Thursday, April 28, 2016

Books I've Read

I wanted to share what I've been reading at home. 
Other than books about duck care, because we now own six ducks. 
I'll write a post about the ducks soon. 
I've been busy with them and seem to have neglected this blog. 
Anyway, I've discovered the author Alice Hoffman. 
I'm sure some of you are saying "have you been living under a rock?!"
Well, maybe I have. 
But I've dug my way out and "Hey look!  Alice Hoffman novels!  They are really good!"

It started with this novel. 

I saw it at the library in their new fiction section. 
I'm drawn to covers. 
And there was something about the woman on the cover that drew me towards her. 
When I read the synopsis on the inside cover I was hooked when I read "island life, Paris, painters, love"
I'm a HUGE fan of historical fiction. 
I've read all of Philippa Gregory's historical fiction novels about the Tudors. 
Historical fiction takes a moment out of real history (as in Gregory's books about British royalty from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries) and fictionalizes conversations between these real historical figures. 
In The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman focuses her story on the parents of the Danish-French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro in the 1800s. 
That's the history part. 
They all live on the island of St Thomas and you follow his parents love story and their interactions with others on this hot, fragrant, colorful, and tantalizing isle. 
The story eventually turns to Paris, France and it's just as tantalizing and colorful in Paris as it was back on St Thomas. 
It was a great read. 
So, I went to the library and found another Alice Hoffman novel. 

This peeked my interest. 

Again, it was the cover. 
And the synopsis told me I would be reading about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in NYC in 1911, Coney Island freak shows, photography, and love. 
History and fiction melded together quite well in this book. 
I was as hooked while reading this story as I was in The Marriage of Opposites. 

So, I went to the library again and found my way to the HOF adult fiction section and perused the Alice Hoffman section once more. 
I saw Practical Magic.

Was this made into a movie?
I couldn't quite remember, but the story sounded interesting to me. 
Two sisters, witches, love. 
Hmmm, no historical fiction. 
But, I gave it a go. 
I didn't care for it as much as the others. 
It seemed too fluffy to me.
I missed the historical aspect of the other novels. 
This book focused on instant sexual attraction, the need to have a man more than needing yourself, and like I said...fluff. 

I did finish it and took it back to the library yesterday. 
I saw this on the shelf of books that needed to be reshelved (have you found that shelf at your library yet?!)

Judy Blume, the author who wrote all of those teen novels that were so taboo when they were written in the 1970s because she spoken about *gasp* sex. 
I've seen Judy Blume talking about this newest novel on TV recently and it's about history so I snatched it up. 
Three airplanes fell from the sky in New Jersey in the early 1950s. 
This is Judy Blume's historical aspect of her new novel. 
She lived in New Jersey when these planes fell from the sky, so she's also fictionalizing her own history a bit. 
So far, so good. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Crying over Cheap Trick

I was watching the band Cheap Trick perform on national television a few mornings ago. 
And I began to cry. 
Not big slobbery tears. 
Just enough tearing in the eyeball cavities to blur the screen out. 
And I thought to myself, why in the hell am I crying?!
Then I remembered that I got the watery eyeball thing the day before when I was watching a 30 second online video of a dog and a duck who are friends. 
More moments started popping into my mind of me crying over things.
A video of a older man who visited the bench he dedicated to his deceased wife at the park. 
A photo of a man giving a homeless man a new pair of sneakers.
The Facebook video of my friend Kelly walking down Main Street at Disney World after having a stroke 10 months prior.

But they were all happy tears. 

I've found that I don't normally cry at life events that, I guess, I should me crying at.
Dog died.
Daughter diagnosed with cancer. 
On that last one I got mad. 

As I began to think about the teary episodes that occur in my life, it seems that happiness makes my eyes wet. 
Maybe peri-menopause is happening. 
Maybe I just need to be reminded that happiness still occurs in this world full of terrorism, poverty, war, tornadoes, and childhood cancer deaths.
Maybe my soul aches for joy and inspiration, triumph over adversity, love over hate. 

