Stories and thoughts about family and life

The Voicemails

On Thanksgiving afternoon, as we were preparing to leave Fayetteville, Brennan mentioned to his uncle that he had something of Mom’s.  When we got into the truck and headed toward Ft. Smith, I asked Brennan what he was talking about, and he mentioned that he had a recording done about three years ago with my mom.  She was living in Europe during WWII, and he was apparently doing a class project and decided that a recorded interview would be helpful.  He had held onto that recording, and he sent it to me.

While we were driving to the cemetery to place some flowers for my parents Thanksgiving night, I listened to the recording.  There was Brennan’s sweet voice, asking my mom questions about the war, and my mom, recalling the details and working to answer each of his questions.  It was a precious gift for me, and started me wishing I had something like that of Daddy’s.  I can still hear his voice in my head, but I dread the day that will fade away.

I was close to both my parents, but especially close to Daddy.  I’m very much like him–same temperament, same features, same mannerisms, and I was a tomboy who very much enjoyed my days on the farm with Daddy.  It didn’t matter if I was driving the tractor, repairing a water line, or working with livestock, I was perfectly at home and he and I had some very interesting days today.  I miss my mom, but the loss of my dad has hit me especially hard.  I don’t know if it’s the realization that they’re both gone, and the place I was raised is about to be gone too, or if it’s the difference in my relationship with him (or a little of all of it), but I’m struggling a lot right now with the whole thing.

As I was sitting in carpool line the other day, I was cleaning out a couple of voice mails, and scrolled down my voicemail list to see if there were any I hadn’t handled.  I spotted one that said “Daddy.”  I tentatively pushed the play button, and tears flooded my face as I heard his voice once again “This is Daddy.  Call me when you take a notion.”  I generally talked to my parents once or twice a week, but after Mom passed I started calling Daddy every couple of days.  After a month or so of that, he began to reciprocate, and I always felt badly when I was in the middle of something and couldn’t get to him immediately.  Now I realize that I’ve been graced with the same gift from Daddy, and I have him recorded.

As I thought about what to do with this recording to ensure I wouldn’t lose it, I realized that I likely had more in my deleted items folder.  I delete my voicemails, but I’m not always great about cleaning out the deleted folder.  I generally am irritated with myself, as this takes up a lot of space on my phone.  This day, however, I was so grateful.  I had voicemails dating back nearly a year, and a couple from my mom as well.  Happy messages, “we’re home” messages, silly messages (my Dad was famous for that), and sad messages.  The night we lost my mom he called me to tell me he was in trouble and to ask me to come home.  I didn’t catch the call when he originally made it, and the voicemail was gut wrenching as I could hear the tears in voice as he told me there was trouble and said he needed me home.

Lots of the voice mails are things about him driving to Little Rock, letting me know he’s leaving, or telling me he was headed to breakfast.  He doesn’t always say that in the message, but I know by the time he called or the way he sounded what was going on.   Breakfast was always my special time with Daddy.  Whenever we would travel together, or they were in Little Rock, it was understood he and I were going to breakfast.  That would be time for the two of us to catch up, and I loved the stories he would tell.  I’m going to miss that time a lot.

All told, I found about 15 voicemail messages.  And now I can hear him any time I want.

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Thanksgiving Adventures

Thursday was my first Thanksgiving without both my parents.  It’s been nothing short of an exceptional year and a lot of drama I wasn’t anticipating.    My mom had been ill for a while, so while her death was sudden I was much better prepared for it than my losing Daddy.   Still, I wouldn’t have told you that the holidays were going to be so terrible.  We were repeating last year’s holiday and traveling to my sister’s house.  I made the Pistachio salad my mom used to make and Mina had pecan pie in Mom’s pecan pie plate (literally shaped like a pecan pie with a pecan on top).  It was a wonderful day and we felt a lot of love.

We had decided to go to the farm that evening and on our way down the hill (traveling from Fayetteville down the mountain, for those who aren’t from around here), I started to cry.  The weight of it hit me for a few minutes and I gathered myself back together and thought that would be the worst of it.  I was kind or proud that I was holding it together–my poor kids have seen more tears lately than I’d like to admit.   As we drew closer and closer to Ft. Smith, I told my husband I’d like to go see Mom and Daddy.

I joke all the time that I need a camera crew to follow me around.  This holiday was no exception.  I could, quite seriously, have a very successful comedy show with nothing more than my ordinary life and the antics surrounding it.   We discussed whether the cemetery was even open on Thanksgiving.  Louis checked the National Cemetery website–it’s unclear.  I have him text a friend of mine who has relatives buried there.  She’s pretty certain it’s open, but we’re not 100% sure.  Louis continues to check various sources and discovers that the cemetery is supposed to be open “until dusk.”  Well, the sun was going to set at 5:06.   At this time it was 4:30, and we were coming into the edge of Ft. Smith.

