Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thoughts on Black Friday and what we really need for Christmas.

Televisions for $98 on Black Friday at Wal-Mart? Wow, I need one! Wait….. No, I do not need another screen to put in front of my face. And does anyone else, really? I know; some of you enjoy the thrill and tradition of getting up early to fight the crowds to get those great deals that stores dangle in front of you like a carrot in front of a donkey. I am happy that you enjoy the chase.  As the day nears, though, and they have also tacked on White-Out Wednesday and opening early on Thanksgiving evening to drive up profits, I wonder what do we really need for Christmas?

After a week at the Methodist Hospital and Mayo Clinic in Rochester with my daughter, I saw numerous people from all over the United States and the world, who are fighting cancer and other diseases. I saw the white-haired gentleman pushing himself to walk the halls, clinging to his IV pole, his wife holding his other hand. A middle-aged man walked by, nonchalantly carrying his urine bag. A teenager, face pale and puffy from her illness, colorful scarf covering her head, curled up on a couch with her cell phone as she listened to a volunteer play the grand piano in the lobby.  An elderly mother was pushed in a wheelchair by a daughter with love and concern etched on her face.  A variety of nurses treated us with respect and kindness. One young man, Bobbie, had tears in his eyes when the doctor said the stomach tube must remain for one more night. Kindness abounds here, as people shared their stories with me on the shuttle from hospital to hotel and back, or in the waiting area. A thin young man shared with me yesterday that when the cab he called did not come to take him to an appointment, the owner of EconoLodge, where we are staying when not at the hospital, drove him there.

That is what we really need for Christmas. KINDNESS. Be kind to one another. Spend time with your friends and family without the reflection of a screen on your face. Say I love you to the people you care about, or, better yet, show them how much you care through your actions. That is what we need for Christmas. Not a $98 TV.

Monday, November 11, 2013


In this black and white photograph, you are standing straight and proud in your army uniform behind an old car. You smile at whomever is taking the picture, probably my young mother. You appear to be a carefree young man. I know in the back of your mind, you are thinking about having to hitchhike to return to your army base on time. You said people always stopped to pick up soldiers.

 It is the beginning of World War II. A strong farm boy, you pulled hard for freedom with your fellow soldiers, like oxen in a yoke. As a medic in the military, you made many people more comfortable during their suffering, but you rarely talked about it. Although you never mentioned it, you were awarded seven bronze stars, the “fourth-highest individual military award, awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit, or meritorious service in a combat zone,” according to my research. I remember one story you told me of refusing to believe a spot on the floor in the hospital could not be cleaned, and you scrubbed until it was white again. Your work ethic was evident even then.

We still have some of the cards and gifts you sent Mom from overseas, every one as romantic as Valentine’s Day. You loved her with the last breath in your body. 

Daddy, I want you to know that today at our school, your 18-year-old great-grandson Lance read your name aloud. along with your son's name, who served in Viet Nam and is by your side in heaven, during a tribute to the veterans. I was so proud.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Interview with Kathy Nickerson, Author of Thirty Days to Glory, and My BFF

Kathy and I on a "play day" where we would spend the whole day together.
Today I have the opportunity to interview a woman I have known and called friend my whole life.  She is Kathy (Grubbs) Nickerson who graduated from our own Atlanta C-3 School. I remember following Kathy into the first grade room to sign up for school. This was the time before we had kindergarten. We received balloons and mine popped. I remember a slight disagreement in which Kathy said it "burst" and I said it "busted". We always did love words! We wrote stories together in grade school and high school. After we married and began raising our children, we did freelance writing and wrote long letters to each other (before the days of e-mail).
I have read and admired much of her written work from First Grade on, but the culmination of her talent has to be in her first novel Thirty Days to Glory.  I was honored to have the opportunity to read the novel before the publication date. I could not put it down.  While it is a Christian novel, it is not too “preachy,” but rather like Kathy, who lives her faith every day and believes in the power of prayer.  The day after I finished the book, I began taking my cup of coffee out on my back porch every morning and saying a prayer to ask God to be with specific people on my mind.

