What A Day To Feel Alive

I have an “invisible” chronic disease called Sarcoidosis (Sark-oyd-osis) for at least 21 years.Here is link to help explain the disease: https://www.stopsarcoidosis.org/awareness/what-is-sarcoidosis/   I believe it started with my gall bladder. I had a bag full of stones, first in the family. Upon a pre-op x-ray, my lymph nodes were swollen. Then it began. Differential diagnoses freaked out my family (my Grandfather died from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and me. It came back Sarcoidosis, no one knew what that meant. I went to a medical library and did my research. At that time, the medical books said the lifetime prognosis after diagnosis was 20 years.
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Birches

I freaked out. I started reassessing what I wanted in life. Made major mistakes in men because I put myself out there trying to find a life. The first couple years were somewhat uneventful. I had an episode of not being able to breathe, but the rude Pulmonologist said it was no big deal. I wasn’t dead yet.
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Cuckoo

I found the man I wanted in my life forever. A former Paramedic/Fireman, now a nursing home administrator. He understood the medical issues I had and we discussed the possibilities. We moved fast and moved together to his new job. So, of course, symptoms began. In no specific order, I had sinus surgery,a kidney stone, lung issues, etc. Between then and now, there were four more kidney stones, a bone marrow biopsy (without medication the disease prohibits red blood cell production), Thyroid surgery (not related to sarcoid), skin issues, joint issues, pain, etc. We got married in 2005; the happiest day of my life. I wasn’t dead yet.
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All the time, I still had that 20-year prognosis ticking away in my head. Realistically, I knew that there had probably been new medications and treatments that might make that old prognosis invalid; but I couldn’t get it out of my head. Finally, that 20-year date came along. I still wasn’t dead yet! I celebrated by getting two tattoos. They symbolized to me not to worry, to take time to enjoy the small things in life, and to be still and listen to God.I was peaceful. I had made it to that time limit in my head and now it was my life!
Last year, I was also diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Toward the end of the year, we started arguing, a lot. Most people think our bickering is arguing, but that is just how we banter. This was real arguing. We worked together in our clock shop. My Husband opened a clock shop about 12 years ago and I came on to learn how to restore clock movements about six or seven years ago. He started saying my skills were lacking and saying I was cutting corners. I was, of course, furious. Then, he decided I was to distracted by my bench TV and/or my phone. Again, I was furious at the accusations. If you’ve met us, you know neither one of us like to back down. It was getting bad. Then at the beginning of this year, my hands started to have occasional tremors and my back pain was really bad. I went to physical therapy and we treated it with Ibuprofen, muscle relaxers and Tylenol 3, only if i needed them. I was referred to a neurologist and waited for the appointment..
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In the meantime,  I started talking loudly in my sleep as soon as I hit the pillow. That progressed into mouth movements and slamming my teeth together while clawing the sheets and writing in air. My Husband started wearing earplugs, but it progressed into us having to sleep in separate rooms and having to wear a mouthguard after breaking a couple of teeth. Then there is the tinnitus, auditory hallucinations, dry mouth, dry eyes, the tremors, sleeping in 90 minute increments, memory loss, confusion and dizziness. I couldn’t work any longer. Once the symptoms progressed, we both realized I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do, but the memory loss and confusion was the problem. The arguments stopped and we have been closer than ever. After having MRIs of my brain and cervical spine, the results were that there was scarring on several areas of my brain and my spinal cord.
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Anna Supergirl and The Man of Steel

These new symptoms will not go away. The brain doesn’t work that way. So now, we are waiting to have a visit with a Rheumatologist, a spinal tap, a test to see how my eyes and brain communicate, and a test to see how my limbs and brain communicate. My Neurologist is also looking for a Neurosarc Specialist. I am learning to live this new existence. Our marriage is strong. I can’t imagine doing this without him or even being without him. He is my rock, my love, my other half. He is so kind.  He was so shook up when we got the results of the MRIs. He was scared. We want to be able to spend as much time enjoying each other as possible.
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For Sara – Gma, Gpa & Michael in Heaven

I try not to give into the negative energy of depression. I have done this for 21 years and I’m not dead yet, but it’s closer. I don’t want to spend what time I am blessed with being sad, bitter and sorry for myself. I want to laugh, be there for others and enjoy life with my Husband until I can’t do that anymore. One odd thing is that I hadn’t painted for about 30 years. My last painting back then was so bad, I stopped painting. I have a lot of work to do, but I can paint now better than I ever imagined! I have embedded some of them in this post. Painting, creating gives me such a sense of control in a situation where I have very little right now. Reaching out and interpreting some of the beauty I see feels like I am contributing to something.

