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When reading a book, you should always mark the good parts.

I’m not a slow reader. I can rip through a 500-page book in a day or two if the story’s good enough and I don’t have to work. So it’s somewhat surprising that it took me 1,027 days to read the greatest book ever written.

I started reading the Bible on January 1, 2017 (a reminder as to why: Paging Through the Good Book). I finished it on October 25, 2019. That’s a long stretch for a 1,552-page book, especially for a person who likes to read.

I stuck with my plan to read it every day, if only a few pages. Some days that’s all it was – a page or two. Some days more. I wasn’t worried about the pace or even my comprehension of what I was reading. I didn’t expect to understand everything in it, and I didn’t. What I was more interested in was how the experience would change me, if it would at all.

Like any book, the Bible has good parts and bad parts. Some of it is tedious and there’s a fair amount of repetition but other sections are uplifting and even educational. Reading it made me happy and thankful and motivated but also anxious and angry and sad. Good books do that.

Here’s what I realized when I was done:

I’m not a blind believer. For me, that goes for everything, not just religion. Belief doesn’t mean blind acceptance. It means looking at all sides of what you believe in and not being afraid to question or challenge it.

I have more faith-full friends than I realized. Once I started talking about how I was reading the Bible, other people started talking to me about religion and their beliefs. People who really know me know I’ll talk about anything to anyone but religion was an issue I never raised. I appreciate that it’s now something I can.

If I had it to do over, it would take me just as long. I’m glad I took my time. It gave me a chance to mull things over, come to some conclusions. There’s some tabs and highlights and underlines in my Bible that weren’t there before; I’m glad they are now.

I’ll never be one of those people who can straight up quote the Bible or explain what every verse means. I don’t want to be. What you get out of it should be up to you. I do have a favorite verse now, which is something I never expected to have. It’s Philippians 4:11-12.

Do you consider yourself a religious person? Why or why not?

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Indie and me in a quality moment

I met Independence William Thompson at a 4th of July fish fry in 2008. He was sleeping in the backseat of a car with his brothers and sisters. We’d been without a dog for about six months, having lost Doc just before the previous Christmas. We weren’t looking for another dog. Sometimes that’s when the best ones find you.

Our loved ones don’t come with expiration dates. You estimate the length of their life, based on what they go through, what they survive, how they live. Still, it’s an estimate, one you hope they surpass. Indie was 11, three years shy of how long we thought we’d have him.

When it became apparent he wasn’t going to get better, Jay and I had “the talk”. We included the vet and Indie. There were considerations like quality of life, not wanting him to be in pain, and how he would let us know when he was ready. Then Jay told me I would have to decide when to take him in.

Indie was not the first dog we’ve had to put down. For the three others over the past 30 years, Jay made the decision. From Day 1, Indie was my dog and this time, it fell to me.

I’m always the one who stays with our dog to the end. After the sedative, then the lethal shot, the slowing of their breathing, the last final exhale before they go still. It’s me, on my knees on the floor beside them, stroking their fur, telling them not to be afraid and how much we love and will miss them.

I agonized over the decision with Indie. I take him in too soon, I miss precious time with him. Too late, and I cause him more pain. So as I do with a lot of things when I have trouble sorting them out, I made a list – “Indie’s Quality of Life List.”

Indie’s list was very simple: 13 things that I knew from the past 11 years he loved the most. Then I started paying attention. Things he could no longer do or enjoy got crossed off the list until there were only 3 things left. I wondered if that was enough of a life for him and how long he could enjoy them. The last night, he leaned his head against my knee and looked up at me and I knew they weren’t enough. I made the call the next morning.

People talk a lot about quality of life, what makes the difference between living and existing. If you’ve had a debilitating injury, faced a life-threatening disease, watched someone you love grow old and infirm, you’ve probably thought about what quality of life means.

It’s not enough to have that list in your head, that list of things you can’t live without. You need to consider how many things you can cross off that list and still keep living a “quality” life. Half? Two-thirds? All of them?

My list is short, shorter than Indie’s. It’s been revised many times over the years as my definition of “quality” has changed. I don’t think everything will be crossed off before I go. I hope if somebody else has to make that decision for me, I’m able to somehow let them know I’m ready and that it’s O.K.

What makes YOUR life worth living? How long is your list? Has it changed?

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Is our personal playlist ready for broadcast?

I’ve bitten my tongue while chewing gum, talking and laughing at the same time, and after tripping and banging my chin. I’ve seldom bitten it to stop myself from saying something although people have told me I should.

I tell you this to admit my hypocrisy when I say some people need to bite their tongues.

“Make an effort to avoid saying something you shouldn’t.” That’s what biting your tongue means.

We all think things we probably shouldn’t say, have opinions maybe the whole world doesn’t need to hear. We blurt when we should button up.

