that he can create his own strong adult identity.
     Yes, we will want to take him to the beach, to cook-outs, to travel our beautiful state some more, but we also want him to experience more of every day home life within a large extended group of family and friends. Part of our dream is now to be able to do simple things like go to a picnic and fireworks with him on the 4th of July.
     Yes, there will be expenses involved. Yes, my husband and I are working extra hours and saving toward this. There will be fundraisers and there are fundraising pages for the group that we are involved with as a host family. Please consider following the link and the possibility in sharing this journey with us. It is because we have been so loved by family and friends that we are able to take that love and share it with others. I am so very grateful for that!
    The link will lead you to a funding page. It has been set up to help ALL the host families with the travel expense for the children. Please consider if you might be able to contribute. Every dollar is a huge help.
Summer Hosting Program

     Here are some pictures of the families and students so you can better see who all you will be assisting.


     

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Rattled

     There wasn't really time to think. All I had time to do was say out loud exactly what I was thinking, "What does he think he's doing?" to my friend that was seated next to me in my car. My best friend and I, in my tiny little car, waiting to exit from one of two driveways at a small local restaurant, were at a standstill as traffic  charged by this sunny, cold day.
     I was waiting for the big truck to drive by, so I could pull out behind him, make a quick left down a side street and bring my husband his Greek salad for lunch while he worked from home. The truck didn't have its signal on and it didn't appear to be slowing down, and then suddenly it was heading straight for me, us, my car.
     And then he veered to the side, to the embankment in the middle of the two drives, and it was as if he thought he could drive over the large decorative cement lawn sculptures that were half buried under dingy mounds of snow.
     And suddenly the truck was stopped, good and stuck, mounted up on a giant mushroom sculpture. I slowly backed my car into the lot-as I couldn't get around him to the street. I rolled down my window-to call out to him as he got out of the truck and stumbled around among parked cars. Not one soul came out of the restaurant to be witness to this drama.
    "Are you all right?," I called out.
    "I guess we need to stay, since we witnessed this," my friend whispered.
    I get out of my car as the thin young man claws at another truck, trying to open its locked door.
    "That's not you truck. Are you okay?" I ask again. He stumbles about, in a daze.
    "I couldn't see. I feel dizzy. I think I have low blood sugar," he slurs as he slumps to his knees.
    "I'm calling 9-1-1. It's cold, you can't stay out here. (He is only wearing a sweatshirt and it is 9 degrees Fahrenheit outside) We need to get you inside," I say as I try to coax him off the ground. My friend comes to help me lift him up. I make the call and the dispatcher assures me that help is on the way.
     We get him back into the passenger seat of the truck he was driving, he sits hunched over as he picks up his cracked smart phone and calls someone from his family, to tell them about the truck.
     Minutes later the police, ambulance, and fire crews all arrive. I tell them what we saw and then we leave.
     Did I do the right thing? Was he having a health emergency? Did he just fall asleep at the wheel and realized that he would be in big trouble for what had happened to a truck that obviously was not his? I will never know. I am just glad that help was there so quickly when it was needed. I hope he ends up being okay and that this moment in time becomes a long ago distant memory for us both one day.

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