Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mister Rogers

When I made THIS post on Sunday I wrote about reminiscing as I looked through my childhood scrapbooks. I came across something else I wanted to write about. I was a huge Mister Rogers fan when I was as a kid, and so was my mom. Mister Rogers was such a kind person that really knew just what kids needed to learn and and grow. He knew how to make kids feel important and special.

I wrote a "fan letter" to Mister Rogers in 1990 when I was five years old, and he even wrote back  It wasn't just a standard, cookie-cutter letter that they sent to all the kids that sent fan letters, but a personal, hand-signed letter that commented on the things I must've said in my letter. I think that's impressive since he had to have been a busy guy that got a fair amount of fan letters!
My mom has said several times over the years that Mister Rogers is one of the people she's looking forward to meeting in heaven. He was an awesome person and someone that I still look up to, so I have to agree that it will be nice to meet him on the other side!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

At Last We Meet

In July 2012 I got an email from a woman named Dara saying that she'd recently found my blog and had really been enjoying it. She said how much she liked reading about my accident/experience and how she always felt uplifted and empowered after reading it. I wrote Dara back right away to thank her for reaching out to me, since hearing from my blog readers means a great deal to me. We've been emailing each other ever since and have really gotten to know each other. We've become fast friends and we talk about all sorts of things from our daily goings-on, to our families, to our favorite TV shows and even what we think about pop culture and current events.

Dara lives in Kentucky, about  hours away from where I live in Missouri. A while back I told her that if she ever found herself in St. Louis it would be wonderful to meet each other in person. She said that she'd have to make the trip some weekend when her kids were taken care of so that she could get away. Our desire to meet became a reality last Saturday when Dara and her boyfriend Tom came to St. Louis to visit. Tom's niece conveniently lives here in St. Louis, so they were able to stay with her and spend an evening with my mom and me.

I wondered how Tom would do while Dara and I talked, and I just hoped he wouldn't get bored. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked him! What I mean is, I knew that I would love Dara since I feel like I already know her quite well, but since I don't know Tom I wasn't sure what to expect from him. But he was so nice! He was so personable and warm and funny, and the four of us had such a pleasant time visiting with each other.

Dara and Tom stayed for dinner. My mom fixed white chicken chili (one of my favorite soups), pumpkin bread (a copycat recipe for Starbucks' pumpkin bread that we recently came across and love) and a new cake recipe from Pinterest that my sister Kristin passed along to me. Everything tasted great and the conversation was wonderful, too.

Dara and I both have summer birthdays, and since we knew that we would be meeting each other in person some time this fall, so we decided to wait to give each other a birthday gift until we met. When I had my birthday Dara said, "Oprah has her favorite things and I do, too!" so she gave me a few things she likes that she hoped I would like, too. She must know me well because she hit the bull's-eye with each one!

I'm so grateful for Dara's friendship. I was delighted that someone would travel such a great distance just to meet me. It's not like we live close to each other! I gave Dara fair warning that documenting with pictures was a must since our meeting was something to remember. Thankfully she and Tom both obliged me!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Parrot Pin

My dad used to go on a lot of business trips when I was a kid and he usually brought something back for my mom (usually something like a little animal carved out of stone, or something like that). One time he brought my mom a parrot pin. It was the prettiest thing my young eyes had ever seen and I loved looking at it. I even asked my mom if I could have it if/when she died.
My mom had a miscarriage in 1991 when I was about seven. I remember her lying on the couch, tired and in pain. I got a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote out a will for Mom entitled "Mom's Deth." Yes, I actually did, and you better believe that I willed that parrot pin to myself! I guess I just wanted everyone to know that that pin was mine!

