keenchick

Stories and thoughts about family and life

Tough Times

I had a little health scare a few months ago.  It wasn’t anything too serious, thankfully, but in the moment it wasn’t anything I was interested in dealing with.  I woke up in the middle of the night one night with a very painful lump in my breast and when my husband woke the next morning and I asked him his opinion, I think it was his reaction which really heightened my concern.  He wanted me to make an appointment immediately.

Not that his reaction wasn’t absolutely valid–my grandmother died of breast cancer, and I’ve honestly been a little too lax at my own wellness the past couple of years.  I didn’t end up having a physical at all in 2015, which would have included the likes of such exams.  Add to that my now being 40-something and it was definitely something which needed some attention.

I called the Breast Center where I usually go, and they could get me in once my PCP made a referral.  I’m blessed with a fantastic physician and an equally fantastic nurse, who wasted no time getting everything worked out for me.   My sister-in-law insisted on going with me to my appointment, just in case the news I received wasn’t so good, and while I hated to think I was wasting her time I was exceptionally appreciative of the company.   A mammogram and an ultrasound later and the radiologist was visiting with me about stress and too much caffeine.  Then I was on my way, feeling relieved and putting the whole thing in the back of my mind.

Isn’t that what we do?  Those little health scares which pop up, you deal with them in the moment and when they turn out to be nothing you just shove it aside and go back to life as “normal.”  Oh, I did make some changes.  I hadn’t honestly realized how much caffeine I was taking in, and I took the opportunity to cut my sugar back too.  But my approach probably wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it should have been, and definitely not what it could have been.  At any rate, I’m fine and that’s all in the past.  Right?

A couple of weeks ago I received a text from a friend of mine asking me to pray for her.   When I started asking questions, she had found a lump.  There had been some evaluation, and now needed a needle biopsy.  I already felt sick for her.  Hadn’t I just been here?    We talked about how important mammograms are and how we take little things like that for granted, and how this was hopefully all just a necessary approach to eliminate concern.  I followed up with her the day of her procedure, and checked in with her repeatedly afterward waiting on some news.  I wanted so badly for this to be just a step worse than my situation–she wasn’t going to have walked out of the office reassured with one visit, but maybe just this biopsy and she’d be clear.

Her course of treatment is still being decided, but it’s not the news I had hoped for her.  She’s still grasping what all that means, and  I’m so thankful that she’s asked for my prayers and shared her thoughts with me.  I realize how blessed I am with our friendship.  The day she texted me the current plans of her doctor, I sat and thought about all those things I’ve read in magazines and on Facebook about having friends with cancer.  “What not to say.”  “How to comfort” and the like.  I must have started to text her about 10 different times with varying responses before I settled on “how can I help?”

I honestly didn’t know what else to say.  “I’m sorry” didn’t feel right and “are you okay?” seemed like the most absurd thing ever.  Of course she’s not okay.  Even if she’s “okay” she’s not okay–this is serious and it’s important and it’s just not okay.   She responded with something I could actually do to help her, and even though I can’t cure her I feel I can do something real to help her cope.

I reached out to an oncology nurse I know (also a dear friend) and she has answered a myriad of questions I’m not prepared to ask my friend about her situation.  We talked for a long time about how our perspectives change from when we’re 20-something and boobs are something to be proud of and, frankly, flaunted, to being mid-40s and realizing that the older we get the scarier those things are.  I realized talking to her that in my own situation, had it gone the other way, I would maybe choose a completely different path than I would have chosen in my youth.

I’ve thought a lot about Komen and the Race for the Cure over this past week or so.   I hope I don’t offend anyone here, but I’m not a big fan of Komen.  Especially in Little Rock, I know so many people who go to the race just to GO.  I participated in the first Komen Race in Little Rock when a coworker was diagnosed quite a few years ago, and there were just a few of us on the street, and we were all so proud to walk with her and FOR her.  Now it’s just a sea of people and there’s every imaginable Komen this or Komen that event, and it just seems that the reason for it all has been lost in the marketing of it all.  Everybody has tried to figure out how to put their own unique Komen spin on things in October.  I quit going probably 10 years ago and I actually make a point of avoiding downtown altogether on race weekend.  This week, however, has reminded me that with a good reason to participate, I would feel motivated to get involved again.

It’s funny how those little things left in the back of your mind just become forgotten.  It takes something intensely serious or strong to bring it into focus again and help you see the value of something you had previously dismissed.  It’s easy to get sucked into your daily drama of kids, and work, and school and all the other little things going on and those things which you shoved to the back gradually come creeping back up.

I know my friend has a frustrating road ahead for her, no matter what choices she makes. It’s scary when you don’t feel like you’re in control and you’ve just got to figure it out the best you can.  I hope that she feels all the love and prayers and wishes for her being made by all those around her, and that they give her the strength she needs especially on the not-so-good days.  It also makes me more grateful for the little blessings which I sometimes forget to count, and how those things become increasingly important when times are tough.

 

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Eagle Scout

I have a friend whose son graduated from high school last year.  She told me this day would be hard for me, as in emotionally hard.  I have to admit, I kind of scoffed a bit.  I’ve had plenty of hard days–2015 was full of them.  This day isn’t going to be that.  Yeah, well, I was wrong.

Lucas is having his Eagle Scout Board of Review tonight.  It’s a day we’ve been working especially hard on the past 90 days or so.  From completing and turning in paperwork, to scheduling people to attend tonight, it’s been a sometimes challenging end to his Eagle endeavor.    Nevertheless, though, he is prepared–all the way down to a new uniform shirt with new badges and a fresh haircut and shave.  (Wow, did I really just say “shave”?)

My husband is his Scoutmaster, and therefore has tiptoed around the normal “dad” duties in Luke’s Scouting career to be careful not to give the impression of impropriety, especially on his Eagle project.  I don’t mind.  It’s given me the opportunity to connect with Luke in ways I haven’t been able to before where Scouting is concerned.  You see, that’s always been “the thing he and his dad do.”  While I might go on the campouts here and there, I kind of hang back a bit and let them have this thing together.  I think it’s been good for both of them.  But, selfishly, I have enjoyed getting to share more closely in this achievement.

So, I was told that I needed to write a recommendation letter for Luke.  I’ve thought about it for a couple of days, but hadn’t really felt it enough to sit down and pen anything.  With the review being tonight, however, I needed to get motivated.  I sat in my office this morning, with the blinds open and the sun peeking over the horizon, and started my letter.  It took me nearly an hour to write, and I edited it and started over a couple of times with different thoughts.   And my friend is right–I was crying by the end.  I’m not much a of a crier either (unless I’m angry or really hurt), but I have a feeling as this child gets closer and closer to leaving the nest, those Hallmark moments are going to come in greater frequency.

As my words flowed onto the page and I pondered the growth I’ve seen in Luke over the years, I saw my pride for him in a whole new light.  It’s inspiring to look at so many years of his life and the culmination of that into this one project and final achievement.    It’s an amazing experience, and I would encourage everyone to take a few minutes and write your own child a letter of recommendation.   I was absolutely crying by the end, and getting to see him grow through the words and see his accomplishments as I would want an outsider to view them was a fantastic experience.

The Scout law says “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”   Now, any mom of a teenage boy will tell you that they’re not nearly as clean as they could be.  Cheerful is sometimes a toss-up, too, but on the whole this kid (who am I kidding–he’s taller than I am!) embodies all these principles.  He is sweet and kind, helpful, and intelligent.  He has a quirky sense of humor and that crooked grin and deep green eyes just make me melt.

