All of Us!

All of Us!
Finally! All together with enough time to spare (??) to capture a picture of all six of us in the same spot, same time. Now this is a precious photo! I tried to get one last year for our Christmas card and didn't succeed. So when I had the chance I threw out the lasso and rounded everyone up (at my niece's graduation party) to grab a couple snapshots. My oldest son, Casey, and his girlfriend Nika are on the left; and my youngest son, Brady, and his girlfriend Jenne on the right; that leaves Bob and I in the center. (Bob is the one who doesn't look very happy about having his picture taken!!)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Circle of Life

Life takes some crooked turns and you never know from day to day where you will end up. I am not loving life as it is right now as much as I did before. I know that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, but until that peeks through the dark and dreary clouds, it is hard to know and understand the circle of life.

As many of you know, my aunt has been failing in health. Auntie’s prognosis last week was that they can do nothing for her. This has been my first encounter with a Palliative Team of doctors and then being introduced into the life of hospice. It was not what I was expecting when told that the hospital was having a Palliative meeting. I knew and thought I understood what palliative was as it stood by itself – a journey and process by which to make the patient comfortable before and/or after treatment no matter which way the diagnosis was leading. And that hospice followed a prognosis that was not good. At no time were we informed that this meeting would lead to talk of hospice, so it came as quite a shock. I was not entirely prepared for it, and neither had I looked ahead to know all that I could know about hospice before the meeting. I was probably in denial. I had fought a fight that I would not win. I didn’t like the outcome. If something, like hospice, for example, happens and I don’t know much about it, I immediately set forth to become educated. I need to know. I didn’t have the time nor the energy at this point to look into it. I was hitting the water not head on but with a belly-flop and it was going to sting.

Having Auntie transferred back to the nursing home with hospice to come on board and a prognosis of just few days remaining before life waned down and her journey forward to another life approaching, I was dumbfounded. I had to recharge so that I could move forward in as positive a manner as I could. Buoyed down with other hurdles in the road, I have now become diligent that I will do all that I can now that I have been defeated by the illnesses Auntie is suffering from.

I have nursed babies of all kinds back to health. When my sons were sick, I held, rocked, cuddled, and coddled until they were as good as new. I’ve done the same with my sisters when they were babies, as well as my nieces and nephews. I’ve held and fed kittens when they were sick and dying. I’ve sat down on the cold ground and tried to feed dying calves begging they would suckle just one more time on the bottle nipple to get enough milk in them to try to sustain them for another day or hour. I gave my dying father CPR. My oldest son gave a dying puppy CPR. I sat for hours and hours at the brain trauma unit after my sister’s car accident, watching the days go by praying that she would come out of a coma. I held her hand, I stroked her hair, I talked to her, just to try to coax an open eye. I tried to do as much as I could to help my mother after her car accident at the hospital and at rehab so that she would not be broken any more. I took charge of the care of my aunt when she had her heart surgery nursing her back to health. It’s in my nature and maybe I have passed that on, too. But, it’s also in my nature that I always want the outcome to be good, as it would be in anyone’s. It’s just not always possible and when it is not, it hurts. It stings.

It is nothing new for me to do it for my aunt now, again, when the waters were rough and I thought the storm would pass and all would be calm. I just am not or was not prepared for things to begin a downward spiral. As I said, I have now relinquished myself to make her next journey as peaceful and comfortable as possible.

I’ve also had my bouts with faith. I have always been a faithful person to God since I was little, but it is not to say that we haven’t had our ups and downs. When things have been awe-inspiring, I have turned to my faith. When things have not been, I have shied away – more so from the public outpouring of my faith, and not from the inward soul-searching of my faith. It has always been there. It is just sometimes hard to put it out there for everyone to see when I am unsure of life’s twisted and thorny roads. When the circle of life goes off keel, I tend to shut the door a little bit. Once the train is back on track, I open it back up again to let the sun shine in.

So, I am having a difficult time at the moment. I need to feel my nurturing instincts kicking in and that they are doing some good. So I sit and feed Auntie just a couple spoonfuls at a time when I visit, just enough to sustain life as long as she is not suffering. The suffering part I cannot take, but I will be strong, because I have told her I will be. She has told me many times lately that she loves me. The night before she was to be discharged from the hospital, and I was getting ready to leave, she told me that she will miss me. I told her I would miss her, too, but that I would be back in the morning to follow the ambulance and pick up her stuff. Obviously knowing that I missed the point or that maybe I was avoiding it, she said, “no I will miss you when I leave.” Knowing full well what she meant, I kissed her and told her I loved her and that I would miss her, too. I had to leave the room because up until this point I had been very strong. I didn’t want to hear those words but yet I did. I couldn’t stop the flood of tears as I walked out and drove home. I knew then at that point she was preparing for her journey. I just didn’t want to see her shutting the suitcase, standing at the train station and waving goodbye.

This weekend was a good weekend with all the family coming in to see her. Pastor Mark came and did communion for Auntie and the whole family. This was comforting to her and to me, also. Spiritually, I may be a mess and hanging in limbo right now, but Auntie is steadfast in hers. I’ll come back on board; it just may take me a little while.

The circle of life is an amazing thing when you look at it from the perspective of The Lion King. The animation draws you in and it never seems too harsh for one to handle. The real circle of life is a lot more bumpy, tossing you from side-to-side like the Titanic about to crash. I’m waiting for the calm after the storm, but yet I don’t want it to come either. I’m waiting for Auntie to be at peace, but I don’t want to lose her. She is tired and worn out. She needs a rest. I’m also tired out, but my rest will come when hers does – each to rest in different ways. I haven’t quite figured out the circle of life with all the properties it possesses. It is crude one moment and amazing the next; tiring and then energizing.

Right now, I need a fueling station with a pillow that also has a phone booth with good reception so I can check on Daddy from time-to-time, and Auntie when the time comes. Do you think Heaven accepts collect phone calls?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Diabetes: Crash and Burn (My Story)

Now that I have given you the facts, let me tell you my story. (Fair warning: Some of this can get kind of graphic. Make sure you have the “stomach” for it.)

It was three years ago, the day before my 47th birthday. It was also my son Brady’s 20th birthday. I hadn’t been feeling good for a couple days. Sort of lethargic feeling. The week before, on Casey’s 22nd birthday, I had taken him to the emergency room after work, as it was too late to get him into the doctor or into urgent care. He had a viral infection. So, not feeling very well, I thought maybe I had the same. I had a big decision to make. Do I take the time to run to the doctor to check it out or not? On the upcoming weekend, Memorial Day, on Sunday I had our annual May (spring, a/k/a April-June) birthday party. I have it every year and it includes both sides of the family, Bob’s and mine. I was looking at approximately 60 people coming to the house. Plus, my sister Suzi and family were coming down from Minnesota and they were bringing their newborn baby, Tabitha, who would be about a month old. She was born a premie, though, and sensing I might have something I figured I had better go see a doctor to get an antibiotic of some sort or, Heaven help me, if I wouldn’t be able to go near or hold that baby. That was just the sort of thing that I didn’t want to go through!

So, in between jobs (at that time I worked for one attorney in downtown Madison from 7-9:45 a.m. and then drove 10 minutes to my full-time job which I began at 10:00 a.m.; my hours, etc., with both places have since changed to something more reasonable) . . . so between jobs I ran to urgent care. I explained to the nurse my symptoms, thirsty, lethargic, and maybe running a fever – not sure – because I just didn’t feel good. But, nurse, the bottom line is I have company coming this weekend, one being a premie, so I really need something to make me feel better so I can be on my way. She went through a list of other questions. Me: nope, nope, nope. Nurse: any frequent urination? Me: Well, yes, but that didn’t start until last night and yes, now that I come to think about it, I was up a few times in the middle of the night, which is unusual, but I think that is because I was drinking so much water. A fever will make you do that, right? She looked at me and said let’s do a quick urine and blood test. Okay, no problem, but then I really need to be on my way, as I have things I need to do and get back to work.

Blood drawn and peeing done, I sat in the exam room. Oh my gosh, I thought to myself, she asked me about frequent urination. Oh, Lord, they know my family history with the diabetes and now with this, they are going to go that route, I just know it, and don’t they understand that Casey had a viral infection last week and I probably got it. They are just going to spend more time than what I have right now on something that is not the problem. A few minutes later, the nurse and a doctor came in. Good, I thought. Me: Okay, so what type of a viral infection is it? Dr.: Nope, you don’t have a viral infection, you are diabetic.

It hit me sort of like an out of control train being derailed. Are you sure? I mean my son was sick. No, that has nothing to do with it. I thought for a moment. Yep, I, of all people, should have noticed the signs, but I was too busy or maybe was it more afraid, to recognize them.

Okay, what is the plan? We are going to set up an appointment for you to see an internal medicine doctor but we can’t get you in to see her until Friday at 4:00. Okay, I thought. I can do that. Today is Tuesday and I had already taken the day off to prepare for the party, but I can do that. It will just take a couple hours out of my day and I can try to get as much accomplished before then as I can.

Friday came and I went to see Dr. Grant. She put me on pills - Metformin. I ran to the pharmacy, got the prescription filled and popped the first one right away. Dr. Grant had said that I will start to feel a little better in about a day after starting the pills. Okay, it better hurry up because I have lots to do. The weather is seeming to get a little better and I have plants to plant, mulch to lie down, food to prepare, cleaning to do.

Friday night came and I didn’t feel good. I vomited once or twice. Saturday morning, more vomiting. Feeling worse, I asked the boys for help. I have stuff to get done, can you help? Sure. More vomiting. Then I asked Casey’s girlfriend at the time if she would drive the Durango and me around as I didn’t know if I had enough energy to drive. Bob: Why don’t you just call off the damn party if you aren’t feeling good. Me: Nope. I can make it through the weekend and then will rest up.

