Sadness and Faith

We learned this weekend that one of the strongest, fiercest fighters I have every known of had died. And he was only 7.

A colleague’s son, who was born with a heart defect and spent more of his little life in hospitals than out, passed on Saturday. By the age of seven he had fought more battles for his life than any of us could ever dream. Every time he had a surgery, it seemed the universe dealt him another bad hand and he had to fight even harder. And he truly fought. He survived so many things that doctors were sure he wouldn’t, that, in the end, it almost came as a surprise to lose him. But what a fighter!

And through it all, his dad came to work. He taught, he coached, he lived his life. I didn’t know his Mom, but I’m sure she was just as strong as Dad. I know both of them are strong. Will had to get if from somewhere, and with such strong parents in your corner, you would, for certain, come out swinging.

We were getting updates often. I was always shocked to learn what the little man had gone through, what surgery, what transfusion, what other steps had been taken to keep him alive.

And I prayed. We all did. As my husband often says, “You can pray for the best, whatever that is.” Myself, I usually pray for God to hold everyone in the palm of his hand and keep them safe and let them know he is there for them. And for comfort. So since I learned of Will’s death on Saturday, I have been praying for the Kohn family. Please feel free to join me.

I have not been, at least not for the past decade or so, a particularly religious person. My faith, as it were, has been a little shaky. I feel like I believe, but I am not always sure what that means. I know I’d like to believe more than I do. Lately, due to Ed being recruited to sing in the church choir (a long story for another time), I have been a regular at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. I enjoy the Dean’s sermons. I always find something in them to think about. I even take notes.

Being at Trinity, and meeting the wonderful people there, really helped me after my dad died in July, although I actually didn’t make it to church until December. But even a few months into the grieving process, I found solace there. Sometimes it takes a while after someone dies to leave that initial shock phase and get to the grief and realization stage. Having a support network helps to catch you during those times when you need a little help to stand (or walk, or go to work, or breathe).

When my dad was in the hospital near the end of his life, he was suffering. He couldn’t breathe or talk very well. He would ask in a state of despair, “What did I do to deserve this?” None of us had an answer. I don’t think there was one. And then, less than two weeks later, he was gone.

At these times, people often ask, “Why did God take ________ (fill in the blank)?” Then they often answer in platitudes or some kind of answer that is meant to make others feel better. But, for me, there is no real answer to that question. Death happens. And sometimes it happens to the “wrong” people at the “wrong” time in a terrible way.

I’m not always sure that God has any direct intervention in this department, although I know there are many who would disagree with me.

I think God (or whoever – you can fill in your own spiritual blank here) is keeping an eye on things, but is not allowed to intervene. Maybe he has a jar of miracles on a shelf and rolls a pair of dice to determine if you get one or not. I don’t know. Maybe omnipotence means not acting sometimes.

In the end, we all just have to decide what, or even if, we have some kind of faith. Having faith (in whatever it is you choose to believe in) can help us through the dark times. It gives us something to hold onto and to hope for.

Hedging my bets, I am never sure, exactly, what I believe in. It might be nature, the Universe, God, a Higher Power, Something Bigger Than Me. I don’t really know. I just know that sometimes, as George Michael told us,  “You gotta have faith.” It may be the only thing you can have.

Cheers.

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Get Happy!

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to use the library more and spend less (I have a hard time saying “spend less on books” because that seems like blasphemy to me, but I do need to remember that while my husband built me a beautiful wall bookcase, it does have only so much room).  This resolution is always harder for me when my Bas Bleu catalog comes in the mail. It is full of wonderful new books, coffee mugs, cat items – in short, it’s as though someone had me in mind when they created it. It’s also like they truly understand my weaknesses and are ready to capitalize on them. Those curs!

Anyhow, I circled the books I would love to buy. Then, I wrote down the titles and looked for them at the library. While not all were there, many were, including my current favorite, The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World’s Happiest People.

Image result for The LIttle Book of Lykke

After learning I’m about 1/5 Scandinavian, a book on happiness written by the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark should not be a big stretch. But that aside, it’s a really interesting and fun book to read.

My reading over breakfast this morning talked about a movement in Japan called shinrin-yoku, which translates as “forest bathing.” The idea is not just to hike around and get in the exercise, but to pay closer attention to the world that is the forest. Check out the leaves, the trees, the birds, the critters; the sights and sounds of the world around you. This concept has been studied and Japanese researchers have concluded that it boosts immunity. Researchers in the UK finds it also helps boost one’s mental immunity,  raising mood and self esteem. I could have told them that! But hooray for woodsy hikes, right?

