Monday, August 13, 2012

Our Life in Plates

Today is the first day of school.  Last year I wrote about our back-to-school traditions, and the same things hold true this year.  One big change is that I usually shop all through the summer and squirrel away items that I find on sale.  This year, I hit Target at 8:36 pm and did a mad dash through the store before it closed at 9:00pm.  Probably not the best strategy.

Each year they get a stash of stuff, kind of like a mini-Christmas morning.  Workbooks and school supplies no longer raise their excitement levels, so I have to get a little more creative.

Before they woke up--

After they woke up--

Each year they also decorate a plate with their age, the year, their grade, and something they like at that particular time.  Here is a composite of their years.

John's plates

Travis - 2004-2007

Travis - 2008-2011

Harrison - 2004 - 2007

Harrison - 2008 - 2011

They are still working on this year's plates.  I'll post when I get around to actually mailing them in.  One time I forgot until the next year, and gave two plates as Christmas presents.

Gotta keep them from becoming too rigid, right?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Goodbye, Randy -- Revisited

This was another of my old Facebook notes, from 2009.


I had wondered where he had been. I hadn’t seen his truck for several weeks. So, when I came over that last hill on my way to church this morning, I was happy to see his truck in its same old place. Then I noticed one of those big flower arrangements you only see at cemeteries. It had a big banner on it that simply said “Randy”. And I started to cry.

I’m not really sure why, either. I have only known Randy as ‘the Peanut Guy’ for a couple of years. I had seen his truck parked in the same place for years—on the side of Highway 25 in Rankin County, right before you get to 471. We started stopping by every other Sunday (after payday, when I was most likely to still have a little money on hand) to buy our lunch for that day – a large bag of boiled peanuts. It was a drive around type of thing, so we weren’t ever there very long, just long enough to say what size bag we wanted and to pay our $5.

But, I never failed to drive away feeling a little lighter somehow. In that minute or two, Randy found a way to smile, make eye contact, speak, remember trivial details, and otherwise make us feel special. As we drove off, he always said, “Hey, you have a good day now, you hear?”. There were many Sundays that I had more of a real connection with Randy than I had at church that day. Not to mention that his peanuts were hands down consistently the best boiled peanuts I ever had.

That was really all I knew about Randy, until today. It turns out that two of his brothers were the ones who had brought his old red pickup truck out one last time. By the time I saw it, several people had brought flowers and people were steadily stopping by to pay their respects. I pulled in with my boys, and was greeted by one of Randy’s brothers. He was giving everyone who stopped by one last bag of peanuts that they had boiled for Randy’s customers. He asked if we had a couple of minutes to look at a photo display that they had put together of Randy. We absolutely did.

What we saw was an amazing insight into a man I barely knew. I still don’t know his last name, but I did learn some new things:
--Randy served in the military (Vietnam?) and was an absolute cutie in uniform.
--His gorgeous sister died less than a year ago.
--His brother’s voice is almost identical to his.
--He was a big time music promoter and one picture showed him at an outdoor venue with over 100,000 attendees, where he was introducing Van Halen, and later Aerosmith. There were numerous pictures of him with Rock legends.
--He was asked to move to New York in the early 80’s to become a main player in a new experiment called ‘music television’, but was convinced that it would be the downfall of music as he knew it. Since he had more money than he would ever need, he quit the business and never looked back.
--He had been selling peanuts out of the back of his truck in the same place for 11 years. I don’t know why – it obviously wasn’t for the money. Apparently he just wanted to brighten people’s day.
--His life blessed many people. This was evidenced by the many tokens that people left today, and by the comments we heard in the few minutes were visited with his family - people from different walks/places/backgrounds – all somehow touched by this unassuming man.

Well, I drove home and poured my last bag of peanuts into a bowl and settled down on the couch to begin watching the Saints whup up on the Giants. And you know what? These peanuts, so generously boiled and given out by Randy’s family, were OK, but they in no way matched what Randy used to make every week. And, somehow, this just seemed fitting.

Goodbye, Randy. I’ll miss you (and your peanuts).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

16 (+3) Random Things

My favorite flowers ever

Back when I first started using Facebook, there was a 5 minute fad going around called '16 Random Things'.  The idea was that everyone would make a list on a Facebook Note (remember those?) of 16 random facts about themselves without putting a lot of thought or analysis into it.  I read back over my list several days ago, and it made me smile--some out of the simpleness of the things I listed, and some out of my naivete.  I know I liked the things I learned from other folks' lists back then, and figured I would copy my old list on here now (with updated commentary in purple).

1. My favorite flowers in the world are the little white garlic flowers that grow everywhere in Mississippi in the spring. Many uninformed consider them to be weeds, but they are wrong. I hate spider lilies and any flower that has been spray painted blue.