So, off Amber and I went with my itinerary of, first, to New Glarus, to pick up my cocoa bean mulch. Then, next we need to head the other direction to Dodgeville, to pick up the cake, groceries, and I want to get a kiddie pool for the little ones since it was supposed to be nice weather. On the way to New Glarus, (Me:) Amber can you pull over. I’m sorry but I have to vomit. Done and on our way again, we picked up the mulch. On the way to Dodgeville, twice, “Amber can you pull over. I need to vomit.” Then I had to have her come in and help me pick up the cake because it was a full sheet cake and, normally easy to do, I didn’t think I could carry it out. Cake in the SUV, off to the grocery store to pick up the last of the fresh groceries. In and out in record time and then, once again, because I was going to get sick. Me: Amber, please pull over right before we get to Wal-Mart. (More vomiting.) In and out of Wal-Mart carrying a large kiddie pool which we shoved into the Durango on top of the mulch. Okay, it’s getting late. We really need to head home. Heading back, more vomiting on the way home. Once home, the boys helped unload the Durango and I headed for the recliner in the kitchen. Boys, can you help me make some food if I start things. Yep, sure can. All three pitched in to make a huge batch of pasta salad and macaroni salad. While they cut, diced, grated, stirred and drained, (and frankly I am extremely proud of them for being so good about it), I instructed from the recliner trying to see if I could keep down some water.

Bob came in from the barn. Again, he vocalized, this is not normal, there is something wrong, why don’t you call off the damn party. Nope, it is tomorrow and I can make it through this. I’m stubborn when it comes to parties. I love to throw parties and nothing stands in my way when I am planning a party.

Okay, most all the food is done that I need to make. Thanks, kids. At midnight, I dragged myself upstairs and fell into bed, thinking that if I got some sleep I would feel better in the morning and could finish up the last of the stuff then. Shortly afterwards, I was up vomiting again and then back to bed. Two more times again, and crawled back into bed. Finally, at around 5:00 a.m., after vomiting once more, I lay on the bathroom floor. I didn’t have the strength to walk back to bed. I had to crawl. That is when Bob said, “This is it. You have to call off this party.” I finally admitted then, that yes, that I had to. I said I will call the doctor on call to see what they say. Bob got up and went downstairs.

Before I could get up to get the number to call the doctor on call, the phone rang. Who would be calling at this time of the morning? It has to be something of an emergency or bad. I answered the phone. It was my sister, Marci. Me: Hello. Marci: You’re not feeling well, I hear. Me: No, I’m not. Why do you ask me that? Marci: Because Bob just called me and if he is concerned enough to call me at five in the morning, something must be seriously wrong. Me: Yea, I’m not sure, but I’m about to call the doctor. Marci: Call me as soon as you talk to them. Me: I will. In the meantime, I think I have to call off the party today. Marci: Do ya think! I will call Cindy (Bob’s sister-in-law) and let her know so she can tell his side and I will let our family know. Me: Okay, thanks.

Once off the phone with Marci, I called the doctor on call. Still in bed, the doctor on call told me that, “yes, something is seriously wrong, and you should get to the emergency room right away. If you are not going by ambulance, make sure whoever takes you knows what to do because there is a good possibility you may pass out before you get there because you are either hypo- or hyperglycemic. Either way, I will alert the ER that you are coming in and what is going on.” Great! That means I don’t dare have the boys take me. Okay, Marci, you’re on. I called her back and asked can you take me. She said, yes, I have to get dressed and I will be there as soon as I can. After I explained what the doctor said, she was now nervous.

I got up and tried to get dressed in between vomiting. I crawled down the steps and sat in the recliner waiting for her to come pick me up. The boys helped me into her van and off we went with an empty ice cream pail in hand. Marci can be kind of squeamish about certain things; people getting sick and/or needles are a couple of them. The other thing is, I love my sister to death, but when she is driving and on a mission, she stares straight ahead and drives with a death grip on the steering wheel. This was one of those times. She was on a mission. She would only glance at me from time-to-time just to make sure I was still with it.

Me: Marci, pull over. Marci: Why? Me: I’m going to vomit. Marci: Can’t you use the pail? Me: No, because I might get it on the inside of your car. Just pull over and let me hang my head out the door. (More vomiting.) Okay, let’s go. A couple more times of pulling over and I have now fully reclined myself in a laying down position in the van. Thirty-five miles later and we are now in Madison heading up Park Street, just blocks away from Meriter Hospital. A detour.

Marci: Oh, great, now what. Me: Is there a sign or anything? Marci: Yes, it is a run/walk marathon of some sort. Me: Go down a couple blocks and see if there is anywhere to get through. Marci: Nothing. Me: Then find someone to ask, there must be someone directing traffic of some sort, and put your flashers on. Marci: There’s someone. (She stops and asks her if she can get through. They say no, but try up the block farther. Marci, swearing under her breath, backs up, turns around and goes to the next street). Marci: There are two cops on bikes. What do I tell them? Me: Tell them I am a diabetic and I am either hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic and I could very well pass out at any moment. Marci (to officers): I have my sister in the van and she is diabetic and the doctor told her to get to the hospital right away and she might pass out. Officers: Do you want us to call an ambulance? Me: No, we are 2-3 blocks from the hospital, just tell them we just need to get across the path of the marathon and then we will be okay.

Not able to see what is going on, and with Marci using her Vulcan grip on the steering wheel, all I can think of is we are only a couple blocks away and I feel like I am going to pass out. Then Marci starts to laugh. The officers have jumped on their bikes and are giving us a bike police escort to the hospital ER. Marci said she has never seen feet and pedals move so fast. She is going over 30 mph and they are getting away from her. Once to the ER entrance, they jump off their bikes, and one runs in to alert the ER that I am there. The other grabs a wheelchair and helps me out of the van and scoots me inside, only to be whisked immediately into a room. Madison’s Blue at their finest.

Laying there, trying to answer questions, I’m immediately hooked up to tons of machines. Blood is drawn, an IV is hooked up and Marci is looking kind of pale. The doctor says I need to have an EKG done immediately. After all the testing, etc., things finally start to calm down and I am beginning to feel better. The doctor comes in and says that my blood sugar count was around 600 and they are going to be admitting me into the cardiac ICU unit, as they were fearful that I might have a heart attack.

Marci, after being on the phone constantly since we arrived, now informs me that our family has decided that since there is so much food, and Suzi and family are down, that our family is going to gather at Marci’s to try to put a dent in it. Bob is on his way up and Marci is going to leave so she can get home to tend to the rest of the family soon to be gathering at her house for the party I was supposed to be hosting.

Bob gets to the ER and the nurse is ready to wheel me upstairs. Out of curiosity, Bob asked the nurse, if she had ever seen blood sugars that high (as when I came in). She said, yes, and much worse; even as high as over 1,000 which is mostly from diabetic homeless people, who can’t afford any medications, and end up in the ER when blood sugars get out of control. (Yep, this from a country who can afford to give tons of dollars to other countries, but can’t afford to take care of our people here!)

So, begins the week-long journey for me into my new world of diabetes. I spend two days in Cardiac ICU. Once they feel that I am out of the woods for any heart problems, I am transferred to a regular room. While I am in the Cardiac ICU, though, is where and when I begin to become “one” with my diabetes. In the few days prior to my crash and burn, I had come to terms with Diabetes and Me. Growing up with my dad having diabetic episodes (we called then “sweats”) I learned quick and hard what to look for and how to treat it. When I was young, there were many nights when my mom would awaken me to help her with my dad if his blood sugars had gone too low. When my dad had hurt his hand in a farm accident and could no longer push the syringes down when giving himself insulin injections, he would have my mom do it. If she wasn’t available, I would do it. I learned the ropes of diabetes at a young age. I had even said that if anyone in our family should get diabetes, at least I knew how to work with and treat it. Lesson No. One: Always watch what you say. But I did know how and I do know what is what. The only thing now, I had to learn it all for myself, and that was what I was going to do.

So, from Day One in the hospital, I had a notebook and I took notes of everything that happened. I would not let the nurses take my blood pressure, temperature, blood sugar reading, etc., without knowing exactly what it was so I could write it down. I wrote down everything I ate and what happened.

I was admitted to the hospital on a Sunday and on Memorial Day Monday night, I experienced my first low. I remember precisely when it happened and how it happened. My youngest, Brady, had come up to visit. It was about 8:30 at night. I was talking to him as he sat in a chair next to my bed. All of the sudden I started to feel a little strange, I could feel that my neck was getting weaker and that my eyes were having problems focusing. I could see and feel through my own eyes and body exactly what I saw in my dad’s eyes and how he was feeling every time he had a low. It was strange, it was de-ja-vu, it was almost eerie. But I was positive, I knew what was going on. I just didn’t know how bad it was going to get. And, I didn’t want Brady there to experience it - yet. So I told him I was getting really tired and that he should get going as he had to work the next day. He left and I rang for the nurse. She came in and I told her what was happening and it was starting to happen very fast. Yep, my first noticeable low. As I had been fed insulin intravenously at the beginning until things were under control, they had been playing with it a little bit to see how I was reacting to it. This was it. So they tested my blood sugar and gave me some insulin. After a few minutes, thing finally started to get back to normal.

From then on, every two hours I was poked, prodded, pricked, and cuffed (blood pressure) so the doctors could figure out a plan of action. What they said was this didn’t seem normal for type 2. If I was type 2, I wouldn’t have presented like I did. A crash such as mine usually means a type 1. So they did some more extensive testing. And, yes, I was type 1. Odd and very rare that it would happen at my age, but with the family history with my dad, it would be expected.

In life we learn to adjust to things. It was not only difficult for me, it was difficult for others in my family. I give Bob a lot of credit. He hates hospitals (who likes them) and has never spent much time there, even visiting anyone. He was now faced with a situation he didn’t want to be in either. But he came up to see me every day. He knew as well that if I was going to go through this, he would have to go through it with me as well. So he rearranged how he did things on the farm for a week, so that he could make the drive up every day to see me. The one thing he had to contend with, though, was dealing with the cake that I had bought for the party. It was a full sheet cake, enough to feed 60. The boys had taken it to Marci’s but what was left was sent back with them to the farm – all but just a few pieces were taken from it. Bob called me when he got home Sunday night. “What am I going to do with all this cake? If I start eating it, I will end up in a bed beside you.” I laughed and told him to get out cake pans and cut large pieces to fit into all of them. Then make sure they have covers on them and stick them in the freezer. At least, I wouldn’t have to do any baking for awhile!

The boys had to go back to work and, Brady, being closer was able to stop once in awhile. Casey even came from Chicago late one night and snuck into the hospital through the emergency room at 11:30.