We make a flying trip down Rogers Avenue to the cemetery and find the gates are, indeed, open.  We try to find the nearest Harp’s or Wal-Mart and have to drive pretty much right back to the interstate to find an open place with flowers.  I run into Wal-Mart, find a lovely little simple bouquet of flowers, and proceed to checkout.  I rush back out into our waiting SUV and we drive like maniacs back to the cemetery.  We’re so thankful as it’s 5:03 and the gates are still open.  We just have to make it inside, and we can finish our mission.  Red light.  The longest red light I’ve seen in a while.    The light finally changes and we zoom down the last two blocks and sail into the gate of the cemetery.  Whew!

Lucas had looked up the location of the grave site when we had been there the previous week (I hadn’t been since Mom’s funeral).  He was able to direct us around the cemetery to the appropriate section, and we all climb out of the vehicle and head toward the small marker indicating where the headstone will be placed in another week or two.   Tears already start to flow as I approach the fresh dirt, and I can hardly breathe anymore as I hand the flowers to Brennan and ask him to place them for me.  Lucas takes a picture and offers me his shoulder.  I buried my head and cried for several minutes, so thankful that I have my husband and my children.  So thankful that the cemetery was open.  So thankful that we could find flowers and that the last red light wasn’t any longer.

After what felt like forever, the sun began to set and I finally regained my composure.  It was getting colder, and I told my family it was time to go.  Louis offered to drive and we walked back and loaded up.  As we headed for the exit, Louis and I both erupted into laughter as we discovered that the cemetery has a side exit (which was the closest to where we were parked), and. . . there is no gate!  We remarked how funny my parents would have found this whole thing–us rushing around town like lunatics and then discovering that we could have taken all night and it wouldn’t have mattered because the side gate is always “open.”

So, Thanksgiving 2017 is now past us.  I’m sad, and I missed my parents much more than I would have thought.  We didn’t always spend the holidays together, so I thought this would just feel like one of those years.  Instead I missed them both, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called that phone number and caught myself just before it rings.  That’s probably the loneliest feeling I’ve experienced yet in my life.

I’m thankful for another year of my life and my beautiful family.  I’m thankful that neither of my parents suffered much in their last days, and I’m so exceptionally thankful that we were all home just a few days before Daddy died.  I honestly believe that he knew the end of coming and he was holding on to see us all again.  I’m thankful that I had such a beautiful farm to call home and that I was able to live the life I did and learn the lessons I did growing up.  They were sometimes hard or painful, and sometimes I couldn’t see the lesson in the moment, but I’m still thankful for all the things I’ve learned or gained from those experiences.  Most of all, though, I’m thankful for my sisters and my wonderful husband and children, who have let me lean on them and shared in the grief.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that our little “adventure” gave you a little chuckle.  Like Daddy always used to say, “just as soon laugh as cry about it.”

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Pistachio Fruit Salad

It’s the silly things that make you cry, sometimes.  I’ve been amazed at the strength I’ve had in some situations lately, but how others I simply fall apart when someone hugs me or tells me some incredible story about one of my parents.

We started cleaning out the house this weekend.  I had done a little bit last weekend, but really not much more than straightening a few things.  This weekend we really got into it and went through a bunch of papers, sorted through items, started cleaning up the shed and uncovering all kinds of lost treasures.

I had this grand plan (because we Type A people are like that) of moving from one end of the house to the other, and we did a little bit of that, but we also were like three lost children wandering around from thing to thing at times, not quite knowing what to touch next.  It probably doesn’t help that Mom and Daddy bought that house six months before I was born, so there are almost 47 years collected there.  That’s a LOT of stuff!  They lived in the country, too, so the house was also well-shared with a few mice.  Mice like country houses.  There’s lots of paper, between wrappings, shelf liners and the like to keep them busy for quite some time.  In the country that you raise your truck hood to keep the rats out (and even that doesn’t work for long).  Daddy had even come to putting moth balls in a bag under the hood to drive them away.  They’re quite destructive creatures and they’re hard to exterminate.  Anyway. . .

As we cleaned and worked our way through the kitchen in particular, we were amused to find things way up in the top of the kitchen cabinet which obviously hadn’t been seen in years.  My dad was 6’6″, and my mom was about 5’4″ so she had no hope of seeing the things Daddy would put way up high, anyway.  Apparently as he was doing more cooking, more things got moved to the top shelf, and that’s how we found old chocolate chips, old cake mixes, a long-lost bag of marshmallows, and a crazy old bottle of some kind of peppermint oil I can’t remember them having in my life.  Daddy had a way of not realizing that you weren’t nearly as tall, and couldn’t possibly see whatever he had moved up higher than you.

When we girls were all together the weekend before Daddy died, we were cleaning out Mom’s things.  We had taken a break and were sitting out on the front porch talking about this pistachio fruit salad Mom made every holiday.  My older sister is hosting Thanksgiving this year, and I offered to make this family treat.  The plan was that I would pick my dad up the day before Thanksgiving to take him with me, so we would all get to enjoy it and that way Mom would still be with us on Thanksgiving.  Daddy passed away the following Wednesday, four days later, but that has only strengthened my resolve that the Pistachio Fruit Salad is a MUST for this holiday.