 Having known Kathy for a lifetime, one would think I would know everything about her, but I have questions to ask her as an author and fan of her book. Here is our interview:

I love this lady!
Me: Kathy, first let me say I loved your book, and I am not saying that because I am your friend.  You know I have loved to read ever since I learned how and read every book Mrs. Epperson had on our First Grade bookshelf.  I am also an English teacher who reads and teaches literature year after year, so I know quality writing when I see it. You are a talented writer!
Kathy: I already told several people that I don't expect anyone else's opinion to matter as much to me as yours does! So, thank you.
Me: How long would you say it took to write this book from your first idea to the point where you submitted it to a publisher?
Kathy: At least ten years. It brewed in my mind for several years. I'd see a scene in my head or hear a snippet of conversation in my mind. Eventually I got serious about writing those things down.
Me: You live such a busy life! How did you make time to write your novel?
Kathy: It certainly helps that our children are grown now. When I finally decided to do this book, I started writing twenty minutes before work Monday through Friday. I write fast, so I could get several words in that space. Then, I would steal an hour after supper to edit and revise. On Saturdays, I often wrote eight or nine hours with breaks to flip the laundry or sweep the floor. I'm also fortunate because my husband's job requires him to attend continuing education courses four times a year. So I could count on having three or four days of hotel writing time during those trips. Writing like that probably took me a year to get the book ready for submission.
Me:  I liked the way you developed your characters through what they did and said. Do you have a method for character development?
Kathy: Unfortunately, no. I've studied character development, and I've tried some of the standard approaches like writing a backstory or building a fake resume. But, honestly, when I start writing, the characters unfold. I know this sounds flaky, but they really do surprise me sometimes by what they do and who they become.
Me: As soon as I finished the book, I hoped you continued with the characters’ stories and lives. Is there a sequel in the future? Or maybe a whole series?
Kathy: Well, probably not a sequel exactly. But some of the characters are talking to me about having a book of their own. Right now, Bess is the loudest. Although she played a rather minor role in Thirty Days to Glory, I think she has some things to say. And, of course, Madge has a strong opinion about the future. So, we'll see how that goes.
Me: Thank you so much for spending some time with me and my readers. I look forward to reading many more of your books!
Kathy and I hugged, laughed, and cried, pretty much like we do every time we see each other!
Kathy's book Thirty Days to Glory is available at Hastings in Kirksville, from Amazon or her publisher, CrossRiver Media.  Of course, I have my own autographed copy from her book signing  appearance at Hastings recently, where you can also purchase daughter Serenity Bohan's book, The Thank You Room. 
My book-loving granddaughter Madison loved meeting two authors!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Jaron's Special Day

I promised Jaron, my 9-year-old grandson, that we would have a special day when he could choose to do whatever he wanted. At first he didn't believe it would happen, because he said usually his two sisters had to go wherever he went. I promised him the day, and last week we packed a bag and went to Crystal Lake. For this boy, fun revolves around food, so he requested eating the hot tenderloin plate at The Apple Basket and a medium chocolate milkshake at Sonic. When I told him I might even get him a large milkshake, his eyes and his smile widened. I am frugal enough that we waited until after 8 p.m. when the shakes were half priced. He could not even finish it in one setting, but we put it in the freezer, and he enjoyed it with the movies he had chosen earlier from the library. "At least I got what I always wanted....a large milkshake," he said.

He enjoyed fishing at Crystal Lake and caught two fish, a crappie and a bass, which he released. He wanted to catch a snapping turtle, but I asked, "What would we do with it if you caught it?" I also would not let him shoot a bullfrog. (Yes, it is frog season.) Later, he said pointedly, "I would really like it if Grandpa was here."