Okay, so I know I am a Type 1 diabetic. If I am going to take control of my life again, I need to know how and what I am going to do to succeed with that. So I journaled, journaled, journaled. The diabetes educator and doctors soon took my notes to figure out what was going on as it seemed a better source than what their notes were. From that we learned and tested and learned and tested until we came up with a formula for how much insulin I should take and when.

It is not that I am different than any other diabetic. I am a diabetic just like them. But what people have to understand is that no two diabetics are the same. Each reacts differently to pills, insulin and the amounts of each. Each has to figure out what and when to eat and how to treat their lows and highs. It is all a balancing game.

One big difference that I did learn. Years ago, it was the “law” of a diabetic that you could not have sugars. That is bunk. Carbs are what a diabetic has to have and yet avoid. Sound confusing? Well, it is, but yet it is as simple as can be. For example, I am supposed to eat four carbs per meal. How did we come up with that formula? It was trial and error. But for me, I needed the calorie intake of four carbs. Anything less, I became lethargic. Anything more and I overshoot my “legal limit” of carbs for the amount of insulin I am taking and would have high spikes. Sugars are carbs and there is kind of a rule of thumb on carbs. A small fist is (about) equal to one carb. Pastas, potatoes (starchy foods) are carbs; cookies, cakes, bars (sweets) are carbs; fruits and some vegetables are carbs; some have more grams of carbs than others. One carb is equal to 15 grams. I have learned after some testing that when I go from a normal or high blood sugar reading into a low, I go into a low fast. So when I start to feel a low coming on, I need to treat it accordingly. If I test my blood sugar and it is in the 50-70 range, I can treat it with simple carbs like milk or cheese; but if my low is less than that, I need a glass of orange juice which brings my low up faster, but the rush of that generally makes me sick. Highs and lows are not good for a diabetic. The goal is to keep things consistent. That is always the most difficult part.

At present, I take five insulin injections a day. I also take a statin drug, only because I asked to have one. I have done lots of research and cutting edge technology tells us that it is the future that diabetics should be on a statin to begin with. It is a little extra heart protection, as the heart is one of the organs affected by diabetes, so are the kidneys. Of course, the main organ impacted is the pancreas, which produces insulin. A type 1 diabetic’s pancreas is either not working completely or it is only partially functioning. There is no turning back the clock on that. The objective is to keep it working at its highest potential for as long as possible.

As for me, everyone looks out for my lows and can tell when it is happening. If my eyes start to roll, then know I’d better do something fast. LOL! Usually it never gets that bad. Most of my lows are in the middle of the night. Pongo is the watcher over the lows then. He will crawl under the blankets and curl up by my legs. He can sense when I am starting to go into lows and will crawl out and paw at me to get up. I can still recognize the lows, but he is just my animal alarm clock before I get too low. (This is nothing too uncommon. Studies have shown that some dogs can sense this, just as some can sense an epileptic seizure before it happens.)

I know that I will always be on insulin and cannot change the fact that I am a type 1diabetic. My hope for others is that if they find they are pre-diabetic or a type 2 diabetic, they jump on the chance to rectify it as soon as possible. Most type 2 diabetics can change the course of their future, type 1 diabetics cannot – they can only try to control the situation as best they can.

Given a change in circumstances, I would certainly not want to take the insulin injections that I do and would never wish it on anyone else. I only hope that, on this Diabetes Alert Day, you take the time to take the risk test, and if the end results are not favorable, that you do something to help change that. It is one of the few tests in life that you can take, in which you then get a second chance to take it again after you have corrected the errors from the first time, and you can come out a “winner, winner - chicken dinner!”

Monday, March 22, 2010

Diabetes and The Facts - Let's Talk

Let’s talk. Have a seat, grab a cup of coffee and let’s have a frank, little conversation for a moment.

Most people may be unaware that tomorrow, March 23, is National Diabetes Alert Day. This is something that is dear and close to me, because as you might or might not be aware, I am a Type 1 diabetic and my dad was also a Type 1 diabetic. My dad took three insulin injections a day, I take five. My maternal grandmother was a Type 2 diabetic. My brother is pre-diabetic, I have a brother-in-law who was also diagnosed as pre-diabetic and now a sister’s significant other has been diagnosed as type 2.

You may ask, what is the difference between a Type 1 and a Type 2 diabetic. In simple terms, it was always termed that a Type 1 was “childhood” diabetes and Type II was “adult-onset.” A Type 1 is insulin dependent whereas a Type II may or may not need insulin, and/or can sometimes control their diabetes through diet, exercise and pills. Sometimes a Type 2 diabetic can reverse the disease whereas a Type 1 cannot.

Facts: Look around you. One in five Americans is at risk for type 2 diabetes. Nearly 6 million more have diabetes and don't know it. In the next 24 hours, 4,384 cases of diabetes will be diagnosed in America.

Chances are that diabetes has touched you or someone you love. Already there are 57 million Americans at risk for type 2 diabetes. So, this is a wake-up call. March 23, 2010 is the 22nd annual American Diabetes Association Alert Day. It's the day we want to know "What will you do to Stop Diabetes? Know your risk." It's the day we want you to learn your risk for type 2 diabetes by taking the simple Diabetes Risk Test online. It's the day to ask if your loved ones could be a part of the 57 million Americans at risk for type 2 diabetes - and it's the day to share the Diabetes Risk Test with them. It's the day to stop diabetes by taking steps toward prevention.

You can take the test by going on-line, copy the following into your browser and then proceed to take the simple test to see if you are at risk:

Now, let’s talk for a moment about the big differences between Type 1 and 2 diabetes and then I will share with you my story.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and many more are unaware they are at high risk. Some groups have a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes than others. Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, as well as the aged population.

In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. When you eat food, the body breaks down all of the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can lead to diabetes complications.

You're probably wondering how you get diabetes or you may worry that your children will get it. Unlike some traits, diabetes does not seem to be inherited in a simple pattern. Yet clearly, some people are born more likely to get diabetes than others.

What Leads To Diabetes?

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different causes. Yet two factors are important in both. First, you must inherit a predisposition to the disease. Second, something in your environment must trigger diabetes.

Genes alone are not enough. One proof of this is identical twins. Identical twins have identical genes. Yet when one twin has type 1 diabetes, the other gets the disease at most only half the time. When one twin has type 2 diabetes, the other's risk is at most 3 in 4.

Type 1 Diabetes

In most cases of type 1 diabetes, people need to inherit risk factors from both parents. Studies show that they think these factors must be more common in whites because whites have the highest rate of type 1 diabetes. Because most people who are at risk do not get diabetes, researchers want to find out what the environmental triggers are.

One trigger might be related to cold weather. Type 1 diabetes develops more often in winter than summer and is more common in places with cold climates. Another trigger might be viruses. Perhaps a virus that has only mild effects on most people triggers type 1 diabetes in others.

Early diet may also play a role. Type 1 diabetes is less common in people who were breastfed and in those who first ate solid foods at later ages.

In some people, although rare, the development of type 1 diabetes seems to take many years. In experiments that followed relatives of people with type 1 diabetes, researchers found that most of those who later got diabetes had certain autoantibodies in their blood for years before. (Antibodies are proteins that destroy bacteria or viruses. Autoantibodies are antibodies 'gone bad,' which attack the body's own tissues.)

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes has a stronger genetic basis than type 1, yet it also depends more on environmental factors. Sound confusing? What happens is that a family history of type 2 diabetes is one of the strongest risk factors for getting the disease but it only seems to matter in people living a Western lifestyle.

Americans and Europeans eat too much fat and too little carbohydrate and fiber, and they get too little exercise. Type 2 diabetes is common in people with these habits. The ethnic groups in the United States with the highest risk are African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Pima Indians.

In contrast, people who live in areas that have not become Westernized tend not to get type 2 diabetes, no matter how high their genetic risk.

Obesity is a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Obesity is most risky for young people and for people who have been obese for a long time.

Gestational diabetes is more of a puzzle. Women who get diabetes while they are pregnant are more likely to have a family history of diabetes, especially on their mothers' side. But as in other forms of diabetes, nongenetic factors play a role. Older mothers and overweight women are more likely to get gestational diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes: Your Child's Risk

In general, if you are a man with type 1 diabetes, the odds of your child getting diabetes are 1 in 17. If you are a woman with type 1 diabetes and your child was born before you were 25, your child's risk is 1 in 25; if your child was born after you turned 25, your child's risk is 1 in 100.

Your child's risk is doubled if you developed diabetes before age 11. If both you and your partner have type 1 diabetes, the risk is between 1 in 10 and 1 in 4.

There is an exception to these numbers. About 1 in every 7 people with type 1 diabetes has a condition called type 2 polyglandular autoimmune syndrome.

In addition to having diabetes, these people also have thyroid disease and a poorly working adrenal gland. Some also have other immune system disorders. If you have this syndrome, your child's risk of getting the syndrome including type 1 diabetes is 1 in 2.

Researchers are learning how to predict a person's odds of getting diabetes. For example, most whites with type 1 diabetes have genes called HLA-DR3 or HLA-DR4.

If you and your child are white and share these genes, your child's risk is higher. (Suspect genes in other ethnic groups are less well studied. The HLA-DR7 gene may put African Americans at risk, and the HLA-DR9 gene may put Japanese at risk.)

Other tests can also make your child's risk clearer. A special test that tells how the body responds to glucose can tell which school-aged children are most at risk.

Another more expensive test can be done for children who have siblings with type 1 diabetes. This test measures antibodies to insulin, to islet cells in the pancreas, or to an enzyme called glutamic acid decarboxylase. High levels can indicate that a child has a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes: Your Child's Risk

Type 2 diabetes runs in families. In part, this tendency is due to children learning bad habits eating a poor diet, not exercising--from their parents. But there is also a genetic basis.

In general, if you have type 2 diabetes, the risk of your child getting diabetes is 1in 7 if you were diagnosed before age 50 and 1 in 13 if you were diagnosed after age 50.

Some scientists believe that a child's risk is greater when the parent with type 2 diabetes is the mother. If both you and your partner have type 2 diabetes, your child's risk is about 1 in 2.

People with certain rare types of type 2 diabetes have different risks. If you have the rare form called maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY), your child has almost a 1-in-2 chance of getting it, too.

Diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem so harmless. Recent studies indicate that the early detection of diabetes symptoms and treatment can decrease the chance of developing the complications of diabetes.