If I’ve got three seconds to think before I speak, these are the three questions I’m going to start asking myself before I open my mouth:

  • Will these words make an already bad situation, worse?
  • If you call me out on it, can I defend what I’m about to say?
  • Will what is about to shoot out of my mouth make me sound like an ass or an idiot?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I should bite my tongue, whether I’m literally talking or texting and posting. If what I have to say is that important, I’ll find a better way to say it.

As creatures who can think and speak, we are both the editor and the edited. Knowing when to speak up and when to shut up is the tricky part.

Do you need to bite your tongue more or less?

What’s the reasoning behind your answer?

Kel tree

Resting up for next year

When I began my 5K for Awareness quest in January, I thought finding the time to walk would be the hard part. It wasn’t. Taking the time to write about it was. Let me catch you up on how it went in October, November, and December.

October 5K: Deep Purple

The morning of October 28, I walked 3.2 miles for those impacted by pancreatic cancer. That afternoon, I emceed the 2018 Light the Capitol Purple for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness ceremony at the State Capitol.

It’s tough to speak at a cancer event. To find the right balance between solemnity and solace, hope and humor. The keynote speaker, Dr. Gary Timmerman, nailed it. Listening to him talk was like experiencing all the emotions tied to cancer in 15 minutes. Anger, despair, fear, sadness, humor, hope. And most of all, humanity. Yes, he stated some statistics and touted some treatments but he also shook his fist in frustration, chuckled at the absurdities of life with cancer, and was moved to tears at the loss it causes. He made a very impersonal disease, personal.

It was a great speech. You can hear it yourself on the ceremony video, courtesy of Dakota Radio Group. Dr. Timmerman’s address begins at 37:00.

November 5K: Bluer Than Blue

The first Christmas after my mom died, I set a kitchen towel on fire while trying to cook Christmas dinner. It was a fitting finale for what had been two months of trying to find the “happy” in “holidays” and never quite getting it.

November’s 5k was a brisk afternoon trek in support of people battling the blues.

The “holiday blues” hit during the period from Thanksgiving to New Years. Surveys indicate more people feel sad, anxious, lonely, and depressed those few months than at any other time during the year. What causes it? Stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, financial problems, the inability to be with friends and family.

The holidays will go on even if you don’t cook the perfect meal or hand make your own Christmas cards or have enough money to buy the perfect gift. Maybe the trick to surviving them is to figure out what they really mean to you and focus on those few things that are most important.

December 5K: The End of the Road

It was about this time last year that I set myself a goal to walk a 5K every month in 2018 to raise awareness about organizations and events that were doing good in our world. I did it, every month.

This year I’ve told you about programs that provide travel and lodging funds for cancer patients; give people the knowledge they need to get a high school diploma or a better job; combat child abuse; build stronger families and better parents; support wildland firefighters and those impacted by wildfires; encourage people to be transplant donors; maintain memorials to our country’s veterans; avoid being the victim of a scam; and benefit regular people facing illness and tragedy.

The experience has made me pay more attention to the good and bad things going on around me, and the importance of doing something about them. You don’t have to go far to make a difference. You just have to decide to go and then do it.

I’m thinking 2019 might be the year for 10K’s. Or maybe a half marathon. I’m interested to see where the path leads.

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Weapons of mass destruction

WANTED: Phone representative for expanding scam operation. Must have pleasant phone voice, persuasive attitude, and lack of ethics. Split personality and maniacal laugh a plus.

How do you become a scammer? Are you paid on commission? Do scam operations have supervisors, management? How do you rise up through the ranks and why would you want to?

Do they have families? How embarrassing would it be if the scammer in the next cubicle accidentally called your mother and bilked her out of thousands of dollars?

“Damn it, Bob, you know my mom is on the Do Not Call list! What the hell, man?”

According to the 2017 Federal Trade Commission report on financial scams, over 1.1 million people reported being fraud victims last year with total losses of $905 million.

I want you to not be one of those victims. That’s why my September 5K (which I’m late in posting, I know) is to raise awareness about how to protect yourself.

70% of financial scams last year were perpetrated by phone. If you think senior citizens make up the majority of victims, you’re wrong. 40% of the reports came from people aged 20 to 29 – the sector most likely to live on their phones.

Last year there were 350,000 reports of imposter scams, in which the voice on the other end of the line said they were with the government, calling for a relative in trouble, a representative from a well-known business, or were with a company’s tech support. No matter who they said they were, they all wanted the same thing – your money. And they got $328 million of it.

It’s only going to get worse. Reports say by next year, nearly half of all cell phone calls will be from scammers. So the device you use to keep in touch with the people you want to talk to will be used by people you don’t want to talk to to rob you.