I can’t imagine my life without him.  I’m so proud of him I can’t see straight, and yes, I probably will cry again tonight.  If this is a snapshot of his senior year, I should probably invest in Kleenex right now.

If you see my soon-to-be Eagle Scout somewhere today, please give him a hug, and tell him he’s awesome–because he totally is.

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I’m not a caretaker

 

The trips to the nursing home usually have some degree of interesting activity along with them.  Seldom is it simply a drop off of supplies or a check-in.  It might start out that way, but it seldom ends with simply that.  With each passing year I realize how woefully ill-equipped I am for caretaking of my elders.

My mother-in-law has advanced Alzheimer’s Disease.  This makes conversations around and involving her take on a new level of complexity.  She upsets easily and she fixates on details which are hard to overcome.  Add to that a roommate in her room who is bedridden and demonstrating her needs as we try to visit and you’ve got the makings for quite an eventful visit.

My father-in-law accompanied my husband and me to my mother-in-law’s room.  They no longer room together, and we have to change floors to find my mother-in-law has just finished lunch.  My father-in-law unceremoniously removes her from the dining facility and wheels her back to her room.  She looks at my husband and me as she passes by and says hello.  When dealing with someone with such an advanced disease, you want to believe that it’s recognition in her eyes, but it’s honestly just politeness.  She never knows me anymore, and she seldom recognizes my husband (which breaks my heart for him).

We follow them into her room and he helps her transfer from the wheelchair to the chair. She had been mumbling something to Louis just before us entering the room.  As she was moving into the chair, she said it again “I’m going to have to find some place to live.  I can’t stay here.”  My sweet husband, unlike me, has the patience of Job in situations like this.  He is amazing with our Boy Scouts and can talk them through things long after I would have had to leave the room and catch my breath.  He has been enormously patient with his parents and their questions, needs, and demands.  He and his sister are a united front on their cause and it’s a site to behold, especially after so many stories I’ve heard about other siblings.

He thoughtfully considers his response and says “you are living here.  You need to be here to get the help you need.”  Now, I should mention as well that my mother-in-law cannot hear and no longer has a functioning hearing aid.  She’s destroyed each one she has because she can’t remember having them in her ear and ends up pulling them out, stepping on and crushing them.   She cannot hear much at all, which I’m sure adds to the almost sickeningly comical tones our conversations must take on.  He has to repeat this sentence a couple of times, as does my father-in-law.  She continues to persist, “I can live with you,” motioning toward Louis, “or I can live with my sister and her husband but I can’t stay here, and I can’t live with him” as she gestures toward my father-in-law.   Again they try to reason with her.  We can see she’s getting upset, which is a key that it’s time to change the subject.  I pull up my phone and show her a picture from Brennan’s most recent 7th grade basketball game.  “Oh, my he’s grown!” she exclaims.  My husband and I beam that she seems to recognize him.  “Is he enjoying college?”

My husband tries to gently, although very loudly, explain that Brennan is in high school, and has a way to go before college.  She remarks about the cost of college and how we’ll pay for that and then she’s moved on to something else.  “I need to go to the bathroom,” she says.  I decide this is an excellent job for me: “I’ll go get the nurse.”  I run out to the nurses station and bring back her nurse.  My husband and I decide we should step into the hall to be polite and give her some privacy.

As we stand in the hall, one of the residents comes walking down the hall, with a big smile on her face.  “You’ve lost your hall pass, huh?” I chuckled, thinking that was pretty clever.  We’re in the hall, and we’re not moving.  Hall pass–yeah, that’s pretty funny.  Like how we used to have hall passes in school.  “Yes,” I remark.  “I don’t know what on Earth we did with them!”   I laugh at my wit, and she responds “I’ve lost mine too.  The nurses won’t give me another.”  I search her face for a second to determine if this is a continuation of the joke.  Sadly, it is not.  Now I feel like a heel for laughing.

Thankfully, the restroom break is over and we can return to the room.  My mother-in-law never missed a beat, asking about various financials, and remarking that she needs a place to live, but now that she won’t live with him (gesturing toward Louis).  “Where are my credit cards?”  she inquires.  “I used to have credit cards in my wallet.  Where is my wallet?”  I announce that I have her wallet, but that there are no credit cards left.  My father-in-law tries to explain that we had to close all their accounts and destroy their cards when they came to the nursing home.  She’s not having that.  She keeps asking and he finally makes a ripping gesture to demonstrate the cards have been destroyed.

She escalates the conversation and announces that she should have social security money (which she does), but she knows she doesn’t.  She knows that my father-in-law is getting his money and her money too.  Louis tries to explain.  She’s not hearing it.  She wants someone to take her to the social security office and fix this.  She reiterates, pointing a finger at my father-in-law, that she knows he’s getting her social security AND his, and then proclaims “you’re a BAD BOY.”

It’s almost like when your toddler has done something which really shouldn’t be funny, but at the same time is almost adorable and sweet and innocent.   I was watching my husband’s reaction, unsure what to do.   My mother-in-law now changed the subject a bit and said that she knew she had HIM (pointing at Louis) to blame for not being able to leave, and not being able to ride the elevator, and not having anything.  He was staring at my father-in-law, who finally shrugged, and tried to change the subject again.   I was grateful in that moment that she didn’t recognize me.  There’s no telling what thing I would have done to her.

Meanwhile, in the next bed is her new roommate, who is bedridden.  She is having quite the conversation with herself, although we can’t quite make out what she says until she yells across the room “I need help.  I need to go to the bathroom.”  I jump up and announce that I’ll get the nurse (remember the part where I don’t need to take care of people?), and I march out to the nurses station.  The nurse says she’ll be right in, but that the patient has a Foley, so she doesn’t need to get up.  I decide I can handle this, and I tell the nurse (who is right in the middle of something) that I’ve got this.

I go back into room, feeling confident that I’m going to solve this lady’s issue, even if I can’t make my mother-in-law feel any better or be any more settled.  I walk over to the bed and say to the lady that she has a catheter and she can just go.  She doesn’t have to actually get up and go to the bathroom.  I’m about to turn and walk away, exceptionally proud that I’ve handled this, when she holds up two bony fingers and says “but. . .”  Oh, no!  I am NOT the one to deal with this!   Nothing beyond number 1 for me!

Another trip to the nurses station and an announcement to the nurse that she’s going to have to come and handle this.  I’m not equipped for this kind of assistance.  She and her coworker half-giggled at me as she thanked me for trying.

There’s no telling what those people see day in and day out.  I tell her nurse every time we’re there that I have such a great appreciation for them.  Being a nurse is hard enough, but having a patient who can’t remember what you told them two minutes ago has to be ridiculously difficult.  I know it is for the family.  Her nurse keeps telling me that it’s no big deal, and that she’s called to do this.  She says that it’s okay for us to be unsure what to do, and not know how to respond.  I’m glad to hear this every time she says it, because I seriously don’t know what to say or do most of the time.

We try to simply find a little humor in each visit.  I think that’s the only thing that gets us through sometimes.  Like my Daddy says “just as soon laugh as cry about it.”  So I’ll choose to laugh, until it’s time to cry.