I know Mom kept the will since she thought it was so funny and cute and I wanted to take a picture of it to include in my post. We were sure that she'd put it in one of my childhood scrapbooks, but we unfortunately couldn't find it. We did come across these art projects, though. I guess I really must've liked parrots!
As we were looking for the will we found a few other gems from back in the day. Here's a note I wrote Mom for her 40th birthday. (She and I wrote lots of "love notes" as we called them to each other when I was a kid.) I love how I ended the note by saying, "You are my best friend." Some things never change! We've always been close, except for a few years when I was a teenager and not always as nice to Mom as I should've been. I'm glad we like each other so well since we have to spend so much time together!
Here's a report card I wrote for Mom. I guess she wasn't mean too often and didn't leave too often since she got low grades in those areas, and got high marks everywhere else. Mom's great and if I made her a report card for how she's doing these days, she'd get straight A's.
This is a card made by my sister Kristin after I kicked the thumb sucking habit. I thought it was cute how she said "remember not to suck" on the inside of the card.
This is a funny picture (from 2001 or 2002). I was sitting at the computer typing up a report for school when my mom came across me like this and took a picture. I know it might not look it. but it was actually quite comfortable.
I'm a nostalgic sort of girl, so I always love revisiting the past by reminiscing and looking at old pictures/scrapbooks.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake!

Chandra's boyfriend gave her some cupcakes from Jilly's Cupcake Bar last week when Grandma and Grandpa were visiting, and Chandra was kind enough to share them with the rest of us. I was already back in bed the night we ate the cupcakes, so my mom brought them into my room so that I could be part of the action. These cupcakes are extra big, so my mom was able to cut each cupcake five ways so that we could try each one. We all tasted the same one at the same time and then compared it to the other ones we'd eaten. It was so much fun. (Click HERE to read about my first experience with Jilly's Cupcakes.)

I thought it was cute when my grandpa said, "This is an event to remember!" It really was memorable, and I'm sure we'll remember it for a long time.
The cupcakes come in some unique flavors. Several of the ones we tried were seasonal flavors that are only available certain times of the year. Our favorite was the Turtle Cheesecake cupcake, closely followed by the Reese's Chunkage cupcake.
Our next favorite was the 24-Karat Carrot Cupcake. It was really good, and I don't even like carrot cake! We also liked the Oreo S'more cupcake. It was a little unusual, but it was really good.
Pumpkin flavored things usually aren't my favorite, but this Pumpkin Cheesecake cupcake was pretty good, especially since it had caramel sauce inside. We also tried the Carmel Apple cupcake. It was good, but not my favorite. The last one was called the Trick-Or-Treat cupcake. It was decorated to look like a little pail of candy. It wasn't a fancy flavor, though; just chocolate cake with (orange) vanilla butter cream frosting, but it was good.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Grizzly Gramps and Gran

(This post title is in reference to the Berenstain Bear books, FYI.) Last week my grandparents drove down from Minnesota to visit for a few days. I love my grandparents and always look forward to their visits. Traveling isn't impossible for me, but it's not easy, either, so I'm always grateful when company is willing/able to travel to see me.
Grandma and Grandpa's visits are always low-key and relaxed, which is exactly what I like in a visit. We had a lot of fun spending time together. We reminisced about "old times." I reminded Grandma about the time when I accidentally sideswiped their relatively new car. I was backing out of the garage on my way to work (I was about 18, I think) and I scraped against their car. It was partly Grandpa's fault since he'd parked hogging the center line of the driveway, and partly my fault for being in my groove and not paying more attention as I backed out. I felt TERRIBLE! The worst part was having to go inside and tell my grandma what I'd done. Fortunately, she forgave me! :)