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On the Line

My Husband wants to travel together, to be able to work on the road and enjoy the freedom, the beauty of the country, let me soak up the amazingly beautiful world and experiences before I can’t or I pass on the road one day. He has never been happier than when we took a road trip last year. He fell in love with it. My family were campers, so I knew what an amazing experience traveling, meeting people, communing with nature, and the feeling of freedom that comes with it. We had a clock conference in Las Vegas in October. We packed up our SUV, had self-inflatable mats, zero gravity chairs, coolers, computer (to work on the road), and other essentials.  We took three days to drive to Phoenix to visit with his family a few days. We visited my Cousin in Tucson, visited with family and saw Sedona twice before we left for our conference. Las Vegas was the least favorite part of the trip.

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Tucson

On our way back home, we camped all but one night. We went to the Hoover Dam and then to the Grand Canyon. We camped there a night, sat by the fire and watched meteors. The next morning, we entertained two Bucks in our campsite. We took in the majesty of the Canyon and wished we could have stayed longer. Our next night was a the Barringer Meteor Crater RV Park. There we found a gem of a park. The people were so friendly, they let us park our SUV next to the communal fire ring and plug in chargers. They had full bathrooms with showers, a communal room with laundry, tv, book exchange, free coffee and games. Everything was clean, neat and secure. We will be going back! The Crater experience was amazing! We were so overwhelmed by the size, depth and history of the Crater.
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Barringer Meteor Crater

Our next adventure was the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. Amazing! We spent that night at the Holbrook KOA. I’m not sure we want to stay in crowded campgrounds often, but we met one of our neighbors and had a great evening. We got our obligatory picture on the corner of Winslow, Arizona. We stayed in a hotel in Albuquerque for a change of pace. We visited the Rattlesnake Museum and made our wrong turn in honor of Bugs Bunny. Onto our next destination; Roswell, New Mexico!
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And he said they wouldn’t let me hold the construction stop sign!

We absolutely fell in love with New Mexico! We had been under the impression that it was just rocky desert. That is a great deal of it, but there is a gracefulness to the desert in New Mexico. The light seems different. The stretches of road through large ranches, the cattle, the solid blue skies, and the genuineness of the people make it so special. We didn’t know what to expect in Roswell. We speculated that it might be a cheesy town loaded with alien stuff. To our pleasant surprise, it is an attractive town that has a few attractive alien decorations. We stayed for two nights at Bottomless Lake State Park, 12 miles from town. It was beautiful. Maybe not in the traditional way, but the breathtaking vista, the lake and the endless night sky, crowned by the creaminess of the Milky Way. We saw meteors every night we camped. Laughing at trying to outsmart the raccoon gang, walking under the stars, and the calmness of the nights restores your soul. We visited the sites in Roswell the next day. We were so impressed with the Museum and its research library. There is an active artist community alive and well in Roswell. We will be back!
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View from our campsite at Bottomless Lake State Park. Roswell, New Mexico.

Sorry this post is so long, but it feels cathartic to put all this in words. Do I wish things were different? Not really. Life is too short to live with regrets. Too short to live with bitterness, what ifs, and any other negativity to drag down your soul. I am not perfect. I get discouraged once in a while, but I look at my Husband, remember the blessings I have in my life, take a deep breath and smile. I don’t worry so much about me, I am in the hands of God and comfortable there. I worry about those around me. My Husband is so worried about me and what could happen. He wants to have the plans we have to happen as soon as possible. He has had it demonstrated to him that this disease can have devastating effects and they can happen overnight. I worry how he will feel if I am gone before those plans happen. I worry about my family and how they will be after I am gone. I try not to worry, but life does intrude.
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The road less traveled

I guess this all came up in my mind because of a song I heard the other day. I have heard it many times before, but the lyrics hit me differently this time.

I’ve been a poor man and I’ve been a king
I’ve had my life and the world on a string
I’ve traveled many roads but I’m so far from done

I have been hopeless and I’ve had my faith
Some things I’ve lost and some things I have saved
All of these moments showed me the way that I’ve gone

Good to know, there’s so much to live for

Oh, oh-oh, oh, oh-oh
Oh-oh, what a day to feel alive
Oh, oh-oh, oh, oh-oh
Oh-oh, what a day to feel alive

It touched me. Forgive, live in the now, tell people what you think, tell people you love them, be genuine, be grateful for what you have, don’t covet, don’t regret, but most of all; Love. Love God, yourself, your partner, others, and what time you are given.
Day to feel alive by Jake Reese   https://youtu.be/PtJYe4TqxJg

Lilacs and thunder

I want to start off thanking my friends and family that held me in their minds, hearts, and prayers today. Mom passed away on Easter of this year and Mother’s Day is here. I decided early on to bow out of going with my Husband to celebrate Mother’s Day and his Father’s Birthday with his family. I didn’t want to take away from the joy of their day and I also didn’t want anyone walking on eggshells around me today. I turned down a lovely dinner invitation as well. I didn’t know how I would feel today. Would I be solemn? Would I be breaking down and crying most of the day? What would I feel today?