Fishing at Crystal Lake

The next morning when I asked what he wanted for breakfast, he replied, "Sausage McMuffins from McDonalds, and can I have two, please?" I am anti-fast food, but since it was his special day that is where we went. Later, we went to the Flywheel Reunion in Macon and donated my Uncle James' electric mousetrap to the museum there. I bought him a camouflage hat with a fish on the front as a keepsake. A friend of mine from high school gave him a pet rock she made to look like a spider, which he promptly named Jo-Jo.  I hope he will always remember his special day. Maybe next time we will invite Grandpa.

Jaron holding the electric mousetrap invented by Uncle James

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Mayo Trip Two

On July 7th, Stanley, Vanita, Lance and I headed north again to Rochester, Minnesota. The time arrived for Vanita's second operation, in which the doctor would construct the j-pouch to act in place of her colon. She was feeling better already following the first surgery which removed the colon and got rid of the ulcerative colitis. The doctors told her this second surgery was the most difficult of the three she would have. However, we were better prepared for this one, and felt more relaxed about the process. We were familiar with the hospital and the town. We stayed at the same hotel and ate at our favorite restaurants. We went a day early so Vanita could enjoy some of the trip. Monday we headed to the Mall of America. I might be the only person who went there and did not spend a dime. I even shared Vanita's lunch, because she is not able to eat very much. The roller coaster in the middle of the mall was impressive, as well as the huge Lego creations. Stan and Lance played a round of miniature golf while Vanita and I shopped. Stan's favorite part of the mall was watching the airplanes land from the parking lot.
Photo by Vanita Weber
Lance bought a pair of cool new shoes. We ate at Victoria's that night. It has the most delicious Italian food. The next day, Vanita had several medical tests. Lance and I went to Barnes and Noble nearby and I bought him the Duck Dynasty book. Although he does not like to read, he finished it in two days!
Notice the shoes Lance bought at the Mall of America. This is the view from the Mayo Clinic.

On the 10th, Vanita had her surgery. It went well, and she actually did not have a much pain as she did after the first surgery. The next day, Stan's parents, Warren and Janie, came up for moral support. While they visited, I was able to explore the town more.
Every week during the summer, they have "Thursdays on First and Third". A section of those streets are closed and filled with food, live bands, and vendors. I bought a delicious Philly cheese-steak sandwich from the owners of Pannekoeken, which is actually a little Dutch restaurant. The weather was beautiful and to walk around seeing a plethora of people from all different cultures was interesting. The experience helped me feel a little bit like what it might feel like to live in a city.

Unfortunately, Vanita was nauseated from the pain meds and did not feel like eating much. The next day Warren and Janie went home, and Lance happily went with them. Sitting in a hospital room is not much fun for anyone, especially an active 17-year-old. The following day, Vanita was released from the hospital, and we came back home to Missouri. The medical staff assured us the next surgery would be a "piece of cake" compared to the first two.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Crystal Lake - The Deck

The old deck at Crystal lake had seen its better days. It had been used as a place to grow tomatoes more than for socializing. The boards were mostly rotten and the rail was unsafe. Now that the house was livable, the deck needed to be torn down and rebuilt. We had many kind friends and family members volunteer to help us, but we just did not know where to start. Our son and grandson helped tear the old deck down. West Construction provided the foundation, and family and friends took it from there. Thanks to "Old" Blaine, "Young" Blaine, Matt, John, Josh, Terry, Logan, Larry, Ellen, Bruce, Marilyn, Lance and Vanita, we have a safe deck that I hope will be the site of many future celebrations.
The old deck

Matt throws the old railing off the deck.
They work well together.
The old deck is gone. It looks better already!

West Construction Crew

Logan helped put the floor down.

Lance helped Grandpa get the posts straight.

Lance put every spindle on the deck while Vanita helped hold them in place. He is holding on because the ladder collapsed earlier with him and he scraped his arm.

My job was to hold the boards while Blaine sawed them.