 

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Nursing Home Know-How

I’ve toyed very seriously with the idea of writing a couple of books. One of those is for people dealing with elderly parents at varying stages, and I keep telling myself that when I feel like I have “enough” knowledge I’m going to get right on that. The problem is that there is never “enough.” You think you know how things are going to go, and you think you’ve gotten into some type of rhythm, but that only lasts about two weeks before a whole new situation has put you right back into the confusion chair.
Some of the things that happen with my in-laws have become humorous. Honestly, they have to be, or we’d all go insane. My husband and I share with his sister and her family the daily goings-on of my in-laws and we all just have to shake our heads and smile. Some of the things are really funny, and some are so terribly sad that you just can’t find humor or that the things you do find humor in seem morbid to someone on the outside.
Just like enduring a bad relationship and finally realizing why the divorce rate is so high, you find yourself in uncharted waters here, and you endure the best way you can. The really sad times come when you have to treat your parents like children, denying them things you dearly would love to give them because it’s not “good for them.” We’ve had one than one conversation about just throwing caution to the wind and letting them really enjoy their remaining time here, but that is quickly reversed by the seriousness of the $1,000 pharmacy bill because of additional insulin, or the $250 bill each month for pull-ups, or the reality that I can’t get Medicaid approved for them quickly enough, and struggle constantly to try to get that in place to assure they will have care going forward. The see-saw is getting really old. Plus, it’s hard to reason with an 80 year old woman who doesn’t realize where she is half the time about why she can’t just have ice cream any time she wants it, or taking the administrative rights away from a 75 year old’s computer because he can’t comprehend what he’s clicking on well enough to stop downloading viruses. I don’t appreciate this juxtaposition of give and take that it seems we’re always evaluating.
It makes me sad on levels I can barely comprehend, let along articulate. My mother-in-law and I have certainly had our spells where we’ve not gotten along over the years, but I still recognize her as part of my family and as my husband and I were married so young, I view both of his parents as my parents as well (as does he). We’re blessed to still have all four of them at this point in our lives, and that our children have been able to know all of their grandparents (as I didn’t). My father-in-law and I have always been relatively close, and I’ve enjoyed his company. They both do things which drive me crazy, but I’m sure I do things that make them crazy too.
The moments of exceptional frustration intertwine with the blah humdrum of routine which intertwines even further with sadness or the occasional comedic episode. The comedy is becoming less and less, as the frustration is more and more. The routine gets lost in the middle somewhere, and the sadness takes a passenger seat to the frustration. The emotional roller coaster one is on when caring for elderly parents is nothing short of terrifying and long. Your own life gets lost in theirs, and you feel like you’re not allowed to feel your own emotions anymore for stopping to deal with theirs.
I’m ashamed to say that I awoke in the middle of the night a few nights ago, thinking about a trip we have planned to Disney in December with our kids (we try to go every couple of years) and thinking that I should be prepared for the fact that one of them might die just before we leave, or even while we were gone. I need to have a plan for all of that. I say ashamed not because I think we shouldn’t get to go to Disney with our kids, but that I feel a bit of resentment at the time we’ve lost with our children in the past five years. I can’t even count the Sunday afternoons they have entertained themselves on the couch watching television while my husband and I did ‘bills and pills’ where he would shower his dad or help with his mom and I would handle the finances. We had realized even then that we had to count out their meds, because they would over or under medicate if left to their own devices. We sat in a teary-eyed conversation one night, promising them we would keep them in their house as long as possible, and we kept our promise, but I don’t know if it was more beneficial or hurtful.
I’ve pretty much stopped going to visit them in the nursing home. My mother-in-law usually doesn’t know who I am, and it’s upsetting to the kids to go. We take them when they are interested, and we don’t push it when they’re not. They’ve sat quietly in the room and tried to engage in conversations, only to find that neither one of my in-laws have much of an attention span anymore. My mother-in-law doesn’t know who we are half the time, and it seems to upset her when I’m there. She’s always tolerated me in my relationship with her son, and I sense some of that anxiety comes through when she’s confronted with me. Maybe I’m just projecting. Maybe it’s me who is uncomfortable. Maybe I’m imagining the whole thing. My father-in-law will only visit in short spurts now as well. I wonder if that’s a subconscious decision on his part to let us “off the hook” now that they’re in the nursing home. I wonder if we’re just another random occurrence throughout their day. He fixates on things that would never have bothered him before, and he’s taken to calling me 10 times over the same thing when he decides he needs something. Louis is the one who actually goes by and interacts. He has to anyway–he’s the only one to whom his mother responds positively, and his dad only has requests of things he wants brought to him. This is more annoying than anything for Louis, I think. There is not much general “how are you” conversation. They ask the same three or four questions, don’t really comment on the answers, and then issue their list of requests. These trips aren’t much fun for Louis, I’d wager.
I can imagine how demeaning this life is for them. I went out of my way to make it as comfortable and “home-like” for them as possible, rearranging the room and creating a small living area where they could sit side by side in their chairs and watch television. Still, they never leave the room anymore, save the occasional walk to the courtyard. They have their meals delivered to their room, and they sit there hour after hour, day after day, week after week. They have a few regular visitors, and they seem pleased with that, although one of the visitors told me recently that Helen seems to not recognize anyone anymore–she acts as if the visitor is a stranger who just wandered in from the hall. This is exceptionally difficult for Louis, too. The last time he had to take them to an appointment, his mother kept calling him by his father’s name, and kept insisting that it was time to go “home.” We agonized for a long time over moving them from their house to their apartment. We even had entertained the idea of selling both houses and getting something with an inlaws quarters. A good friend of mine advised me against it, and I’m grateful she did. I don’t think we’re physically, not to mention emotionally, equipped for the things we’re seeing now. Helen is essentially dead weight, and needs to be lifted in and out of bed or the chair. She simply sits on the side of her mattress, much as a toddler would, waiting for you to dress or undress her, but not even offering to lift her arm or leg anymore. I can’t imagine what must be occurring in her mind, and we’ve seen the occasional manipulation she used to create now give way to complete and total confusion and loss. She literally has no idea where she is or what’s going on most of the time. She gets very excited when we bring her a treat, and very upset when she asks for one and is denied. Other than that, she doesn’t engage much.
My father-in-law called me this morning as I was running some errands. He told me that she’s started asking for her mother, and she becomes very upset when he tries to explain. I don’t know why, but this really has sent a chill through me today. She’s engaged in similar behavior before, but she’s usually not quite this adamant. I’m hopeful that when my husband gets home from his campout and can go see her, he can help calm her down; but honestly something about this feels different than the previous times. I have a strange sense of foreboding. And I feel the fear my father-in-law feels–the fear he projected in his voice when he called me. I debated going to see them myself this morning, but I’m trying to decide if I will cause more harm than good, and I certainly don’t want to make the situation worse. It really is something to watch how soothing it is for her to have Louis close-by.
I remember when my dad put his mother in a nursing home in town, as well as a neighbor of ours going into the nursing home. Both were good experiences. They enjoyed it, and made friends. They had people to look after them and ensure they had a good meal. They could socialize when they wanted and rest when they wanted. I think that’s the idyllic picture, and I wish very much they could have had that experience. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear it’s going to work out that way. My sister-in-law had pointed out one night that they’ve become quite co-dependent, and they each need to have the other one close-by, but it’s also meant that they don’t try to engage anyone else. I often wonder what we might have changed if we had it to do over again.
I’ve had several conversations with my husband about whether we would have pushed for assisted living right out of the gate when we moved them out of their homes. If we had done that, would they still be able to live there? What if we had left them in the house? Maybe we should have just hired a private duty nurse? The realities always come back, though. There wasn’t enough money to do any of that. We probably waited too long to move them out as it was. Paul nearly died last October and November, which is what brought into sharp focus how bad Helen’s condition really was. We had no idea the amount of covering for her he had been doing. My husband assures me that this all means they’re in the right place, and they probably should have been there sooner. This was confirmed when we found his mom’s medical records from over a year ago that said she already needed nursing home care. Why didnt’ he tell us? I’m sure he was afraid we would separate them. We’ve been concerned for quite some time that she was weighing too heavily on him and bringing him down too.
I have to admire Louis’ sister, who can take a much more clinical, hands-off approach. She understands the physiology of it all, and she can appreciate that this is a simple process of deterioration. While it’s sad, it just is how it is and we have to deal the best way we can. Leave it to me to second-guess and wonder whether I’ve done everything appropriately.
So, back to the book idea. You can appreciate why I feel like I don’t have the knowledge-base to be a subject matter expert, huh? I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’d like to say that you handle a situation and you know better how to handle the next one, but I think in the case of elderly care, that’s very difficult. No two cases seem to be alike.

