Archive for the ‘family’ Category

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

baby waiting

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.

In 2014, according to the L.A. Times, the average American house contained 300,000 items. That means two things: we keep more than we need, and the “organizing the perfect closet” tips on Pinterest must really work.

We’re in the process of decluttering our home, partly for financial reasons but also because of the desire to be surrounded by less stuff. Or more specifically, to keep and appreciate more meaningful stuff.

My sister started me on this track several years ago when she and my brother-in-law sold their belongings and made a motorhome their permanent residence (follow their adventures at Road Trip with John and Cathy). Helping her with the downsizing process redefined for me what makes where I am “home”.

Aside from family pictures, these are the 5 things that tell me where I live:

Dreamcatchers

dreamcatchers

My husband Jeremy is an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. When we were married 25 years ago, Paul Bad Moccasin made and presented us with a pair of Lakota dreamcatchers to bring good dreams and a positive spirit to our family. They go where we go.

 

 

Books

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When we moved into our current home, the heaviest boxes were labeled “Books”, “Yes, more books”, and “Seriously, more damn books?” I try to keep my collection manageable but if I were forced to keep only the bare minimum, they would be The Stand by Stephen King, The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, City of Thieves by David Benioff, Nam by Mark Baker, and National Geographic’s Complete Survival Manual. The first five I can read over and over and never get tired of. And if the Zombie Apocalypse ever does come, the last one will help me make it through alive.

Crucifix

crucifix

I received this crucifix when I made my First Communion in the 1970’s and it’s hung over my bed ever since with the exception of the two years I lived in the dorm in college. Which was probably the time I could have used the extra spiritual guidance.

Radios

transistorradio

My radio collection consists of three pieces. A 70-year-old cabinet radio that was left by the previous owner in the first house my parents owned. A 60-year-old tabletop radio shaped like a microphone that was used to promote the radio station where I’ve worked for many years when it first signed on. And a 40-year-old transistor radio that I picked up at a thrift store when I got my first radio job. Two of the three still work.

Cookbook and Cookie Cutter

cookbook chicken

When it comes to cooking, there are half a dozen things I make pretty well and another 10 that won’t make you sick if you eat them. The 1960 St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church cookbook has some of my late mother’s recipes in it from when she was still in high school. I use it every time I make her biscuits, even though I probably know how from memory. And my chicken cookies are famous. They don’t cut themselves.

 

These things I need to be “at home” would fit into a single box, one that will never be marked “For Sale”, “To Thrift Store” or “Trash”. I don’t need 300,000 things to be happy. Who has time to dust all that stuff anyway?

What 5 things define your home for you?

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And a new tradition begins…

I was never sure if the Christmas sweatshirts were meant as a joke or if my mom was just being festive. She had both a quirky sense of humor and a great love of the holidays so it could have gone either way.

Nearly 20 years ago, she bought herself, my sister and me Christmas sweatshirts on sale at Kmart. They’re exactly what you’re picturing: jaunty red, green and white sweatshirts with plaid appliques of Christmas ornaments or trees or presents. We wore them every Christmas morning through brunch and opening the presents and sometimes for the rest of the day if we didn’t have a need to change. She died 11 years ago this year but I still faithfully wear the sweatshirt every Christmas. Until this year.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be sporting an ordinary gray t-shirt, plain except for a simple declaration across the chest: “Thankful for: REMISSION! 11/24/16”.  On Christmas Day, it’ll be joined by another declaration: “Blessings for…”.

Some people consciously search for something to be thankful for or someone to bless every day. I’m not one of those people. I’m thankful in the moment, seek blessings on the fly.  I’m not a prayerful person. I did eight years of Catholic school, went to Mass six days a week so I figured as an adult, maybe I was “prayed up” at least until my 50’s. But while my circumstances of the past three years haven’t made me a more religious person, I’ve become a more spiritual thinker.