While my friend Deb and I were going to hike over Christmas break, the sub-zero temps put an end to that idea. But, I am still going to hold her to that hike. And maybe we can practice a little shinrin-yoku! I want to generate those positive feelings, or, as the author of the book, Meik Wiking, calls them “outdoorphins” (this is my new favorite term!), and a hike with a dear friend would be just the ticket.

So, pull on your hiking boots and wrap yourself in your favorite scarf and get out into the woods, even in January. It can only do you good! Outdoorphins, people!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a full moon and owl spotting hike to sign up for with the Quad Cities Women’s Outdoor Club!

Cheers.

Happy Birthday, Butch

Today would have been my dad’s 77th birthday. I wanted to do something for him today, but I wasn’t quite sure what. My initial thought was to have friends over to toast him with the bottle of Maker’s Mark that my good friend Kelly gave me at his passing. But now the day is here and I am not sure what I am feeling.

Empty, I guess. Sad. A little lost and aimless.

So I decided to do something with some purpose and to take some action.

This morning I signed up for Auction College. In June, I will travel to beautiful Mason City, Iowa, and attend the World Wide College of Auctioneering, just like my dad did 35 years ago.

Image result for auctioneer

I’m a little nervous about all this. I’m afraid I won’t be able to talk fast enough or that I’ll think too much, thus preventing me from talking fast enough. But, as I am learning in my study of myself (and my reading of You Are a Badass), I have to just do it.

Most of the time, I am hesitant. I overthink and worry and stand at the edge of the diving board, having made it all the way up the ladder, and I look down and get dizzy. “What ifs” ping around in my head like popcorn in a skillet. At some point, I have to make the decision to take that step and have faith that the water will be there when I jump. Maybe I’ll make a great splash, maybe I’ll bellyflop, but until I step off that board, I’ll just fret and get myself worked into a knot and I’ll never know.

This will be a big step, but I have to embrace this and run with it. I know that when I leave teaching, whenever that is, I want to, will have to, do something else. And last year, when Ed and I went to a huge five-day auction in Morning Sun, Iowa, (it’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there), I was excited and invigorated. They ran three rings all day every day. I had never been to a sale that big, ever. I talked to the women at the sign in table. I talked about my dad who had been an auctioneer for over 30 years and how I had been his clerk for much of that time.

“Maybe I ought to become an auctioneer myself,” I said. To which one of the gals responded, “Women auctioneers are big right now.” Hmmmm. Interesting.

I think know I’ve got the Moxie and the chutzpah to do this. Now I just need to harness that energy and make it happen. So step up and get your bidding numbers. When I start calling (or “crying” as the lingo goes), you want to be ready.

Happy Birthday, Pa. I hope I make you proud.

Cheers.

Who Am I?

For Christmas, I got something special for Ed and myself. For quite a while, I’d been considering getting a DNA test to see where I really came from. Ed, too, of course. But since my dad passed away in July, it is something that became more important to me.

So, I ordered two test kits from 23 and Me.

They arrived the first part of December. That very evening they got registered online and we both spit into tubes. A lot. They never tell you how much spit it’s going to take. Quite a bit, it turns out. Anyhow, they got shipped off the next morning. And this past Wednesday, as I was waiting in line to give blood, I checked e-mail on my phone and….the results were in!

Image result for Britain

Despite that our family generally thought we were mostly German, I always joked that I was switched at birth by gypsies and I’m actually mostly British. Turns out I was right all along — I am mostly British and Irish –28.8% in fact! Holy cow! Next thing you’ll be telling me I’m not 100% Muggle.

Actually this correlates with some family history my cousin found. Part of my mom’s family came from Northern Ireland and from England, which tells me that they were likely part of the groups that “colonized” Northern Ireland to keep it from being Irish, which makes me sad. But I am one of those people who believe Ireland should belong to the Irish, so I am counting myself a rebel.

As far as the German part, that’s not quite as strong as I thought, either. I’m about as much French & German (21.5%) as I am Scandinavian (20.3%). Apparently I’m also about 29% “Broadly European,” whatever that means.

From what I understand, though, I cannot know the whole history of my background because I am not a man. There are some genes that would be passed down from my dad’s side of the family only to a son. I cried when I learned that, because I’d love to know more about Dad’s side.