My sisters and I discussed the various ingredients of the recipe and what we could remember went into it.  I looked it up on the internet and found something fairly close to it, and we agreed it would do.  I had decided I would use Mom’s bowl from the house for it, completing the experience for all of us.   As we were cleaning the house Saturday, I found the bowl, and put it to the side so I could ensure I knew where it was.

Sunday, my older sister was going through the recipe drawer, and we were laughing at all the crazy scraps of paper with our little, block hand-writing or early cursive as we were all learning to appreciate recipes and keeping them together.  Then a stack where they had been written on notebook paper (which apparently the mice prefer over magazine paper), and the middles of the pages had been nibbled away.  They looked like scribbled swiss cheese or some type of bizarre paper snowflakes, and we laughed about how great those recipes must have been–if only we could see the rest of them.   When Mina hit the next piece of paper and said “oh, my” tears welled up in her eyes.  She walked toward me and said she would make a copy but wanted me to have the original.  I couldn’t imagine what she was about to hand me.

All three of us were crying as we passed around the piece of paper where, neatly written in Mom’s handwriting, was the recipe to the Pistachio salad.   You forget (or you think you do, anyway) your mom’s writing.  But looking at that paper, her handwriting was so distinctive I could pick it out of 100 people.  It was almost like Mom knew we were wanting to make that salad and told the mice to leave that particular piece of paper alone.  It was perfectly preserved in her handwriting, and we all marveled over it.  And now I can truly make HER pistachio salad for Thanksgiving.  Forget that nonsense I found on the internet–THIS is what we are having!

We’ve got a lot left to do, and we have already accomplished a lot.  We’ve been amazed at some of the old dishes or glasses we ran across, and had fun relaying the stories of them.  Mina found an old coffee mug she and Daddy used to “fight” over because it had a windmill on the side and it would supposedly “cool” their coffee.   We found the old sugar container which used to be on the table, and I searched through the cabinet until I found the matching dish for it.    It’s funny how many items were associated with a particular function.  There was one pitcher which was for nothing but tea when I was growing up (it, by the way, had a spoon we used to measure out the perfect amount of sugar–we haven’t located it yet).  The “french fry” bowl.  The small pate’ bowls my mom kept for us to give the cat ice cream (he wasn’t spoiled or anything), specific serving platters or small dishes which had this use or that over the years.  We found things Mom used for canning, various pieces of cookware or serving items we had used in years long gone now.

There is still plenty to do, and we’re bound to unearth more interesting items as we go, but for now I’ve got my sights set on Thursday.  A fun night away with my family, Thanksgiving dinner with my sister’s family, and. . . pistachio fruit salad.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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One Month Later

It’s been a month.  You can put any inflection on that you’d like.  A month has passed, and boy has it been a doozy.

Mom passed at 6:10 on June 29.  I think that’s etched into my brain.  Two days later Daddy was so sick he ended up spending the better part of a week in the hospital (nothing life-threatening, and he’s much better).  I can’t decide if that was a welcome distraction or more overwhelming activity than my poor brain was prepared to handle.  At any rate, a month has passed, and now I sit to finish the tasks I’ve put off far too long: thank you cards, and cleaning up things.

As I go through the soft green bag the funeral home provided us, I’m flooded with all those emotions again.  I re-read the obituary, which was so thoughtfully written by my brother-in-law, Les.  I read the cards and the book the funeral home put together with  the signatures of all those people who hugged me that day–many were a blur at the moment.  I sat and reflected on the people I know I saw, but who never signed the book.  I know they were there, and all those hugs meant so much that day.  I appreciate that the funeral home, so well-versed in this process, had the forethought to capture things in the book for me: the flowers on the casket, the geneaology of her family, etc.,  I know this is their business, but it’s comforting to know that no detail was forgotten, and how they appreciate what you’ll need/want to know later.

My mom and I weren’t as close as I would have liked.    I thought a lot about that as I prepared something to say that day.  I wasn’t sure I would be able to speak–I had actually thrown away what I had prepared, but decided en route to Ft. Smith that I really would regret if I didn’t at least try.  I talked about Mom coming from Belgium, and how that must have been quite the adjustment for her when she found herself on a farm in Booneville, AR.  I told a story about when the FHA person came to review the items on the farm and asked Mom about the “bush hog” and she confidently replied that Daddy had slaughtered it a few months before.    As I wrote the words to speak that day, I thought a lot about how I had always thought of myself as Daddy’s girl, but that I had to acknowledge that I have some of my best traits from my mother, which I suspect is why we didn’t always see eye to eye.  I had gained my tenacity, my willingness to fight for what I think is right, and my strong will from her.   I was able to deliver my words with relatively strong composure, only “losing it” a time or two.

I think regardless of the relationship you have with someone, you have a hole when they’re gone.  I feel for Daddy, and his missing her after 48 years together.  I tread rather lightly when I speak of her, not sure if I’m saying the right thing or not.  We’re able to share fun stories about her and laugh about things, but I see that faraway look in his eye.  My pain is nothing compared to his, I know.  I know each day will get better, and at least she didn’t have to suffer long-term, and all of those comforting things you’re supposed to think when someone is gone.