So starting this year, my 50th on this crazy spinning sphere, each Thanksgiving and Christmas I’ll add a phrase to my new “holiday” shirt. Something I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving, someone I think needs an extra blessing for Christmas.

This year was a no-brainer for thankfulness but it won’t be so easy every year and I’m glad about that. Because it will challenge me to really look at how the year’s gone and give some serious thought about what I’m truly thankful for. And to look outside myself at the people and world around me, take clear note of the trials others are facing and ask the man upstairs to please give them a little help.

I’m interested to see how this project goes for the next 10 or 25 or 50 years. What will a 92-year-old Kelly be thankful for? Who will a 67-year-old me see struggling and in need of a hand?

And the fate of “Jolly Red, the Christmas Sweatshirt”? We’re not totally parting ways. I’m hanging it on my front door instead of a Christmas wreath this year so anyone stopping at our house or driving by will see it. If it makes you laugh or crack a smile, great. If it gives you an extra boost of holiday joy, awesome. I think that’s what my Mom intended all along.

Our mail gets delivered mid-morning, brought in and sorted at noon. Bills to the computer room, junk mail to the garbage and personal correspondence to the kitchen table where it waits, unopened, until after work. When I can relax and enjoy it like the special treat it is.  

I email and text, like everyone else. And I handwrite letters. Because cursive is a beautiful way to say what you want to say.

Whether it’s telling a secret…

slim letter 012316

sharing big news…

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or just saying “You should be here!”

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The time we take to smooth down the paper, get the right pen, choose our words and physically form them on the page adds weight to our message and a personal touch to its delivery. In an age when a thought can be typed, sent, read and deleted in seconds, handwriting gives us the gift of a conversation that can be relived over and over again.

January 23, 2016 is National Handwriting Day.

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My gun-toting granny who was also a nurse, a fieldhand, a church organist and a cancer patient.

My grandma flushed out a thief who was hiding under her house, loaded him into her car, and drove him at gunpoint into town to the sheriff.

My dad, who was there, told me the story. Had I gotten it directly from my grandma before she died, I’d have asked, “Were you scared? How did you know he was under there? Would you have shot him?”

Family and friends are the people we think we know better than anybody else. But do we really? Maybe we would if we just took the time to ask.

For the past 12 years, StoryCorps has given ordinary people the chance to find out extraordinary things about the people they know by simply asking questions.

Through the program, people record interviews with someone who’s made an impact on their life, knowingly or unknowingly, relative, friend or acquaintance. The interviewer picks the questions and hopes the interviewee answers them. And most of the time, they do. The interviews (65,000 of them already) are stored at the Library of Congress and some of them air on National Public Radio.

Our lives are a series of great stories. Happy, sad, scary, exciting, funny, unusual. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are packed with the edited versions of the best (or worst) stories people want to tell about themselves. What about the incredible stories we can tell about others?

In my reporter days, it took tape recorders and reel to reels and notebooks to get the story; today, all you need is a smartphone and an app. StoryCorps has one. It lets you record your own StoryCorps-style interview and upload it to be preserved by the Library of Congress. It even invites you to take a selfie with the person you interviewed.

So, is your grandma tougher than my grandma? We’ll never know unless you ask.

A tale of two houses at Christmas

The light and the dark side of the holidays

 

We’re not Grinches and they’re not the Griswolds. We’re just neighbors with vastly different electric bills for the month of December.

You’ve seen the viral video of the house festooned with thousands of Christmas lights, glowing reindeer grazing on the lawn, neon icicles dripping from the trees, all pulsing in time to Mannheim Steamroller’s “Carol of the Bells”. My neighbors live there. We live in the dark house next door.

When we moved into the neighborhood 20 years ago, we were all on the same level when it came to decking the halls. Icicle lights on the eaves, luminaries lining the walk, wreath on the front door. Every house was different but together we made a companionable display of holiday cheer.