I don't know what's happening really. 
I do know I've always had a hard exterior. 
And that that hard exterior has started to harden my insides a bit, too. 
As I've gotten older my insides are melting a bit I guess. 
I'm sure my outsides will stay tough.

Cheap Trick is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.  
I'm no die hard Cheap Trick fan by any means. 
But the joy the crowd had for these aged rockers was great to see. 
Rockers who still sounded amazing, who were blessed with amazing talents, and who still love what they do. 
That was happiness.  
People clapping and singing and smiling for music. 
It made me happy. 
It made me cry. 
This tough gal cried over Cheap Trick. 
I hope no one shows me a video of a cow rescued from a barn fire and it's now blind and is lead around by a seeing-eye dog. 
I'll be a hot mess!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Frederick The Mouse

Gigi read 280 books for school in February. 
She read to get to the goal of a cheeseburger, fries, ice cream lunch from a local hamburger joint. 
She was determined to get the top prize, and she did. 
Along with five other first graders. 
Last week all of first grade celebrated, yet again, reading books as their sole homework in February. 
As a top reader, Gigi got to pick a free book that came with a stuffed animal. 
She chose this fat mouse. 

His name is Frederick. 
He's the star of a book written by Leo Lionni in1967. 
Frederick is an artist at heart. 
He's not like the other mice in the burrow. 
Gigi has been sleeping with Frederick every night. 
If we are having rice for dinner, she sets a plate of rice out for Frederick. 
She and Frederick drink chocolate milk together in the morning. 
He has a special little plastic tea cup to drink from. 
Her imagination is bursting when it comes to this pudgy mouse with the droopy eyelids. 
And I smile openly when I see her talking with him. 
And then my mind wanders. 
Wanders to her sister. 
And I remember that Zoe never did things like this when she was seven. 

Zoe had an imaginary friend when she was two. 
Her name was Fajohnna. 
Pronounced fa-john-ah. 
Fajohnna would call her on the phone. 
She would come over for dinner. 
Zoe didn't have a real sister, so she made herself a playmate. 
When we moved to the farm she had a new friend. 
Haykin the deer. 
She claimed that one of the many deer that wandered into our yard was her pet deer Haykin. 
When she would see him (they all looked the same to her father and I, mind you) she would grab the dog's leash and run out the door.
All the while yelling "Haaaayyyykiiiiiin!"
Of course the deer would all run away. 
And she would slump her head down and slowly trod back into the house. 
Until the next time she saw him. 
Then the same scene would play itself out, head slump and all. 

Once she had a real playmate, her sister Gigi, she dropped Fajohnna and Haykin. 
But, quickly became discouraged when her new infant playmate wasn't actually playing with her. 
We said "Give your sister time. She doesn't understand what you want her to do yet. One day she will play with you."
And since Gigi learned to walk at 9 1/2 months, she was mobile and chasing her sister around sooner than her sister was probably prepared for. 
But there was joy. 
Always joy. 
When she was talking to Fajohnna on the phone. 
Calling for Haykin to come inside the house. 
Or hiding from her sister in the yard. 
She had joy. 
Then she had cancer. 

Her five year old balloon was rudely popped. 
Her rainbow of childhood joy became colorless. 
Her world became one of gray colors. 
Clumps of hair on her pillow after a restless night's sleep. 
A world of fevers and extreme lethargy. 
A world no child should be in. 
And her childhood was put on hold. 
She couldn't run after her deer friend anymore. 
She could barely walk. 
She couldn't talk to Fajohnna on the phone anymore because her mouth was full of sores from chemo. 
Her sister was still there, but she was a reminder to her. 
A reminder of what she couldn't do. 
Gigi would visit her sister when Zoe was hospitalized with a fever. 
Gigi would make videos on the iPad of herself dancing and singing, and you can see Zoe behind her in these videos. 
Laying in a hospital bed. 
Too tired to move. 
Miserable from fever. 
Her small body fighting off an infection. 
It's surreal to see these videos now. 
As a mom, I was in the hospital making sure my very sick daughter got the best care from the medical staff. 
But my other daughter, my healthy daughter, needed me as well. 
So there was a duality seen in these videos. 
Two sisters, in sickness and in health. 