I also reminded Grandma about my macaroni and cheese addiction when I came home after my accident. At that time all that appealed to me to eat was macaroni; I seriously ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for weeks because it tasted so good and was easy to swallow (I'd had to learn how to eat/swallow again after my accident). Grandma and Grandpa visited when I was finally able to return home so that they could help my mom get everything ready. I reminded Grandma how she'd fed me macaroni for breakfast one morning (something that she'd forgotten). Oh, that seems like a lifetime ago!
Grandma and Grandpa wanted to meet Chandra's new boyfriend Joe, so we all went out to lunch to Ruby Tuesday. They're always so accommodating there and the restaurant is nice and open, so I fit right in and don't feel like I'm in the way. We had a really nice time and Grandma and Grandpa were both impressed with Joe. (Don't Mom, Grandma and Grandpa look great?! I'm so glad that I'm related to these fine folks, and I hope that I age as well as they have!
We used my mom's new ice cream bowl to make some homemade ice cream. We made candy bar ice cream (which is vanilla ice cream and you add your favorite candy). We decided to add Heath bits since they are small and you don't have to worry about chewing big pieces of frozen candy bars. The ice cream turned out really well and tasted good, although I think the triple chocolate ice cream we made with my sister Annette was better.
Mom and Grandma worked on lots of crossword puzzles together. This is something they've done together as long as I can remember, and they're both really good at it, especially when they put their heads together! I'm never much help when it comes to crossword puzzles, although I did manage to help them fill in one of the clues. They were stumped, so my mom came and asked me, "What's a five letter word for a kind of bar found in a gym. I immediately said, "juice bar!" I'm frankly surprised that they didn't think of that on their own, but I guess they were thinking more of actual gym equipment, not these newfangled juice bars!
We watched Jeopardy one afternoon. I actually felt halfway smart while watching for once since I knew a decent amount of answers, including the answer to the Final Jeopardy question. That always gives my confidence a boost!
We also watched a couple baseball games. We were excited to watch the games so we could cheer on our beloved St. Louis Cardinals. It's always fun when Grandma is around when a baseball game is on because she gets quite animated. My mom said, "Now you know where I get it from!" The Cards fortunately defeated the Dodgers and will be representing the National League in the World Series. Can't wait for that to begin!
Two things I'm grateful for… #1) I'm glad that I live with my mom, because that means I get to see Grandma and Grandpa twice a year. I feel badly for my older sisters who live all over the country and don't get to see Grandma and Grandpa very often at all. #2) I never had much of a relationship with my dad's parents (who are now dead) so I'm glad that my mom's parents are so awesome! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story"

My mom and I recently finished reading Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story written by Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni (pronounced like the man's name "Johnny") was injured in a diving accident when she was 17, leaving her a quadriplegic. Joni started a charity called Joni and Friends and she travels the world with her Christian ministry sharing hope and the message of Jesus Christ with others. Her charity does retreats for the families of people with spinal cord injuries. Wheels for the World is a division of Joni and Friends in which teams of volunteers go around the world (especially to poor countries) and fit disabled people with refurbished wheelchairs. (Many of the people who receive a wheelchair have been housebound or confined to a bed, so getting a wheelchair is completely life-changing for them.)
Joni (whose 64th birthday is today) has written many books over the years and my mom became familiar with them after my accident. When I heard about Joni's new book about her relationship with her husband I thought it sounded really good, so I asked my mom to get it for me for my birthday. She did, and it's been on our stack of books to read for the past few months. We've been busy reading other books, but finally got around to reading it recently and made quick work of it.

I really enjoyed the book. I can definitely relate to Joni in so many ways since she and I are both quadriplegics. (Although, Joni's only paralyzed from her chest down, so she has some use of her arms, whereas I'm paralyzed from my neck down, so I don't have any arm movement.) Joni has been paralyzed for more than 45 years, so I found it interesting to read about some of the different things she's had to deal with, like pressure sores, pneumonia, hospitalizations, a broken leg, chronic pain, etc. Thankfully I haven't had to deal with most of those things, but I suppose I might face things like that as I get older.
I really enjoyed reading about Joni and Ken's relationship. I'm in awe thinking of a handsome, successful, able-bodied man showing interest in a woman with such physical limitations. It's extremely rare since most people wouldn't give a second glance to someone in a wheelchair, even if they ARE an amazing person. (I personally don't know if I'D be able to get past that.) I think this really speaks to the kind of person that Ken is. Joni and Ken married in 1982 and are still married. Their relationship has had it's ups and downs, like any relationship, but they are committed to each other.
The book addressed some of the issues Joni and Ken faced in their marriage. Joni talked about her struggle with depression, and how she and Ken have both had to battle chronic depression over the years which was hard on them, and their marriage. They also had to work on blending their two individual lives together, which wasn't always easy. When Joni and Ken married, Joni was already pretty famous/well known. She was a best-selling author, and had even starred as herself in the 1979 movie based on her life. She was also very much involved with her Joni and Friends charity and traveled all over the world with that.