2. I was a vegan for 7 years. I am still a vegetarian and do not eat white flour or white sugar. It is a health thing, not a hippie thing. Now we eat organic/free range meat and eggs.
3. Speaking of hippies, I generally feel much more welcome at Rainbow (organic grocery) than I do at church. Hmm...
4. I can pinpoint many 80's songs to the month they hit the top 40. However, I can't remember my kids names half the time. Make that the majority of the time now.  They are just all called by my dog's name or my little brother's name now.
5. I'm not a fan of the prosperity gospel or it "prophets". If it were true, my grandparents would not have been financially poor all of their lives. I'm just sayin'.  The prosperity gospel is the idea that God wants everyone to be rich and healthy, and if you just have enough faith (or give enough money), then you will have these things.  My grandparents taught me the meaning of faith, more than any of the 'name it and claim it' folks on TV.
6. I'm becoming a fan of adult alternative music. I have no idea what categorizes a song as such, but I like when that channel is on.
7. I have lived in 6 different places in 3 years. Have lived in 3 more places since then.
8. I am one of the least judgmental people I know in regards to past mistakes.
9. I think racism is horrible, and images or reports of it make me cry every time I see them. Every. Single. Time.
10. I love being around water (the nature kind), and see God everywhere around it. I want to go swimming at Dalewood in pre-hurricane force winds. I want a mini Viking funeral at Dalewood, too.  Dalewood is the lake/community I grew up in.  I did the hurricane swim last summer.  AWESOME.
11. I miss Allyce. My cousin, who was killed in a car wreck when we were both in college.  If I had a girl, her middle name would have been Allyce.
12. Gilmore Girls is my favorite all time TV show.  Still
13. I have been an adjunct college professor for 10 years. I love it and it keeps me sane. Well, theoretically anyway.  I have not been able to teach since my car wreck.  I no longer have the endurance or mental 'with it ness' to do it.  I was pretty darn good at it, though.
14. I never answer my phone and am very slow about returning calls or emails, if ever. I'm a pretty poor excuse of a friend/family member. At least I am aware of that fact, though. It's nothing personal.  Still
15. My favorite colors are red and yellow, and my favorite foods are cheese pizza and tater tots. I hate cooking now.
16. My lifelong dream has been to go on a Mediterranian cruise, with extended time in Greece.  Still

Dalewood - no hurricane force winds, but 3 hurricane force boys

And for good measure, I have added a few more.

17.  I was in a car wreck almost 3 years ago.  I broke both of my knees and a bone in my hand.  I will never have full function of my knees, and can only bend them halfway.  I thought this would be a defining life moment.  Until...

18.  My oldest son was diagnosed with cancer 6 months ago.  Now we are all very, very tired.

19.  I never thought I would embrace electronic books, but it is just becoming way too convenient to just do it.

I think that is about all.  For now, anyway.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Being Quiet

What do John Boy Walton and the Seth Rogan character on Freaks and Geeks have in common?

What about Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice)?

Johnny Carson, Meryl Streep, and Steve Martin?

All are either considered and/or self described introverts.

I did an informal Facebook poll this past week to see whether people consider me to be an introvert or an extrovert.  It included an interesting cross section of people from the many stages of life and places that I have lived.

The results were mixed.

I was not surprised.  I have moved around a lot, and have been a part of many different groups, and interact accordingly.  I like how my friend Carol described it--I am a very outgoing introvert.  Most people tend to think in very simple terms, such as introverts are quiet and shy, and extroverts are talkative and confident in group settings.  However, those ideas are stereotypical, and not necessarily reality based.  It basically boils down to how a person recharges their batteries, so to speak.  When a person is most tired or stressed out, do they regroup best by being alone, or by being around other people?  Using that definition, I would most definitely be an introvert.  A confident, social, love to speak in front of an audience, introvert.  It comes from a position of power, not of weakness or lack of self-confidence.

The general consensus is that if a person is quiet, or not very talkative in a group setting, then they are not the ones in control, or don't have the best ideas.  However, Susan Cain, in her book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking goes to great lengths to discuss introversion as a cultural, psychological, sociological, and personal phenomenon.  I love looking at things that way.  She shows how it is the particular insights of people who are quiet enough to study and articulate problems and circumstances that have the power to change things and make big things happen.  Unfortunately, our culture is designed to encourage and reward extroverts and their contributions, which may not necessarily be the most well thought out or beneficial for society.  The ramifications for this are also explored in detail.

One of the most interesting threads for me was the discussion of how churches are set up and geared almost exclusively toward extroverts.  One example--the 'meet and greet' time that is part of the worship service of churches all over.  I HATE this.  Absolutely hate it.  And it has nothing to do with being an introvert.  I just know that it makes all kinds of people uncomfortable, and gives them yet another reason to check out of church.  I mean, seriously, how does that make people feel comfortable and welcome?  If people want to talk to or 'visit with their neighbor', then they will make a point of doing on their own, not because someone in the front instructed everybody to do it at the specified time.

Quiet was an interesting book, and one that I think is of particular importance for people in organizational leadership.  Diverse voices may be quiet, but those voices are important nonetheless.

You can read from the first few pages of Quiet here.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah for review purposes.  No other compensation was received.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I Will Survive

I love music.  Lots of different kinds of music.

Especially 80's music.

For whatever reason, this song came to mind today, and I was able to very quickly find 3 different versions/interpretations of it.

This first one is by the group Mercy Me (of I Can Only Imagine tear-fest fame).  They have a really fun thing they put out every so often called the 'Cover Tune Grab Bag', where they play cover songs from days gone by.  They always look like they are having so much fun.  I think this is an early recording, but it made me laugh out loud this morning.

This next one is about homeschooling.  Some days, trying to survive is the best we can hope for.

And then, there is this one, possibly the most realistic of all--   :)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Danny and Annie (like Carl and Ellie)

A couple of years ago, after I was released from the rehab hospital following a car accident that broke both of my knees and a bone in my hand, I discovered a radio show on public radio that came on the one time of the week that I was ever alone--Sunday morning when everyone else was at church.  It is called On Being (formerly Speaking of Faith), and has the tagline line that it 'is an in-depth conversation about religion, meaning, ethics and ideas'.