Zoe's fine now. 
She's been given a clear bill of health. 
And she doesn't remember Gigi making the videos. 
Unless we pull them up and all giggle at Gigi's antics. 
And see Zoe miserable in the bed. 
And I'm sad for her. 
I'm sad that she missed a few years of her childhood. 
Childhood shouldn't be interrupted. 
It should be carefree. 
It should be joyful. 
It should be full of imagination. 
And Zoe's imagination was halted and I see that when I see Gigi feeding Frederick a piece of her donut. 
My mind wanders...back to a time that seems like just yesterday.
We can have a clean bill of health for our daughter, but cancer never really ever goes away. 
There are future tests for her growing body. 
The memories have yet to fade for us, her parents. 
They are absent or fuzzy for Zoe. 
She's, luckily, making new memories. 
And we don't forget that, either. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Girl Goes To The Doctor...

I went to a doctor appointment on Monday.
And the fact that I even called to make an appointment is a pretty big deal for me. 
I don't like going to the doctor.
But that's another story. 
I haven't been in many years. 
I'll be 45 next month. 
Well, like I said, I went to a doctor appointment on Monday.
Chad and I had a doctor a while back. 
Then Zoe got sick. 
And we had other things on our minds. 
When your kid has cancer, all of your energies goes into making that child better. 
All of you. 
And then the doctor we had seen retired. 
And our kid was still sick. 
And we just didn't think about going to the doctor ourselves. 
Finding a new physician is a hassle. 
We are just fine, I said this often to reassure myself that I didn't need a doctor. 
We eat pretty good. 
Chad rides his bike to work when it's warm outside. 
But then, I tried exercising. 

My friend Dawn goes to the Athletic Club in town. 
She is really fun and if I went to The Club, too, I could hang out with her on a more regular basis. 
She has a very busy work schedule so meeting at The Club would be great. 
So, I got a free week pass last year. 
And she and I met for spin class. 
I had never done spin class, but I figured I could do it as I did know how to ride a bike. 
It can't be that hard, right?
And she said the teacher turned the lights down in the class which made me feel a lot better. 
So, I went. 
And we spun. 
And I managed to not fall off of the bike nor did I fall over when I got off of the bike. 
It was a win-win for me. 
I felt good!
I felt energized!
I told her I would see her the next day!
At The Club!

Chad was hesitant about me going back to The Club so soon. 
"Give it a day, rest your body, dear" he said. 
"I'll be fine" I replied. 
Dawn had us signed up for a core, interval, strength something or other class the next day. 
She told me "you can do it!  There are 60 year old ladies in the class! We'll modify the moves!"
So I went. 
And we modified. 
And boy, that was some class!
I felt good afterwards. 
Then I got in the car. 
And felt really hot. 
And I couldn't catch my breath. 
I had to go to work at the school playground. 
I'll be fine. 
I just need some water. 
I got to the playground and managed to get through kindergarten and first grade recess. 
But, I felt like I needed to throw up. 
I went into the office and told them I didn't feel well and needed to leave. 
(The school principal later told me that I did look horrible and after I left she thought she should have driven me home!)
Once I got home I barfed. 
And called my mom to ask her to pick up the girls from school because I was sick and needed to sleep. 
Which I did. 
When Chad got home from work he scolded me for going to that class at The Club. 
"You never listen to me" he chided.
"Yes dear. I'm sorry dear."
Gigi told me that exercise just wasn't my thing. 

Many months after that class I came down with a horrible cough. 
I annoyed everyone for months with my TB-style hacking. 
My friend Mark is still regretting inviting me along on that road trip to Omaha. 
I never seemed to be able to catch my breath. 
But, I never did go to the doctor. 