Here's an excerpt from the book that sheds a little light on what things were like for Ken:

"When he first pursued a relationship with Joni, he hadn't given a lot of thought to the idea that she was famous.

"She was beautiful. She had an exciting life. She loved Jesus. She cared deeply about others. She seemed interested in him. And yes, she was in a wheelchair. What else did he need to know?

"Looking back across twenty-plus years of marriage, however, he had to admit that Joni's celebrity status was one of the forces that had shaped their lives together. Because of who she was, Ken had found himself in a supporting role through much of his adult life. It was Joni who had been the up-front public figure, the author, the artist and the TV and radio personality--the one who had spent time with Billy Graham and President Bush and leaders all over the world.

"At first,  to be honest, he'd felt a bit like window dressing when they were out together. People always recognized her or crowded around or wherever they went, wanting their picture with her, wanting to touch her, wanting her autograph… and generally ignoring him completely.

"Not that she had encouraged any of that. No, quite the opposite. She had always been good about trying to introduce him, include him in the conversation, bring him forward. She was proud of him, and she bragged about him every chance she got. But he also knew who they really wanted to talk to. Of course they did. Who wouldn't want to talk to Joni?"

One of the things that surprised me was just how much time Joni and Ken spent apart, and how they were content to do their own things. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I think that I'd want to spend more time with my husband. I know having alone time is good for relationships so that you don't get sick of each other, but it's almost like they were living separate lives while living together, if that makes sense.

In 2010 Joni was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although that was a tragic thing to happen to the two of them, it actually brought them closer. Where Ken once enjoyed going on fishing trips as a little "escape," he now wanted to be by Joni's side all the time. She was going through chemotherapy and he wanted to be the one there to care for her. Joni is now in remission, and although it didn't specifically say this in the book, I bet the cancer really transformed their marriage in a positive way. They had a good marriage before Joni's cancer, but I bet they how a great marriage now.

My mom and I don't have the same kind of relationship as Joni and Ken, but we are extremely close, so it was interesting getting Mom's take on what it's like to be my "significant other" so to speak. I thought it would be interesting to include her feelings in my post, so I asked her to write something for me to add to my post. Here are my mom's feelings in her own words:

"In November of 2003, I was in graduate school, and had just gotten a scholarship. I was gaining confidence, learning new things, and making new friends. It was exciting! It was the happiest time of my life. Then Heather had her accident, and all of that changed. I had to quit school, which was extremely disappointing. Being a nurse did NOT appeal to me. Learning about spinal cord injury and care was a very steep learning curve. I basically went on "auto pilot" and was emotionally numb for about two years.

"Life looked pretty bleak each day when I got up, and also as I contemplated the months and years to come. I felt like I lost all my dreams, my friends, and even myself in the early months. Every morning there were hours of work caring for Heather, before I could even think of doing anything for myself. Then, when I got a break, I might just sit down to a hot meal when Heather would need something. She didn't call me for little whims, she always needed me when she called. My sleep at night was often interrupted as well. I couldn't really plan ahead much, because I didn't know what things would be like from day to day.

"Of course, I would never consider putting Heather in an institution! I knew she wouldn't get good care and wouldn't live long there. As time went on, things got easier. I became more skilled. We developed a good routine. Heather was happy, grateful for the care we gave, productive, and her health was usually pretty good. She took some college courses (which I attended with her as her note taker) and began serving in church. She made some new friends, and loved going shopping and out to the movies. I was her companion through many of these activities--but I felt like her invisible companion. Everyone wanted to see and talk to Heather; I was only her mother. Not that I wanted to be in the center of attention, but I also didn't like feeling invisible. 