I really liked listening to the broadcasts, which were part religion, part sociology, part philosophy, and part psychology.  Some of the segments were a little out there, but for the most part it was very soul healing for me to be able to tune in each week and listen in on what someone else had to say about their take on life.  Sometimes it was irrelevant, but always interesting.

Now, with Harrison being sick and not being able to get out very often except for doctor appointments, I find myself at home again on most Sunday mornings.  Yesterday, I was able to hear the broadcast called 'Remembering Mortality'.  The host interviewed a man named  Dr. Ira Byock , who was one of the first advocates for palliative and hospice care.  He was diagnosed with terminal cancer not too long ago, which added a whole new insight into end of life issues for him, including how important it is to make peace with your past if at all possible.  I jotted down a couple of quotes he said:

--"One person gets a diagnosis; a whole family gets an illness".

--"Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past"--quoting Lily Tomlin

The end of the broadcast included a recording of a couple as part of the StoryCorps project.  It was so sweet, and I almost made it through the entire story without tearing up.  Almost.  Well, today the onBeing Facebook page posted an animated version of their story.  I loved it and wanted to share it here.  It is about 5 minutes long.  Watch at your own risk, especially if you are wearing make-up.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Reflections on Easter and those Pink Vomit Buckets

Today is Easter, the one Sunday of the year that will have churches all over packed out with people in their pretty new clothes.  I tend to dress down as much as possible as a form of silent protest against the commercialism that this day has a tendency to reflect.  I guess I'm just a rebel that way.  I am most definitely dressed down this morning, wearing the same sweat pants, t-shirt and orthopedic shoes that I have had on since last night, which I guess is appropriate since I haven't had any sleep anyway.

Last night I pulled a rare all-nighter here at the hospital.  Usually my husband does those, but since he had to be at church before 6:00 this morning, we switched up a little.  We are now 5 days into this current course of chemo, and Harrison is feeling physically bad and mentally sad about being in the hospital for Easter.  This boy loves his God and he loves his church, and the whole injustice of this cancer thing is just driven further in on symbolic days like today.  He has missed very few church services in his life, and definitely none on Easter.  I haven't either, for that matter.
It is definitely surreal to be sitting here, listening to the sounds of the IV and the air conditioning vents and the baby next door that doesn't like being here, either.  Since I was already awake, I was able to watch the most beautiful sunrise.  I had Sandi Patty's song Was It a Morning Like This? running on a mental loop in my mind as I watched the subtle changes in the sky from the pull out bed, and was in my own little worship mode.

Then I heard a moan and a gag.

(For the uninitiated, a moan and a gag in this place means I have about 3 seconds to get up and get that pink bucket close enough to his mouth).

He doesn't really get sick too often during chemo, but it has happened enough now that we have a system and a routine to get through those next two or three minutes as quickly and as comfortably as possible.  Still, it isn't fun or peaceful for either one of us.  So, as we were in the middle of this morning's episode, I put the wet paper towels on his head and handed him tissues, and looked past his pale bald head out the same window I had just been peacefully looking out of just a couple of minutes earlier.  The sunrise was still just as beautiful, and God was still as good and loving, and the significance of Easter was still just as meaningful and prevalent in the middle of his dry heaves--maybe even more so.

I've always thought of that first Easter morning as so peaceful and so glorious and so beautiful, and in the grand scheme of things, it definitely was--in hindsight.  However, when those closest to Jesus woke up that morning, it was anything but that.  It was wretched and full of sorrow, guilt, and confusion.  One of those closest to him had already committed suicide for his part in it.  This morning, I couldn't help but think of the women in the Easter story.  The ones that were up at sunrise so they could go and take care of Jesus' body that was still covered in blood and dirt and sweat, and no telling what else.  And then when they got to the tomb, his body wasn't even there.  What a cruel shock that had to have been.  Of course, we know the rest of the story.  They did not.  Not yet, anyway.  All they knew was that they had a job to do, no matter how grimy or painful or stinky.

God reminded me that for today, this is my job, too.  Even though we won't be in a designated church building, we still get to worship.  Even though neither one of us is dressed nicely or scent free, we still get to worship.  Even though there will be no nice Easter meal for us, we still get to worship.  And even  though we are dealing with sickness and uncertainty, we still get to worship.  If our faith depended on easy living and smooth sailing, then we would be in a much tougher place right now.  I don't know what songs you sang in church today, or if you even went to church at all, but right now I have some old school tunes in my head:

My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame (including chemo or PET scans), but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
One Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.


Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim.
In the light of His glory and grace.

Just a Harrison footnote--
We have learned that when Harrison gets sick, it tends to follow a pattern, and we just work through it. This morning, though, about halfway through his usual progression, he suddenly stopped gagging and was done.  He looked up at me and weakly said, "Wow.  I just prayed and asked God to make it stop and it did".  Then he laid back down and has been asleep ever since.

That doesn't happen every time.  But that is where we are--accepting God's grace whenever and where ever we can find it.

You should try it sometime.  He's got plenty of that grace stuff for all of us.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Some Fridays are Gooder than Others

Today is Good Friday, the day that Christians recognize as the day Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross at the request of his fellow Jews.  It is a story that is a little difficult to place in the context of what the people involved must have been thinking or feeling at the time it happened.  People who celebrate this day now have the benefit of hindsight.  We know how it turned out.  None of those folks around then did know it, though.

I've been poking around the Internet today, looking for something that presents this story in a new way.  I decided on a presentation by the Skit Guys, who always do such a good job of putting stuff like this together.  This video is a little longer than usual--about 9 minutes--but if you have the time, it might just be  a good way to refocus on the meaning of the day.