I have to say that yesterday was much harder than today. A good friend asked my Husband to substitute for a member of their pool team at a tournament yesterday and wanted me to come as well. I enjoy going and I think she wanted to make sure I was doing something yesterday. Maybe I broke because I was so tired from my medication. Maybe it was the anticipation of Mother’s Day and not knowing how I was going to feel or do and I was not going to have my Husband with me. He, of course, took the brunt of the crying and yelling, but sometimes, dog gone it, he sure seems to ask for it! I planned to do some sewing, some laundry, color my hair, some worthless TV watching, a good deal of nothing. Keep it simple.

ImageMy Husband was leaving early to see his family, so I puttered around while he was getting ready and decided to paint my nails. I painted my toes a dark color with a gold accent nail, and tipped my fingers in OPI Miss Piggy. That always makes me smile. After he left, I made some breakfast and settled in for a couple of episodes of Bridezillas. I know it’s an awful show, but it’s mindless and makes me remember what a great bride I was for our wedding! 🙂 I was feeling pretty good, so I decided to change the bed linen for the summer sheets. I opened all the windows, turned on the fans and loved the feeling of the gentle air through the house. I noticed the wonderful smell and feel of the flannel sheets as they came out of the dryer, held them, closed my eyes, and let myself be taken away by the freshness. Simple.

A theme emerged for me today. Enjoy the simple luxuries today. The ones we seem to miss day to day in our busy lives. So I set out to enjoy as many of the simple things I loved today. I felt like that would honor my Mom. She was at heart, a simple woman. Not that she was not intelligent by any means, but she enjoyed the simple things in life. She loved to grow things more than anything else. Her garden was her pride and joy and she could grow anything. Anything but blueberries, she said. Growing up, we had a garden of about a half acre all put together. We planted 150 tomato plants per year, potatoes, green beans, onions, radishes, lettuce, corn, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, and those were just the vegetables. We had a huge strawberry patch, rhubarb, grapes, blackberries, cherries, apples, and pears. My best memories are of the smells of the cherry blossoms, lilacs, the gentle caress of the breezes across the fields, and the sounds of the crickets and the leaves of the trees in the night. 

I made a gallon of brewed tea and poured myself a pint Ball jar of iced tea. My favorite glass. We canned so much growing up that there were always canning jars around and when you took a jar outside, you had a lid to keep the bugs out. There is nothing like a jar of iced tea on a hot day. This day was heating up. I closed the windows and turned on the air conditioning. I have a previous post publicly proclaiming my love for the inventor of the air conditioning system. I worked on a sewing project that I have in the works and instead of throwing a torn flannel sheet away, I have decided to try to make a night shirt out of it. The flannel is so soft and it will feel wonderful. 

Then something wonderful happened to my day. The rain. I looked around and the lilacs my Husband had gathered for me were wilting and with a storm coming, the bushes next door might get battered. I went out to the shop and got the pruning shears and cut some fresh lilacs in the gentle rain. I held them up to my face and breathed the amazing fragrance of the blooms as deeply as I could. They sit in a place where I walk by and can enjoy them for the next few days. Simple.Image

I sat on the porch with my jar of tea, watching the rain, reveling in the tumbling thunder. I decided to do something I haven’t done in years. I got out of my comfy seat, climbed down from the porch and walked out in the rain. The cold drops falling on me brought me back to my childhood, spinning with my arms out in the rain. Walking though puddles and jumping the deep ones. I miss my Mom, but it would be selfish of me to feel sad that she isn’t here. If she had survived the event that took her life, she would be unable to live at home with my Sister, and have been so unhappy that she would have wished for death. I know she happier than we could ever imagine, she is at her best health, and at her finest age and fitness. I will see her again and she will be the Mom that I want to visit with, not the woman-child wrapped in fears from the past, wrapped in a fragile husk of flesh in which we all are burdened. So, all in all, it was one of the best days ever.

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Time Springs Forward

It’s that time of year again where we humans try to manipulate time to benefit our own agendas. If you haven’t heard yet, at 2 a.m. Sunday (really Saturday overnight), March 9, you are instructed to turn your clocks forward one hour. That depends, of course, on if the part of the country you reside follows the time change guidelines. I expect to see lights come on in neighborhoods all over Illinois at 2 a.m. that night/morning as people rise at the government-designated time to physically change their clocks. What is that you say? Don’t hold my breath? Well, I have to admit, even though we own and operate Willy’s Tick-Tock Clock Shop, we won’t be up then either!