The most common symptoms for Type 1 Diabetes: frequent urination, unusual thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, extreme fatigue and irritability. Common symptoms for Type 2 diabetes: any of the type 1 symptoms, frequent infections, blurred vision, cuts/bruises that are slow to heal, tingling/numbness in the hands/feet, and recurring skin, gum, or bladder infections. But, often people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms.

As I told you, I'm a Type 1 diabetic. My symptoms didn't start until a couple days before I was diagnosed. A1C blood tests can determine only as far back as three months prior to the test how long you have been diabetic. My tests determined that I was diabetic at least three months prior. Because my dad was a type 1 diabetic, I have always had my blood tested every year when I have my annual physical. Nothing has showed up prior to this. My cholesterol is excellent, my blood pressure before this was fine, my weight was fine. What happened to me was shortly after I was diagnosed (which at first I was misdiagnosed as a type 2), I crashed. Literally and figuratively, I crashed and burned. It was like the race car hitting the wall and exploding into flames, but having the driver emerged from the wreck shaken up and with a few small cuts and bruises here and there. Scared at first, but after going through it, you want to know what happened and why. That how I feel after having gone through this. I wanted to know why and what caused it. So I wanted to share this with you, so that you, too, can be aware of some of the most important aspects of this disease. I have seen the devastating effects it had on my dad, a type I diabetic, who developed the disease in his childhood and after three heart attacks in his 30's, the fourth finally took him in his 50's. I saw what it did to a client, type 2 diabetic, who wasn't given a replacement to allow him the time to attend to doctor appointments. During the course of his litigation, he lost his first leg and after taking it as far as the Seventh Circuit Court, who still denied he was disabled, he lost his second leg. Three years later, he was finally diagnosed as being disabled. A little too late, but he is still alive, if that is any concilation.

Now that I have given you the facts, let me tell you my story. My story follows in the next post entitled "Diabetes - Crash and Burn (My Story)."

Before you go to the next post, do me one small favor. Take the Diabetes Risk Test. If not for yourself, do it for me, do it for those that you love, because they are the ones that need to know just as much as you do. It takes just a moment to do and you will be taking one step toward possibly correcting something that you never knew was wrong with you. And if you pass with flying colors, it is all more the reason to feel even better about yourself today.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It's A Dirty Job But Somebody Has To Do It

I have a confession to make. I’m a kitchenholic. I absorb and take in anything to do with the kitchen. I love to cook and bake and anything that helps me do that, makes it simpler, makes it slicker, makes it prettier, makes it a joy to do, I want it.

I hate it though when I have something that doesn’t work. We have slowly been replacing the appliances in my kitchen (I know it is our kitchen but I use it the most, so it is mine; it is no different from it is his tractor or his skid loader; he uses it more than I do, so that is his). The washer was four years ago, the dryer 1-1/2 years ago, the dishwasher a little over a year ago and the stove this past Christmas. The refrigerator is next on the list and has been giving us indications that she wants to throw in the towel.

But the dishwasher just gave me a nod that she isn’t feeling good and that upsets the apple cart in my kitchen. When an appliance goes bad, it is never a good thing. Dishwashers are one thing that, if they don’t work, you can always handwash the dishes. But it becomes a major inconvenience. And she decided she wanted to inconvenience me yesterday.

I got back early Friday evening (well, if 8:00 is early) from being gone since that morning with my Aunt to the hospital. Once we finally got her admitted from the ER (2:00), I stayed until 4:30 and then headed to my cousin’s visitation with some of my family in Madison. When I left there, I stopped at Target on the way home to pick up a couple things, and then stopped at Bob’s brother and sister-in-law Ed and Faye’s farm to pick up some items I had ordered from Faye’s recent Pampered Chef party. I had designs in my head what I wanted to make for the funeral the next day and for at home. I picked them up and then went home. I quickly threw together two batches of my family’s Devil’s Food Cake recipe; one for cupcakes and other for a cake. Popped them all in the oven and waited for them to bake and cool. In the meantime I whipped up some BBQ for Bob and me to eat. By the time Bob got in the house from milking, I had the cupcakes out and was starting to frost them. One of the things I ordered from the Pampered Chef party was the decorating tube set. My Lord, I have gone to heaven. This pumps easily and effortlessly. I whipped up the frosting and, slightly afraid the “gun” wouldn’t be able to handle a stiffer frosting, added a tinge more milk to make it slightly softer. No problem – as I said – easy and effortless. And the decorating designs make my head dizzy. I love to decorate bakery items and have found just the tool that will make it more enjoyable.

After all the baking and cooking that night, I unloaded the dishes and pots and pans from the dishwasher that I had it wash that morning. I then refilled the dishwasher from that night’s escapades and let it sit for the night. I figured I could put the breakfast dishes in it and let it wash before I went to the funeral.

The next morning, I was up early and after we had breakfast I thought I would put those dishes in the dishwasher and then go jump on the treadmill. I hit the normal wash button and then start and then . . . nothing. No light, no starting, no washing – nothing. I tried it again, nothing. Okay, well maybe the power switch was turned off. Not positive which is on or off, I tried both. Nothing. No, no, no, no!! (I almost stomped my feet hysterically, but refused to give in to a child’s spoiled behavior – at least for the moment.) Okay, maybe we blew a fuse (do you notice how it now becomes part of Bob’s kitchen, with the “we”!) Since Bob was just about ready to go out to the barn, he quickly went downstairs to check the fuses. Nope, nothing wrong there. He came back up, murmuring “why do these things always have to happen right before I go out to the barn.” They do – honest to God, they do! The refrigerator did it a couple weeks ago! I think they (the appliances) pow-wow at night and decide whose turn it is to irritate the hell out of us and then after someone draws the short straw, they do their thing right before we enter the kitchen in the morning. Or in this case, don’t do their thing.

He can’t figure it out, so he said he will have to deal with it later. I have to do the treadmill, get showered and leave for the funeral, so I can’t tinker with it (which, truthfully, wouldn’t be a good idea anyway, if you know what I mean). Okay, so I’ll leave it be and let him deal with it when he comes in. I know I am going to be gone all day, because after the funeral and luncheon, I will go to the hospital to spend time with Auntie and then will have Brooke’s recital that night.

I put it into the back of my mind and left for the day. On the way home that night, I called Bob and he couldn’t figure it out, he tested it and it has power going to do it, so he said he would have to call someone about it. Aaaahhh, yes – the Maytag Repair Man. Yes, it is a Maytag. We had a Maytag before and it lasted about nine years. This one, though, we did research on. I checked my Consumer Reports magazines and it was one of the better and most reliable. We even got an extended warranty.

Over the years, I have learned how to pack a “mean” dishwasher, at least so my sisters have commented. I know how to exactly pack my dishwasher so that everything gets clean and that the pots are scrubbed and the glasses are clean and there is nothing left on silverware. But everything has to be positioned just right in there. In other words, when I have a load in the dishwasher – I have a load. There is nothing left in the sink, there is nothing left on the counter. All the dishes are in the dishwasher. Of course, there are always those things that can’t go in the dishwasher, but I don’t mind washing them by hand – when I have the time. But, lately, I haven’t had the time and I certainly don’t have the time now. But, be that as it may, since Ms. Dishwasher has drawn the short straw, I’m stuck with cleaning up her mess. It was my mess before I handed it over to her. Once I closed that door, it was her mess. Not my fault that she drew the short straw – I’m now cleaning up her mess.

So after I got up this morning and having a rough low in the middle of the night, I ate breakfast and did the treadmill, a little longer this morning, too. I think I did that only because I didn’t want to think about having to unload everything from the dishwasher to hand wash them.

Here I sat this morning looking at a mountain of dishes. I hate to say this but there is something very contenting about doing dishes . . . sometimes, once in awhile. Those are key words – once in awhile. I had the TV switched to the DIY channel, chicken in the oven, potatoes on the stove, veggies steaming, so the smells and sounds of the kitchen were soothing. One has to be in a total zen place when doing dishes by hand. An hour later, everything was washed, dried and put away.

Once done, I made lunch and then realized once more. Oh, yea, I have to do the darn dishes by hand again. This is beginning to get a little annoying.

When Bob and I first got married, I didn’t have a dishwasher for awhile. When we had moved to a farm in Monticello, the guy that lived there before us, had a portable dishwasher that he didn’t want to take with him because where they were moving to had a built-in. Bob said he thought it would be nice for me to have, since at that time I was helping milk, feeding calves and working in Madison, too. I have to admit that I wasn’t very knowledgeable about dishwashers at the time and hate to reveal the next to you because it wasn’t very pretty. Oh, yea, you might have guessed it by now. There was no owner’s manual with this dishwasher and after I figured out how to hook it up to the kitchen faucet, I thought I would try it out. It was the weekend and Bob was outside at the time, unable to rescue me from my impending disaster. I filled the dishwasher with our dirty dishes and, not having bought any dishwasher liquid yet, I thought I could use Dawn. Yea, yea, yea, I can hear you chuckling already. (Let’s just say that I had very clean floors afterward.) I put in some Dawn and started it up. I went into the other rooms to do some cleaning and when I came out just a few minutes later I had mountains of foamy soap spewing from unknown crevices in the dishwasher. I couldn’t believe it. I thought these things were leakproof. There must be something wrong here and why in the heck won’t all this foaming stop!! I grabbed bath towel after bath towel after bath towel trying to contain the suds. I opened up the door to stop the dishwasher and then Bob came in. I don’t quite remember which was worse – the deer in the headlights look on his face at first from all the suds and or the so-funny-I-think-I-am-going-to-keel-over-from-laughing-so-hard outbursts from him. I didn’t think it was funny. I was slipping and sliding all over the place and drowning in suds. Who would ever think that a few little drops (!??!) of Dawn could cause that many suds. As I said before, a couple hours later my floors were spotless.

Yep, a big lesson learned here and, I swear, I have never used (and will never use) Dawn in the dishwasher again – no matter how low I got on Cascade.

That might have turned another newby off on dishwasher, but I began to like the concept of not having to manually do my dishes. And, as my life progressively got busier and busier, the thought of being without a dishwasher has scared the crap out of me.

So, here I sit today without a working dishwasher. Tomorrow begins the work week and I won’t have time to do the dishes by hand before or after work on any day, because every night I will be at the hospital after work and it will be late getting home. Bob knows I have handed it off to him to get something done about it and he hates it as much as I do when new things don’t work the way they are supposed to because it just becomes an inconvenience. Bob’s work is cut out for him come Monday morning after milking. He has to call the Maytag Repair Man.