I have been truly blessed by people who have reached out to me in the past month with wonderful texts, e-mails, cards, letters, flowers, and other gifts.  Thank you all for helping me get through this time in my life.  I never imagined I would be losing a parent in my 40s.  Mom wasn’t in great health, and I knew her time with us was preciously short, but it still hits you in ways you can’t comprehend at that moment, and your parents are such fixtures in your life that it’s hard to think about not having them.   Thank you all for loving me and sharing in my grief.


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She’s gone

She’s gone.  It’s too real and too unreal at the same time.

Mom had been sick for quite some time.  COPD sufferers deal with their illness for years sometimes, and some days were definitely worse for Mom than others.  I had just had lunch with my older sister and my parents a couple of weeks before.  Mom was struggling more and more, and she could no longer walk much at all.   She used a wheelchair any time we were out like that, and she was prone to falling if she did try to walk much.  Still, I never imagined what Wednesday and Thursday held for my family.

Late Wednesday evening, Louis and I were with friends when my dad called.  I didn’t take the call right when he called, but listened to my voicemail a few minutes later and could hear the panic in his voice “Mom can’t breathe.  I need your help.”  I called him back to find that the ambulance was there and they were discussing transport.  They’re over two hours away from me, so these kinds of things have an extra anxiety attached to them.

The next several hours were consumed with communicating with my sisters, grabbing a few things to throw in a bag, grabbing my laptop and picking up my sister and driving.  Brennan, my youngest son, wanted to go with us.  He’s my Daddy’s buddy, and he inherently understood that Daddy needed him.  I was so proud of how mature he was through the whole ordeal.

I promised Daddy I’d be there just as soon as I could.   I had suggested that they go to Ft. Smith, and Daddy called a few minutes after we were underway and said they were going to Waldron instead (closer to home).  That didn’t give me a good feeling about the whole thing.

As we got close to the farm, Daddy called and said they were transferring her to Ft. Smith.  A quick regroup with my other sister, and we were all heading to Ft. Smith.  When we arrived, I found my dad in the “family room” the hospital provided us.  We waited for what felt like an eternity and when the doctor finally came in, he explained that Mom was very sick and they had nearly lost her in each ambulance trip.

By 5:30 a.m., they realized nothing they were doing was helping, and we began discussion about comfort care and hospice.  The doctor who talked to Daddy was so gentle and kind, and he did his best to explain everything and help us understand what she was going through.  We proceeded with comfort care, and by 6:10, she was gone.

The things that go through your mind in a situation like that are nothing short of incredible.  I had remarkable moments of clarity, where I jumped into my professional mode and ensured all the records were in order, straightened out their insurance details (which were provided incorrectly by the first hospital), and made sure all the contact information was accurate.   We all had moments where we would burst into tears for a few minutes and kind of regroup.  As I knew Mom was gone, I was walking down the hall, crying so hard I was hyperventilating, and some sweet nurse stopped in the hallway and wrapped her arms around me, tried to get me to sit down on a nearby gurney, and asked what she could do.  I felt it was important that I try to keep it together to help Daddy through, but it was also important that I just not completely lose it for myself, too.  I regained my composure and went outside to be with my dad.

I took Daddy to the cemetery while my older sister and her husband went to the funeral home.   Daddy wanted them both buried at the Veteran’s Cemetery together, and the representative there was so kind and helpful, giving us the details we needed, and even escorting Daddy out the back door of the 100+ year old building they’re in, so he wouldn’t have to walk so far to the truck.  We went to meet my sister and her husband at the funeral home, and my brother-in-law Les came out and explained what they had already done.   Of all the kindness shown to us that day, and all the generous, wonderful people placed in our path, Les made the biggest impact on me, and I am so grateful he was there.

Mom and Daddy didn’t have anything pre-arranged, and those are difficult decisions to make on a good day.   Les took control of the situation, not letting anyone talk us into anything, and finally telling the representative “you’re going to show these two ladies whatever caskets you have and they’re going to pick what they want for their mother.”  It was so nice to have someone just take over and take such a difficult burden off our shoulders.  Sales people are still sales people right to the very end.  Les helped us walk through the room and shared in our conversations, helping make logical sense (if that’s even possible) out of all the choices and the hows and whys you choose one casket over another.  Les wrote the obituary, and helped my sister take care of all those paperwork details.   Even worse, it was his birthday, and he was sitting there with us in Ft. Smith, dealing with all of this.  He was so kind and thoughtful, and gentle about it.  He understood that we were numb and couldn’t really even communicate about it all yet.