To make things even more dismal, I don’t think there are any males on his side that I could even check with, because I think both my Grandpa Arp’s brothers died with no heirs, or at least no sons. Not to speak of, anyway. I guess one could always hope that someone fooled around somewhere and begot a son that they didn’t know about, or leastways that I don’t know about. Who knows? Maybe if I enter my DNA results into the 23 and Me pool, I can find out if there are others out there.

As for Ed, the results are still pending. I told him it’s probably because he’s more complicated. He’s worried he’s not a German purebred, to which I responded that he’s probably a mutt like the rest of us.

Image result for german shepherd

But, for now, I guess I’ll be content to know that the desire to wear plaid and do a Highland Fling and listen to Celtic music has some grounding in my genetics. And I suppose that explains why I can do pretty passable accents for England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Image result for highland flingNote: this is not actually me. Just so you know.

Cheers.

The Early Bird; or Slowing Down

Winter. Ugh. It makes me sleepy all the time, or so it seems. Last night, after school and body pump class (and dishes and a shower and organizing for my Wednesday), I couldn’t even stay awake to finish the NYT Crossword. I left Ed to finish it on his own and collapsed into bed. Neither did I toss or turn for too long once I snuggled down under the fluffy layers of quilt and comforter. And if the cat tried to wake me up during the night, I missed that, too.

So, early to bed. Next? Early to rise.

After 9 hours or so, I was up at 4:15-ish. I made myself stay in my cocoon until 4:30, though. But now here I am, 5:41 and typing away with nothing left on the docket but my meditation time on my lovely porch. Ahhh.

I found a new meditation timer for my phone, so I will sit silently for five minutes until the little gong gongs me out of it. I’m not back to yoga yet, but am trying to make sure I fit in my daily meditation practice because I know, and according to my newest read, You Are a Badass (see cover below), it will help me to calm down and slow down. I first picked the book up in Target because I thought the title was funny. I randomly picked a spot and started to read. Hmmm. Interesting. Then I picked another spot. Quirky. Interesting. After I picked a third and a fourth spot, I figured I might as well buy the book. You know. Why not?

Image result for You Are A Badass

So, in combination with my new therapist and a couple other books I have been reading to try to get my head (and eventually my body) into better shape, this book has been phenomenal. Do you ever read (or hear or see) something that just clicks with where your life is at the moment? Coincidence or fate or kismet or whatever you want to call it. That’s how this is feeling right now. I once read that there really is no such thing as coincidence but when you are focusing in on something, your perception changes and you start to see it everywhere. I read this, but then my therapist said it and I think that’s what’s going on here. I don’t care. Whatever it is, it’s helping.

Image result for the things you can see only when you slow down

Something else that’s helping is a lovely little book called The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down. Written by a Korean Buddhist monk (and, seriously, who else could have written such a concise, simple, thought-provoking, and lovely book?), I read this in small doses so I can ponder and savor. If you want a little snippet, check out this YouTube link to Haemin Sunim, who teaches at a small college in Massachusetts. Or if you would like a bigger slice of Zen, check this NPR story done last year. Apparently the book came out last year and I am a little late to the party, but I really love it. When I went to Barnes and Noble in November, they had two copies. I bought them both. One I gave to a friend for Christmas, though I suspect I may buy and give away more copies. It’s that kind of book.

So, my juxtaposition/trifecta include my therapist, an in-your-face and face-the-music kind of author, and a Buddhist monk. Huh. Sounds like the start of a bar joke, doesn’t it? But, you have to admit, that it is totally me. And I am confident it will result in a better me. Happy New Me, everyone! And don’t forget: the early bird gets the best books! (not a fan of worms, here)

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

thermom

It was actually -20 when I got up at 4:30! By 9:30, a balmy +8

And a little bit inside, too! Scarfed and hatted and sitting in front of the (fake) fireplace (heater) drinking hot cocoa. I will be so relieved when this snap is over. Sounds like maybe tomorrow we might get up to the 20s, which makes me want to break out the beachwear (almost). Am really hoping that I can soon start sitting back on my beloved sunporch surrounded by my plants, which are also hoping for the temps to travel upward.

Though it’s been a bone-chilling way to start 2018, I refuse to become discouraged. I sit with my sun lamp (which really does help; thanks to my massage therapist, Stacy, for recommending it), and I write and plot and plan. It’s the season of indoor sports, like quilting and knitting and tap-dancing (tap-dancing? what’s really in that hot cocoa? I hear you asking). Yes, tap-dancing!