Good Friday
Good Friday by the Skit Guys

Thursday, April 5, 2012

And I STILL miss Lorelai Gilmore

A quick newsfeed search this afternoon told me that last night was the series finale of the show One Tree Hill.  Since we are back in the hospital for a few days and I have hours of time to kill, I decided to find the episode online and watch it.

I first discovered OTH by accident, about 6 years ago now.  For some reason, I was flipping through the channels one night and caught most of an episode that was dealing with the aftermath of a high school student having released a video time capsule that no one thought they would ever see again.  As a result, one of the other students had brought a gun to school, fired some shots, and was holding some students hostage.  As a person who had worked with and taught teenagers for years, I was struck by the 'realness' of the episode.  I was sucked into their drama filled high school and felt something for those kids.

It turned out that this episode was probably the defining episode of the series.  It ended with the shooter committing suicide, and one of the main adult characters shooting and killing his older brother.  I was hooked.  Who were these characters, and what was their story?  These were the early days of Netflix, and when YouTube had full episodes available the next day, so I was able to catch up on the series pretty quickly.

I won't bore anyone with the details--either you know the show and its characters, or you don't and could care less about even finishing this post.  However, I thought Dan Scott was one of the most interesting TV characters I had ever seen.  He was a complete narcissist and a terrible husband and father (and obviously brother), and his scenes were the ones that interested me the most.  Why did he hate his brother?  Why was he so tough on one son and so negligent of the other?  Television drama at its finest most intriguing.  Sure, the teenagers had much more freedom than should ever be allowed, and some of the dialogue was definitely too introspective--although not as bad as Dawson's Creek--but I loved Lucas's voiceovers at the end.  Just call me cheesy that way.  I never could get my husband to watch it with me, but he happened to be passing through the room during that episode when that dog ate Dan's heart (I guess you had to be there), and thought it was WAY over the top.  But to me it was so fitting.  Anyway...

I pretty much stopped watching several seasons ago, after Lucas and Peyton left (I loved the dynamic between Lucas/Nate and Lucas/Haley).  It lost its appeal and life got too busy to watch much TV anymore.  So, I tuned in to that final episode this afternoon more out of curiosity than closure.  I am a huge fan of closure when TV series go off the air.  I still have issues with how The Pretender ended.  That show had WAY too much back story and I had invested way too many brain cells into trying to figure it all out, and they go and end it with a train explosion cliffhanger?  And Gilmore Girls was OK enough of an ending, but still a little sketchy.

So, this one today was one of the best series finales I have ever seen.  There was one story line that I knew nothing about, but the entire episode seemed like a shout out to old school fans and watchers.  One of the key stories was even referenced that first episode I ever saw.  The scenes and the music and the characters ended well.

I can definitely think of worse ways to waste an hour of time, especially when that chemo is dripping on down.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Let the Treatment Games Begin

One of the biggest pop culture events of the past week has been the movie Hunger Games.  I haven't seen it yet, but I did read the book last week out of curiosity.  The underlying premise of the book is that the country of Panem (formerly the United States until a civil war) now has almost absolute control of its citizens, resulting in dystopia.  It has led to many discussions in the social media world about how close we could actually be to allowing something like that to happen in real life.  Of course, much of it was scare tactic talk, but then I come across this story, and it has really gotten me to thinking.

Jacob Stieler is a 10 year old from Michigan who was treated for cancer last year.  After his initial courses of chemo and subsequent surgery to remove the cancerous areas, he and his family decided that he would not continue with additional chemotherapy.  This was after he gotten 2 PET scans showing no evidence of cancer.  The chemo was very tough, and they decided to keep up with regular screening, but not continue with the standard protocol unless the cancer returned.

I get this.  I would have gotten it even before my own child was diagnosed with cancer, but I totally get it now.  Chemo has its uses, but the side effects are very painful and scary and dangerous.  I am looking at my son right now who just happens to be sleeping in his hospital bed, but it is a fitful sleep, and when he wakes up he could be nauseated or in pain or have a new mouth sore, or he could just be grumpy.  The standard protocol of care (a fancy medical term) says that we will continue to do this for months, even after his surgery in a month and if he gets an all clear from his PET scan.  We have already been told that stopping treatment is not an option.  This was the day we checked in for the first chemo, and I just kept my mouth shut, because we were already resigned to chemo anyway, and it wasn't a philosophical battle I was willing to fight.  Not at that point, anyway.

Anyway, back to Jacob.  When his parents decided not to continue with treatment, even after the 'all clear' that parents pray for from the moment of diagnosis, they were turned over to their state Department of Human Services for child neglect, and have been repeatedly investigated and threatened to have Jacob removed from their home for failure to treat.  WHAT?!  I was an ER social worker back in the day--the one they called in the middle of the night to assess spiral fractures and cigarette burns and drunk 2 years olds.  THAT was legitimate.  THAT was abuse.  But this?  Attempting to force a family into medical treatment of any kind against their wishes under the threat of removal of their children from their home because they have decided that a cancer free kid doesn't need more poison?  THAT seems like abuse to me.

If the government agencies are so gungho about forcing medical treatment on unwilling participants, then maybe cancer families should get together and come up with our own version of Hunger Games. Some type of reality show where all the folks who insist on mandating treatment protocols and behaviors have to first participate in their own reality show.  Anyone who would sign off on forcing a person to receive chemo or radiation or any other such 'treatment' against their will would first have to survive the Treatment Games.  In this version, people who have either gone through cancer (or their family members) would be able to choose any and all medical procedures for the participants to experience.  They could have all manner of food and drinks available at any time, but they probably would not want them.  Just one of those pesky side effects of cancer treatment.  Any time they start to nod off, an IV would start beeping, and a nurse may or may not come in a timely manner.  Not that it matters--it will just go off a few minutes later anyway.