"There were many things to adjust to along the way, both on my part and Heather's. It took some time, but I finally came to realize how blessed I was. Heather was my best friend, and she was able to live at home. So I got to spend my days in my own comfortable home with my best friend. I began to feel this was an important mission my Heavenly Father had given me, one that not many people would be able to do. He must have known I could. Knowing the Lord had confidence in me brought me great joy and the determination to fulfill this mission valiantly. No, my life is not what I hoped it would be, and it is very hard. But I am quite content, and have found happiness in caring for my wonderful daughter."

I really liked this book and would recommend it to anyone, especially someone who's dealing with a family member or friend with a long-term injury, illness or disease.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

"I'll See You Again"

My mom and I recently finished reading the memoir I'll See You Again by Jackie Hance. I first heard about Jackie and her book last year when she was on Dateline NBC. I listened to her talk about her experiences and decided to buy the book so that I could get the full story and not just the condensed version.
In this book Jackie shares her heartbreaking story of losing her three daughters in a terrible car accident in 2009. Jackie's sister-in-law (her husband's sister, Diane) and her husband took her girls camping for the weekend and on the return trip Diane hit a car head-on when driving the wrong way down a highway. Jackie's three girls were killed in the crash, as well as Diane and her daughter, plus three men who were in the car she hit (a total of eight fatalities). 

The cause for the accident wasn't clear at first, but after investigating the police discovered that Diane was intoxicated (her blood-alcohol was twice the legal limit) and marijuana was also found in her system. This certainly added insult to injury. Jackie and her husband, Warren, had never known Diane to do much drinking, and had certainly never known her to smoke marijuana. Jackie blamed herself for the accident, even though it clearly wasn't her fault.
Jackie and Warren were utterly devastated after losing all three of their children so suddenly. Jackie had been a stay-at-home mom and her whole life revolved around her kids, so she was just dashed. It wasn't long after the girls' deaths before Jackie and Warren started fighting. They grieved very differently from each other and this took a toll on their marriage. It's definitely understandable that this happened since couples often turn away from each other instead of to each other under stressful conditions. It's just a shame that their marriage had to suffer on top of the loss they were experiencing. 

I know that a couple losing their children in a car accident makes for a sad story, but I was hoping that this book would have a more uplifting feel while Jackie took us on her journey, similar to Choosing to See, another book written by a mother that looses a child in a terrible accident. I know that I've never lost a child and that I'm not even a mother, but Jackie was just so completely over-the-top in her grief  that I found the majority of this book extremely depressing. I got to the point where I was so exasperated with Jackie that I just wanted to reach through the book and shake her and give her a "glass half full" pep talk with her about God's plan and finding silver linings while experiencing adversity. You might be thinking, "what gives you, someone who isn't even a mother, the right to criticize the way a mother grieves the loss of her children" or, "just because you've been blessed with a God-given gift of joy doesn't mean everyone is blessed to be able to handle trials so easily." These are two valid points, and I know I probably sound terribly insensitive/judgmental, by voicing my frustration over Jackie, but I'm just expressing my honest thoughts on the book.

One of the things that really impressed me about Jackie's story was what wonderful friends she and Warren had. They seemed to have a really close knit group of friends and neighbors which was really neat. I was actually surprised at just how much their friends did for them. Their friends brought them meals and groceries to keep Jackie and Warren fed, not just initially, but for months and months after the accident. 

Their friends also slept over at Jackie and Warren's house every night. They set up a schedule so that someone was always at their house at night, just in case Jackie woke up and needed someone to talk to (since she was suicidal after the accident). I think if I were in that circumstance I would eventually want things to go back to "normal," or to start making a new normal, whatever normal is after losing all of your children. Jackie and Warren's friends witnessed a lot of their fighting and arguments, which would've made me uncomfortable. I know I would be embarrassed to have my friends see me and my husband argue, since I don't to be observed when I'm not in my "finest hour."

I'm happy to report that Warren and Jackie miraculously stayed together. Although they could both be really mean to each other, Jackie was especially awful to Warren. I'm frankly surprised that they both stuck it out and that their marriage survived considering how volatile things were between them. It seems like sometimes when you and your spouse venture down two different roads in your grief and pain it's almost impossible to find your way back to each other, but I'm glad they did. 