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The unexpected family member

We bought my GMC YukonXL in 2003, shortly after the birth of my second son. It had about 26,000 miles on it and cost us a fortune, but I fell in love with it immediately and despite my love of all things Mercedes and the hope that I’ll get to drive a sleek 500SEL at some point in my life, I can’t see myself driving anything else at this particular point.
If you’re not familiar with the Yukon XL, it’s the longer version suburban-looking vehicle. I can seat 7 comfortably (provided they’re not all over 6’2″), and carry luggage as well. I can flip up or remove my back seat and flip down my middle seats to make one long, smooth cargo area. My friends are always amazed when we are out shopping and suddenly need to haul something large. With five minutes worth of rearranging, I can handle almost anything.
I remember when I bought it, thinking there were tons of features I wouldn’t ever use. I had never had a vehicle quite so “fully loaded” and it’s humorous to realize that many of these features are now pretty common-place. My vehicle would probably rate as “standard” currently, as I don’t have on-board navigation, blue tooth or DVD. My husband added a Sony Xplod system for me which allows me to stream music or use my phone hands-free in the cabin, and I really thought I had hit the big time then, too!
My children don’t really recall me driving any other vehicle, and we’ve joked over the years about what to call her. I suggested “Gina Marie Car” (GMC), and they settled on “Good Mountain Climber.” She’s got nearly 200,000 miles on her now, but still is as trusty as ever.
As I drove Friday to take my dad to the doctor, I pondered all the trips we had made in that vehicle, and how much she’s become a part of our family.
The soccer games when Lucas was 5 and was no more interested in playing soccer than I am in hang-gliding. The scout trips, and oh there have been plenty of those! Including a couple where one or all of us have slept in that truck. She has shown her ability in towing and strength, kept us warm on cold days and cool on warm ones.
The vacation trips, where we have had our luggage and all our gear loaded up. Cruising the gulf coast and watching the boys grab snacks out of the basket I store on top of the cooler in the back, just so they can reach it and cure their “munchies” along the way. DVD players we used to strap to the back of the front two seats, which have now given way to the ipad or laptop, or to the kids just playing on their phones. In 2010 we drove from Little Rock to Booneville to pick up my parents, and then drove to Seattle, trekking all the way through Kansas, part of Colorado and Wyoming. We stopped in Montana and visited some friends of mine and then toured the lower part of the Glacier park, then continued across the northern states into Washington. We picked up my husband, my sister, and her husband at the airport, and stored everyone’s gear as we boarded the ship for our 7 day cruise. Then we toured northern California and came down through Yellowstone, where it began to snow the 10th of June. Sure-footed and easy going, GMC just ticked off the highway miles, keeping us all safe and comfortable, and always giving what was requested of her.
We’ve taken trips with a truck-load of boys for Scout adventures, and GMC has heard more than her fair share of giggling kids.
What struck me Friday, especially, were the emergency trips we had made. I was headed that day to take my dad to the doctor over a cyst which had become infected and was making him ill. We had several of those under our belt, though. My friend Deedra and her husband were in a serious motorcycle accident a few years ago, and GMC carried us quickly and safely to that emergency room waiting area, where we were able to give them a hug and tell them how thankful we were they weren’t hurt more. I’ve made several Emergency Room runs for one family member or another, as well as friends. GMC has carried me on a couple of hospital runs for myself, too, and always given me a safe, comfortable ride home–which says something if you’ve driven on many Arkansas roads!
She and I have an understanding. I like to go fast, and so does she. I take care of her and she politely finds rather interesting ways to tell me something is wrong. We had to put in a few fuel pump a couple of years ago and the one they put in apparently had some relay switch on it which was bent when they put it in. Did she leave me stranded? No, she told me something was wrong by playing tricks with the fuel gauge (I still have the video–it really made me laugh) so that I would take her into the shop.
We’ve helped people move, we’ve carried loads of groceries, we even provided a mobile workstation on a camping trip one summer as one mom was providing mohawk haircuts for all the boys who wanted them. On that same trip, we nearly blew a tire, which was bubbling out on one side. We had driven from our home to Las Vegas, and then on to the Grand Canyon. We found the tire when we stopped at our campsite, and my husband and I were safely able to change it without any damage or anyone being hurt.
I remember talking to our mechanic a while back after a brake job they had performed which hadn’t gone exactly as planned. When I was returning to my office, my brakes bled out and I found myself unable to stop. It was a sheer miracle that I was on a side road which was surprisingly not busy that afternoon, and I was able to guide her over and roll to a stop. It broke my heart to see her loaded onto a tow truck that afternoon, but by the next morning she was all fixed up again. Our mechanic corrected the problem, and he and I had a long talk about the safety of my family, and that GMC is definitely a big part of that. He smiled and talked to me about his appreciation of that, and how he appreciated that I treated my vehicle so well.
The people who ride with me regularly have likely seen me pat her on the dash and thank her for another safe trip. I drive a lot for business as well as scouts, and I can’t imagine not having her.
My dad and I have been talking a lot lately about how it’s time to trade the old girl. My husband and I have been looking around a little here and there, but I honestly just can’t get too serious about it yet. I always said I was going to drive that vehicle until the wheels fell off. It saddens me to think about such a good vehicle being “discarded.” Besides, the new ones are OMG expensive, and I don’t mind her cracking seats and stained floor mats. I’ve grown accustomed to the things that don’t work 100% perfectly. That ol’ girl and I have been a long way together.
As I was driving with my dad the other day, it gave me comfort to have her with me. I know that seems silly, to consider a vehicle part of your family, but I believe she truly is. I can’t imagine what it will be like, putting my kids in a different vehicle and not having the space which we have now. I suppose it’s akin to being raised in the same house all your life.
I’m glad we’ve been able to build such great memories with our family and that vehicle, and I hope my kids get to have the same thing with their kids someday.