I don’t believe it matters if we move the hands of the clocks forward or backward, because time itself will always move forward no matter how hard we try to manipulate it. As humans, we are used to managing and manipulating nature to our liking. We clear forests, plow up grasslands, tunnel through mountains, and dam rivers to accommodate our wants and needs. We’ve built windmills to harvest the power of the wind, water mills to use the power of water, mined the earth, power our homes with oil, gas, and coal, supplement power with solar panels, geothermal heat,  and even split atoms for both the welfare and detriment to man. The one thing we really haven’t been able to manipulate is time.

We are fascinated by time. It is an enigmatic entity. Entity? What is it really? You can’t touch it, hear, smell, taste, or see it, but it moves on and we are all affected by it. From the moment we are conceived, the clock starts ticking for us. There are some people that seem to have their whole lives mapped out from the moment they come out of the womb. Then, there are those of us that have reached the ripe old age of 50 and still don’t know what they want to do when they grow up. Not to be trite, but, where does the time go?

I look around in my own life and wonder that same thing. When I was in grade school, we had an assignment that I remember very well. We were talking about history and time. We were supposed to take the year 2000 (wow!) and figure out how old we would be that year. I did the math and figured out I would be 37 years old. Thirty-seven years old? Oh. My. God. I couldn’t imagine being 37 years old. I didn’t even think my parents were that old! It seemed like school years lasted for years and summer was but a weekend. Remember the agony of waiting for, well, anything when you were a kid? “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” Time was not our friend, or so we thought.

After my 21st year, time seemed to speed up. Juggling school, work, and a social life became the new challenge. I didn’t feel like things were taking forever, now I had to try to keep up as things were moving faster. I didn’t meet my Husband until later in life, so consequently, I wasn’t chasing little ones around during this time. I had a career, roommates, friends, family, and time seemed to just slip by doing other things. I fought against time by not acknowledging it..

I met my Husband and time changed again. Time was so short when I was with him and workdays were forever until I could be with him again. Maybe that’s why we say love makes us feel young again. Coincidentally, we met in the year 2000. We moved to Chenoa. I worked as a secretary and Will was a nursing home administrator. Will’s Grandfather collected clocks and tinkered with them, he had downsized his collection and Will had a couple of his clocks. He wanted to keep them in good running order and have the movements restored. They meant a lot to him. He remembered watching his Grandfather make the case of one we have in our house. We searched a long time to find someone and when we did, they complained about working on them. Will decided to learn how to work on clocks, especially if he was going to collect them. So he did. He trained with a professional, read every book on the subject he could find, watched videos, and spent hours upon hours training. It seemed like forever!

He found out that a lot of other people also had timepieces they needed restored. Hence, the birth of Willy’s Tick-Tock Clock Shop. At first, he just did restorations, but then we needed to expand to sales as well. We remodeled the other half of the building into a showroom for new clocks. We worked long hours and with help from friends and family, finally finished the project. Next came the website. We had people wanting to see clocks, but there is a limited amount of space and too many clocks to be able to house them all. Will spent more long hours of researching and developing the website. Clock descriptions, pictures, videos, music clips, shopping cart features and a lot of faith went into www.willygoodclocks.com. In the meantime, I have been learning to restore clock movements as well.

I come from starting out as an art major and finally getting my degree in psychology. May I tell you that no matter how gently you speak, or how often you curse at it, a cuckoo clock will still need to have all the adjustments made properly before it will run correctly. Trust me. The restoration process is time consuming and not for the faint of heart. The movement is disassembled, we check all the parts for wear, polish the pivots (end of gears that come through the brass plates) to a mirror finish, replace all the bushings (holes where the pivots come through) that are not perfectly round, broach the new bushings to fit perfectly, run the movement through a cleaning system, reassemble the movement, oil, and test the clock. This is a continuing learning experience for me, but I have come a long way. There is great satisfaction in taking something might be 100 years old and giving it new life again, while preserving it’s beauty and value.

I look back and it seems like we started the business just yesterday, but it has been about 10 years. It’s like looking at children and how fast they grow. It just amazes me how time goes so fast watching our nieces and nephews grow up. Our oldest nephew is 22 now. It seems like I was just holding him my arms watching him follow my bright blue gloves. That’s how I got my family nickname, Aunt Bleu (french spelling please). It made my heart melt when I got to cuddle with our oldest niece the other day. She is 17, but still wants to curl up next to her Aunt. The 11-year old wants to take over the clock shop when we retire and during visits, wants to “handle” the customers. The seven year-old still wants to be a pirate princess, and we just celebrated our youngest nephew’s 1st birthday. Love makes us feel young and children make us feel old!

Passing time makes us sentimental. Remembering things that happened in the past fondly. We attach those feelings to objects, pictures, jewelry, and yes, clocks. Our business’ foundation is built on sentimental emotions. Will started the business because he felt a closeness to the clock his Grandfather built. You can tell when people bring in a clock the real value of that timepiece. Sometimes they bring it in swaddled like a baby; sometimes, they bring it in and tell us how they remember hearing it tick and chime growing up; and we have had widowers come in with a clock they want fixed because it was their spouse’s favorite piece and they think of them every time it chimes. We strive to honor those emotions, those memories, not just because we get paid to do it, but because we would want our memories honored in that same way.