I guess this is just wishful thinking.  No one in their right minds would submit to that kind of torture.  I mean, it just doesn't make sense to give chemo treatments to people who don't have cancer, now does it?  Not even if they are given with the best of intentions, right?

And that is my point exactly.

Jacob's case is still unresolved.  I found out about his story and have been following it on Facebook (the page is called Hope for Jacob).  I am sure they would appreciate some encouragement if you get the chance and feel so inclined.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wardrobe Malfunctions

Trayvon Martin (from
Until a week or so ago, I had never heard of Trayvon Martin.  Trayvon was a 17 year old boy who was shot and killed by a man named George Zimmerman.  Zimmerman was part of a neighborhood watch group, and he began to follow Trayvon back to his father's house in that same neighborhood because he thought Trayvon looked 'suspicious'.  There is a 911 recording of the incident, an account by a friend of Trayvon's that was talking with him on the phone when Zimmerman was following him, and other eyewitness accounts.  Zimmerman says it was self defense, but all other evidence seems to indicate otherwise.  But, weeks after the shooting, Zimmerman still has not been investigated of any wrongdoing, much less arrested.
There has been a huge social media following of this case, and this is really my only knowledge of the incident.  I haven't watched Fox News or Jon Stewart, or listened to NPR for any reports, but if Facebook is any indication, the outrage over the lack of police follow up into this shooting is not about the die down any time soon--and it shouldn't.  I think it is sad and very telling that so much of the outrage is from people whose skin is a darker skin tone than mine is.  You see, Trayvon Martin was black, and the sad fact is that if it was a white kid who was shot by a black man in the same circumstances, the pursuit of justice would look a lot different.  People can sugar coat it or try to spin it however they want, but that is the truth.
I have been trying to articulate my thoughts about this whole situation all week, but just haven't been able to get it down in writing.  Then, today, I found this post by a man named Michael Skolnik, called 'White People, You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin!', and I think he absolutely nailed it.  Normally, I would just link back up to his post, but I wanted to include the entire post here.  I don't know if anyone will ever even read this, or even agree with it, but I think it is an important enough issue that I would want my boys to know where I stand on it all if they stumble upon this one day.
Here is Mr. Skolnik's post.  You can read the original post here.
I will never look suspicious to you. Even if I have a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers fact, that is what I wore yesterday...I still will never look suspicious. No matter how much the hoodie covers my face or how baggie my jeans are, I will never look out of place to you.  I will never watch a taxi cab pass me by to pick someone else up. I will never witness someone clutch their purse tightly against their body as they walk by me.  I won't have to worry about a police car following me for two miles, so they can "run my plates."  I will never have to pay before I eat. And I certainly will never get "stopped and frisked."  I will never look suspicious to you, because of one thing and one thing only.  The color of my skin.  I am white.
I was born white.  It was the card I was dealt.  No choice in the matter.  Just the card handed out by the dealer. I have lived my whole life privileged. Privileged to be born without a glass ceiling. Privileged to grow up in the richest country in the world.  Privileged to never look suspicious.  I have no guilt for the color of my skin or the privilege that I have.  Remember, it was just the next card that came out of the deck.  But, I have choices.  I got choices on how I play the hand I was dealt.  I got a lot of options.  The ball is in my court.  
So, today I decided to hit the ball.  Making a choice.  A choice to stand up for Trayvon Martin. 17 years old. black. innocent. murdered with a bag of skittles and a bottle of ice tea in his hands. "Suspicious." that is what the guy who killed him said he looked like cause he had on a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers.  But, remember I had on that same outfit yesterday.  And yes my Air Force Ones were "brand-new" clean.  After all, I was raised in hip-hop...part of our dress code.  I digress.  Back to Trayvon and the gated community in Sanford, Florida, where he was visiting his father.
I got a lot of emails about Trayvon.  I have read a lot of articles.  I have seen a lot of television segments.  The message is consistent.  Most of the commentators, writers, op-ed pages agree.  Something went wrong.  Trayvon was murdered.  Racially profiled. Race. America's elephant that never seems to leave the room. But, the part that doesn't sit well with me is that all of the messengers of this message are all black too.  I mean, it was only two weeks ago when almost every white person I knew was tweeting about stopping a brutal African warlord from killing more innocent children.  And they even took thirty minutes out of their busy schedules to watch a movie about dude.  They bought t-shirts.  Some bracelets. Even tweeted at Rihanna to take a stance.  But, a 17 year old American kid is followed and then ultimately killed by a neighborhood vigilante who happens to be carrying a semi-automatic weapon and my white friends are quiet.  Eerily quiet. Not even a trending topic for the young man.
We've heard the 911 calls. We seen the 13 year old witness.  We've read the letter from the alleged killer's father.  We listened to the anger of the family's attorney.  We've felt the pain of Trayvon's mother.  For heaven's sake, for 24 hours he was a deceased John Doe at the hospital because even the police couldn't believe that maybe he LIVES in the community.   There are still some facts to figure out. There are still some questions to be answered.  But, let's be clear.  Let's be very, very clear. Before the neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, started following him against the better judgement of the 911 dispatcher.  Before any altercation.  Before any self-defense claim.  Before Travyon's cries for help were heard on the 911 tapes.  Before the bullet hit him dead in the chest.  Before all of this.  He was suspicious.  He was suspicious. suspicious. And you know, like I know, it wasn't because of the hoodie or the jeans or the sneakers.  Cause I had on that same outfit yesterday and no one called 911 saying I was just wandering around their neighborhood.  It was because of one thing and one thing only.  Trayvon is black.
So I've made the choice today to tell my white friends that the rights I take for granted are only valid if I fight to give those same rights to others.  The taxi cab. The purse. The meal. The police car. The police. These are all things I've taken for granted.  
So, I fight for Trayvon Martin.  I fight for Amadou Diallo.  I fight for Rodney King.  I fight for every young black man who looks "suspicious" to someone who thinks they have the right to take away their freedom to walk through their own neighborhood.  I fight against my own stereotypes and my own suspicions. I fight for people whose ancestors built this country, literally, and who are still treated like second class citizens.  Being quiet is not an option, for we have been too quiet for too long.
And that is it.  I read it and was nodding my head the whole time.  Then, I got to the comments section, and people were writing all kinds of mean comments about Mr. Skolnik and his article.  I guess some people will think the same thing about this post, but I really feel it is important for me to put out there.
"Being quiet is not an option, for we have been too quiet for too long".