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Everyone should have FBLA

I remember my FBLA classes in high school (Future Business Leaders of America, for the uninitiated), and all the interesting lessons those held. I got a lot out of those classes, from the appropriate skirt length, to using your “power colors” to your advantage. We learned about the proper way to present yourself during an interview, how to properly shake someone’s hand, how to project when speaking, etc. These have been lifelong lessons I never imagined I would have used to the degree I have. Many of them haven’t changed too much, either. Oh, maybe we don’t all interview in skirts now, but the handshake rule, for example, is still very true. It occurs to me that lots of people never had access to this information, as I can attest from the number of nearly broken fingers I’ve had over the years, or the people who don’t seem to understand not chewing gum during an interview, or the ones who present a resume full of typos (and then calling themselves “detailed”).
Anyway, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a few interviews this week, and it’s been a humorous and eye-opening experience to say the least. We are adding a very specific position, with specific job functions. For us, it’s more about adding the right person to the team and then we can teach them something if they don’t know it. We’re typically looking for people who can follow instructions, listen well, can communicate professionally, and we really like people who have initiative and don’t need to have their hands held. As a small company, that piece is very important, as I don’t have time to stop and help with every function, and having someone who can “pick up the ball” is a valuable commodity.
It occurs to me through this process that interviewing is really about selling yourself. I even remarked on Facebook one afternoon that making me repeat the details of the interview a couple of times in a two minute conversation because you’re not quite “getting it” doesn’t instill a lot of confidence. As a side note, that person described herself as “exceptionally detailed and good with instructions.” Just like in sales, what you represent isn’t necessarily what the “buyer” ends up having in the end.
Anyway, we interviewed several people, and a couple of them were amazing, and outshone everyone else. One of those people even called the day before the appointment to confirm, and to be sure that I still have time on my calendar to meet with her (which I thought was especially thoughtful). I know it was more about being able to talk to me and “feel it out” but it was still a nice gesture. The other person brought by her resume and left it for me while I was at lunch one day. I was so impressed with how well it was put together and how she had paid attention to every detail–it was amazing. We interviewed a couple of other people who were also demonstrating good traits, but it’s interesting to me how the really great ones and the really bad ones tend to stand out.
The most eventful interview had a whole story to go with it, but I will spare you the details leading up to the interview itself. The meeting began with the person blowing into our reception room and dropping into one of the chairs in the reception area. “I’m here, finally!” she announced to our receptionist, who was completely surprised by this display and simply said “um, okay.”
“I’ve been in the parking lot for nearly an hour, trying to make sure I was in the right building, and I guess I’m a few minutes early for my appointment,” she explained. Our receptionist, trying to decipher that combination of details, nodded, and asked with whom her appointment was scheduled.
After a few seconds of stunned silence, our guest finally managed to produce my name.
The interview was interesting to say the least. After explaining to me about her work history (which was impressive, by the way), and how she had moved from place to place and which of those jobs she particularly hated, I began to give her the history of our company. By the time I was explaining about the open position in particular, we began to discuss the proper way to perform the duties we undertake. She had a few ideas on how I should be performing this particular job, and how audit procedures and other backup procedures should occur instead of how we are currently handling them. I explained, as kindly as I could that we are still a small company and we cater directly to our clients’ specific needs, so we are much more flexible and work directly with them, rather than forcing them to conform to a large company’s standards. I reminded her that the position for which she was interviewing was not that of an auditor or supervisor, and attempted to get us back on course. We had another derailment or two as she provided input on our new client type in particular (including how lucrative she can imagine billing clients like this much be) and what she thought of their types of services. After redirecting her again, I began to wind down the interview and try to close out this train wreck.
As I was giving the company overview (how long we’ve been here, what we do, etc.) and a couple of last minute details, she stops me. Waving her hand around above her head, gesturing to the room around her she asks “so, who owns all this?” I was admittedly surprised. The other people I had interviewed understood by the time I got to the overview that it was my company. I was trying to mentally analyze what I had done differently, or how she had missed it.
“I do. It’s my company.” I said. Her eyes got a little bigger “you own ALL THIS?”
Now I’m unsure of how I should continue. “Um, yes,” I said “It’s all mine. As I explained earlier, we’ve been in business since 2010. . . ” before I can even finish my sentence she cuts me off “You must be doing alright for yourself then.”
I almost laughed out loud. We’re holding our own, but I would hardly say we’re “doing alright.” We’re very blessed to have been able to hold on through the economy we’ve just endured and every year is a little bit better than the last, but this has been hard. I’m not sorry I did it–don’t misunderstand, but to hear her say it I felt like she had the impression that I have a purse stuffed with money.
As I wrapped up the interview and sent her on her way, she asked me when she would know about the position and what our “plans” are. I reiterated what I had just covered in the interview and sent her on her way. As she walked away, I stood at the door and pondered everything that had just happened. I particularly enjoyed the surprise that I could own my own company. I couldn’t believe all the “rules” she had broken–arguing with the interviewer, asking inappropriate questions, flopping down in the chair as if she owned the place.
I guess we didn’t all have a tactful FBLA advisor who told us lovingly when we were doing something goofy, or parents who taught us about appropriate conversations. I have had a lot of entertainment thinking about this experience the past several days, so I thought I would share and let you have a laugh too. Please, when your children are going on their first few interviews, help them understand what is appropriate, or have them join FBLA. With a job market flooded with people right now, it could just make the difference in them getting a job or not.

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The Wasp

When I was 15, and growing up on the farm, it was my job to help my dad with our outdoor chores. I loved it, too. I loved the sunshine and driving the tractor or the pickup or hauling hay or working on a fence or whatever job came along. I love the “different” of it all, and the challenges we encountered. Even when it was hot and tiring and hard, I still enjoyed it.

It was about that time that I was preparing to start my orthodontia, and had an appliance in my mouth for several months before actually getting braces. If you’ve never worn an appliance, imagine a retainer about twice as thick, with little screws you have to tighten regularly. The idea is that you use the appliance to do some of the work and you hopefully don’t have to wear the braces as long. Getting accustomed to the appliance, however, takes some practice. I had only just started wearing my appliance, and if memory serves had it a week or two when I had to rescue the pig.

We had a pig in a slant-roofed shed behind our house. He probably was about 50 pounds or so, and he needed a shot of something I can’t quite remember. That was no problem for me. I was stout for my size, and I could easily handle the job. I climbed over the fence and dropped into the pen. As I proceeded into the shed, I lowered down into a “squat” so I would be low enough to avoid the roof. It was about then I heard Daddy say something, but I couldn’t quite make it out. I leaned back and raised my head up to ask him to repeat himself, and that’s when it happened.

I don’t remember anything except Daddy calling to me from somewhere far away. What was he saying? Crawl to him? Then an image of us walking up through the back pasture and him yelling at my mom, who opened the back door. “She’s been stung” I heard him say. I knew I hurt, but it wasn’t quite registering. My mom jumped into action. The next 15 minutes was a whirlwind of activity with Mom tending to me and trying to get me to spit out my appliance. I was totally out of it and my dad put me in his truck and drove me to our doctor, nearly 30 minutes away. I vaguely remember riding through what we call “the bottoms”–the low-lying area of the Petit Jean River where the trees drape low over the road and it’s usually cool and shady in the summer. The next thing I knew we were at the doctor’s office. It must have been that he was driving pretty fast, too, because Mom remarked when we got home that several neighbors had called her to find out what was going on that Daddy was driving so fast.

It turned out that I had 15 stings up and down my back and arms from black wasps. I had really long, thick hair at the time, and the doctor made a point of remarking that it was a good thing I had that all pulled up in a cap (in true tomboy fashion) or it probably would have been a lot worse. Since then, I have had an allergy to stings of that sort, and make sure to carry my Benadryl with me when we travel, just in case. It also instilled in me a fear of flying stinging insects that most of my friends and family find amusing. My husband often remarks that if there is a wasp or bee within 50 paces of me, I know exactly where he is and am positioning myself accordingly.