I know one thing for sure, he shouldn’t have any problems with that task, because according to the gospel of TV, we all know the Maytag Repair Man is a lonely man and he isn’t busy. He better hurry, too, because I can tell that my hands are getting kind of pruney-looking.

I Did It My Way

I had my cousin Ron’s funeral yesterday. There are certain epiphany moments in everyone’s life – sometimes they are small and sometimes they are larger and life-changing. The small ones are like little hiccups, you see them or you feel them, you experience them, you digest them and then life goes on. You may come back to remember them every once in awhile and they might remind you of a time you had that little hiccup or maybe you can’t remember the hiccup but what you gained from it, you remembered. Others are large and so life-changing that you and others around you are affected.

I experienced a few yesterday that made me think more about it later in the day and today also. In the eulogy that I gave, I noted that “his obituary said it the best ‘Ron lived his life to the fullest and did it his way.’ As we all should. I really think that there should not be a moment in anyone’s life that they don’t live life to the fullest and to the best of their ability – to do it their way.” The last song that was sung, the last impressionable moment from that funeral, was “I Did It My Way.” Summed up in two words – how appropriate. The funny thing about it was as the song went on, I sat and watched the video progress through a series of photos of Ron and his family and friends and each beat and word of the song seemed to follow the pictures. Later in the day, his son Ronnie and I talked about that, too. It was almost to the point of being eerie, but fascinatingly astounding in the same breath. It was like it was meant to be.

There are things in this life that are meant to be. During this time here on Earth or whatever you believe will be as the “afterlife” I think there are some things that we all should do.

I feel you should do it your way. As long as you don’t hurt someone, doing it your way should make you feel proud, accomplished, self-satisfied.

You should also do at least one kind deed every day. It doesn’t need to be saving- someone’s-life-type of kind deed, but opening a door for someone, a kind gesture, a simple compliment. These all make us feel good and they have a tumbling effect so that you create a pay-it-forward unstoppable tidal wave more than anyone else can imagine. Consider if you pay a compliment to someone who looks like they are having a bad day. You have changed that person’s demeanor, if not at least for one tiny moment, but maybe for the rest of their day. That person is more apt to do the same during their day to another because their mood has changed through the the revelation of one good deed. You are not becoming a saint – you are showing the world, and more important, yourself, that life is good and you want to experience more good than bad, and you want that for everyone else you come in contact with.

I think you should also reveal at least one thing about yourself to the person(s) you love at the minimum of or the most of once a week. This does not need to be anything earth-shattering, but maybe more simple. People tend to hear things that may seem so minute in a conversation, but tuck it into the inner sanctums of their mind and then pull it out of the hat later. A simple, I hate raspberries, or I like blueberries, or I like cotton sheets, or I like flannel sheets, or I would rather have a kiss in the morning, or I would rather have my space in the morning, to I love to watch the sun rise in the morning, or I would rather watch the sun set at night, to I would rather drink through a straw, or I like to sip my drink. These are not revelations that leave your soul naked for everyone to see. They are just simple insights into the person that you are. But they provide others with the insights that make them know you better.

Yesterday, at the luncheon, many people talked about Ron and his likes and dislikes. That is the way it is at most luncheons after a funeral. It gives the grieving a chance to reminisce and remember all that this person was made up of. It tends to be the beginning point of healing but also gives everyone else a chance to know one or two little things about that person that you did not know before.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all knew that more before a person passed on? The little introspects that we can have into another person’s being sometimes are so great that you never realize the full potential and impact that they can have.

I was asked to meet with the minister before the funeral started yesterday. I wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to review the content of my eulogy or what his intentions were. It did not take long, though, for me to understand the short encounter we had. Ronnie introduced us and we went up to the lectern where I would speak. Pastor Brad asked me if I was nervous, and I simply said, “no, not at the moment.” He asked me why and I told him that I had given other eulogies. So, he said, "you have known quite a few dead people." It was meant to be a simple comment to put me at ease and it worked. I told him I would not be nervous now, but the moment I stood at the lectern, I would begin to shake and the nerves would start to unravel. I also knew that once I took a moment to steady myself and after the first couple lines, I would come together because it wasn’t my duty to stand up there to speak to the grieving, but to stand up there to simply tell a story about someone I knew to his family and friends. I might be flustered on the first line or two but that would be only introductory, I would calm down then so I could deliver what I considered an honor to do. He said he fully understood, calling me by my name many times during our conversation. The technique that he was applying during our conversation is something that I have learned over the years. You engage a person that you want to remember by constantly saying their name during a one-, two- or three-minute conversation. By doing this, you remember their name. He applied it by using my name in referencing bits of my eulogy during his sermon later in the funeral.

It is something that during an introductory conversation with a new acquaintance you have unwittingly just made a difference in someone’s life. You have paid attention to them, you have acknowledged that you have remembered their name. And, it is a great memory tool to use for yourself. Just one more thing I believe everyone should do in life.

These are just some of the things I believe in because I think they do good on a personal level – for you and the ones you love, the ones you are communicating with, the strangers you just touched with a gesture of kindness. These are the unknowingly simple things to do in your life.

Everyone has their beliefs. I’m not talking religion here, but talking about their beliefs on what they want in their life, what they want to do or accomplish, what their goals are, how they want to ultimately live their life. And, how they want to be remembered.

Ultimately, it comes down to one modest decision which makes a statement in each person’s life. In the end, that each of us can say, I did it my way.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dance Like It Is Your Last Dance

Boy, with 50-60+ degree weather the last couple days, Spring sure does seem like it is here! NOT! Listen up people, it is Wisconsin State Basketball Tournament time this and next weekend. That means snow . . . and if you think I am blowing hot air (or cold air in this case), the weather forecast is for 2-5" of snow accumulation on Saturday.

I have another indicator as well. It is my niece, Brooke’s dance recital this weekend. I am not sure if I can remember a nice weekend in recent years that it has landed on. A few years ago, I think it was actually a little later because Casey always had a track meet in Palmayra-Eagle that was on the same day. We would be down there all day long and then come back just in the nick of time to watch her recital. That day would usually be cold (at least brisk) and sometimes the sun would come out because one year, I actually got a mixture of sun and wind burn. But Brooke’s recital has been earlier in the last few years and usually around mid- to late-March.

I remember last year in particular. I didn’t make it. We had the O’Connor First Quarter Birthday party at Bob’s sister Patty’s house. It was a combination birthday party for the January - March birthdays, but more particularly it was Bob’s dad’s 75th birthday celebration. We had that in the afternoon and it was starting to snow pretty hard on the way there. That night I also had to stop back in town after dropping Bob off at home for my dear friend, Dottie’s surprise 50th birthday party. As the weather got worse, Casey figured it best that he head back to Chicago right from Madison, so after dropping everyone else off, my plan was to head downtown to see Dottie and then head off to Brooke’s recital. The weather worsened and I finally had to call Marci to say that I didn’t dare attempt the drive. Dottie’s son, Timmy, even went in the ditch trying to get to his girlfriend’s house in Monticello and also my niece, Maci, in New Glarus to pick them both up for a concert they had planned to attend in Milwaukee. They would not make that either. I ended up staying at Dottie’s party that night a little longer than I probably should have, given the weather, but it was worth it to get a chance to sit and visit, which is something we hadn’t done for quite awhile. [By the way, as Dottie has been one of my best friends for many years, Timmy has been a "fixture" in my house as a part of my family since he was born. That is Timmy in the front row in the yellow plaid shirt just to the left of Casey.]

This year may prove to be the same. I have my cousin, Ron’s funeral in the morning and Brooke’s recital that night. So my plans are to be on the road most of the day, but Mother Nature may try to hamper my itinerary a little. We’ll have to see. She’s a sneaky old lady and if she’s got a bug up her butt that she wants to take care of, she’ll certainly do what she wants to remedy the situation. In this case, I think she is planning on getting rid of a little bit of that nasty dandruff she has been holding on to and wants to blanket the countryside with some of it. Anybody got any Head and Shoulders to give her before she shakes her head this weekend?

Oh, well, it won’t be the first recital I have missed but I do love to go to them. I have made most of Brooke’s since she started dance, but that is because she lives close by. My nieces, Kailey and Autumn, on the other hand, I have missed most of them. Their’s are always in the middle of May and they usually fall on one of our birthdays. Bob’s is the 2nd, Casey’s the 16th, Brady the 22nd and mine the 23rd, so there is a chance one of us is going to get hit. But last year, I said enough is enough and that I needed to go to their’s. So my mom and I drove up on Friday and stayed through Sunday morning so we could catch their Saturday afternoon recital. I was not disappointed in the least. They did a great job and, as a former dancer, I was just as proud of them as I have always been of Brooke, and Maci, too, when she was in dance.

Speaking of being a former dancer, it may be a little known fact that I took dance lessons from age six through 8th grade. Once into high school, I had too much going on and gave it up. I loved dance and my dance instructors. They were Jean (Retrum) Adams and her daughter, JoJean Retrum. They gave instructions out of their farmhouse a mile or so from our farm and in a studio in nearby Monroe, where our recitals were held in a large auditorium. These were always big events and my dad would always have to rush to get done milking in time so that we could get packed up and head to the recital on that night. My brother, Gary, even took tap lessons one year. (Note: He is seated third from the left in the Thanksgiving picture above). He may not look like much of a dancer now, (hahaha) but he, along with myself and my friend, Dottie, were the opening act one year during an anniversary celebration of the Jean (Retrum) Adams Studio. We girls wore white silk chef’s shirts (that appeared to be short dresses) with white “underwear” and chef’s hats. Gary wore the same but with white pants. We carried wooden spoons for our tap dance routine and we mocked that we were the bakers of the anniversary cake. At the end of that particular dance, the girls had to turn around and flip up the back of our “dress” and flash our “underwear” as a sort of ”boop-boop-te-do” ending. My mom would certainly remember all of these recitals as well, because she made all my costumes. That was Gary’s first and last year at dance. He tried it, didn’t like it and it was all over for him .