After everything was arranged, Daddy wanted to go home.  I tried to get him to go back to the hotel with me (we had gotten a room in the middle of the night to try to get him to rest), but he refused.  He wanted to be in his own house.  I can appreciate that.  After he left, I checked in with my husband before heading to the hotel, and I sat in the Sparks Hospital parking lot and I cried.  I ugly cried.  I spoke in crazy, incoherent sentences and I recounted the details of the bizarre surreal night we had just experienced.  I told him that while we knew Mom was sick and her days were likely numbered, I didn’t imagine it would happen like that, but that I was grateful she didn’t suffer and it went quickly with no pain.  I told him that the nurses who took care of us were nothing short of saintly, and that one had even found my sister an extra gurney and put it in my mom’s ER room, so she could be close-by while my other sister and I tried to get Daddy to rest.  I told him about the nurse who hugged me in the hallway, and the countless people at the front desk who knew we were hurting, and did their best to make us comfortable.  I told him about the front desk person at the hotel, who realized we were leaving about 45 minutes after checking in to go back to the hospital, and she arranged things so we could come back later and still have our rooms.  I told him about the wonderful doctors who had been so kind and gentle with all of us, and I cried.  I cried until I thought I couldn’t cry anymore.    My husband and my younger sister’s husband were both on the way with my other son to meet us in Ft. Smith.   At first I had told him not to come.  Now I was so grateful he’d be with me soon I could barely breathe.

I finally got my wits back about me and drove to the hotel and got back into my room.  I had just gone to sleep when they arrived, and after my sister and her husband left, I tried to sleep.  Sleep wouldn’t find me anymore, though.  Try as I might, I couldn’t drift back off.  I finally sat up crying, and told my husband to take me home.  I thankfully had something in my bag to knock me out, and he put me in my truck and drove me home.

The afternoon was filled with texts and Facebook messages, phone calls and my wonderful loving friends who were all checking in on me.  I honestly barely remember talking to any of them.  By the time Louis put me in the truck, I was operating on about 30 hours with no sleep (save the 15 minute “nap” I had right before they arrived).  I was delirious and sad and a million other things I can’t quite articulate.

I will tell you that my relationship with my mom wasn’t as close and wonderful as some people have.  We argued and I know I drove her crazy.  I’d be lying if I told you she didn’t drive me a little crazy too.    I’m strong-willed and my tenacity was something she both loved and disliked.  She could be strongly critical of me when she disagreed with me, and she could hold onto something you did 10 years ago like it was yesterday.  I’ve come to realize, thinking about all of this, that many of those traits of mine which drove her crazy are the sames ones I got primarily from her.

Watching my Daddy’s heart break over and over again is probably the hardest part of all of this for me.  I can rationalize that Mom was sick, and that now she’s not sick anymore.  She doesn’t have to feel badly, or struggle breathing, or not be able to walk or any of that.  I can think about it that way and know that it had to happen.  But, she and Daddy were married 48 years.  I know she could push his buttons sometimes too, but as we talked the other day and he said through his tears that he had lost his soulmate and he didn’t know how he would get along without her, I appreciated that the love they shared was truly fantastic.

I will truly miss her.


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When you have to go. . .

It occurred to me, as I was relaying this story to my sister today, that it really was pretty funny and you might enjoy hearing it as well.  I have a way of getting myself into some crazy situations.  This is certainly no exception.

I’m working remotely this week, and have traveled to Austin with my younger sister in her car.  We began our trip Sunday and drove to Dallas.  As is normal when I drive, about 1/3 of the trip was made in the rain.  That was fine, except that it was really raining when we arrived in Dallas.  I got up Monday morning and worked a bit and then we began our trip to Austin, and it rained the majority of that trip as well.   We found a lovely little Italian place in Waco shortly after the rain stopped, had a nice lunch, and then got back on the road.  We were only back on the interstate about 10 minutes when we encountered a complete standstill in traffic (something folks in Austin tell me is quite common on I-35 near Waco).  As we moved to a stop, I made the observation that had I known this was coming, I could have gotten onto the service road just to our right.  By the time I finished that comment, they were completely stopped as well.

After sitting there about 45 minutes, I came to the realization that I couldn’t sit there much longer.  My mom friends can attest, that having a couple of kids makes you a slave to your bladder.  When you have to go, good grief you have to go! I kept trying to tell myself it was in my head, I’m a tough girl and I can wait another 30 minutes, and just about anything else I thought would help.  Alas, my bladder is apparently either hearing impaired or just really doesn’t care (I’m going with the latter).

After I sit a few more minutes, I decide this is pretty dire, and I announce to my sister that I’m going to go on the other side of the trucks on the service road and see if there’s room in the ditch for me to, ahem, relieve the situation.  After she looks at me like I’m nuts, she finally realizes I’m actually serious.  I proceed to walk across the interstate, and across the small dirt ditch and up onto the service road.  The “small ditch” isn’t really even a ditch, but I discover very quickly that the dirt in it is a thick gooey mud now after the rain and I fear for a moment that I’m not only going to wet myself as I walk across the interstate shoulder, but that I’m going to end up barefoot too.

I finally free my shoe and make my way up onto the service road and approach one of the idling trucks.  The trucker cautiously rolls his window down and sizes me up.  I explain my situation to him and tell him that I’m going to just go off the side of the road into the ditch next to his truck, and he obliges, explaining that he understands my predicament.   I thank him and walk around the side of his truck and realize that the roadway is curved in such a perfect way that I will be giving everyone in the next 50 cars quite a show.  As I walk back around the truck, the trucker stops and me I explain.  He suggests that I go between his tractor and trailer where no one can see me, and explains how I can accomplish this.  A few minutes later, and feeling much better, I thank the trucker and prepare to head back across the interstate when a lady in a waiting car stops me.  “Did you do what I think you did?” she asked.  Oh my goodness.  Are we really going to get into it, because I dare you at this point.  I nodded and said “yes ma’am.”  She nods toward the truck, “think he’d let me do it too?”  I almost laughed as I told her that he was very nice and had explained that we were still over a mile away from the accident and storm clouds are gathering again, so if she was going to go, she needed to act.