B.L. and  Larry work on the floor.
The view out the patio doors.

Oh, yes. I like this! If Mama is happy, everybody is happy.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Let the Fun Begin!

     On the last day of school, my granddaughter Madison came home with me. We planned a mini-vacation to Crystal Lake. I packed up my bag and off we went. "Let's pretend we don't know where we are going," said Madison.
     "Okay," I replied, "but I brake for garage sales." We stopped at a garage sale and she found some dangly earrings. Our next stop - Wal-Mart, of course, for snacks, and on the the grocery store for more snacks.  Then, we both wanted to go to the library. She loves to read, just like I do. We found some books, and also checked out some movies, Sleeping Beauty, Harry Potter, and Tom Sawyer. We were both pretty hungry by that time, so we decided to go to Apple Basket for supper. We both chose the hot tenderloin plate, which was delicious.
     Arriving at Crystal Lake, Madison said, "How did you find this place?"
     I answered, "It was my uncle's."
      "Grandma, we have never been here before!"  she reminded me.  Oops, I forgot we were pretending. She loved her room, and unpacked all her clothes right away. Then we did some of our favorite things:

We blew bubbles.
We watched old movies.
We had a "proper tea party" with Oreos and milk.
We painted our nails a ghastly glittery green that she picked out. Then she giggled and told me I looked like I had "ogre toes". She did my hair. The next morning, we ordered biscuits and gravy from Apple Basket . It was everything we hoped for in a mini-vacation, except it did not last long enough. The good news is, now that we have found the place;), we can go there again.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Journey to Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic
Stanley, Vanita and I embarked on our journey to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota with mixed emotions. We knew the outcome would probably result in surgery to remove Vanita’s colon, but still there was the tiny hope that some miracle drug or diet had been discovered in the premier hospital in the nation for this chronic condition, ulcerative colitis, which my daughter had been diagnosed with fourteen years ago. Mayo Clinic defines the disease as “an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes long-lasting inflammation in part of your digestive tract.  Like Crohn's disease, another common IBD, ulcerative colitis can be debilitating and sometimes can lead to life-threatening complications.”  She was getting close to the point of “life-threatening complications,” and something had to be done.

 The past year had been the worst; a hospitalization last May, monthly IV treatments of a drug with possible future bad side effects, steroids that made her feel irritable and could damage her bones, and a handful of pills each day. She tried everything the doctor told her to do, including avoiding various foods, but nothing was working. Vanita’s health and quality of life was diminishing. Her doctor told her it was time to consult with a surgeon.  The surgeon informed her that while he felt comfortable doing the surgery, he only did about two per year and would be glad to refer her to Mayo Clinic if she wanted to go there. After some serious thought and discussion, we all agreed Mayo was the place to go, and I wanted to go with her. Fortunately, my son-in-law did not mind that I 
tagged along for the ride.  

The Top of Iowa Welcome Center and Rest Area
On a warm Sunday morning, April 7, we headed north.  We discovered all the best and a few of the not so great bathrooms along the highway. The most interesting one was almost in the upper edge of Iowa on Highway 35. It is called The Top of Iowa Welcome Center and Rest Area and resembles a big red barn with a silo. A nice man who worked there gave me a Minnesota map and drew the route to Mayo in Rochester.

We arrived at the Econo Lodge in Rochester. Our rooms were clean and comfortable. We ate supper at the Whiskey Creek Wood Fire Grill, a western-style restaurant close to our hotel.  Since she had an early appointment at 7:45, we turned in early.

Stan dropped us off at the door of the Goda Building in the Mayo Clinic. These amazing glass sculptures dangled  from the ceiling, and Vanita said, “That looks like Chihuly,” and of course, the thirteen blue, green and gold huge works of twisted interwoven glass art that made up a glowing chandelier were designed by famed glassblower Dale Chihuly.  Pictures do not capture the enormity and beauty of the project. Mayo incorporates art and music into medical treatment.  My artist/art teacher Vanita appreciated the many works of art as we walked the halls from appointments to medical tests, and recognized the artist before we were close enough to read the names: Miro, Warhol, and a huge statue by Rodin.