We work in an older office building in Little Rock. It happens occasionally that a bug or two will end up in one of the fluorescent lights above our heads. Usually by the time we see them, they’ve long since died. A couple of mornings ago, as I’m merrily working along, I hear a buzzing and tapping sound. You know–that sound you hear when a mosquito or bug has gotten into your room and is desperately trying to figure out how far that ceiling goes. I look toward the ceiling, and see that there is a wasp about the size of a small Volkswagen in the light fixture.

I try not to panic. My husband (also our IT person) an I are chatting online about an issue we had going on when I explain the situation and pose my question “do you think he can get out?” I’m sure my husband was chuckling on the other end of the line, but he responded that he really thought it would be okay. It was too late, though. The idea was already in my head. What if he COULD get out? I sat at my desk, staring at the light fixture, and plotted my next move. I tried to size up the situation and confirm for myself that he couldn’t get out. As I weigh my options, his buzzing and tapping grows more and more desperate, and I’m pretty sure he’s really pissed now.

I get up and walk around my desk, never taking my eyes off the light fixture. I step into the hall outside my office and call to Gary, who is 6’2″ and works down the hall from me. Gary can tell by the sound of my voice that this isn’t a normal “I need a favor” request. He is standing in the hall within a few seconds watching me watch the wasp. I try to explain “I’m not afraid of snakes. I can run from snakes. Flying stinging insects are my thing. You can’t run from them.” He gently responded “I understand.”

He walked into the room and surveyed the light fixture from underneath. “I think it might actually be a hornet,” he proposed. Oh, wow. Now I think I might have to faint. Not only bigger, but MEANER. Beautiful. Gary sees my eyes widen and he offers to release it and kill it for me. Panic strikes me. “You might get stung!” I practically scream at him. He explains that he’s not worried about that, but he can see I’m apparently not going to get any more work accomplished if I’m fixated on my new friend. Without saying another word, he gently pushes me into the hallway and shuts the door, leaving me in the hallway and him to go do battle with the beast in my office.

I tried to busy myself for a few minutes checking on the other people in the office. A few minutes later, I heard my office door open and the toilet flush in the bathroom. Gary proudly came down the hall and announced the job was complete. I asked him “are you sure he’s dead?” He chuckled and said “well, yes, I just flushed him down the toilet. I’m pretty sure he’s dead.” The folks in the office have had a pretty good time teasing me about my wasp fear and my reaction to this whole situation.

I’m thankful that my wasp buddy didn’t show his friends the way into our suite. I hope it stays that way. If it doesn’t, I hope they pick a day Gary is in the office, or I just might have to go home early.

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Thank God for AAA

I’ve actually said that several times over the past year, and I have to say it’s a phrase I didn’t think I’d probably utter quite so much in my lifetime. I am thankful, though. I remember when my sister bought my first AAA membership several years ago, and I thought “I won’t ever need that–I’m capable of solving my problems when they occur” but then realized that AAA also allowed me to procure great discount books at outlet malls and discounts on hotel stays and thought “hey, why not?”
My husband and I agreed to replace his vehicle last year and “upgraded” to a newer vehicle with more bells and whistles. We had never had a vehicle with bells and whistles, or at least not like this one. This one has a sunroof and a DVD player, a rearview backup sensor and dual trip odometers. You know–the REALLY big stuff! We fell in love with this vehicle pretty much immediately. It was quite an improvement over the stripped bare, standard transmission, air-barely-works, heat-barely-works, manual windows 4 wheel drive we traded in. We thought we had arrived, especially for a vehicle with no payments and fewer miles.
The first month or two were great. Then we had a weird incident where he drove somewhere and parked and when he got back into the vehicle it wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t even try to start. We called our mechanic who sent someone by to look at it. They couldn’t see anything immediately wrong with it, and suggested towing it back to their shop for further testing. They have a towing service, but we opted to use our AAA discount, which tows for free within a certain radius. 45 minutes later, the vehicle is loaded up and headed for the garage.
We anxiously await a call from the mechanic to diagnose our situation. When he calls, he says the vehicle started right up when they got it to the shop. They can’t really see anything except a wire that could probably stand to be replaced, but since they can’t recreate the problem they’re not certain that was the cause. They’ve apparently driven it around and killed the engine repeatedly and it always successfully restarted. We think it’s just a fluke, pick up the vehicle and go on our merry way. A week later I was supposed to drive this vehicle on an out of town business trip. At the last minute I just decided to go ahead and take mine, and I’m thankful I did. My husband called me when I arrived at my location (nearly two hours away) and informed me that the vehicle had stranded him again. It was particularly upsetting for him as his dad was in the hospital and he was needing to meet up with his mom and sister. His sister picked him up on her way to the hospital and AAA came and picked up the vehicle again and towed it back to our mechanic.
Again, when the vehicle arrived at the mechanic it functioned fine. After some research, our mechanic suggested it could be a failure in the fuse box, which we decided we could replace ourselves. We had left his vehicle parked at my office and ordered the part online, only to receive it and realized we couldn’t possibly make the change ourselves. We called the dealer and asked them if they could do it and again had to call AAA to tow it.
We thought we were out of the woods as we make it through the next 30 days without an incident. But it happened two more times with various other repairs before we finally solved the problem–a drain hole from the sunroof was plugged up and forcing the water down through some apparently unnatural course which was shorting out one of the fuse boxes. Anyway, by the early part of February (six months after purchasing this vehicle) we finally had the issue resolved and we haven’t had a problem since.
Mid-February we receive a letter from AAA. We have met the maximum number of tows allowed under our contract. We can’t be towed again until we renew. If we need another tow, we will have to pay a standard towing rate. I stared at the letter and counted up the number of tows. Wow. We really had used this service a lot. AAA had more than paid for itself this year. I am so glad we didn’t have to pay for all those trips on the tow truck!