Saturday, March 24, 2012


There is a strange reality about cancer.  After the initial diagnosis and round of tests, there is a period of time where you blindly follow the doctor's lead of treatment options for a certain amount of time, and then you are re-tested at some point to see if the poison/burning has actually done any good.  We are not at that point yet--Harrison still has 2 more rounds of chemo before his next round of scans and surgery before we know if the chemo is working or if the cancer has spread.  We are in treatment mode, and not in hopeful/dread mode.  For now--we know that our time is coming in the next few weeks.

But for 3 new cancer friends of mine, this was the BIG week.  They have finished one of their big steps of treatment, and have been scanned, or x-rayed, or prodded.  Only one has gotten their results back, and for now, things look good.  He has leukemia, which is an automatic 3 year protocol, with several stages that must get the good report along the way.  But for him and his family, this is obviously a great relief.  Several less injections and pills he has to take for a while.

Two of my other friends had their scans at the end of the week, and both were supposed to get the results ASAP.  They still haven't heard anything.  It is a Saturday now, so of course nothing will be known until at least Monday morning.  Over six months of waiting to get to this point, and now they wait a little longer because someone didn't read their scans before they got off work on Friday.  Obviously, that person has never had to wait by the phone on pins and needles to get that report of their own, or they would be sitting by that scan machine waiting to pass on that news in real time.  My heart goes out to these folks, and hope they get their own 'all clear' quickly-ish.

Then there is my bloggy friend who has finished up her treatment, but her doctor doesn't recommend any scans for a while.  Wow--I can't imagine that either.  After going through months of chemo and radiation, now she waits.  I am sure that doctor knows what he is doing, and maybe ignorance is the best mindset to have right now.  She will go on living with the assumption that she is also all clear, and hopefully live 50+ more cancer free years.

Every person and family with cancer has their own stories, of both good reports and bad reports.  The sad, sad fact is that sometimes, the best treatment in the world doesn't stop its relentless spread.  But sometimes it does.

We are hoping and praying for a good report when our time comes.  For now, we do what we can, and we wait..

And while we are waiting, we just keep on living.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Laissez bon Velveeta roulez - or, Why I went home to watch the Super Bowl

This was not a good week to be a Saints fan.  Due to penalties imposed by the NFL for a 'bounty' program (paying defensive players to injure players on the other team), the Saints face some pretty stiff consequences.  Not the least of which is the one year suspension of the Saints head coach, Sean Payton.  If you aren't a Saints fan, then you probably don't care about any of this.  But for those of us who are, this is just sad--on so many levels.  

I came across this old note on Facebook that I wrote the week before the Saints went to the Super Bowl and won.  That was a great night.  I was just a couple of months post knee(s) injury, and had to make the trek home with much geriatric equipment in the trunk of the car, but I was there.  The sentiments I wrote about remain true, especially the part about the Saints being their own worst enemy.

So, for any other die hard Saints fans, this post is for you.

There has always been something special about going home for me. I’m one of only a handful of my friends whose parents still live in the house they grew up in. It doesn’t matter what my mom calls it now, that last bedroom on the right will always be MY room, not the guest bedroom. It is a house full of happy memories, and it remains one of my favorite places to be.

In the spring and summer, we were almost always out waterskiing or hanging out at the beach. But come fall, even if we did an early morning ski run and then went to church, every Sunday afternoon was dedicated to football. And in our house, that meant watching the Saints.

I’m not sure how or why this happened, it just always was. Being a Saints fan was most definitely not for the faint of heart. Why? Well, for the most part, the Saints almost always beat themselves. This was particularly shameful because they had one of the best quarterbacks ever – Archie Manning. I remember watching him scramble out of an almost certain sacks and make amazingly accurate passes to supposedly good players like Chuck Muncie and Wes Chandler. Passes that they would miss or fumble away. Or, if they did catch it, the miraculous touchdown would be negated by some personal foul 60 yards up the field (a situation that continues to haunt the Saints to this day). 

The high point for many games was the cheese dip my mom would make right before halftime. She would heat up large quantities of Velveeta in a double boiler (before the age of microwaves) and we would eat the yummy goodness during halftime, holding out hope that the next 30 minutes of game play would be better than the first 30 minutes. It usually wasn’t. I don’t eat this dip anymore (I mean seriously, is there even a single real food ingredient in Velveeta?), but it will forever be associated with watching Saints games when I was growing up.