I start back across the interstate and my sister is watching from her car as I re-engage in the shallow ditch and nearly lose my shoe again.  As I approach the car she gets me another pair of tennis shoes from her trunk so that I don’t get her car dirty.  I change shoes and we spent the next 90 minutes waiting to move.

So, that’s the first part of my adventure.  The bag with the shoes in it has been sitting in our bathroom in the hotel room, waiting on me to do something about it.  I wanted to clean the shoes, but frankly was busy working yesterday and never got down to ask anyone at the desk about it.   I went downstairs at lunch today to eat and told the girl at the front desk that our bathtub was draining slowly, and asked as well if they had a large sink I could use to wash these shoes and rid them of their mud.  She explains that after she has the maintenance man fix our slow-draining tub, I can just use it.

Now, normally I wouldn’t have given in, and honestly I did try to talk her into letting me use some kind of a cleaning sink or something more equipped for this type of job, but she insisted it would be fine and the mud didn’t seem to be too bad. I really just thought I’d be rinsing my shoes off.  Yeah, well. . .

After the maintenance man situates our tub this afternoon, I take a break from working to deal with my shoes.  As I get one shoe almost cleaned, I realize that the drain is backing up again, and I still have a shoe to go.  I get shoe one clean (mostly), and get the tub to drain, so I set about working on shoe number two.  About half way through that shoe, my other sister calls and I start laughing hysterically at my predicament.  The tub is full of mud and water and I’ve splattered mud all over the side of the tub.   As I’m speaking with her, I’m working on the drain, flushing the tub, and trying desperately to finish my job.   Apparently the mud was thicker than I thought it was, and after finally clogging up the tub so much that it wouldn’t drain at all anymore, I ended up going back to the front desk, talking to the same girl and explaining that after following her advice, I needed the maintenance man to come and fix the tub again.

I don’t know what she said to the poor guy, but she looked pretty embarrassed when she was on the radio asking him to come back to the room.  He came and took care of it a second time, never said a word, and at least now I have clean shoes.   All this because we had to sit for over two hours on the interstate and I had to pee!

I bet all you did today was listen to election coverage, huh?  My life is just too exciting for words some days!  I wonder what kind of trouble I can stir up tomorrow.


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It’s already back to school?

I’m always a little amazed when I haven’t written in a while and I see what flows out onto the page.  Sometimes I don’t write because I don’t have the time (well, really, that’s the most of it), and sometimes I’m trying to work out in my head what I really want to say.  Sometimes I start out thinking “I’m going to write about this experience,” and as the words flow my thought processes take me to some completely different place.  I don’t title my writing until I’m finished, thinking that the title will reveal itself at the end.  Often that’s how it works.

I didn’t realize that I had gone quite this long without writing anything this time.  I’ve missed it, and I’ve thought of all the things I would like to blog about as things have happened, but I don’t think I really engaged on how many things I’ve been through in the past couple of months.

The last I wrote, we were in Florida.  We had gone there so Brennan could attend a summer camp his aunt had arranged for him.  Louis and I worked from the hotel room and we had a really good time overall.  Brennan loved his camp, and our setup in the hotel room meant I was able to get a lot of things accomplished in a work day and, despite a couple of minor computer hiccups, the whole thing went off without a hitch.

We were home for four days, and then we left for Washington DC with our Boy Scout troop.  Four days.  I don’t think I’ve ever had four shorter days in my life.  Four days to try to catch up with everything at the office.  Four days to do laundry, change out what we had packed for a completely different type of trip, and get the vehicle ready to go again.  Four days to try to keep the house in the pristine condition my house sitter had left it.  To top it all off, I was sick again.  I had been sick early in May, and I guess with all the stress of the end of May and traveling had brought me down again.    Thankfully I didn’t get full-blown sick again until we got home from DC.

I was just visiting with a friend and we were talking about our summers and how fast the time had flown.  It seems like just yesterday we were picking the boys up for the last day at school and getting ready for their first travel of the summer, and now we go back to school in two short days.   I appreciate how fleeting that time is, and how many things we’ve crammed into not even 90 days.  Two pretty major trips, a funeral, and a system conversion at work.  Yeah, I think that’s quite enough for 90 days.

My friend remarked that she hadn’t done much this summer (she doesn’t have kids at home), and she was tired just listening to everything we had done.  After I detailed where we had been, I was a bit tired too.  🙂

Here’s to a calmer fall.


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Traveling IT

We’re traveling this week, which always presents some unique challenges to be able to work.   Several of my clients have remote systems to which I connect to perform various tasks, and it’s always frustrating when something that worked fine last week suddenly doesn’t work anymore.