During all those years of dance, I took ballet, tap, jazz, and baton. I have been an alley cat, a pony, a chef and too many more to even count. When you take that many types of dance, you tend to be in a lot of dances and you had to work hard at doing them all. I loved my instructors because they were strict and would not tolerate mistakes or being out of sync with the music or the other dancers. That is because they were great dancers themselves and knew that to be good, you had to work hard. And, I loved it all. Jean even had a tall wooden shepherd’s hook-type cane that she used to instruct with, to point with and to tap you on the shoulder if you made a mistake. She would tap that with the rhythm of the music to emphasize staying in sync with the music.

I can think back to many recitals and how we would “celebrate” afterwards with the other parents. There was a restaurant/tavern in downtown Monroe right next to the auditorium where we had our recitals that we would go to afterwards. Auntie and my grandfather, Oscar, would usually go along. We would meet up with Dottie’s parents, Cap and Mardell, and the grown-ups would visit and maybe have a beer and us kids would play.

All this reminiscing over recitals always brings back one year in particular to mind. It was 1968 and my mom was pregnant with my sister, Lori. I had just turned nine. [By the way, Lori is seated as the second from the left in the Thanksgiving picture above.] It was a hot, sultry night for the beginning of June. My grandpa, Oscar, had bought a ticket and promised he would go. At the last minute he decided not to go. I remember running over to his place and begging him to come along, but he said, no, he didn’t feel good and had better not go. So, off we went to a night of gaiety and prancing around on stage – my mom and dad, Auntie, Gary, and me. After the recital, we met up with Dottie and her parents, and stopped at Turner Hall as was the usual. It was late getting back, sometime between 11:00 and midnight. As we pulled into town and were coming down Main Street, we saw the flashing lights of a police car. We had no idea what was going and my dad was going to proceed to head toward home, when our local police officer and friend, Hooky Blanchard, stepped in front of our car vigorously waving his hands and arms for us to stop. My dad pulled over to the curb and before Hooky approached the car, I remember Auntie murmuring “something is wrong, something is seriously wrong.” As Hooky stepped up to the car and my dad rolled his window down, Auntie immediately shouted to Hooky, “Who is it? Is it dad or is it Al? Which one? Who is it?” Hooky took one look at her and my dad and said, “It is your dad (my grandpa).” “I am sorry to have to tell you but Oscar was killed in a plane crash tonight.” That was one of the saddest nights that I can remember as my mom, dad and Auntie were visibly shaken and Gary and I weren’t quite sure how that could be. Grandpa was supposed to come to the recital with us but he said he wasn’t feeling good and decided to stay home. It was impossible. He was at home. Someone should really go check, because he had to be at home. My dad and Auntie stepped out of the car and my mom, two weeks away from delivering my sister, stayed in the car.

This is rural, small town America, back in the days when everyone knew everyone and everyone cared about and was concerned about each other. Hooky, of course, growing up in the town with his last name, was the Andy Griffith of our town. The children all crawled into, played and slept in the back seat of his car. He knew everyone by name. When he had been alerted to what had happened with the plane crash, he knew where we were and waited for us to return to town, leaving his red lights flashing so that no matter what, he would stop us from going home so that he could deliver the bad news. Of course, instantly there was concern for both my parents as my dad, being a diabetic and a heart condition, and my mom, being almost nine months pregnant, but Auntie was devastated. Her balloon had burst and she was in terrible shape.

But they proceeded to ask what had happened. To the best of their knowledge, this is how it was explained. Grandpa’s friend, Jim, who lived in the neighborhood of our farm, was a pilot. He had a landing strip on his farm and he and my Grandpa had taken many trips by plane. Lots of times they would fly up to Mt. Horeb and land at the tiny airport (landing strip) there. Friends would meet them and they would visit with them in Mt. Horeb. On this particular night, Jim must have called Grandpa and asked if he wanted to go for a ride. The two of them took off and headed to Mt. Horeb. There they met up with a young doctor and flying pal from Mt. Horeb, Dr. Egge. They went downtown to Mt. Horeb and then went out for a fly. That is when they were spotted by a local farmer who saw the plane dip a couple times and then go down. We are not sure whatever really truly happened, but a couple versions have surfaced. One, was that they hit an air pocket and Jim could not get the plane resurrected after that. Two, which we didn’t find out until a few years later, is that Jim’s farm was being foreclosed on the next week. That version imagines that he committed suicide and, unfortunately, took my Grandpa and Dr. Egge, who had a wife and two small children, with him. We will never know for sure; it will always be an unanswered question. The whys.

But, this I do know. It was a horrendous crash. Auntie and my dad were asked, of course, to identify my grandfather. There was really not much to identify. There were only body parts, which we were told that as they scoured the wreckage, the officials would pick up and put in them in garbage bags as they found them. Always hoping for the best, Auntie and my dad were finally able to identify a ring and a watch that Grandpa always wore and later his wallet was found. This is a horrible thing for someone to have to go through.

Grandpa was an assessor and treasurer for the township we lived in. He did taxes, etc., for people, too. Grandpa lived on the small farm attached to our farm. We called it our “second farm” or “Grandpa’s farm.” (This is where my mom and dad retired to after they sold the big farm.) That is where Gary and I stayed on nights when my parents had plans for the night or if we just wanted to spend the night with Grandpa. He would let us take all his blankets and sheets and drape them across his furniture in the living room and we would make tents and tunnels. We would camp out and sleep in them that night, as long as we gave Grandpa just enough walking room so that he could get to his bedroom. And the next morning he wouldn’t tear them down. He would let us have our fun and then before he was ready to walk us back home, we would take them down and fold them up ready and waiting for the next time he would babysit.

Although very independent, Auntie always took care of Grandpa after Grandma died. She would stop out almost daily and clean and fix any extra meals for him. He was a good enough cook for himself, but she liked to take care of him. It hurt Auntie tremendously when she lost Grandpa, as well it did my dad.

I remember the year and events very well when Grandpa died. My sister Lori was born two weeks later. She went through a tragedy and funeral before she had even breathed her first breath outside of the womb.

Recitals seem to always spark a little bit of the remembrance of that horrific June evening. I am sorry to say that today, almost 42 years later, I can remember little bits and pieces of some of my dance routines, but most of all, I clearly remember the events of that night – the night I danced my last dance for my Grandpa Oscar.

There is a lesson here, you know. I think every time we dance, we should dance like there is no tomorrow, live for today, and dance like it is your last dance.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sicker Than A Dog?