Chihuly's Glass Sculptures
But we were there for answers not just the art show, so we pressed on to see Dr. Faubion, a doctor with movie star looks who came highly recommended for his expertise in the field.  His assistant reviewed Vanita’s medical history, and the progression of her disease. We all became emotional as she described a typical day of pain, urgency, running to the bathroom day and night (at least 12 times a day), passing blood on a daily basis, feeling so drained that she just drug herself to work and back home to crash on the couch.
Dr. Faubion reviewed the assistant’s information and reaffirmed what her Columbia doctor said. There were no miracle cures at this time, and probably not in the near future. He said they needed to ascertain for sure that it was not Chrohn’s disease, which could not be cured by removing the colon, and scheduled a battery of tests for that day.  Dr. Faubion put it well when he said that this would be a “surgical cure” for her disease. I held onto those words and repeated them to myself as well as any of the family to whom I talked that day.  “Do you want us to schedule a surgery if the tests are negative for Chrohn’s?” the assistant asked. We all nodded.
As we waited in between tests, Vanita and I walked down the hall. She became short of breath easily, and we had to stop and rest occasionally.  In the hallway, a group of people gathered around a gleaming black grand piano and sang songs from The Sound of Music. People of all ages, sick and healthy, some in wheel chairs sang, raising joyful music to the high ceilings. Then they sang an inspirational song that I remember was performed at my sister Janie's high school graduation. We were so moved by the music.

We could not help but notice two precious little girls with their mothers; one wore a little pink hat and the other a pretty headband with a bright flower.  Their lack of hair only accentuated their sweet round faces. Vanita became a little emotional and said, “You know, sometimes I think it is harder on the mother than the child who is sick. I remember when Lance was in the hospital….”  I just pressed my lips firmly together, partly to stop their trembling, but also because I agreed.  I was the mother in this situation, and it was not easy to watch my little girl go through this. The tests were completed and Vanita had a consult appointment with a surgeon the next day at 3:30. We did not know the results of the tests yet.

The next morning, Logan, who was working four hours away in South Dakota, said he was coming to be with his mama! It was already freezing rain where he was, and it turned out they had a blizzard in the next few days while he was with us.  Vanita was feeling better this morning. She received a phone call that she had a meeting with a “stoma nurse” at 1:30. While we had not been told she was having surgery for sure, that appointment was the first clue that she was.  Logan arrived at 1:00; we were in the vehicle ready to go, he jumped in, and we made her appointment right on time. The nurse asked, “You are having surgery tomorrow?”   We kind of laughed nervously and said we had not met with the surgeon yet. The nurse explained all about the equipment Vanita would be using for the next six months after the ileostomy procedure. I was impressed by my daughter’s strength, as she went through the step-by-step procedure. She had already researched the procedure a great deal and was prepared for the outcome.
We met with the surgeon, Dr. Boostrum, a confident young woman who explained they felt it would be best to do the procedure in three steps. Step one would be to remove the colon and fashion the stoma. If you are like me and do not know what that is, they actually bring the end of the small intestine up through an opening in the side and sew it to the stomach, making a “bud” through which waste is emitted into a bag.  Step two would follow three months later and fashion a j-pouch to take the place of her colon, and the final step is the “take down” to reconnect everything and get rid of the external bag.  The first surgery would be performed the next day at the Rochester Methodist Hospital, which is part of the Mayo Clinic.
Logan did his best to keep us laughing!