We went out of town for the Memorial Day weekend. We had been talking about going to Springfield to visit my husband’s sister and her family for quite a while. We thought the long weekend presented the perfect opportunity, with an extra day off and nothing planned. We were going to simply hang out at their house and relax for a few days and enjoy some time together. We even bought a homemade ice cream maker and the guys all made us yummy treats for dessert Saturday night. And then it happened. One of the boys came and asked my husband for his keys so they could get something out of the car. He didn’t have his keys on him, and the fun just grew from there. We spent a ridiculous nearly 90 minutes searching and re-searching the house.
I had my husband re-trace his steps from when he got out of the vehicle. He could remember going around and getting a new bag of ice out of the back passenger side, but he couldn’t remember having his keys after that. Our niece had locked the door to the vehicle (trying to be helpful), and no one had seen the keys since. We finally resolved that the keys were inside the vehicle.
I can only imagine the scene taking place outside the house for the neighbors. My husband and his brother-in-law both took flashlights at different points and checked in each of the windows. Then they went again together, circling the vehicle and looking in the windows. This vehicle has tinted windows in the back doors, which makes what they were doing especially difficult. We tried to open all the doors, hoping there was one that maybe was unlocked. This act of desperation went unrewarded, and I finally said “it’s time to call AAA.”
Having no idea where we were actually located, my sister-in-law took the phone and gave some cross-streets to the AAA rep. 10 minutes later my husband received a call that assistance had been dispatched and we should expect arrival in 30-45 minutes. My sister-in-law gets out camp chairs for all of us and we take our seats in their driveway and await the arrival. I’m accustomed to having AAA send a wrecker only when they expect to have to tow you. Otherwise, it’s a van who might unlock your vehicle or bring you gas, or change your tire. However, in Missouri, or specifically in this slightly rural area in which we were located, they must not have the little assistance van. They sent out the largest wrecker they could find for the occasion, which added to the atmosphere we were creating in front of their house at nearly 11:30 p.m.
My husband and brother-in-law watched in amazement as the tech worked to get the door open. He laughed at me when I asked about what he was doing and remarked that I expected him to whip out a slim-jim and quipped that obviously I was thinking more old-school than our vehicle is. They don’t really do that much anymore. Now they pop your lock in a much more technologically advanced fashion–they use a tube with a balloon on the end and insert it in the door. They inflate the balloon until the door “pops” and then they use a cable to “push” the unlock button. We were so excited to see the door coming open we didn’t have a chance to prepare for what came next. As the door released and opened, the car alarm went off. We all stared at each other in complete shock. I glanced from house to house nearby to see if anyone was running outside and preparing to curse us. The tech informed us all the door alarm would shut off in 30 seconds, so we all waited not so patiently for this noise to subside so we could continue our search. My husband climbed in the driver’s side and tried to look into the rear passenger floorboard but couldn’t see the keys. My brother-in-law opens the back door on the driver’s side to help. Again, the car alarm goes off. Reasoning that we’ve just got to rip off the band-aid, I tell my husband to hurry and open the other rear door (which is where we think the keys are), so we won’t set it off again. He runs around and opens it, and we wait until the alarm stops going off. 10 second go by and it starts again, and we all glare at the technician, who tells us that it sensed another door was open and that set the alarm off again.
My husband and brother-in-law search the rear floorboard and cannot locate the keys. Then, as you’ve probably guessed, someone thought they should perhaps check the front floorboard on the passenger side and opened the door. Again, with the car alarm. I’m thankful at this point that the vehicle only had 4 doors and a tailgate. I can’t even imagine what the neighbors must be thinking, and I’m hoping at least by seeing the wrecker in the front yard they’re reasoning that we’re going to get this noisy vehicle out of their nice quiet neighborhood.
The AAA technician asks if we want to have the vehicle towed since we realize now that we aren’t finding the keys. I burst out laughing and sister-in-law thinks I’m delirious. “I don’t have any tows left!” I blurt out. The technician stares at me for a second, a bit dumbfounded I think. We establish that I can still get a tow if we need it, but will just have to pay for it. I end up telling him that we’ll find a locksmith and have another key made, thank him for his time and tip him what little cash I had in my wallet. After he assures us that the car doors aren’t going to keep setting the alarm off, he leaves. My sister-in-law was very amused at my blurting out that we had used all our tows, and I ended up relaying this story to her.
And that’s how we spent our very relaxing Saturday night near Springfield. Incidentally, my brother-in-law ended up finding our keys in a chair in their bedroom (where none of us had been), which tells us someone with little hands relocated the keys for us.
Also incidentally, my AAA membership renews June 1. 🙂 We’ll be able to tow again after that, although I’m hoping not to be so familiar with the AAA towing policy again this next year. As an aside, if you don’t already have AAA, it’s a great way to ensure your loved ones don’t get stranded with a flat, or run out of gas, or lock their keys in their vehicle.

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Baseball greats, fire safety, and CPR

I swore to my husband this would be the last camping trip I go on (for a while, anyway) with the Scouts. I like to go–don’t get me wrong, but it’s tiring and a bit stressful for me. The boys all at varying ages, varying attention levels, and the frustration it creates for me when things don’t go right simply aren’t worth it to me. Sometimes things don’t go exactly right, and sometimes they go completely wrong. I feel like I have no control and my little Type A personality doesn’t cope very well. I can stay home and stress myself out perfectly well without a bunch of kids to do it for me.
This past weekend was supposed to be a two day campout near my hometown. We had reserved a campsite at a local recreation area (a place we used to swim when I was a kid), and the theme of the weekend was safety and prevention. I had a friend from high school who agreed to teach First Aid and CPR and the community fire department where I was raised was going to teach fire safety and prevention to the kids. After watching the weather the past couple of weeks and seeing a tornado tear apart Mayflower and Vilonia, we were watching the forecast very closely. The area where we would be camping had a serious tornado about four years ago and thankfully no one perished but it certainly gave me something to ponder as we were preparing to take these boys into the woods there. As the forecast kept changing and the rain chances were uncertain (let alone the “severe” weather we seem to have regularly at this time of year), we evaluated the situation and opted to cancel the campout and make it a day-trip adventure.
Booneville (my hometown) is two hours from Little Rock. We left a few minutes after 7 a.m., loaded all the boys into my vehicle and off my husband and I went. When we arrived in town we stopped at Wal-Mart (which is a must in a small town, right?), and then proceeded to the location where our first class would be held. we thankfully were about 20 minutes early, which gave the boys a few minutes to run circles around the parking lot and expend some of their nervous energy. By the time our instructor arrived, we were mostly ready to go.
Now, if you’re not familiar with boys, let me set the scene for you. They like to tell stories. They like to poke each other and talk to one another and try to gross each other out. Thankfully, our instructor was accustomed to dealing with kids and wasn’t really bothered by their antics. I was thankful I only had to call them down a couple of times, and by the time our class ended it was becoming very apparent they were needing to be outside for a few minutes. We took them to eat lunch and amazed our instructor with the amount of food these boys could put away (my 13 year old, for example, at 1 slice short of an entire medium pizza).
The second part of our day was to take place in the community where I was raised, which is about 20 minutes from town. We loaded the boys up and I called my parents to see if they needed anything from town (customary in my family, as trips to down aren’t just made anytime you’re out of something). We picked up a couple of things and decided that with a couple of hours to spare we could drop off these items, visit for a few minutes and then take the boys back to the community center where our fire safety class would be held and let them play.
My parents live out in the middle of the country, atop a mountain. Due to wild animals in the area, and the propensity of their dogs to want to wander off, the dogs aren’t allowed out of the yard. Any critter that decides to invade their space does so at his own peril. When we arrived at the house and the boys all piled out of my vehicle and into the yard, the first thing they spotted was a dead armadillo. Now, I realize to you that likely sounds gross and disgusting, but to a young tween or teen boy, this is an amazing sight. They marveled at the dead animal and how the dogs had likely killed it, with my husband and me screaming “Don’t touch it!” the whole time. They moved on from the armadillo and located the bamboo stalks my dad grows in his back yard. It didn’t take them long to figure out those make fine swords and soon the battle was on.
They were pirates one minute, soldiers the next. They were all on one team, and then enemies against each other. The possibilities to them were endless. We ended up sitting on the front porch with my parents, marveling at the boys and their abilities to play together so peacefully and merge in and out of one another’s make-believe roles. The dogs got in on the act too, chasing the boys down the fence row and romping around with them as if they knew completely what was going on. When not playing with the younger boys, the dogs huddled around the oldest boy in our group, who chose to sit on the sidewalk and watch the younger boys and never stopped petting the dogs as long as they would sit still for him.
I’ve always said that every dog deserves a boy and every boy deserves a dog. Never was that more true than watching this in action. We let them play for the better part of an hour or so, and then loaded everyone up to head for the community center. The boys were equally as fascinated with the playground and the surrounding area there as they played away their last 30 minutes or so until their trainers arrived. Here they were rewarded with a new critter. They came up to my husband and said “Mr. Walker, we found a dead king snake around the side of the building.” When my husband told them to leave it alone, they simply said “oh, okay.” I imagine they were waiting for some type of permission to investigate the snake a little closer.
The fire safety class was performed by the training officer of the volunteer fire department in that community. She told us how, at 73 years old, she’s not as spry as she once was, but you wouldn’t have known much different watching her don her gear and explain each piece as she went. The boys were amazed as she passed around each piece of her equipment and let them feel how heavy it all was. Being the mom of boys herself, she knew exactly how to keep them interested. Just as she was finishing her equipment demonstration, she teased them with the review of the trucks and told them they’d get to hold the fire hose and see how powerful it was. They could barely contain themselves as she wrapped up her last few minutes.
She explained the biggest truck and all the controls to them, and allowed them to climb in and around it. My dad and the fire chief obligingly moved equipment and pulled the trucks in and out of the bays for the boys. When we got to the last truck and she began pulling the hose out, the boys knew exactly what was coming. She told them to line up and they nearly ran over each other for the opportunity. She took teams of two, each boy in turn, and allowed them to “run” the hose for a few seconds while his teammate held the hose behind him (the “hose man” she explained). Look at my Facebook profile for videos of these screaming, laughing boys as they undertook this task. We were getting a real kick out of them.
As our class wound down and we prepared to say goodbye, the boys helped stow gear and clean up the community building where we had started. This building, over 100 years old, was once the school for the area. Still hanging on the walls are the old chalkboards. Still visible above the “stage” in the main room is the hand-painted poster of all the businesses in the area which sponsored events. The boys were amazed looking at the pictures on the walls, seeing the old decor, and hearing our instructor tell how greats like Dizzy Dean (pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Browns b. 1910- d. 1974), Daffy Dean (pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and the St. Louis Browns b. 1912- d. 1981) and Aaron Ward (infielder for the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians b. 1896- d. 1961) played on the field next to the community center back in the day. I’m sure I stared wide-eyed as well as she relayed the story and pointed out the article written some time ago. I knew of Dizzy Dean, but not really much about him at that, and certainly nothing of the other two. To think of all these famous people who were from my small community there. The boys thought it was neat, but I know they don’t appreciate the significance of what it must have been at the time. I wouldn’t have at their age either.
We said our goodbyes and thanked each of our hosts and climbed back into my vehicle. As we sped off down the highway, chatter turned to the training sessions we had for the day, and the follow-up work needed to complete each badge. We asked them what they thought about their experiences of the day and they all loved it. I felt a great sense of pride for my little town and community and the gifts they had bestowed upon these boys. I couldn’t have selected a better “last trip” to take with these kids. Oh, it won’t be my last, I’m sure, but I’m looking forward to a little hiatus as I use my free weekends to do some fun girl things with my friends I’ve missed.
And hopefully none of my future weekends will involve dead “critters.” 🙂