So, Monday I went to my appointment. 
Chad went last Thursday. 
The new doctor we saw just happens to be Zoe's school friend Matt's dad. 
I was just at their house last month talking to Matt's mom about Disney World. 
She was picking my brain about our past trip as they are going in October. 
"Hey, are you taking new patients?" I asked her husband as he sat in his living room recliner. 
So, Monday I went in and got my weight checked. 
My blood pressure measured. 
Things were tested and numbers jotted down. 
And was told I may have allergies or a slight bit of asthma. 
My heart sounded great, as did my lungs. 
My husband was told during his appointment that he has the heart rate of a 20 year old athlete. 
Show off. 
I came out learning that I've shrunk a half inch and I'm officially chubby. 
And that I should probably get a tetanus shot. 
Tomorrow, Chad and I are getting our blood drawn to see what's lurking within. 
Off goes "short and fat" and "the show off" to get our red stuff analyzed. 
Things better not be all goofy with my red stuff. 
Because that's really going to put me off from visiting the good doctor again. 

Stay tuned...

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Being Simple

I listened to an NPR story while driving my car down a country highway the other day.
It was a story about simplifying your life. 
It's an idea we have tried to incorporate into our lives for a few years now. 
Really, since Zoe's cancer diagnosis jolted us awake. 
It jolted us into a consciousness of what's important and what's not important. 
And stuff isn't really that important anymore. 
Sure, I give my kids "stuff" for birthdays and Christmas. 
But, it's certainly way toned down. 
Because I want my girls to have experiences rather than a toy they won't play with more than two times. 
I'll spend money on dance classes and birthday party excursions with friends instead of expensive jeans or new PlayStation machines. 
It can be so hard though. 
I do Iike new purses. 
And new shoes. 
But I'm trying to follow the lead of this "simplified" way of living. 
And it's much easier doing the simple life in the country. 
As opposed to living in the city like we used to. 
The buzz is intense in the city. 
Dining out. 
Being seen. 
Looking good. 
We hope to show our kids more amazing things in this world instead of giving them stuff to do while sitting at home. 
And, to be completely honest with you, we don't have the money to be better than we are. 
We just don't have the income that enables other to splurge. 
With enormous television sets and new cars with all of the technology that's available.
Are they happy with their stuff?
Those that can afford it ALL?
Some don't find happiness with stuff. 
I have a friend from college whose family has tried the "less is more" attitude to their life. 
They've done lots of traveling and plan to do more. 
Their income is considerably more than ours. 
They could choose stuff or to see life's marvels. 
They choose adventure.  
It's a hard line...having and not having. 
Choosing to have or turning your back on it. 

We drink water, not soda or gin. 
We drive one old car. 
We don't use credit cards. 
We cancelled cable television. 
We use the library. 
"Sale" is my favorite word. 
We don't eat out often. 
We plan to put in a better garden this year. 
One that grows more than cilantro and tomatoes. 

We strive to be better than to have better. 

Maybe a person’s time would be as well spent raising food as raising money to buy food. ~Frank A. Clark

The goal of life: simple but not empty. ~Terri Guillemets

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fight Like A Cat

I have always had a very strong personality. 
I was a stubborn and loud child. 
I now have a stubborn and loud child. 
I don't like it when people say things to mothers such as "I hope you have a daughter who turns out just like you."
It's never meant in a caring, loving way. 
It's always a dig. 
It's always meant to hurt. 
I'm sure it's been said to me. 
I'm opinionated. 
I'm not afraid to voice that opinion. 
And yes, I have a daughter who is just like me. 
One of my daughters looks like me, but has her father's quiet demeanor. 
The other daughter looks like...I don't know who she looks like...but she acts like I do. 
And that's just fine with me. 
My stubborn ways and fierce voice have helped our family get through some harrowing days. 
I'm in no way perfect. 
Far from it. 
I can sometimes think too quickly and then spew garbage from my mouth.  
I am sometimes too honest. 
You know, those things you think about later and say to yourself "wow, I sure shouldn't have said THAT!"
But, I see these flaws and I'm working on them. 

