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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Like a Bridge over Troubled Water

The other day I was channel surfing on XM radio and landed on a song I don’t hear often: Bridge Over Troubled Waters. As soon as I heard the familiar piano accompaniment, I cranked the volume and belted out with Simon and Garfunkel. By the end of the song, I was blubbering—crying my eyes out. You see, this isn’t just a beautiful song from my parents’ generation. It’s a song that holds a particularly special memory for me.

At a pops concert my senior year in high school, I sang this song with my two of my best friends, Nicole Heller and Kira Gaer. I was probably the weak link in the trio. Kira carried a pop star eminence and Nicole had a strong voice of her own. My piano background gave me an acceptable level of harmony instruction and we managed to pull off a fairly decent performance—from what I can remember anyway.
Add Nicole, Kira, and me.
Cannily the lyrics came back to me as if I was still that 17-year-old with my two friends, all caught up in the performance that would probably make us big stars. "Sail on silver girl, sail on by."  As my 47-year-old self drove home in the dark from work that night absorbing the beautifully sentimental song,  I became sadly aware of something. Would we ever have believed, back in 1987, we would've ended up with hardly any contact anymore? Never. We would never have believed it.

Kira, Nicole, and I had that 80's aura, John Hughes-like connection. We loved fashion and pop culture with a transparent goal to emulate Madonna on our audacious days or Whitney Houston on our playful days. We were not opposed to rating boys and did some heavy Bible research on premarital sex. We loved to laugh. And most of all, we loved to dream.

It was a given we were all destined to be rich. Nicole made sure we always drove around with the windows down—messy hair practice for when we purchased our first convertible. I was going to be the lawyer (Claire Huxtable style). Nicole would be the doctor. Kira only considered the medical field as her backup plan. Because she never, ever quit singing. She would be the next Madonna. At the end of one night of cruising our country roads and planning our futures, long after Nicole and I had quit singing to the radio, Kira’s voice went hoarse. She apologized. “Sorry guys. I’m not going to be able to sing for you anymore tonight.” We managed.

Nicole and I stayed in touch after high school, rooming together for a bit in college and standing up in each other's weddings. She married her high school sweetheart and became a pharmacist in Spirit Lake with three lovely children. I think of her often and hope she is well.

Neither of us see Kira anymore. Unfathomably, she died at the age of 22 from non-hodgkin lymphoma. She passed away just as we were starting off our lives. I visit her grave once a year and she still visits me from time to time in my dreams. "And friends just can't be found... " What would she be doing now if she would've lived? Would she be settled in with her family? Like Nicole and I? Navigating work and kids' activities? Mailing off our annual Christmas cards to each other? Or would she be competing against Beyonce for a grammy? I kind of like to think maybe.

Cheerleading days
My teenage self probably wouldn't have been surprised that I turned out to be banker, nor Nicole a pharmacist. But I wouldn't never have imagined Kira, the most vivacious of us all, to be gone. But then again, she did always seemed to be destined for the stars. The truth is, she’ll never be gone–nor will the memories of my best pals and the dreams we dreamed. They will always live in a special place in my heart....like a bridge.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

#newyearnewprojects

It's January 5th already! How many of you have forgotten all about those nifty resolutions you created on January 1st as you nursed that champagne-induced headache? 

I have to admit, I’m one of those people who love to make a list and measure my progress. So, yes, New Year's Resolutions are right up my alley. Typically my resolutions are fairly cliché–you know! The kind that involves great transformation of appearance...
  • Run a marathon!
  • Master yoga!
  • Eat celery instead of chips!
  • Revamp my wardrobe!
  • Publish a book! (to help me buy a new wardrobe)

Sound familiar? Sound kinda vain? Yeah. I thought so too. So this year, I'm trying a different approach. Instead of making my resolutions so "inwardly-focused," I decided to require my resolutions to benefit others. Jesus-ish.