Cue my IT problem solver husband, who probably wishes I had involved him a little sooner in the process this afternoon.  After I was on the phone for 20 minutes with the IT support team at the client’s office and they needed to “modify a couple of simple settings” on my computer, I was at least smart enough to realize I was in over my head when the guy changed one too many things and kicked himself off my connection.

I decided to turn it over the expert, who was none too pleased that this guy had been messing around with the settings on my computer.  It took a good 30 minutes to untangle what he did, and another 30 to get the original problem fixed.   All I had wanted to do was log on to the network and enter some data.  That sounds simple enough, right?

As I watched all their pings and commands on the screen, and watched my husband furiously typing and clicking on the keyboard I was faced with how truly ill-equipped most of us are in the computer world.  Even working on it every day like I do, and correcting equipment connection problems and the things I do with ease, I still realize that I really don’t know jack when it comes to connecting computers and networks and making all of that work with ease.

I’ve listened to him on at least four calls in the past two days where he has helped one person or another solve a connection problem, a printer problem, a software issue.  He says that it’s similar to what it’s been like all these years listening to me talk about my work, but I think he’s being modest.  His stuff is WAY harder, and it transcends industries.

I don’t pay my IT guy nearly enough, although he does get to live with me so that’s probably payment enough on it’s own, right?

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Kennedy Space Center

You know how you have those moments which put other parts of your life into perspective?  Yeah, the ones which make you reflect later and realize that you received a message on several different levels.

In the IMAX theater at the Kennedy Space Center Sunday the film began to roll,  touching on America’s historical space program and plans for the future, and I watched Challenger explode again.  My heart sank all over again.  All those feelings of that day came back again.  The despair and the confusion, the hurt and the questions.  Then the triumph, the successes, the hope for the future.  I had chills down my arms.  We walked out of the room, and my husband and I discussed with our children the two shuttle explosions, and how those had happened in our lives, and we remembered them vividly.  The kids didn’t get it to the level we did, and I can now appreciate those people who talk about major life events that don’t mean as much to me.

From there we boarded buses which took us around the complex.  We saw the launch platforms and the gigantic crawlers they use to move the equipment.  They move at an amazing ONE MPH.  When they’re empty, they “race back” as the tour guide put it, at TWO mph.  She said it took 150 gallons of diesel per mile, and those things had to move three miles to the launch pad, and then back again.   Talk about commitment!

We were taken to the Saturn V rocket center where there is a full version of a Saturn V on display.  It’s magnificent to see it in person and see how big it really is.  There is the LM module and the command module.  As my boys stood there, bright-eyed, we discussed how these are the things we had seen in Apollo 13, and they marveled at the tiny space these men negotiated in the fight for their lives.  They have seen the movie, and we’ve talked about the teamwork it took to get those men home.  Seeing the spaces they actually occupied made us all appreciate it more.

There seemed to be mini-movies everywhere we went, detailing one portion or another of the program or challenges to be overcome.  My favorite was the Saturn V center’s program on the space race and how it started out so rough for us.  There were many failures, and a little progress, and then other setbacks.  We eventually got there, and then set our sights a little higher and then a little higher still.  John F. Kennedy said “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

From there we moved into a room designed to look like the command center from 1968 on the day of that first successful manned launch, all the computers in the front and the display boards high on the wall.  A countdown clock ran on the wall just above the computers, and audio clips of that fateful day began to play.  As the events fell into the timeline, the larger display computer marked off each in turn.  As the timer was running down the various computer stations checking in would illuminate.  When the time for ignition start came, the whole room began to vibrate.  The excitement was palpable.  Everyone looked around and when the rocket took off, the window covers behind us actually began to bang, as I’m certain they did on each one of those launches.  Did the men in that room beam with pride each time?  Did they stand in amazement at the wonder of the whole thing each time?  I can’t imagine that would ever get old.

Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my, ahem, older age.  Maybe I’m much more in to the science of it all that I ever realized.  I  told one of our friends that went with us “it makes you proud to be an American.”  I thought about that after I said it.  I’ve never not been proud to be an American, but something about those moments of triumph make you puff your chest out a bit and walk a little taller.

As the narrator said, it was all of us who accomplished something that day.  I wasn’t born until after the event, and reading about it in school simply couldn’t convey what I felt sitting in that room.    I really felt a part of it, and it was so cool to time travel for a few minutes and feel that sense of accomplishment and excitement.

My friend and I discussed what it must have been like to live in Titusville and around Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral at the time.  Everything was new an interesting.  Every rocket or shuttle launch was a new adventure, and the whole world got to ride along.  I can envision the people in the area all coming out to see it, and the influx of people who must have come from miles to be able to witness it all.

It gives me an appreciation that nothing we do worth doing is easy.  It’s not easy being married, or having children, but especially not when you’re doing something that so clearly changed the world as those men did.  All the math and computer development (okay, so the math might have stopped me right there!); all the creativity and problem solving; all the dreaming that tomorrow could be better and bigger.  One thing that really struck me was the continuing determination that lives lost in the space program were not forgotten, and that it only made the people following want to try harder to prove that it’s a noble cause and that those lives lost really meant something.