I don’t think I have answered the question about what time is, either socially or scientifically. I don’t know that I, or anyone ever really will answer that, but what I do know is that we should be mindful of how we spend this fleeting time that we are gifted.

“Time is like a river. You cannot touch the water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment of life.” by an anonymous USMC Veteran

Wuve, twue wuve

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It is February! We all know what that means, Valentine’s Day. Actually, it is St. Valentine’s Day. According to the Catholic Church, St. Valentine was a priest that was aiding, abetting, and marrying Christians during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. In the year 269, he was arrested for assisting Christians and held at the Emperor’s pleasure. He apparently tried to convert the Emperor and for that was beaten with clubs, stoned, and beheaded. Pope Gelasius  marked the remembrance of St. Valentine’s martyrdom as February 14th in the year 496.

So here we are today and how do we honor someone that gave their life to help others that were being persecuted for their beliefs? Do most of us even have that kind of love to give out to others? Bruno Mars would die for you, but would you die for him? How deep is a love that is requited with candy hearts, chocolate (I’m not saying not to give me chocolate. Just making a point here folks, don’t get carried away.), a dinner at a nice enough restaurant, or some flowers. Gestures are a nice way to demonstrate affection, but the marks of real love are small and cumulative.

Don’t tell my Husband, but I am rethinking the whole card thing. I always want at least a card to mark Valentine’s Day, my birthday and our anniversary. I am starting to believe that society has trained us to want those things as proof that our significant other has not taken us for granted. That they still remember and acknowledge those moments in time that are milestones for us as humans and as a couple.

Perhaps it would mean more to tell someone how much they mean to you on those days and share the day with you, rather than picking through cards that have generic sayings in them. What would I really like instead of a card on an essentially Hallmark driven day? I would love for my Husband to come in with some of my favorite flowers, freshly cut from the neighbors lilac bush. Oh, that is without prompting. We are still working on that one!

I don’t need specified holidays to know my Husband loves me. I know it every day. I wasn’t feeling good today and went in and laid down on the bed in the afternoon. He came in to check and see if I was alright. I know it when he tries to cop a feel as I get into the shower, curl my hair, handle a sharp knife, lift a boiling pot of water, and etc. I know it when he lets me take his arm when I am tired or when it might be slick. I know it when he refills my coffee in the morning. I know it when he volunteers to turn off the Xbox and watch a documentary about the Amish with me. I am very lucky to have a man that loves me. We are lucky to have each other.

We met by happenstance, but our being together was by a group of determined forces. We were both working in human services. He was the Administrator of a larger facility, and I, was a director of a program for community and residential services in the same town. I had begun holding networking meetings for agencies in several counties once a month. He came with the Director of Nursing (DON) for his facility. We were introduced and neither of us thought anything of it. However, his DON (and boss’ wife) decided then and there that we were going to be together. The scheming began.

My roommate worked for the same company and was sent home by the DON to tell me about this amazing man. The stories of his greatness made me laugh and ask where the bodies were buried! I was also informed that at the next meeting he would be asking me to lunch and I needed to go. I scoffed, but figured that it would just be an hour out of a day. I found out later that the DON had dropped a hint that he should take me for lunch. He had no idea of the scheme.

That next meeting, he came to the meeting. I kept looking at him and thinking how stoic he was and what was I going to do with that? I looked down and saw that he had Spacejam socks on. For those of you that are too young, Spacejam was an animated movie with Michael Jordan and the Warner Brothers characters. I loved Spacejam. Yes, I am a cartoon girl. Maybe, I thought, there was at least a sense of humor. Well, he asked me to lunch for the next Wednesday. We went to lunch. It was over two hours and we were almost inseparable after that. She was right and we acknowledged her at our wedding. He also wore the Spacejam socks with his tuxedo.

What happened to change my mind? I actually let him be him, not what I thought he was going to be. He is a wonderful soul, caring, loving and intelligent. He is strong, soft, brave, and my balance. I could not be more proud to walk beside this man who walks beside me. Even when I cringed the other night when he was doing laundry and we went to the neighbors’ house with him in plaid fleece pants and a plaid work shirt, I would not trade him for anyone. I want our love story to continue and never end.

This is my St. Valentine’s Day card for my Husband. I don’t know if he will read this, he doesn’t really like to read my blog. But maybe I will just open it up for him sometime around Valentine’s Day.

Think about if you would die for someone.