Logan took us out to Outback for supper. Vanita had no restrictions on what she could eat, although she had not been able to eat more than a few bites of food at a time for several weeks. We ordered the Bloomin’ Onion, and she and I shared a meal of shrimp and steak.  Having Logan there helped all of our moods, because we enjoyed visiting with him. He tried lobster for the first time, and graciously shared it with us.  Neither Vanita nor I slept much at all that night. We were not worried, because we were both confident it was the right thing to do, but we just could not relax enough to sleep.
Check in time for surgery was at 8:45. Logan and I kissed her and went to the waiting room, while Stan was able to stay with her a little longer. They took her back to prepare for surgery at 10, but the surgery did not begin until 1:00, and they finished at 4:30. She was in recovery from 5 o’clock until 7. Finally, we were able to see her. They had done a spinal in addition to the other anesthesia, so she was not in much pain at that time. She was just very tired. Stanley said he would stay, and Logan and I returned to the hotel. I slept well that night, relieved that the surgery was over.
Amazingly, the day after the surgery, Vanita ate breakfast. Logan and I explored the underground shops and the skywalks connecting Mayo to shops and hotels in the area. The locals explained that the winters are so bad that it is better to be inside.

The spinal wore off, and Vanita was in severe pain in the evening.  Since the surgeon had warned us about the intestines wrapping around the stoma area after laparoscopic surgery, we were concerned she might be headed back into surgery. The thought made me light-headed, and I sat down. I remember Vanita saying, “Are you going to pass out?”  Logan fanned me until the color came back to my face. I was embarrassed, because my job was to be strong for her! A doctor on call came and looked at her and calmed our fears.  The pain meds just did not keep the pain down, even though they tried different combinations. I spent the night at the hospital to let Stan rest.
Happy the surgery is over.
The next morning the pain was better, but she was nauseated.  Dr. Boostrum and her entourage of about six people came to check on Vanita. They said things like, “What a beautiful stoma!” and “It is already working!” Vanita quipped that everyone else at the hospital was much happier with the evidence it was working than she was. As they were all admiring the doctor’s work, Vanita became emotional and admitted it was a lot to take in.  Later, after another visit from the stoma nurse, I told Vanita that they needed an advocate who had actually been through the experience to talk to her. That afternoon, what Oprah would call a “God Moment” occurred. One of Dr. Boostrum’s assistants, a young, attractive blonde woman, came back to Vanita’s room. She sat on the bed and said, “I just want you to know that everything you are going through now is worth it, and it will be alright. I know this because I had the same procedure 12 years ago when I was 13 years old.” She confided that she felt moved to come in and talk to Vanita after seeing she was so upset. Her message was what we all needed to hear.
On Saturday, we were both hopeful and a little apprehensive about going home. The doctor visited and said she could go. We packed up and wheeled her outside in the cold morning air, anxious to go home. Logan said his goodbyes and headed back to South Dakota.  On the way home, Vanita said, “I feel like I’ve had my guts ripped out……Oh, yeah, I have!”  Stan and I laughed, happy to be able to make light of a serious operation. We left snowy Minnesota and returned to the green, green grass of Missouri.
Vanita was touched by the generous acts of kindness by family, friends, co-workers and the Atlanta church community, which included prayers, cards, flowers, food, phone calls and text messages. While first week and a half was the toughest physically, just two weeks later she was able to attend Lance’s Prom Grand March.  She looked healthy and beautiful!
Before Surgery
After Surgery - And she wondered why people kept telling her how good she looks!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Snow Day

The Weather Channel says we had 11 inches of snow. It is still snowing.

   What is it that is so fun about a snow day? I was thinking about it today, as I sit in my cozy house and watch it snow…and snow…and snow. Since I have extra time, I pondered the appeal. I think it is the unexpected gift of a day off with no commitments or to-do lists. I decided to share what I am doing today with you. What are you doing?
I am grateful the satellite works after Blaine swept it off - HGTV's Disaster DIY marathon. Notice the laptop by my recliner, too. I am keeping up with my housebound Facebook friends.

I love a wood stove on a cold, windy day.

I don't think I will wade through the snow to the hot tub.