This wasn’t a one time or one season situation – it was continuous. Remember the Aints? I do. I happened to be at the Superdome for my birthday that year, watching Morten Anderson do his best to win a game for the Saints. He even kicked a 60 yard field goal. They still lost.

Each new season brought a glimmer of hope, mainly because the Saints got so many first round draft picks because of their horrible records the previous year. Folks like Bobby Hebert, Ricky Williams, George Rogers, Deuce McAlister, not to mention headline coaches like Mike Ditka. Big names, with little to show for it.

I can remember Monday mornings in the 5th and 6th grade, before school started, holding court with all the boys, discussing the games from the day before. Almost everyone else was a declared Cowboys fan, which was very convenient, given that they were the golden team of the late 70s. Only one other person, Steve, was a diehard Saints fan. We took a lot of flack for that. To loosely borrow a phrase from Barbara Mandrell, we were Saints fans, when Saints fans weren’t cool.

There is an excitement about the Saints going to the Super Bowl that many people just don’t understand. It is about finally receiving some validation after decades of being remaining hopeful and passionate about a team of losers. It is about being excited for our daddies who never thought they would live to see this day (or really missing the ones that didn’t quite make it). It is about so much more than a single game.

But. as any true Saints fan knows, there are definitely no guarantees. After all, the Saints are often their own worst enemies. That’s why you won’t hear too many of us talking smack about this game. We’re Saints fans. We know better. We would love for this to be one of those blowout games that other people call boring, but even if that doesn’t happen, we are still claiming bragging rights.

So, come Sunday at kickoff, I plan on being right where I spent so many years dreaming of this day – in my parent’s living room, watching the Saints play in their first Super Bowl ever. Will they win? Maybe not, but that’s not really the point. I’ll yell, and I’ll cheer, and I’m sure I will groan. I’ll even enjoy watching everyone else eating Velveeta cheese dip. I’m pretty sure I’ll occasionally think about Steve, knowing that wherever he is, we’ve both gotten some vindication. Sure, it has been over 30 years coming, but it is better late than never. Especially if you are a Saints fan.

photo image source unknown

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Being Jealous of a Normal Sixteen Year Old

Sometimes, I really hate Facebook.

Remember when you only knew other people's 'stuff' if you actually saw them or talked to them on the phone?  Or, if it was sad/stupid/illegal enough, then someone else would call and tell you about it?  Now, there is a 24/7 bombardment of status updates and picture uploads to make even the most secure person feel discontent.

Disney cruise?  Check.
Perfectly coordinated family outfits and the on location photographer?  Check.
3 more pounds of weight lost this week, and a new outfit to celebrate?  Check.

To be honest, this does not normally bother me at all.  Seriously, I like looking at the pictures and am glad that someone else got to get away even if I didn't.  But last night, I saw some pictures that just made me mad--
some of Harrison's friends were on the coast for Spring Break.

They weren't unique pictures by any means.  It had the same location and same outfits that most of our friends are posting lately.  And I really like these particular kids.  Most of them have been in our house and even on vacation with us at various times.  I got angry because they are healthy and having fun.  They aren't pale or bald and can walk without crutches or a wheelchair.  Their clothes aren't falling off because they spend more time throwing up than they do eating.

I got angry because yesterday was a 'good day' for us.  Harrison was able to get up and roll through a 5K race to raise money for the children's hospital (the one he hates now).  He was able to visit with family and then go to a birthday party on crutches instead of his wheelchair.  Then he came back home and almost passed out from fatigue, forcing himself to eat and take his meds.  Yep, this was our good day, one that he will end by looking at those same Facebook photos that will make him feel....what?  Sad?  Angry?  Too tired to care?

I won't really know, because he won't want to talk about it, and I totally get that.  He is almost 16.  He should be walking and driving and eating us out of house and home, but he is not.  Hopefully that will not be the case when he is almost 17, but that is a lifetime away.  For now, we will just keep on keepin' on, making the most of the chemo free days that we have for a while.  If I could block out statuses and images of fun from my child, I would.  But I can't.

I didn't stay mad, but I was a little sad for a while.  Then I did a little attitude adjustment and began to mentally list the things I was truly grateful for--no vomiting blood, me being able to finish the 5K unscathed, having a husband that has my back and is a great dad (something the kids in those pictures don't have), extended family members that are stepping up and supporting us through all of this, running water and electricity.  Sometimes you just have to get basic with it all.

But sometimes, I really hate Facebook.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Maybe This Will Be My Year

Many years ago BK (before kids), I had a real job as a social worker.  I don't practice any more, but I do keep my license current in anticipation of being paid again for what I do one day.  This means I have to get Continuing Education hours every year.  I have to pay for my own hours, which means I have to find free or very cheap seminars.  These tend to be tedious and boring, especially when I have been doing the same courses now for many years.

There is one conference offering that I have had my eye on now for over 15 years.  It is called Creativity and Madness, and they have the coolest sounding workshops ever.  Seminars about Johnny Cash and Self Destructive Tendencies, and Visions of Hope and Faith in Mark Twain's Early Writing.  It sure beats Ethical Record Keeping Strategies.  I have held onto my brochure every year, just in case some money magically shows up on my doorstep (it is an insanely expensive workshop), earmarked 'For CEU use only'.  Nothing yet, but a girl can dream...