 

http://youtu.be/SR6iYWJxHqs  Grenade by Bruno Mars

How Daddy Got Kicked Out of Anne Frank’s House

Remember that old adage, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’? My brother proved that during his time in the Air Force, stationed in Germany. He’s going to kill me for posting this, but I have been telling him he needs his own blog. If he won’t do it, I will do it for him! Isn’t that what siblings are for after all?

A couple of things you should know before you read this: our family is not descended from quiet people and my brother is about 6′ 5″. Now, you may proceed.

It was a long time ago in the city of Amsterdam where I was on a mini-vacation during my USAF European tour of duty. I was with my good friend Dominic Mascis, a short, scrappy, mouthy character which made good company to keep in such an exotic city. We were part of a tour group that cost a fixed price to visit several attractions around Amsterdam. Some historic, and some less so (it is also the trip in which I may have eaten dog meat, but I’ll save that for a later story).

One of the tour stops was at the world-renown home of Anne Frank. Anne Frank was the young girl who was hidden from the Nazis along with her family and others for an extended period of time in the attic of a house. You can refresh your knowledge of the events elsewhere because I dare not belittle their importance by including them in this terribly embarrassing admission.

Prior to arriving to the house Dominic and I took an alternate route that included many small taverns with the consumption of many adult beverages. Needless to say we were feeling mighty fine by the time we rounded the corner to see the front of the historic landmark.

As we did so we could not help but notice our tour group was not there, yet perhaps four tour buses had just pulled up. At that instant, I saw more Asian people in one place than I had ever seen in my entire life. They poured out of the buses in rivers of racial stereotypes. Dominic could not help his laughter which only grew to uncontrolled bellowing as we were overtaken and I was nipple-deep in black hair. It was like Gulliver’s island.

Our humor having been activated already, we walked in with our new tour group. Going through the house proper, then into the hidden living spaces above the second floors. All the while being propelled by a constant flow of people. I lost Dominic a few times, and I must have seemed like a giant parting Asian people yelling his name like as if he was drowning.

Finally at the climax of the tour, the centerpiece in the large living room on the first floor was a 1/6 scale model of the house with all hidden rooms included. By this time Dominic and I had tried to keep our composure in this solemn place, but I had seen something that sent me into an uncontrollably sarcastic exclamation. Something so tacky, so out-of place…. the museum had a 1/6 scale model of Anne Frank… AND USED A BARBIE DOLL TO REPRESENT ANNE FRANK.

Ken was there too. As a matter of fact, there were several Kens. All dressed to the hilt in Nazi SS uniforms. Normally, I would have sighed and allowed the river of black hair to carry me out the door. But I fought against the tide and screamed “DOMINIC! IT’S ANNE FRANK’S MALIBU DREAM HOUSE!!!!” Dominic instantly erupted in howling laughter. “AND THERE’S LITTLE NAZI KEN! IT’S A LITTLE GIRL’S DREAM!” At that point our gutteral laughter and tomfoolery caught the attention of museum staff.

The Asian folks ignored the ugly, disrespectful Americans. Immediately we were escorted out of the building and to the sidewalk where our legs ceased to cooperate due to the insane cackles that wretched free of our reddened faces. What a humiliating experience.

And that, kids, is how daddy got kicked out of Anne Frank’s house.

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It looks as if they have removed the offending dolls now.

I love you my brother!

A Christmas Story

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“Every time you do a good deed you shine the light a little farther into the dark. And the thing is, when you’re gone that light is going to keep shining on, pushing the shadows back.” Charles de Lint

It’s that time of year again. The fall has settled in and giving way to a cold winter. The leaves have turned and given up their hold to be swept across the landscape. The pumpkins are gone, costumes put away and thoughts are heading toward family gatherings and gifts. Most of us look forward to the old traditions we have grown up anticipating, the Christmas tree, gathering around the TV to watch Christmas specials and old movies. There have been many versions of the Christmas Carol, but I got to be a part of a real life Christmas story that I am just now ready to tell. It doesn’t really have an end yet, and hopefully it won’t end.

A few years ago, I developed a friendship with a couple that shared a hobby of mine. They owned a store and operated a website devoted to candy and cake supplies. I had messed about with decorating cakes for years and for our wedding, I was going to make a faux cake and then we would serve sheet cakes. I turned to them for advice and developed a friendship. I would go over and help out with some basic data entry in my free time if they needed some help and got to know them pretty well. Over the years, they offered me a job in their expanding business, but we had a growing business of our own and I didn’t want to jeopardize the relationship. 

Kent and I became quite close. His partner, Andrew, told me that Kent had never really gotten that close to females before and thought a lot of me. I was touched. I noticed that Kent seemed to not be feeling very well for a while and he finally told me that he had been HIV positive for a long while and now had AIDS. He went in and out of the hospital several times. He knew what his fate was and opened up more and more about his past and what he wanted in his last days. I went one day to visit him and took him a book, “The Shack”. I don’t know if he read it, but he had such a love/hate relationship with God, I thought if he read it, it would be good for him. 