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Laughter is the best Medicine

I had a crappy week a couple of weeks back. Every day presented some crazy challenge and I was being pulled in multiple directions, both professionally and personally. By the time Friday night had arrived and I had managed to cram four activities into a three-hour span of time, I was exhausted. Saturday was only a marginally slower pace, and I was so grateful to see my bed Saturday night. Sunday, though, that was a day to remember.

A friend of mine came into town and we made a little road trip to see another friend of ours. It was going to be a long day and she had already driven over two hours just to reach me. By the time our day was complete, I had been in the car seven hours and she had over 9. The remarkable thing? I didn’t really notice. We started the day with a couple of really funny situations which engaged us to really talk for the first 90 minutes of the trip, and it kind of just went on from there.

I hope everyone has a friend like this one. I’m blessed to have a couple of them, actually. Everything is funny to us. We see things from odd perspectives, and we’re able to imagine or improvise from there. All of my friends like this are not people I see every day, so it’s always like a little mini-vacation when I get to do this. It’s a great exercise for the mind, and it reminds me that laughter really is the best medicine.

As we were preparing to leave my house, I sat in the driveway and worked to pair my iPhone with my husband’s bluetooth in his car. My 11 year old has absolutely no problem completing this task in about. . . 11 seconds. I can’t be this person. I can’t be this middle-aged person who is losing my grasp on technology. Just a short time ago, I was the one who figured things like this out, who embraced getting all our phones to sync through home sharing and could talk my friends through many of their technological challenges. As I tried for the third time unsuccessfully, I began to sink into the world of knowing my kid is now rapidly becoming smarter than me. Thank goodness there’s not the perpetual VCR blinking “12:00:00” to remind me of it, but I need to face reality and I’m running in the technological slow lane here.

We were in such a hurry to leave that I just ushered my friend into the car and off we went. I hadn’t even given her the opportunity to visit the restroom before I announced our departure. She obligingly went along, and was grateful when I mentioned I’d like to stop at McDonald’s and grab a quick bite of breakfast. She decides to go in and use the restroom and I’m going to try one more time to pair my phone (I refuse to be beaten!).

I try another couple of times and finally succumb and call the house. Obviously the 11 year old expertise will be required here. When my husband answers the phone and I explain, he tells me he knows the problem. My husband is actually pretty brilliant that way. He is the IT person for our company, and he has always had a way with people on the phone. He can talk you through the screen you’re seeing, tell you what to click, and command to enter, and help you understand what you’re seeing. He does this better than most IT people, whom I’ve found tend to skip steps or get irritated if you don’t see the option to which they’re directing you, etc. Anyway, I’m so accustomed to this routine with him, that I slipped very easily into this mentoring mode with him and began to listen to his instruction. Normally, when he is offsite and he’s walking me through a problem on my computer, I’m following each step along with him and diligently following each instruction immediately. So, when he said “you’re going to need to reboot your phone,” I did.

It wasn’t until the call was gone that I realized exactly what I had done. I sat, staring at my phone in a mixture of disbelief and humor. I began laughing, and as our call reconnected I was laughing so hard I could barely tell him what I had done. He said he had thought I had gone through a dead zone, and that’s why he had lost me. I’m never gonna live this one down, either. It’s already been brought up several times.

As my friend got back in the car, I was again laughing hysterically. I couldn’t believe I had done such a silly thing. She had her only silly thing to share which had occurred while she was inside. And our trip began. We drove through the drive-thru, remarking at how distinctively “disinterested” the person was taking our order, and jobs and kids and a million other things over the next hundred or so miles. We found a small town which shares my name, and had to pull over and take a picture next to the sign. We stopped at a small-town bathroom, and laughed over the haphazard way the bathroom was thrown together and how the toilet was literally two inches away from the wall. We stopped in the next small town to get lunch before seeing our friend, and watched an older, kind of scary looking gentleman stand in front of us at Sonic and sing his heart out to us. I just smiled and rolled up the window, and we again laughed.

By the time we got to our friend, we had story upon story to tell him, and we were able to make him laugh too. He is in a bad place right now, in lots of ways. He is rather depressed, and not sure where his life is going to go moving forward. But for a couple of hours, none of that mattered. We shared stories from our younger years and laughed and laughed. By the time we got to the goings-on of our day and shared our laughter again, it was nearly time to go home.

You know, it’s funny. When I started out writing about this topic today, my original intent was that I had a horrible week and all this laughter helped me feel “right” again. But thinking about it now, and remembering our conversation on the way home, I’m drawn back to thinking about our friend and how much it helped him too. The next time he and I talked, that was the first thing he said. He had laughed so much that afternoon and it gave him so many positive things to reflect about that he was less depressed. Who doesn’t like a medicine you can share?

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