I've got my list started.
I'd love to help out with these cuties!
  1. Send meaningful mementos to Alex, my college-aged daughter. She'll appreciate the thoughtfulness of a tangible gift more than a mundane cash transfer. I know! Because she has a great liberal mind who doesn't allow possessions to motivate her. I can't wait to hear how appreciative she'll be when I switch out the cash for something like a candle.
  2. Help Cole more diligently with his studies. What teenage boy doesn’t want to spend more time with his mother…learning algebra and science and the mechanics of grammar! It's making me smile just thinking about it.
  3. Be more involved in my husband’s farm operation. I'm positive Doug will love my opinions and ideas. Maybe I don't know much about agriculture, but I'm very creative. I see this really bringing us closer.
  4. Make more of an effort to help my mother with her store without any ulterior motives. In other words, quit asking if she's got any damaged property she needs to get rid of.
  5. Last, but not least...be more interested in my father’s motorcycle hobby. I know…this sounds entirely selfish. I feel a little guilty listing it.
    4 of the 5 recipients of my 2017 resolution targets.

So those are some of my goals this year. Basically I'm planning to be a major pest to my loved ones. It will be fantastic. Perhaps it generated some ideas for all of you as well.

Wishing all my friends the happiest of New Year’s! I hope you reach all of your dreams in 2017!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Clark Griswolds

#christmaslights

For the last few years a tradition has been unfolding in our house. Our little Cole (who's now the tallest in the family) insists on putting up the tree. And for a fifteen-year-old boy whose room is filled with gatorade bottles and dirty socks, he's strangely particular how the tree is decorated.

When it all went down a few weekends ago, I tried help Cole by rearranging a few ornaments–only to be scolded by my very own Christmas Nazi. My eldest and wise daughter Alex sat quietly and knowingly on the chaise, reading her book and not daring to say a word after her one unfortunate mention of the tree's lobsided-ness.

Overall, Cole did a pretty nifty job. Once he had completed his masterpiece, he made a hot chocolate run to the kitchen. That's when I noticed he had hung the balls without hangers. While I was impressed how he had squeezed the branches through the  tiny holes of the ornaments, I understood too well that these balls were at high risk falling off–especially with a frisky cat around. (I secretively fixed the problem when he got back to work playing his PS4.)

But his spirit was contagious that day. I decided to keep on with the decorating, urging him off his gaming system to tackle the outdoor lights since Doug was in the field. He jumped right into it. Alex remained in her peaceful position, reading on the chaise.

Frustrated Elf
The first task in our exterior illumination project was to decde which lights to hang. Plain white? Colored twinklies? Colored bulbs? White dangling icicles? We quickly ruled out the white lights. Too boring! And we had been there and done that last year. For this Christmas we first chose the white danglies–so elegant and charming. After spending a fair amount of time untangling, we tested. No bueno. Most of these lights were on strike. (Wind is tough on lights on the farm.) But we weren't discouraged! On to the next set: colored bulbs. Fun and festive. Again, we repeated the untangle and test process to find more dysfunctional lights. Finally we settled on the colored twinklies and were awed to find brilliant success! So we set about to hang them, by first laying them in position. And then taking an hour detour to find extension cords. Once the extension cords were secured, we seemed to spend the next  one or five hours figuring out how we'd plug them in, which should have been easy since we've lived here for 16 years. But it never is. But we finally go it! And now it was time to hang, starting at the tall scary end of the house with our shaky ladder and monster shrub. But we did it! We made it past the challenging parts and were on the final pass WHEN...all of the lights went out. Every single strand. I won't even tell you about our struggles we had with the replacement bulbs. Let's just say we dismantled them with a fair amount of disgust threw away almost every strand of lights we had.

Our only hope at that point was the boring white lights. And Doug.

Fast forward to Sunday. Sunday, cold Sunday. With Cole's help, Doug hung those white lights in twenty minutes. No problema whatsoever. And what do you know? They aren't one bit boring! Every night when I come home from work, I see that single row of white lights running across our roof and I feel like the Griswolds as they stood looking at their audaciously-lit home. It makes me happy.

Of course, we've added a few more elements, like snowflake spotlights and flashing rope lights on our front railings, which still doesn't begin to compete with Clark. But it does make our entire family happy. These lights, as challenging and simple as they may be, fill us with a festive air as we prepare for the most important birthday of all–on December 25th.

Good luck to you and your family as you prepare for this great holiday!

video

Enjoy this video we sent to our college girl Alex, capturing the essence of our light show.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

#overwhelmed


You bet it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But it’s also freaking busy. 

Shopping. Baking. Activities. Not to mention...WORK! I’m finding myself short of breath, a bit snippy, and quite frankly, a little scatterbrained. I tell myself to pray and breathe. Pray and breathe. Pray and breathe. But I still find myself distracted with little to-do lists running through my mind as I talk to God. Forgive me Jesus.