Every year, they offer a full scholarship for one lucky recipient for all expenses plus spending money.  I try every year to win that scholarship, but nothing yet.  The criteria is always the same:  Write a short essay telling how art is important in your life.  Hmmm, simple enough, I suppose, but it does start to get a little redundant after a couple of times.  One year I wrote in third person, and another year in a Yoda/Elmo type of language.  No, I am not kidding.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I was trying to make my essay stand out.  I am sure it just came across as weird and freaky, alerting them to someone they would rather not attend their conference.  Not one to be easily deterred, I have taken a stab at it again.  So, for this year's entry, here goes nothing:  (For some reason, the format on this has gotten all messed up and I can't figure out how to fix it.  I didn't send it in this way--that would probably just add to the tinge of crazy that I sure seeing my name again will trigger for the scholarship review folks).

       When I was fresh out of graduate school, I went to work as a hospital social worker. 
 Over time, I worked at three different hospitals, each with very different patient needs 
and physical settings.  The last one, and my favorite, was at an inpatient physical
 rehabilitation hospital.  I worked with brain injury and spinal cord injury patients that
 were in the early stages of their new reality.

          One of the renovation projects that occurred at this hospital during my tenure was
 the construction of an Atrium Mall.  Office space was gutted and an open space with
 fountains and sculptures and art was added.  A piano was placed in a strategic, roped off
 area, and someone was scheduled to perform for patients, families, and random passersby
 on a regular basis.  A gift shop was added that featured the creations of current and
 former patients, many of whom had never realized or explored their talents until they
 became injured.  I loved that gift shop, as well as all the other elements.  I loved the
 philosophy behind it—how art and music and beauty are an essential part of healing, on
 up there with physical therapy and re-learning to talk.  And as a social worker, it just
 made sense to view the situation and patients holistically.

        Fast forward to a couple of years ago.  As a result of a car accident, I found myself
 as a patient at this very hospital for a very long month.   Therapy was exhausting, and I
 spent almost every spare minute in my room.  There were a couple of times that I was
 wheeled down to the Atrium Mall, and although I loved being there, it was more of a
 passing thing that didn’t inspire me as much as I had hoped.  I still thought it was a nice
 concept, but I really just wanted to get back in my bed upstairs.

         I was in that same Atrium Mall just last week, not as an employee or as a patient,
 but as a mom.  My son is a newly diagnosed cancer patient at the Children’s Hospital that
 is connected to the Rehab Hospital.  If all goes according to schedule, he will be an
 inpatient for at least 31 weeks this year.  My husband and I are taking turns providing
 round the clock coverage in his room, and on this particular morning I had gone to buy us
 some snacks and water at that same gift shop I had gone into on its opening day so many
 ago, when my now chemo boy was just a baby.

        As I took a couple of precious minutes to look around that small shop, I saw the
 paintings and the ceramics and the beadwork items that other people had crafted out of
 their own tragedies.  In some way that I can’t even understand, I felt a connection, and
 was ministered to, just be seeing the items there.  Then, as I was leaving that shop, I
 heard the piano playing.  No one was standing around or seeming to pay attention, but for
 me, it was a sound of beauty in direct contrast with that red bag of poison hooked on to
my child’s IV pole just about a hundred yards away.

        I took an extra minute to listen to that music, and looking out over the fountain, it hit
 me.  THIS is what the architects of this space had in mind.  THIS is the importance of art
 and music and beauty.  They help bring healing and comfort in a place of pain and
 uncertainty.  Art doesn’t necessarily make things better or provide answers, but it can
 ease that pain.
       This is no longer theoretical or a warm fuzzy concept for me.  I hope to steal many
 more such moments over the course of this year.  I have a feeling that they could make all
 the difference as I face a new reality of my own.

Tune in next year for my next desperate attempt.  Maybe I should try writing in Pig Latin.  Or Ubby-Dubby.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thank You, Dr. Seuss

We went and did a normal thing yesterday.  We went to see a movie, The Lorax.

I grew up with Dr. Seuss.  Among my favorite books are Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now?, And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, and Green Eggs and Ham.  They were always such fun books, and I still have my personal copies of a few of his books from back in the day.  However, I had never even heard of The Lorax until about 10 years ago, when we were new to Netflix and were looking for something different to order.

The Lorax was a cartoon made in typical 70s animation style, with quirky music and funky colors. I liked the story well enough, and it fit in well with our newly adopted vegan lifestyle.  The main line of dialogue that The Lorax had was, "I am the Lorax.  I speak for the trees".  Harrison had just dressed up as a tree hugger (yes, I am serious) for Halloween, so he would run around the house spouting that line.  We eventually hunted down the book at the library, and enjoyed the story that way as well.

It turns out that the book caused something of a controversy when it was published in 1971.  It was taken to be an anti-capitalist/environmentalism propaganda piece aimed at hippie children and marketed to newly integrated school systems to 'further break down the moral fabric of society'.  It had pre-Fox News commentary written all over it.  I don't know how much it influenced kids of that time, seeing as how I am one of them and had never even heard of it.

With it being released on the big screen, I guess there is the probability of more and more kids knowing about it now.  Going into the theater with a little understanding of the backstory, I can definitely see those influences there, and if I had either the time or the inclination, I would probably write about the societal implications embedded in the messages, both good and bad.  But I don't have either, so I guess I'll just say this--

The Lorax--good, original story.  Very good animation.  Everyone liked it, Captialists included.

The ticket - $5.50
3-D added price - $3.00 (I know, I know--insane)
Doing something normal before headed back in for chemo tomorrow - priceless