When Zoe was diagnosed with cancer, I didn't cry. 
I got mad. 
Wildcat mad. 
How dare this interrupt my daughter's young life?
She was brand new. 
She had only been on the earth for five years. 
She had just started full day school two weeks prior. 
I was determined, from the first minute of knowing she had leukemia, that she would not go down. 
And that I would go through this with her as if my healthy body could somehow find its way into her body. 
My energy would be her energy. 
My positivity would be her positivity. 
We did let her cry. 
We did let her ask "why is this happening to me?"
But we didn't let her stay there too long. 
Despair doesn't heal. 
Light heals. 
Love heals. 

I was always present during procedures. 
I would help hold her arms or legs when she would get a spinal tap. 
I wasn't going to let a nurse speak quietly into her ear as the doctor inserted a needle into her spine. 
She would hear my voice. 
I would penetrate through the sedation drugs. 
I firmly believed that my voice would override the pain or discomfort. 
If she couldn't eat before a sedation, I wouldn't eat. 
It was only when she was wheeled off to surgery or the spinal tap was completed, would I then take a bite of an apple. 
When she was fit for her radiation face mask, her father and I stood behind a wall in the room she was in. 
The radiation face mask fitting was, by and large, the most terrifying thing that she went through. 
As soon as the fitting was over I swooped from behind the wall, telling her we would go get some Dunkin Donuts in the hospital lobby. 

I was yearning for control. 
Needing to feel control in a situation that, in all reality, I had no control over anything that was happening at all. 
Either the medicine would work. 
Or it wouldn't. 
Either she would live. 
Or the cancer in her blood would live. 
Killing her in the process. 
Her sister was only two. 
She was only five. 
This isn't what was supposed to happen. 
This wasn't the storyline I had signed up for. 
My husband and I had decided to have children. 
They were planned. 
How dare cancer try to take away a member of our tribe. 
I'm not a tiger mother. 
I'm more of a serval mother. 
And this cat wasn't going to let her kitten go down without a loud, opinionated, stubborn fight. 

My daughter's school principal told me today that a friend's daughter was just diagnosed with cancer. 
She's only 12 years old. 
She asked me for some advice. 
I told her to tell her friend to ask many questions, to the point that she may think she's asking too many questions. 
To become stubbornly loud. 
Because her daughter can't fight this kind of fight herself. 
She needs a serval mother. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I Once Knew A Girl

I once knew a girl. 
She had long curly blonde hair and a tall forehead. 
When she was young, her face was sprinkled with freckles. 
As was my own. 
We had the same name and we were friends from an early age. 
As our age progressed, we became distanced. 
New friends and new hobbies took up our time. 
But, during high school we always had time to say hello to one another. 
Our friendship continued into college. 
We could always sit and chat about life. 
The two Jennifers were always friends, if not close friends in the end. 
In the end. 
In the end she was murdered. 

Jennifer and I met in grade school. 
And we went to junior high and high school together. 
I went to state college while she went to a private college. 
But the private college was five minutes from my school. 
She was, by far without a doubt, the smartest person I have ever known. 
She didn't have the best common sense, as would be shown in the end. 
Her common sense persuaded her to be friends and lovers with some people who weren't always the best influence on her. 
She would be found alone in the end. 
Well, not quite alone. 
Her two cats saw the whole thing. 
The violent end to a brilliant life. 
A violent end that shocked her friends' world. 
An end that dissolved her parents' world in an instant. 
An end that haunts me to this day. 