One of my coworkers came back from a Catholic Retreat a few weeks ago and gave me a list of speakers. I came across Father Michael Schmitz and found a video clip I found particularly relevant. For anyone who is overwhelmed right now, I encourage you to watch.



Now. Go out and just take that next step throughout this holiday season!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

#bestmom

I've featured a lot of mothers on this blog, but there's one who I feel stands out above the rest.

My mom.

Often I think about how fortunate I am to have been born from parents who are loving, smart, and taught me how to lead a productive life. I realize not everyone is this lucky. Not everyone may appreciate the sound of their mother's voice in their head as they navigate their life. But I do. And it's high time I thank her for it. Blog-style.

So thank you Mom for your many lessons. While these only touch the surface, here are the big-hitters.
My pretty mom at 18.



  • "Don't marry rich. If you want to be successful, figure it out yourself."

    As a little girl growing up in household that wasn't particularly well-off, I remember mimicking something I thought to be fairly clever. "I'm just going to marry rich! Then I can have whatever I want." My feministic mother was quick to point out the dysfunction in my thinking. You want something? Go after it yourself. Nothing quite ruffled my mother's feathers like the philosophy a woman should depend on a man or any other person for her happiness. When I met the love of my life, it wasn't because of his old, rusted Ford pickup. If I wanted a fancy pickup, I'd get it myself!
  • Read. And read to your  kids.

    Barbies and books probably defined my childhood. I wasn't the kid on the bike or the kid playing ball–unless my Kirkman pals gave me no other choice. But I did spend a significant time curled up on a gold embroidered chair with my mother, reading the entire set of Little House on the Prairie books. I can still hear her calming voice and dramatic pauses as we experienced a South Dakota winter with the Ingall's family. Not only did these times kindle a love of books and words, but it also gave me knowledge of other worlds, other lives. I could tell you I grew up in a small town and wasn't exposed to much of the world. But it's not true. Whether it was Little House the Prairie, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or (in extreme cases) The Omaha World Herald, my mother taught me that reading could open up my world in ways that were way beyond geography. I attribute my love of reading, my kids' love of reading, and even my husband's new-found love like of reading to my mother.
  • Like people. Or even love them.

    I was a shy little girl. My mom was/is not. I remember one specific instance that forever changed the way I dealt with people. We were at a party and I was desperately clinging to my mother's legs–despite the plethora of other little kids running around. After a few hours of a human appendage, Mom had had enough. I remember her facing me to say, "I do not want you to end up like this. Fearing people all the time. There's no need." I'm not sure I understood what she was telling me, but I did understand I was disappointing her. So I changed. I joined the kids at play. And you know what? It wasn't so bad. People really aren't so bad!

    For years, I've watched my mother interact. She always makes a point to say hello or smile at someone whether she knows them or not. There's a running joke in my family, because she often, unabashedly, calls people by the wrong name. (Who hasn't been called a wrong name?) But the truth is, I'm really proud of my mother's warm nature. She reaches out because she cares about others. She wants everyone to be included and feel important. So, she might call you Bob, when your name is Glenn. But she'll make darn sure by the end of the conversation you feel special.

    I find my family poking fun at me when I'm being friendly to others in public. I can only smile and feel happy I'm carrying on my mother's legacy.
  • Trust and be brave.

    At the age of 65, my mother opened a retail store. After working in government for several years, she decided to follow her dream. She researched, made a plan, and did it. Now her store, rubi j, is thriving. More importantly, she's thriving. I believe she's made this happen through determination and her eternally optimistic spirit. Since the opening of her store, I can't possibly tell you the number of people who have told me how much they love my mom. I'm not surprised–she's impossible not to  love.

    The beauty of my mother's current venture has nothing to do with being "financially" successful. It's about connecting with others and making women feel good about themselves. (I hear many of mom's success stories about a discouraged shopper turned princess... ) One Saturday when I was working at her store, a woman was conflicted about what shirt to buy. She wanted her daughter's opinion. Mom told her just to take them all home and bring back what she didn't want. The lady came to the checkout counter when mom said, "Don't worry about purchasing until you know what you want." I asked mom if she wanted me to at least write down the inventory that was being taken out. Mom said, "Oh sure. You can if you want." The customer was delightfully amazed at my mother's trusting nature. But I wasn't. I would've been surprised if the transaction would've gone down any other way. She's a cool lady.