The major thing that saved their marriage (and Jackie in general) was having another baby. Jackie had been very suicidal after the loss of her girls and looked at suicide as a WHEN, not an IF. She finally got to her lowest where she just couldn't take the misery any longer, so she made a plan of how and where she would commit suicide. With her plan in place she went to bed. This is an excerpt from the book about what happened that night:

With the plan fully settled in my mind, I went to bed calmer than I'd been in a long time. I fell asleep immediately and had the most vivid dream I'd ever experienced. I saw myself standing at the entrance to heaven. Just beyond the gates, I could see Emma, Alyson, and Katie, smiling and sweet and close enough to touch.

"Mommy, Mommy, you're here!" they called excitedly.

I started to rush toward them, but God didn't let me inside the gates.

"You didn't do everything you could on earth," he said.

"I did," I whined. "I've prayed, I've written every thank-you. I'm suffering so much."

"The doctor gave you a gift. Why haven't you used it?" God asked.

"I want to be with my girls," I pleaded.

"You have to take the gift and at least try to use it. And then you can come back."

I woke up with my heart pounding.

Try… and then you can come back.

[A few months after the accident Jackie's friends convinced her to have some of her eggs harvested, just in case she ever decided to have another baby (since she'd had her tubes tied after having her third daughter). This is the "gift" that is referred to in the dream.] After this dream Jackie did decide to have another baby and she gave birth to her fourth daughter, Kasey, about two years after the accident. Jackie didn't exactly experience that "love at first sight" feeling after having Kasey, and she didn't think she would be able to love this new baby as much as she'd loved her other girls. Things were rocky for the first few months, but things eventually got better. Kasey ended up growing on Jackie, until Jackie was completely in love with her new little girl. Kasey really helped bring Jackie out of the dark place she was in, which also helped bring Warren and Jackie together again. The book definitely ended on a positive note, which made me happy for Jackie and Warren. 

I know that I've shared a detailed synopsis of the book, but there's really so much more to the story than I could ever share in one blog post. Even though this book wasn't uplifting all the way through and had a lot sad parts, I like it and I give it my recommendation. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mom's Birthday, 2013

Yesterday was my mom's birthday. Last year she turned 60, which is kind of a big deal since it was a milestone, so there were lots of surprises, celebrations and excitement. This year was more subdued and low-key, but it was still a good day.

Chandra and I did our best to make our mom's day fun. Fortunately, Chandra didn't have to work, so we were able to spend lots of time together. The three of us had dinner together (Mom wanted chef salads with buffalo chicken), and then later in the evening we watched Law & Order: SVU (one of our favorite shows that we like watching together).

My mom usually has carrot cake for her birthday treat, but she decided to wait and have it in a few weeks when her parents visit. Instead, Mom opted to make a chocolate peanut butter mug cake (one of those cakes you make in a mug that takes two minutes in the microwave). One of them is something like 800 cal, so Mom decided to just make one of them and put it in three little ramekins so that it wasn't calorie overload for any of us.

After dinner mom opened her present. Last year my sisters and I surprised our mom by getting her a KitchenAid mixer. When my sister Annette visited a few months ago she brought her ice cream bowl (one of the attachments you can buy to go with a KitchenAid mixer). It made THE BEST homemade ice cream that any of us had ever tasted, and it was SO easy. I thought it would be fun to get one for Mom for her birthday, so I sent an email to all of my sisters to see if they wanted to go in on it with me since the bowls are kind of pricey. It wasn't a surprise because I'd asked Mom if she would like one (I didn't want to risk getting it if she wouldn't really like it). She's excited about it, though, and has already put the ice cream bowl in the freezer to get nice and cold in preparation for making ice cream tomorrow for an appetizer and ice cream lunch get-together we're having tomorrow.

A few pictures to document the day:
The first picture below is from last year when Mom got her KitchenAid mixer, and the second picture (very similar to the first) is from this year.
I'm so glad that I live with my mom so that I can celebrate her birthday with her each and every year. I'm definitely lucky and I feel badly for most of my other sisters who live far away and don't have the luxury of celebrating with our fabulous mother!
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