Okay, so last June (ah, June – warmth, sunshine, rhubarb) Ed and I finally made it to the Aledo Rhubarb Fest, which was delightful. I had the most wonderful rhubarb pie ala mode! So after wandering the craft stalls and antique shops, we are heading back to the car, and I need coffee (when don’t I, really?).

So after a quick stop in the coffeeshop, I see a consignment store next door (are there vaccines for this? I swear consignment stores are my kryptonite). Naturally, I have to look around. And I see a pair of black shoes with a low heel and a strap and I think, “Hey! I could use a nice pair like that (and I am not making this part up) if we ever go dancing.”

I pick them up and they are, indeed, dance shoes. But they are tap shoes! And they are in my size! And (drumroll, please), they are on sale and cost me $6! I seriously should have bought a lottery ticket immediately after, except I was in Illinois, so even if I had won the lottery, I probably would never have seen the money.

So the reason this is such a crazy big deal to me is that when I was in college, for a P.E. credit, I could, and did, take a tap-dancing class. I had a blast! I had to buy shoes for the class and kept them. Or thought I did. Somewhere in all the moving around that was my life after college, they got lost. I was bummed about this, but figured, “Oh, well. This totally sucks, but there’s not much I can do. And I’m certainly not going to run out and spend a fortune on another pair of tap shoes.”

And that, ladies and gents, is why finding a pair of tap shoes in my size, which I never would have bought otherwise, was such a big deal. Hooray!

For little bits of time this summer, in between bouts of worrying about my dad who was sick with a mystery illness (now we know it was ALS, which is now my favorite disease to hate), I found some YouTube videos on how to tap dance and spent some time tapping on the back deck. This is one of the many times when it’s nice not to have neighbors too close to the back of the house, because I’m pretty sure if someone saw me tap-dancing on the back deck, they might have wanted to have me committed, although I was already committed – to having a great time tap-dancing on the back deck! (I got a million of ’em, folks).

tap shoesThe infamous $6 tap shoes

So, that’s how we get from a sub-zero  Saturday morning in January to tap-dancing. I always find it interesting what turns my writing is going to take. I certainly hadn’t expected tap-dancing. But no one suspects tap-dancing. Or is the Spanish Inquisition?

Cheers!

Happy New Year (ish – that’s the best I can give when it’s -20 outside; we won’t discuss wind chill)

Okay, boys and girls, the word of the day for January 1, 2018 is: flexibility!

Image result for gumby                                 (Anybody remember this guy? I was so flexible today, I was him!)

Yes, flexibility. Not in the yoga sense, though that is a valid guess. No, in the “it’s too cold for me to start my year outdoors with a hike so instead I will clean house like a maniac” sense

The old me would have felt guilty for skipping the hike I signed up for with the Quad Cities Women’s Outdoors Club (QCWOC). I really wanted to start the year off right with a bracing hike in the park. But looking at the thermometer on the front porch and listening to the windchill report from the National Weather Service, I knew it made more sense for me to stay indoors.

Besides, I went back to my first body pump class in about three months yesterday morning, and yesterday afternoon I tried hot yoga. That means as the day went on, I made a lot of funny noises whenever I had to bend, stoop, or squat down to dust under the bed. “Oow! Ouch! Argh!” and that sort of thing. But in a good way.

So rather than mope around about how I missed the hike, I decided it was time to check some January cleaning chores off the list. Part of my organization for the year involved creating a system to make sure I clean everything more regularly. To that end, I’ve got a recipe box my mom gave me and have labelled the dividers with each month with that month’s tasks written on recipe cards. When each month rolls around and I complete the tasks on that month’s card, I am writing the date on the back. So today my ceiling fans are dusted and the dust bunnies under the beds cowered in fear until I wiped them out. A little too OCD? Not so much. I feel better having a system. I am a list-maker, and this is the ultimate list for cleaning.

And then there was the bread making. When it’s cold outside, nothing makes the kitchen feel warmer, or smell better, than baking bread. Plus I got to do that kneading, which I actually enjoy. And it helps me think (and did not involve having to bend or stretch muscles that were sore). Even though the loaves did not turn out all that well, they were still fine because, as we have already learned, I am Gumby. Flexibility, ladies and gents. That is part of what this new year is about.

Cheers!

Image result for baked bread Wish my bread had turned out like this. Instead, it looked a little wonky and not photo-worthy. Maybe next time.