My mother turns 70 tomorrow. I wanted to do something big for her, but that's not really how our family runs. Instead, she and I will carve out a day to spend together which will obviously be a gift for me too. It will be a day for us to talk about the current stages of my kids and her dogs, laugh about stuff my dad said, and remind me of the great life my mother helped me to forge.

Love ya, Mom. Happiest of birthdays. Mwah.

Me and Mom at her infamous store...rubi j.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

#marriage

My parents celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary this weekend. Via text, I asked them what's the secret to a happy marriage. Mom indicated that using the phrase "yes, dear" is useful. (Sarcasm? You decide.) My father replied, "honesty and respect." I found this to be surprisingly thoughtful. He said he googled it.

La La Love. (Note the sign.)
While amused by my parents' responses, I often find myself confounded by the institution of marriage. It can catch you off guard in either the most delightful or most upsetting ways. I remember a few weeks before our wedding, my mother said these words to me: "I know how much you love Doug, but marriage is hard. You need to work at it." I nodded, all-knowing, but not really all-knowing. I was still in the la-la stage. It is hard work. But who said hard work is a bad thing?

After 22 years of marriage, I've decided on these truths in regard to marriage:

  • Maintaining a sense of humor is vital.
    Mom mentioned this to me a few times as I was growing up. I get it. One time, early in our marriage, Doug had gone out with his buddies to "Stag Night." After waking up at 4:30 in the morning to see he had not made it home yet, I began a calling campaign. (We didn't have cell phones at the time.) Of course, I was none to pleased as his friends playfully answered the phone with names of non-existent bars like Bob's Bar and Grill. When I finally connected with Doug to "suggest" he come home (NOW), he said he would. Knowing he was only five minutes away, I sat up and waited. And waited. Finally, about thirty minutes later he showed up. As you could imagine, I was livid. He looked at me, wide-eyed, pleadingly and said, "I'm so sorry! But the train went through. Really! The longest train ever." He chuckled. "Shitty timing for a train, heh?" I'm not saying I completely excused him from being out so late, but how could I not laugh about a train coming through as he's trying to hightail it home to his mad wife? Humor is vital.
  • Amalgamation adds dimension.

    There's a scene in Fever Pitch when Drew Barrymore is struggling with the fact that she's becoming someone else after her rendezvous with Jimmy Fallon. (Corporate climber is lured into becoming part of the Red Sox cult. Great flick. Sports and rom-com all in one.) But as long as you don't lose sense of your core values, this kind of transformation is actually kind of cool. As a matter of fact, this anti-athlete of a girl is sitting here watching the World Series. And Doug's not even here. It's a heck of a game even!
  • Food is the great equalizer.

    Having an argument? Stop whatever discussion you're having. Ask your spouse if they're hungry for some meatloaf or ice cream. Nothing brings a couple together like food. Well. Doug might argue there's one other thing that trumps meatloaf. But I'm not sure he's say it trumps ice cream...
  • Keeping score is never a good idea. It's easy to fall into that trap. I did this, so you should do that. But what good does that do? Nothing is ever really equal. But kind and simple gestures pay dividends on their own–without worrying about what you might get back in return. Doesn't it feel nice to surprise him with a pack of Duluth Trading Company Buck Naked Underwear? The smile on his face as he wears the powerful boxer-briefs are totally worth the price.
On that same note, I asked my parents what they got each other for their anniversary when we took them out for dinner the other night. My mom smiled and shook her head. "Well, I didn't get your dad anything. But guess what he got me?" Dad interceded and said, "I got her the most expensive bottle of Pinot Grigio I could find." This shocked me as I considered all the times I helped my father find a gift for my mother as long as it remained within a certain, tight budget. (Sweater from Shopko, etc.) The wine story struck me as a profound moment. There was no keeping score. It was a gesture that was given with kindness and received with gratitude. Those are the interactions that make a happy marriage.

So marriage is kind of hard. Maybe it's the hard that makes it so great. (I totally swiped that line from a baseball movie. Can anyone name it?)
Mom, Dad and me. Early years.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pink Hope

How many people do you know who have battled breast cancer? I bet you need both hands to count.ou didn't have to think to hard about it. I've had an aunt with stage 4. I've had two friends at work who fought the disease. Most recently, I received a message from cousin that she had just been diagnosed.As a part of the Relay for Life team, I'm writing an article each month to bring awareness on some  form of cancer.  Here's a preview of the article that will run in the Harlan Newspaper soon. A big thanks to Julie Bruck for sharing her story:



October evokes images of orange pumpkins and black ghouls. But for some, October evokes images of pink ribbons–a reminder to be vigilant about the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Breast cancer awareness month comes with renowned fundraising events, famous ambassadors, and most importantly, survivors we all know and admire. Julie Bruck is one such survivor.