You might be saying you’re too smart to be taken in by a scammer, and I hope you are. There are a lot of pretty smart people who have been. It can be embarrassing, humiliating, and expensive. If you’re one of them and you don’t know what to do next, do this:

Report the scam to local law enforcement and your state attorney general’s fraud protection division. This will help them to track scam activity and prosecute scammers, if possible.

Close your current bank and credit card accounts (if they’ve been compromised) and open new ones. This is for both your and their protection.

Change your landline and cell phone numbers. Yes, you’ll have to learn new numbers and update this information with anyone who has your current numbers. But it cuts off the scammer’s access to you.

Have your computer checked. Running a scan on your computer may not be enough. Take it to a computer technician and have it thoroughly checked. Change all your passwords.

Tell people what happened. Scammers tell their victims not to tell family, friends, neighbors, employers what’s happening. Those are the people who care about you, not the scammer. So tell them.

A good resource for more information is https://www.usa.gov/scams-and-frauds.

October, November, December. Three months left on my 5K for Awareness mission. The end of October is pretty close; watch for another post in the next week!

3 year transplant

The life you save may be your own.

I’m not your average three-year-old.

I’m 2-1/2 feet taller than other girls my age. My vocabulary is 20 times bigger. And I don’t nap in the afternoon. Well, not every afternoon.

Today is my third birthday, transplantically speaking. And as such, is the focus of my August 5K in my year-long “5K for Awareness Quest.”

I’m 1,096 days out from the stem cell transplant I had on Aug. 12, 2015, to force me into remission from multiple myeloma. I didn’t actually reach remission until September 8, 2016, but transplant patients celebrate their “second” birthdays on the annual date of their transplant.

An average of over 20,000 stem cell transplants are performed in the United States every year to combat blood and bone marrow cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. Success rates are as high as 90% or more.

Over 55% percent of stem cell transplants are autologous, meaning the donor and the patient is the same person (which was my situation). The remaining transplants are allogeneic which rely on an outside donor, either a sibling or family member of the patient or a volunteer who’s a match.

In an average year, 8,500 people are needed to donate stem cells. Small number with a big impact. Want to be one of them? Find out more at cancer.org and bethematch.org. Donors are also needed for other types of transplants, like organs, eyes, and tissue. Get the lowdown at donatelife.net.

Since you’re learning about stem cell transplants today, I’ll leave you with this quirky fact: if during your stem cell transplant, the room smells like creamed corn, that’s you. Or rather, the preservative used on your stem cells. Don’t worry, the smell goes away…eventually.

Four monthly 5Ks left. Where should I be walking and for who or what in September? Leave me a comment with your ideas and suggestions.

The difference between sounds and words. Their name. Gestures. How cause and effect works. These are things a baby learns in their first year.

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Kid can’t wait forever for you to figure out what to do!

That their baby is unlike any other baby ever born anywhere. How to function on limited sleep. That a diaper doesn’t hold as much poop as a baby can poop when they really have to poop. These are things a parent learns in their first year.

Not everyone gets the privilege of being a mom or dad but for those lucky people who do, you should want to be the best at it that you can be. A lot of parenting is on the job training but if you could go into those first few years knowing a little something about what you’re doing, wouldn’t you want to have that knowledge?

The focus of my monthly 5K for July is where you can go to get it: Growing Up Together.

Growing Up Together is a non-profit organization in central South Dakota that provides classes for parents, families, and caretakers who have small children or are getting ready to have a baby. They cover the physical part of parenthood with prenatal, childbirth, and breastfeeding classes. But once the child is born, you have to know how to raise it. They have classes for that, too.

Their Sibling Readiness Class helps prepare the small kids you already have to be big brothers and sisters (which as someone who was pushed off a changing table as an infant by my then 2-year-old sister can tell you is very important). Courses are offered for teen parents who face their own challenges going from being kids to having kids. And the Common Sense Parenting Class emphasizes the use of positive interaction with your kids to help them grow up happy and healthy, mentally and physically.

I like that Growing Up Together realizes that today’s family unit is much different than it was 30 or 40 years ago when a family was a dad, a mom, and a couple of kids. Now it may be a single parent raising a child, a multi-generational household with grandparents added in, or a couple living together with a mixed family. Whatever your situation, you’re welcomed there.

Their class fees recognize that a new baby can mean a tighter budget. Most of their classes are $20 or less, and scholarships are available.

Although I’ve babysat countless times in my life I’ve never had the honor of being a mother myself so I’m very careful not to tell people how to raise their kids. Growing Up Together doesn’t do that either; they give you the practical knowledge you need for the job. What parents and families learn in those first years can determine what happens in the next 10 or 20 years. Nobody wants to screw that up.

Find out more about their classes and services at growinguptogether.org.

Seven months done on my 5K quest. I know exactly where I’m walking and for what in August. Want to know? Join me next month.