I believe in God and also know there is an evil being that exists as well. You can see it’s influence everywhere. My friend was raised by an evil man that wore the cloth of a holy man. Growing up watching the hypocrisy, knowing that when the door closes, the public face comes off and the real monster appears. Trying to fit in, marrying, having a child and then having it all stripped away when he had the courage to stand up and be true to himself. That small seed of love that God must have planted was still there and wanting to grow. We talked about God and how God and religion sometimes have little to do with one another. He asked me to pray for him. I still do.

Don’t get me wrong, Kent was not perfect. He gave it as good as he got it. He would take on a whole town if he thought it was right, or they were disrespectful of he and his partner. He would send several hundred dollars frequently to a local charity until he found out that the person in charge of that charity was the same person that had led a ‘secret’ campaign to keep his partner from being elected to a public board. They would go on Christmas Eve around town and deposit extra supplies to random houses as gifts. I still have to laugh when I remember the stories about some of the phone calls Kent took. I used to tell him that he was the last person that should be answering the phone because he had absolutely no customer service skills once someone started being snippy! He stole my Estrogen Packed Battle Ax nickname and probably used it on several unsuspecting complaint callers!

The Christmas before he died, we visited him on one of his hospital stays. We brought him a little pre-lit Christmas tree for his room. He loved Christmas. A few weeks later, I got a call from him that he was sending Andrew over with some money for me to disperse to someone needy as we saw fit. He said he knew that we would use the money for anyone, not just certain people. He just asked for receipts. I was floored when I opened the envelope and there was over a thousand dollars! I felt a great responsibility in this task.

 God knows what he is doing. Just after having the money put into my hands, we received a call from a food pantry user saying her kids were coming to visit with her over Thanksgiving and all she had was some bread and a roll of sausage. She hadn’t gotten on the Thanksgiving list because she didn’t know they were coming and didn’t want to take from someone else’s holiday.  Ginny is an outsider. She is loud, nervous, talks a blue streak, and most people think she has a mental illness. I don’t know for sure about that, but she had a hard life and is still full of love and generosity for others. She would come to the pantry to get food, help do whatever she could do there and even donate back what little money she had to the pantry. I called Kent and told him about her. He told me to give her the best Thanksgivng she’s ever seen.

 This is where it became fun and humbling for me. I called Ginny and said “We’re going shopping”. I picked her up and we went to the store. She kept thinking my Husband and I were funding this even though I told her an anonymous person donated the money. Turkey, dressing, pies, rolls, yams, veggies, anything I could get in the cart! I even threw in a ham for her freezer for Christmas dinner. She was in tears and trying to get me to put things back. She could make her family dinner. I got to know more about Ginny that night. She doesn’t get to see her children and grandchildren often and has led a rough life and a lot of people have taken advantage of her. Her health isn’t good and her sole companion at the time, a small dog, had recently passed away. I helped her carry our bounty up to her small apartment and saw her devotional materials and her love of butterflies. 

 I reported back to Kent and told him of her gratitude and of her heart. He asked me if she had a Christmas tree. I said she did not. He then told me to use the rest of the money to bring her Christmas. Wow. I know some of you may think that the money could have gone to help several different people, but for Ginny, this was life changing. I called her up again and told her we had more shopping to do and we decided on an evening to go shopping.  She got in my truck and was crying, I let her go for a moment and then told her “There’s no crying in shopping! Let’s go!”

We picked out an artificial tree, so she could use it again. She picked out some sparkling butterflies, I added five more. She picked out some decorations, I doubled it! She finally seemed like she was having fun. We bought presents for her kids, grandkids, neighbors, and friends. She didn’t want anything for herself. This was her gift. We finally got it all up to her apartment and she gave me one of many precious hugs.

I reported back to Kent and he cried as I told him of her joy and reactions. She wanted to thank him so badly, but he didn’t want anyone to know it was him that had done this wonderful, generous thing. That was one of the last times I spoke with him before he passed away. Andrew called us in the middle of the night to let us know he was gone. The hospital Doctor was very nice and I made sure I closed Kent’s eyes before Andrew went in for his last goodbyes. He had seen all he was going to see on this earth and what he was seeing then was more beautiful than he could have imagined.

Ginny stopped by the house soon after the holidays to tell us how her holidays went. She brought a card with a long note inside for Kent with pictures of people. She told me the pictures were of people she gave presents to and dispersed her Christmas decorations and food she didn’t use. At first, I was a bit taken aback that she would give away what Kent had so generously given her. Then she told me of each thing she had given, who she gave it to and why. The she gave me one of her glittery butterflies as a keepsake to remember her by. She said that this experience had changed her and like the butterfly, she will never be the same. She was dedicating her life to what God wanted her to do, to give to others, to not serve herself, but always others. She wept as if she had lost a loved one when she heard of Kent’s passing. She still prays for him, even without knowing his name, daily.