Julie’s Story

In March of 2012 Julie went to a routine doctor visit and asked about a lump on her breast. Having had a mammogram the previous July, she wondered if it was really anything to worry about. Then after a mammogram, ultrasound and two painful biopsies, the news was dropped on her: stage 2B breast cancer. And it had spread to the lymph nodes. 

Fear struck Julie as she considered her busy role as a wife, mother, and career woman. Her oldest son was soon to graduate high school. Her three children (Ben–18, Ally–14 and Conner–10 at the time) were highly involved in activities. Her husband, Randy, was on the verge of kicking off a busy planting season. “There was no time to be sick,” said Julie as she considered her circumstance.
Julie, Ally, Randy, Conner & Ben

Telling the family was one of the most difficult tasks she faced.  “I wasn’t prepared to break the news and believe me, they weren’t ready to receive the news.”  It wasn’t long before she realized how much she could depend on all of her family for support. Faith is a huge part of Julie’s life, and praying together and attending “Healing Masses” as a family were activities that meant a lot to her.

Julie endured eight rounds of chemo, once every two weeks. When it seemed as if she was beginning to feel better, another treatment awaited her. Despite the sickness, fatigue, mouth sores, and hair loss, Julie didn’t stop working nor did she give up attending her kids’ events. There were times when she didn’t get out of the car as she watched her kids play ball. But she was there, often accompanied by her mother, as they watched a game from a distance. Keeping her routines and staying busy was important to Julie’s emotional health.

Once the rounds of chemo were completed, Julie had a double mastectomy along with the removal of lymph nodes–an innovative approach with her intense treatment taking place before the removal. After the surgery the tissue was sent to pathology. Before Julie left the hospital she was given incredible news: no sign of cancer anywhere! With the guidance of her oncologist, Julie decided she would not go through radiation. Today Julie is cancer-free.
Julie at the Susan B Komen Race


Risk Factors

Understanding risk factors is an important strategy to battling the disease. Heredity can play a big role–especially if a mutation of the BCRA1 or 2 gene is found. Having this mutation increases the possibility of breast cancer between 45 to 65%, depending on the gene mutation.

Julie tested negative for this mutation. Like Julie, most women (8 out of 10) do not have a family history of breast cancer. However, it’s important to understand that women who have close blood relatives with breast cancer have a higher risk of the disease.

Other risk factors include:

-Being a woman. While breast cancer is about 100 times more common in women, the risk still exists for men.
-Age. The most invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 and older.
-History. If breast cancer is in one breast, the risk for developing cancer in the other breast increases. This risk is even more pronounced for younger women.
-Having dense or “fibrous” breast tissue, which can increase the risk for cancer to 1.2 to 2 times from a woman with average breast density.
-Lifestyle choices such as excessive drinking, being overweight, or lack of physical activity.

Performing self-exams and scheduling mammograms are the best methods for detecting the disease early. Symptoms can include a new lump, swelling of a part of the breast, skin irritation, breast pain, or unusual discharge.

The American Cancer Society is helping breast cancer victims through various programs such as 

-Road to Recovery, providing transportation services to treatments, 
-Look Good Feel Better, offering wigs for those who have lost their hair, and
-HOPE Lodge, providing a place for patients to stay. Ground has just broken in Omaha for one such unit.

The ACS has invested $62 million for 160 research grants specifically for breast cancer. But one of the most important weapons in this fight is education and awareness.

Every cancer victim copes differently. When Julie was battling the disease, she didn’t feel like talking about it. She didn’t want others to define her by the cancer. Now, back to leading a healthy and productive life, she’s a great ambassador for the fight. As she said at the Relay for Life event earlier this year, “We need to find a cure. So keep giving, keep walking and keep fighting until we can say with all the certainty in the world that there is a cure for cancer.”

I'm happy to report that in addition to Julie, my aunt and coworkers survived. My cousin is determined to beat it. While the breast cancer certainly lurks, there is much hope out there. Pink hope. Spread the word.