Gosh, this has been a hectic winter. It seems like everyone has been getting sick, either full bore or a touch of something. One thing I have noticed is that pneumonia seems to be spreading like wildfire this year.
First, my aunt – the one that has been in and out of the hospital and currently in the nursing home – has had it. They have treated it and twice she has had a bout with it. Second, my dad’s cousin’s wife, Virginia, fought and fought with something this Winter and couldn’t get rid of it nor could the doctors diagnose it. I mentioned to her one time right before she went into the doctor again that she had better be careful or she would have pneumonia, too. Sure enough. She emailed me when she got back and she had pneumonia.
Then last Thursday I had stopped at the nursing home business office to put some money in Auntie’s beauty parlor account and was talking to my friend, Joyce. I hadn’t seen her for a few weeks and asked how she had been. She said that she hadn’t been feeling very good and her doctor suspected and/or wanted to get the jump on pneumonia (for God’s sake, we just turned 50, and we both thought that was something older people than us got!!). Her doctor had put her on prednisone and some other stuff. So that was case number three.
I have heard here and there while sitting in waiting rooms either at the emergency room, doctors’ offices or at the nursing home, that there are a lot of people who dancing with pneumonia this Winter.
I mentioned about Pongo being sick in my last blog. He had not been acting quite like himself lately. Usually, when I get home at night, he comes jumping off our bed and racing down the steps to greet me. It is more of a "hey, I got a pee first and then we’ll do the pet-me-give-me-a-treat greeting once I am done thing." But last week he would have to be coaxed to come down and only when necessary. He also was very touchy and hardly barked but when he did it was a hoarser sounding bark.
Pongo is a Minature Fox Terrier and looks like the "Taco Bell" dog on TV. (Oh, yes, you have seen him in the Thanksgiving picture above). I said once that I would tell the story of how we came to get him and I might as well tell that now.
Pongo belonged originally to my niece, Sierra. Sierra received Pongo for her birthday. During that time my sister Marci had just had their youngest, Brooke. Marci and her husband Wes were afraid that once Brooke started crawling, she would cause Pongo to maybe nip at her and they didn’t want that to happen, so they thought it best to get rid of him. Sierra was concerned about whom he would go to and would have liked it if he would go to someone they knew so that she could visit him. Well, one day I stopped at their house and Marci had already asked me a couple times if I would want to buy Pongo. I said no because we weren’t having any animals in the house. At that point, Pongo leaped up on the couch and came over and curled up in my lap. Oh, boy . . . I could see where this was going. He had never done that before. My boys had asked before if we would take him and I had said no. Pongo looked up at me with his puppy-dog big eyes (which when he stares at you like that they appear like they are welling up with tears about to explode). I’m really a sucker for stuff like this. I have it written on my forehead and it must appear out of nowhere and flash like a neon light "SUCKER, SUCKER, SUCKER." I told Marci I would have to think about it. Okay, where did that come from? Did I really just say that? The question was, or really the dilemmas were, two things; first, I didn’t want to pay for him, but I knew they had paid a lot for him and didn’t just want to give him away; and, two, how would I break that to Bob.
I talked to the boys and they had the solution to number one, but I was on my own as to what to do about number two. They had just got a new gaming system and they said they would be willing to give their old one to Sierra in trade for Pongo. They thought that it would go over okay because they would give her the system and all their old games. I started trying to add up in my mind all that I had paid for those games and was beginning to think I might be getting the raw end of this deal. I talked to Marci about it and that was okay.
Now to figure out what to do about Bob and the dog that would be infiltrating our house. Hmmmm. This was going to take some ingenuity and female smarts. Bob and I have sort of an unwritten rule of sorts when it comes to things like this. Each will play dumb when they are being played. We sort of put it in our pocket for another day to pull out if we need a trump card. I am sure he knew it at the time because he will still make some comments today, but I think he is still holding the trump card.
My plan was to tell Bob that we were watching Pongo for Marci and family while they were on vacation. We got him when it was about this time of year – in March. His birthday is in February and he was a little over a year old. He had been potty-trained already so that was good. So I picked him up and brought him home. The first thing Bob said when he saw him was "what is that mutt doing here?" (That is his favorite name for Pongo – "mutt"). I explained (with my fingers crossed behind my back) that we were watching him for Marci & fam while they were on vacation. Marci’s did take a weekend vaca during this time period, so I wasn’t entirely lying. I was in my mind – what I would call – stretching the truth. Pongo tried to even snuggle with Bob once in awhile because I think he could sense a bit of a dictatorship here and knew whom he needed to suck up to just a little. The rest of us were pushovers. The boys were overjoyed with him and he soon became more of Casey’s dog than anyone else’s. I think this is where the pecking order with Pongo started. Pongo was and has always been a very protective dog. If he is sitting in your lap, he is protecting you and no one else should dare come within his imaginary boundaries. If you did approach, he would bark at you and bare his teeth. He would never bite, but he could look fierce. One time I was going through a Culver’s drive-through to get an ice cream cone and had Pongo along for a ride. He likes ice cream because whenever we would go to Auntie’s to visit, she would always feed him a little bowl of ice cream warmed up slightly in the microwave. I drove up to the call station and ordered a cone for myself and a little kiddie dish for Pongo. Pongo started barking when I was putting in the order. When we drove up to the window, the kid said, "wow, is that all the bigger he is [he only weighs 7 lbs.], he sounded like he was a huge dog and I was afraid he might attack me when I was going to hand you the cone." I got a chuckle out of that.
Pongo likes to bark at whoever is lower on the pecking order. The pecking order goes Casey at top, me next, Brady third and Bob at the bottom of the pile. When we are all cleared out of the house, which is especially during the week, Pongo is left with just Bob and he would jump up in his lap if he was sitting. If no one was around, Bob was a softy and he has been caught in the past petting him. If someone was around, he would call him the "mutt" and shoo him away. The games we all play!! About a month later after our initial Pongo/game system transaction, Bob had asked me "aren’t they back yet." I laughed and then finally told him that we were taking over ownership. He balked at the idea but knew it was a losing cause. (He’s not so stupid – he knew he was getting an extra trump card out of this one.)
To this day and as recent as last weekend, Bob said something to Wes about "when are you going to take your dog back." Sierra would take him back in a heartbeat, but in the meantime, it is eight years later, Brooke has grown up and they have gotten a new dog. [Note: In the Thanksgiving picture above, that is my sister Marci seated in the second row immediately to my right, the third adult from the left; Wes is right behind her in the black; their oldest, Maci, is behind Marci; Sierra is in the front on the right end in the robin-egg blue sweatshirt; and the youngest, Brooke is right in front of Marci.]
With the history they have, it is funny how Bob can sometimes seem a little concerned about Pongo. Last Friday morning, I was in the middle of my cleaning frenzy getting ready for the "family invasion" (which I love, by the way). Bob called me from the barn to say that he had noticed one of our cats (one of the newer born ones who is probably approaching two years old), Midnight, was hacking a little when he went out that morning. He said he wasn’t his usual self, where when Bob would sit down in a chair in the garage to put his barn boots on, Midnight would curl around his leg, purring and waiting for a scratch and a pet. He said he had also noticed a lot of hacking going on with some of the cows and said he wondered if it was pneumonia with some of the animals on the farm. Pongo had been breathing kind of hard but every once in a while he will go through a little spell where he is not feeling good. This went on longer than usual though. I got off the phone with Bob and called the vet. I asked him what he thought after giving him his symptoms. Yes, he said it could be pneumonia or he is old enough where he could have fluid around the heart (thump, my heart sank at the mention of that), but he would bet it was the former rather than the later. We talked a little about it and I said I would rather opt for a shot than doing pills because I would never get him to eat them. So Pongo and I jumped in the car and took a little ride, which he loves to do and hasn’t done much lately since it had been Winter. Pongo despises the vet clinic (do you blame him!) and will usually get all upset the minute we walk in. I pled with him and told him it is going to be all right and that it will only hurt for a minute but that he will be better soon. Two shots later (one was an antibiotic for the pneumonia and the other a "Tylenol-like" fever reducing product), we were back home and within an hour he was romping around, just as good as new. It took a little hunk out of my day, but he was feeling much better and that made me happy. The doctor sent us home with a second shot to give Pongo which Bob and I have to tag team on to give to him in the next night or two.
So, the weekend comes and goes. Monday morning rolls around and I have a doctor’s appointment as a follow-up with my last A1C (diabetes) test. During the appointment, my doctor mentions that I am due for a tetanus and she would like to give me the Tdap shot which is a tetanus plus a booster for diphtheria and pertussis. She said that even though we are immunized when we are younger for the diphtheria and pertussis, it is now recommended that adults get this one-time booster which has been packaged with the tetanus. I said okay, as I am all up for anything that prevents me from getting sick. She also said that being a diabetic I am at high risk for pneumonia and I should get an pneumonia shot. (Aaahhhhh, that pneumonia thing again . . . ) Okay, again anything that prevents me from getting sick, I’m game. But, doc, any side effects? None, really to be concerned about, she said, but there is a flyer I will give you to read about it. Okay, I get both shots in my upper left arm because that is not my dominant arm. I get two Tweety-Bird bandages and I am ready to go. Oh, but one thing, before you leave, the nurse says, you may want to keep rotating your arm above your shoulder to work the shots into the muscles more or otherwise they will sort of just sit in that one spot and your arm will get sore and stiff. Okay, I can do that as I can’t see how that would be too hard not to do. So, I am in and out of the doctor’s office and off to the office to start the day, which I had already started four hours earlier and it is now only 8:30.

It is 6:00 and I am heading off to the nursing home after work to see Auntie. I’m feeling a little draggy and figure it is because I had a little bit of a lack of sleep problem over the weekend (those dang sisters of mine twisting my arm, making me go out and party with them like I am 21 again!!!). I visit with Auntie and head home by 7:15, make some supper, clean up a little and head to bed by 9:45. I wake up Tuesday morning and my arm is stiff and sore and a little warm. Oh, yea, the light goes off. I completely forgot about swinging my arm around like I was lassoing a calf yesterday. Ooops!! Geez, and I feel like I might be a little warm, too. I’ll grab some Advil, jump on the treadmill and then try to figure it out when I eat some breakfast. I stayed on the treadmill too long and need to hustle to eat, fill the dishwasher, throw a load in the washer, shower and get ready to head to work. Oh, yea, I was going to check out those sheets the doctor gave me.
The day comes and goes and I have now come full circle again and am heading back to the nursing home. Tired and with my arm still sore, I head home from seeing Auntie again and swear when I get home, I better check that sheet out again. With supper made and eaten, the kitchen cleaned up, and heading to bed, I grabbed the current book I’m reading (J.D. Robb’s "Fantasy In Death") so I can read a little before going to bed. I am thinking to myself that I am tired and I might not want to read. Then the light goes on in my head again . . . the sheets from the doctor. I pulled them out of my purse and started reading . . . yep, yep, yep. Fever, stiff and sore arm, tiredness . . . okay, what happened to "not likely" on the side effects, when these are all listed on the "probable" side effects. And, here I am feeling sicker than a dog.
I seem to always do well on the follow-up for everyone else when they are sick or hurting from something, but when it comes to me, I seem to suffer a little bit from a self-inflicted Alzheimer’s-type disease. I think that it is the Mother in me – take care of everyone else and ye shall be okay. Well, ye was feeling fine until I went to the doctor and then ye had two shots and now ye got sick. What’s up with this – the dog didn’t feel good and he got two shots and felt better an hour later! I was feeling fine, went to the doctor, got two shots and now I’m sicker than a dog. Seriously, where is the justice in this whole thing!! Maybe I should have gone to the vet instead . . .

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Bell Tolls

Boy, what a whirlwind weekend!