Ginny has gone on to do exactly what she said she would do. For me she is like John the Baptist in the wilderness. She threw herself out there, she gave most of her belongings away, tried to reconnect with a sister. That sister used her and nearly trapped her in the house for the disability monies. She was living in her car in downtown Chicago. I tried to take her in with us. She would not hear of it. God will take care of her. The only thing I could get her to take was a jar of peanut butter. She left me with her Grandmother’s vase for safekeeping filled with white flowers and a glittery butterfly. She stopped by again not too long ago. She looks better than I have seen her in the last few years. She said the peanut butter saved her life. She has a job three days a week in the city (where she sleeps in her car) and spends the other days at her Mother’s house. 

She calls us her blessings from God, her Angels. I think she is my Angel, teaching me what faith really can be and how to live it. Kent’s gift taught me that good deeds live on beyond the moment, grow and flourish with love, time, and faith.

That’s the story I think about now at Christmas when I look at the glittery butterflies we now put on our trees. 

Ken Norton and Life Lessons

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There has been too much death in my life the last two weeks. A childhood friend, distant cousin, a friendly face from my youth, a friend’s Grandmother, and now Ken Norton. Almost everyone will ask, “Ken Norton?”. How does he fit into that list of people that touched my life. Well, I’ll tell you.

As most stories do, it starts even before I was born (because it all ultimately leads to me)! My Dad was a musician. He played country music and was a local celebrity. His dream was to make it big on the Nashville scene. I’m not terribly clear on the actual timeline of events, but Mom and Dad were married in 1955 and moved around a bit after that. Dad’s Martin guitar is a 1956 model, so I am assuming that he, Mom, and the Martin traveled down to Nashville in around 1956 or so. He made an appearance on the Ralph Emery Radio Show, was backstage at the Grand Old Opry (the original one) and met Roy Acuff, and many others I can’t remember. There are pictures in albums at home that tell that story. Dad recorded several 45s for Nashville Records.

He recorded a song he wrote “Bright Lights Uptown”. Long story short, he lost the rights to it, it was published under the name Cowboy Copas on a posthumous album, the lawyer wound up in jail, the rights were purchased by a music conglomerate, it is still on lists as one of Honky Tonk’s best songs, and can be purchased mp3 on almost any sales site. Just like a country song. Because of that experience, he and Mom hosted country stars in their home when they came to Arthur, Illinois for the fair. Yep, Arthur. Yes, Amish, buggies, corn, etc. Apparently at the time, it was a hopping fair for country singers. Dotty West was at the house and in fact, Ferlin Husky was perfecting “Wings of a Dove” in their shower.

We heard these stories every once in a while. Almost every time they told the stories, someone would ask, “What were they like?”. The reply from Mom and Dad was always “Just like everybody else”. That was one thing that was instilled in me (I can’t speak for my siblings) was that no one is better or worse than us, don’t put famous people on a pedestal and don’t look down on those with less than you. Treat everyone you meet with respect.

I believe it was Dad’s first by-pass surgery (yes, first we are the poster children for heart disease). Living in Central Illinois, the premiere hospital for heart care was in Springfield. Dad was admitted, we, the family were shown the video of the surgery that was planned for Dad, and then the waiting began. We said our goodbyes, and went to the surgical waiting room to wait to hear how the surgery went. The room was fairly full, and there were rumors of someone famous being there with us. We heard Ken Norton in the room waiting for his Father to come out of surgery.

He wasn’t hard to miss, because I had seen his picture. He seemed big at the time, but probably because he was so muscular. He was 6′ 3″ and 220 pounds in his prime. My Dad was 6′ 5″ and about the same weight, but more belly. I’m not really intimidated by size coming from a tall family. What I remember most about him was how fast he put away a giant bag of green grapes!  He must have had previous visits to hospitals, because he seemed prepared. You can tell when a family is used to waiting in hospitals. We come in like gypsies, hauling in food, drinks, entertainment, and comfy clothes, knowing what waiting long hours requires. A couple of other things I also noticed were that no one tried to introduce themselves to him and he never asked for special privileges. We were all there for the same thing, we were all the same.

What he did do with his celebrity was to make his way around the floor in the days during his Dad’s and my Dad’s recovery and visit people. Introducing himself and encouraging people to get better. Sharing stories and laughs. He would send my parents Christmas cards for several years after that time and called more times that I know to check in with them to see how they were doing. I don’t know how many people he did that with, but that was a generous man with his most important gift. His time.

I only spoke with him briefly when he called to talk to Mom and Dad. I passed on the phone and listened to Mom and Dad both get on the phone and laugh with what you would have thought was an old friend. Rest in peace Mr. Norton.