I don’t want to turn this into some big political thing–please don’t misunderstand.  I just think that lately we’ve taken our eyes off the prize, and we’re more focused on beating each other up with rhetoric and antagonism than we are with actually setting a goal and not stopping until we get there.    I hate that, because there are still so many things to do.

I have friends who have said to me that they don’t know how I could ever have started my own company or how I can work so hard to make something of it.  I think hearing John F. Kennedy’s words put that into perspective for me.  “We do it because it’s hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we’re willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”    The perspective I gained this weekend is that my life is not just about raising my kids, developing my relationship with my husband, building my business.  It’s about creating my legacy, and making that legacy something incredible.  I may not have accomplished something as incredible as a space program, but I can certainly make an impact in my own industry, in my own town, in my own life.

I think the Kennedy Space Center is one of the coolest things my family has done.  If you haven’t, make a point of doing it.  If you have, remember the things you saw there, and share it with others.  That place is truly something for which we should be proud.  I wish we could get back to that world.  Pull up your fellow man, encourage him and help him and both of you can build something tremendous.    Do it because it’s hard.  Do it because you CAN.

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Houston, we have a problem

We all got up Tuesday morning, knowing we had a lot ahead of us.  Helen had passed away late Monday night, and we knew we would need to go to the funeral home and the church and potentially several other places.

We woke the kids and told them.  I had been very honest with them the previous day and explained what hospice care was, and what that ultimately meant.  I had promised them they could go to the hospital and see their grandmother if they wanted, or they could choose to remember her back in the house giving them cookies from the cookie jar (one of her favorite things to do).  They both only pondered for a moment before making their decision:  no hospital visit.  As we explained to them, they were obviously upset, but we talked about how Grandma didn’t have to be confused or upset anymore, and we all agreed that was for the best for her.

The first appointment was for the funeral home.   We assumed we would spend an hour there, reaffirming everything in her pre-arranged plan and answering a few questions. When we started talking, the funeral home notified us they could not locate Helen’s burial policy.   I pulled up my records on my phone and provided them the information I had.

When we had moved them into the nursing home a couple of years earlier, Helen had two policies, and we were advised to liquidate one of them.  Sounds simple, right?  It was.  We called the company, they sent Louis a form, a few signatures and a notary later and the form was on its way back to them.  The policy was liquidated and we were on her way.  We didn’t have to worry because Helen had an irrevocable burial policy on which everything was prepaid.

I spent some time in the office of the funeral home, stepping through what had happened.  It appeared, at first, as though the insurance company cashed out the wrong policy.  As the events developed, though, we discovered that there TWO people with almost identical name, nearly the same birth date, who both used the same funeral home and insurance company for pre-arrangements.   All anyone could tell us is that there was no money in the burial policy, which now meant we were going to have to find a way to cover the cost of the funeral and all the related expenses.  Needless to say we were extremely anxious and frustrated.

It took two days and several phone calls with the involvement of multiple people, but we finally got down to the bottom of it.  When we liquidated the policy, the insurance company didn’t realize that it was on a different person, and allowed us to cash it out.  A year ago, that lady passed away, and they realized there was no money in her fund.  They did, however, see there was money in the fund we left.  Again, not realizing it was two different people, they just opted to use that fund instead.  It’s taken some work, but we finally got everybody on the same page and got the funding issue worked out.

I’m here to tell you, if you want to see four adult children nearly lose their minds over something, tell them the burial policy they were confident would cover all the expenses doesn’t actually have any money in it.

Now that it’s all over, we can laugh about it.  I can tell you that on Tuesday, we were far from laughing.  By the time I got off the phone with the people at the various places, everyone was tired of talking to me, and I was sick to my stomach.  It’s bad enough to have made a mistake, but to go through stuff like this as a grieving family is ridiculous.

Yesterday was much more peaceful and moved at a much easier pace as we visited with the church and the nursing home and finalized arrangements.  We were able to laugh as we shared stories and made decisions.  You could see the relief across everyone’s face as we received the news mid-morning that everything was handled.

And, of course, when I asked the funeral home how many times they had gone through something like this, the response was “never.”  The guy who owns the funeral home has done this over 30 years.  Nothing like this has ever happened.  Ever.  Of course it would be us.

As yesterday wound down and we completed the last few errands we had, I was grateful we weren’t doing this alone.   I am grateful we’ve been able to work it all out, and that we all get along.  I’m grateful that I’m an OCD freak who keeps EVERYthing.  I’m grateful that despite me being borderline rude, the funeral home personnel understood and continued to help us pursue the right course of action, I’m grateful that I could take this one burden off my husband and sister-in-law.

Today is a much more relaxed day.  We have a couple of last-minute things we want to handle, and tonight is the Visitation and Rosary.  We have received such an outpouring of love and support from friends and relatives, and I’m glad we could all be together for this.  If there’s anything I’ve learned about the week, it’s to have my ducks in a row so hopefully my kids won’t have to go through anything like this when we pass away.


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