Our dog, Pongo, had pneumonia and I had to take him to the vet Friday morning. I had massive amounts of cleaning and laundry to accomplish. My sister, Suzi and family from Minnesota, along with Casey and Kim and Brady were coming back to stay for the weekend. We had my Aunt Avis’ 80th surprise birthday party to attend on Saturday. But with everything happy going on this weekend, it was also pinched with sadness.
Some of the happenings this weekend made me reminisce about younger days -- days back on the farm growing up. One thing, the spike of my sadness, which set this off was I received the news Saturday afternoon that my cousin, Ron Lee, passed away. Ron led a full life and, in fact, his obituary said it the best "Ron lived his life to the fullest and did it his way." As we all should. I really think that there should not be a moment in anyone’s life that they don’t live life to the fullest and to the best of their ability, to do it their way.
I may have talked about this before (see my 2/18/10 post "Spring May Not Have Sprung But I Am Preparing For It"), but Ron was the cousin who bought the bell from our family farm auction. He wanted to have something to remember our farm by. Memories that he recalled from his younger years when he would come out to our farm were that his mother, Helen, would always holler at him to stay away from the bell and not to be constantly ringing it. (Let's just put it this way -- the Lee boys were mischevious!!! Hahaha!!) So when the bell came up to be sold at the farm auction, he bid on and got it so that he could now "ring that damn bell whenever he wanted to." Hahaha! That was Ron.
Ron is actually my third cousin. His dad, Vern, was my dad’s first cousin and in Vern’s earlier years, he farmed on his family farm not too far from our’s. He gave up the farming life after a few years and moved his family to Madison where he worked in construction, as did all his three sons, Ron being one of them.
Growing up, there was always one thing constant with Sundays at the farm. Either we went visiting (which was not as often) or someone was always visiting us. We had a few relatives from Madison that loved to leave the city and go visit the country folk (us). The main ones who came to visit were Vern and Helen, and Sherman (my dad’s first cousin, also) and Virginia. As their families were growing up, they (like Ron did) learned to come to enjoy the trip to the farm. If we had plans to be home and the weather was nice, we usually knew that someone would probably stop out. Most times there were never phone calls, just dropping in. So we always planned a big Sunday dinner. Living on a farm meant that you could always embellish what food you had by what you had frozen or canned from the garden, could currently handpick from the garden or what meat you had frozen from the last butchering. We had cows, pigs and chickens, which meant we usually had plenty of meat on hand. We also had a big vegetable garden so fresh veggies were plentiful. And my mom loved to can peaches and pears when they were in season and not too expensive at the grocery store. We would buy them by the crateful and can them immediately.
Sunday dinner at our place with company would be something like a beef or pork roast (from one of our cows or pigs), mashed potatoes (from our potato field) and gravy, cream style corn (frozen from our sweet corn field), a tossed salad (all the greens and fixings from the vegetable garden), homemade bread or rolls, canned pears or peaches (off the shelves from the last year's canning sessions), milk (brought in fresh from the milk tank every morning and home-pasteurized) and a homemade dessert or cake. In our family, you could be short on money, but would always have plenty to eat by pulling something out of the freezer, off the canning goods shelving from the basement, from the milk tank or from the root cellar.
I didn’t like the butchering process, I didn’t mind the canning process, picking things in the garden was much more fun than the constant hoeing that was needed, but most of all, I hated planting the potatoes and even more hated digging them up. When it came time to pick the potatoes, we would pick until our backs felt like they would break but at the end of the day we would drive back from the field to the house with a heaping truck box full of potatoes and that would last a whole year. (I didn't mind if when riding or walking behind the truck, a couple would fall off. Sometimes I would be tempted to jump off the truck or stoop to pick up any stragglers jumping ship, but most of the time my back hurt so bad, I'd let them roll away, just to plant their seed for the next year). Later in the year and when running toward the end of our potato stash, we would have nothing left but the little runts and when you are feeding a family of nine, one meal could mean peeling a lot of runts. But, all-in-all, we were very self-sufficient on food and that, of course, meant doing (and/or putting up with) all the above work.
When Vern and Helen and the kids (Ron, Jim and Gary) would come to the farm, they enjoyed the homemade farm meals even as much. Helen would comment frequently that she missed the amenities of the farm. Farming had been in their blood for years, so they loved to come out as much as they could, many weekend throughout the year. Sherman and Virginia would stop out often, too, with their youngest kids (Susan and Sharon), and sometimes both families would drive out at the same time. They lived on the same block in Madison. Sherman was a carpenter in Madison and when he finally got around to having some spare time, he even remodeled our kitchen. Even after Helen and my dad passed away, Vern would still find the time to drive out to the country to visit. It was all these visits years ago that ignited the need for Ron to buy the dinner bell on our farm.
At the time, Ron felt he was keeping it in the family. Fortunately or unfortunately, he didn’t realize it until years later that he was on my dad’s mother’s side of our family and the bell had been passed down on my dad’s father’s side of the family keeping it with the family farm. For how long? It has a date on it of 1869. That’s a long time. After I got older and more sentimental about family heirlooms, I told Ron many times that if he ever decided he wanted to sell the bell, he should let me know and he agreed he would give me first dibs at it. But, in the meantime, he had mounted it on the back of his truck and wherever he went, he rang the bell. He had tied a rope to the handle of the bell so he could ring it from inside his truck even when driving. When he was on construction sites, he would be asked to ring the bell and even driving around Madison, the same would happen. Most of all, though, he would just ring the damn bell whenever he felt like it.
Ron finally decided a year-and-a-half ago that he would sell the bell back to me. I hadn’t gotten around to getting it from him yet, when my sons took the secretive effort to surprise me with it for my 50th birthday. They had taken the initiative to contact Ron and to set up a time to pick it up. I remember my son, Casey, telling me how Ron had told him to be up to his place (on the Saturday morning of my party) at 8:00 a.m., as Ron wanted to complete the transaction in time to be able to go to the Farmer’s Market early on the Square in downtown Madison. He initially wanted him there earlier than 8:00, but since Casey was coming from Chicago, he thought it would be too difficult. In fact, he was having my brother-in-law, Greg, come along so he could pick it up with Greg's truck to take it to the party because Ron was selling the bell with the mounting he had built. Anyway, Casey said that he hadn’t realized that Ron was such a talker and storyteller. He said when they got there, he figured he would hurry and pay for it, then load it into the truck to head out right away so Ron could go to the farmer’s market. He soon found out different. He said Ron started talking and telling stories, and Casey soon realized that Ron wasn’t in as much of a hurry as he thought he would be. Casey said that his one regret on that day was that he couldn’t stay longer to listen to these stories. At that time, his health had started to deteriorate, so it didn’t surprise me entirely when I got the call from his baby brother, Gary, on Saturday that he had passed away. I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t entirely prepared for it either.
I last saw Ron at his brother Gary’s 50th birthday party in October at a country VFW just outside of Madison. Gary had told me about the party and said he wasn’t inviting any other extended family because he didn’t want them to have to drive the distance to get to the party. Gary and I had always had a close bond, being the same age. In addition, he had made the special effort to be at my surprise 50th so I wanted to be at his, too. So, Bob and I took the time to attend, which even if Bob wouldn’t have gone along, I would have gone by myself. I’m especially glad that I went because it was the last time I saw Ron. We, in fact, spent most of the afternoon visiting with him, his girlfriend Sally and his son, Ronnie, along with Gary and his girlfriend, Shirley. (One fact to know, we have always called Ron and his son, Big Ron and Little Ronnie – I don’t think that, even now, that will change any time soon).
I had family staying at my house most of the weekend and so later in the day on Sunday after everyone left, I cleaned up the house, relaxed for a little bit, and while Bob was out spreading manure on the fields, I took Pongo outside to let him romp a little bit.

That is when I saw the bell. I smiled when I saw it because I knew exactly what I needed to do. I went over and I rang the bell. As it tolled away, clanging from side to side, I thought to myself, God needed another storyteller to add to his pack and he gained a good one this time. It was my little signal to Ron that every time I toll the bell, I toll it for him and he can go ahead and tell another story.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

March Madness

The weather is a funny thing. Driving home from work late last night it was very, very foggy. The closer I got to home, the more lightning I saw in the distant sky above the farm. There’s snow on the ground, it’s foggy, it’s lightning, it’s 50 degrees. It is March, folks, and anything goes here in the Midwest when it comes to the weather.
My cousin, Carol, in Minnesota said this morning that they were suffering through thunder, lightening and more rain which made for nearly three inches since Tuesday morning (it is Thursday today). We had temps in the 50's yesterday in southwestern Wisconsin and with nasty, misty, rainy weather coinciding with it, it is very muddy. And dirty. That is one thing I hate about this time of year — things are dirty. If you drive on the interstates or divided highways in the country and with the snow melted, the medians are dirty and littered with trash that was hidden up until the recent snow melted. March in Wisconsin means anything from beautiful sunny (teasing) weather to flipping the coin and a few of our last big snowstorms.
The only good part about a snowstorm in March is that you know it isn’t going to last long on the ground – so it is, therefore, tolerable. There is something of a old "wive’s tale"- if you wish - in the Madison area, and that is with the state boys and girls basketball tournaments in the first to mid-parts of March, it is almost always predictable that when the boys teams head to state, there is a snowstorm. Sometimes Mother Nature likes to spice things up a bit to keep us on our toes and hits us with one when the girls play instead. Either way, we are generally going to be hit with a bigger blast of snow within those two weeks. The WIAA has changed things up this year and the girls play first which is this coming weekend. It is predicted to be a nice (but rainy) weekend. So, that means watch out next weekend. In basketball terms, it is always known as March Madness and it certainly is.
Early this morning I emailed my Mother (with copies to all the siblings) to wish her a happy anniversary. My father passed away 26 years ago this past January, but nevertheless, I still wish my mom a happy anniversary on this date every year. It would have been 59 years this year. She usually reminds us kids about the weather that year when they got married. And it wasn’t any different this year. She recalled that on the day of her wedding - a Sunday - it was a beautiful sunny day. Back then, for some reason, a wedding and the reception were typically on a Sunday and then the wedding dance followed on the next night – a Monday. With a beautifully sunny wedding day, you would expect the next to be just as nice. Not in this March case. Instead, it was a blizzard. It was so bad that cars were stalled coming back from their wedding dance which was a few miles from her family farm. My mom and dad had spent their wedding night at a hotel in Madison but on the second night of their honeymoon - the night of the dance – they had to end up staying at her parents’ home. I know she said that she was totally unprepared for that to happen, because before she would let my father stay in her old bedroom that night, she had to go and clean it up first. I thought she had recalled, too, at one time that they had a few extra people spending the night as well. March is March and whether it comes in or goes out like a lion or a lamb, everything in between is up for grabs.
My husband, Bob and I got married in the middle of April at the same country church my mom and dad were married at. The church is actually just about a mile or two from her family farm where my uncle Roger still lives today. I thought April might be a nice time to get married, plus it was exactly one year from the date of our engagement so the date was special to us. As it turned out, it rained that morning. The rain dried up later by the time of the wedding but right before and after the wedding ceremony the wind kicked up big time. It was so blustery that in a couple pictures with the two of us standing outside the country church my veil is standing straight out beside me. We didn’t have snow but it was a little cooler than I expected but still pleasant. But that was April and usually all you expect then is rain.
Whether it is March or April, the end of Winter is near and that is always a good thing. This has been a very long winter and I, for one, am ready for it to end and break out into sunshine with daffodils and tulips emerging through the dirty ground. I’ve already had plenty of birds knocking on my windows as they perch on the branches that sometimes reach over in front of my house windows. Some have seen my Xmas trees and are longer for greener branches instead of woody, barren ones, so they peck, peck away at the glass and even sometimes try to fly in. (Reminds you of that glass commercial where the glass is so clean the birds try to fly through them.) Now, mind you, I’m not saying that my windows are that clean, but I am sure that spring chore is going to be staring at me pretty soon. But this year the thought of it doesn’t even bother me too much. If it is a Spring chore, right now I am looking forward to it.

With the ground a dirty brown, the farm a muddy mess, I’m having visions of the UPS driver making his Spring pilgrimages to the farm delivering new plants. My last order consisted of a few Red Hot Pokers, Clara Curtis Daisies, Blue Bird Rose of Sharons and Freedom Rose of Sharons and to make myself feel better, I just had to check to see when my new plants were set to arrive. Upon checking all the websites from my orders, it appears most are set to arrive sometime mid- to late-April. That is really only a month away. I’m hoping that everything starts to green up by then, the snow is completely melted away and the mud has disappeared.
In the meantime, the mud and little slivers of snow on the ground will have to do. Thoughts of March Madness will hopefully soon drift to April Showers. But fair warning and note to sister Suzi: when you bring the girls down this weekend, make sure you pack their boots or trying to feed the calves isn’t going to be pretty! LOL!