The Netflix documentary Making A Murderer has been on every media platform lately. 
Everyone has been debating whether or not Steven Avery is guilty of murdering a woman. 
Or if he's sitting in prison when he should be at home. 
It's funny, as I'm writing this blog post I'm not remembering the name of the victim. 
I remember the name of the accused. 
And as I remember my friend Jennifer, it seems her accused killer became a sort of star himself. 
Because the man who was accused, tried, and sent to prison for committing heinous acts to her is not in prison. 
Not anymore. 
Because of many factors...sloppy police work and a group of lawyers who like to free people that they think got an unfair trial. 
They call themselves the Innocence Squad or something like that. 
Yet, Jennifer is still in the ground. 
Her grave sits in the cemetery next to my house. 
And while I enjoy a good true crime story, I don't think I want to watch Making A Murderer. 
Because what's a story to some people is real life to others. 
Real life to the victim's family. 
Real life to those who go to their friend's funeral, where you stop and think "this doesn't happen in real life."

Jennifer was found strangled and stabbed on an August morning in 1993.  
She hadn't been seen at class. 
The fall semester had started and she had transferred from the private university down the street to finish her journalism degree at Illinois State. 
My cousin had called me that weekend because she had seen a report on the local news that a body had been found in an Illinois State apartment. 
I had a semester left in college. 
I had an apartment at Illinois State, but  was visiting my parents that weekend. 
We were having a 50th wedding anniversary party for my grandparents the next day. 
My cousin was calling to see if I was okay. 
Some of my friends were having a party at Illinois State that night, so I called to see if everyone was alive. 
"Yep, we're all here and kickin'!" was the response I got when I called. 
It wasn't until the next afternoon when the call that forever changed how I viewed my world came through. 
A friend, who was very close with Jennifer as we had all grown up together, had become curious about this news report and went to see if she was okay. 
My parents phone rang and I answered. 
There was no chit chat from my friend. 
Instead, hysterical screams reverberated through the line. 
"It was her!"
"It was Jennifer who was murdered!"
She had walked up to Jennifer's apartment only to find police standing outside and yellow tape covering the door. 
I immediately drove away, to be with our group of friends. 
I don't remember much after that call.

The funeral was observed by the police. 
A camera taped everyone as they silently pushed their shocked bodies slowly down the funeral home carpet to pay respects to Jennifer's parents.
Her mother had no idea who anyone was.
She seemed to be heavily sedated, yet still was somehow standing. 
The Catholic church service was hard to sit through. 
I had been to funerals before. 
A boy had killed himself during high school and I had gone to the funeral home to say goodbye to him. 
But this was different. 
I couldn't get past the fact that my friend was lying in the box that was at the front of the chapel. 
I couldn't get past the fact that she had been brutally killed. 
How she had been violated. 
I sobbed openly during the entire service. 
But, the one thing that WAS noticed, was who was absent. 
He was absent. 
The boy who said he loved her the most. 
The boy who had often come to our beloved 916 Hovey home at Illinois State looking for Jennifer. 
Looking for her in a drunken, drug induced stupor. 
Looking for her as if she belonged to him only. 
Even when we would tell him to "get out of our house, she's not here, she doesn't even live here" he would try to push his way in. 
He wasn't there to say goodbye to her at the cemetery. 
And the police noticed. 
And we thought justice had been fulfilled.
It later all fell apart. 

I moved to Chicago after college. 
I married and had two children. 
I returned to my hometown with my new family. 
I inherited my grandparents' house which has a cemetery right next door. 
A cemetery where my friend Jennifer forever rests. 
I put flowers on her grave every Memorial Day. 
I used to see her dad at the library. 
He was a proud patron there and he greatly valued education. 
He donated money and items to the summer reading program. 
We would pass in the parking lot. 
Or I would see him leaving as I was shuttling my little kids up the stairs to the children's floor of books. 
Me, the other Jennifer, with her two daughters. 
He would smile lightly to me. 
But never stopped to talk. 
I don't know if he remembered me. 
Or if he did and was trying not to remember. 
Thinking of his own Jennifer. 
Who wouldn't have children. 
I thought of it. 
And I had a sense of guilt during brief these meetings. 
Guilty somehow that I was alive and had gotten married. 
Had children. 
Had the life his daughter could have had. 
If it hadn't ended that summer in August. 

I once knew a girl...