Then about 2010 or so, giant snowflakes appeared on the front windows of the house to the north. In the years that followed, a herd of glistening deer gathered by the shrubs, a forest of spiral rope light trees sprang up in the front yard, and endless rows of twinkling lights crisscrossed the shingles and siding. Then a big electrical box with cords and cables snaking across the snow and finally, the electronic carolers.

As the neighbor’s house got brighter, the rest of the block went dim. It’s not like we couldn’t compete; the rest of us just didn’t try to. 

When their display went up Thanksgiving weekend, my husband asked what we were going to do this year.

“How ‘bout a sign that says Ditto with an arrow pointing to their house?” I asked.

He suggested that maybe they wouldn’t think that was as funny as I did. I figure if you’ve lived by me for 20 years and you’re still talking to me, you must have some sense of humor.

But since they’re not dicks about it – their timer shuts everything off about 11:00 p.m. which is good since our bedroom and guest room both face “Viva La Christmas” – I took the high road, too. Our front deck railing is now wrapped in white lights which cast a soft glow on the “Peace” sign perching on the little wooden bench.

Though the neighbors’ decorations shout and ours only whisper, our holiday spirit is no less heartfelt. After all, it’s Christmas…and it’s the thought that counts. And I’m thinking a little peace on earth is just what we all need this year.

 

It's all in the attitude, baby.

It’s all in the attitude, baby.

Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer this spring, I was informed I wasn’t suffering enough.

What he said:

You’re not having surgery? Marjean had a double mastectomy.

You’re keeping your hair? Chuck went bald…twice.

You have insurance. Joan didn’t have any; we’re still doing benefits.

You don’t know what REAL cancer is.

What I could have said:

I get a kidney transplant if the chemo doesn’t work.

Hair grows back.

I’ve had cancer insurance since I was 19 because my mother, who died from cancer, was planning ahead.

You don’t know shit about my experience with REAL cancer. 

What I DID say:

Nothing. I walked away and quit telling people I had cancer.

I’m a third generation cancer patient; there has never been a time in my life when a family member wasn’t battling, beating or dying from cancer. I knew what chemo was before I knew where babies came from. I was so used to bald relatives I couldn’t recognize them with hair. Cancer was something people in my family GOT; this spring, it was just my turn.

Publicly I’ve helped with countless cancer benefits; logged miles in numerous cancer walks, including the 60-mile Breast Cancer 3-Day which I’ll do again next summer in memory of my mom if my doctor says I can; attended cancer awareness and memorial ceremonies; written articles and PSAs about cancer; and amassed an impressive collection of “Cancer Sucks” gear.

Privately I’ve shaved heads when the hair started to go; changed diapers on loved ones who changed mine when I was a baby; squeezed hands during chemo treatments; told doctors to go to hell when they announced there were only months left; whispered goodbye over the phone in the middle of the night because I couldn’t drive the hundreds of miles fast enough to do it in person; and been a pallbearer and a eulogist.

Don’t know what REAL cancer is? Screw you.

Many people live with cancer without ever having it. When you do get that diagnosis, no matter how well it’s delivered (and my doctor did a great job with the news), it scares the hell out of you. Because cancer kills people; everybody knows that.

Myeloma’s not killing me and it’s doubtful it will. It’s one of those cancers where the conditions it can cause – in my case, total kidney failure – is worse than the cancer itself. So I take chemo, do IV treatments, have bone marrow biopsies and wait to see what happens. Do I feel lucky that’s the kind of cancer I have? Every day. Do I feel guilty that I’m getting off easier than so many other people with cancer? Every day.

Unless you’re knocking on death’s door, there will always be someone whose burden is heavier, whose suffering is greater than yours. That can’t diminish the impact of a cancer diagnosis on you and the people who love you. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t have enough cancer to matter. It matters to you and that’s enough.

You may not have heard of myeloma, but you WILL know these people who have or had it: Tom Brokaw, Geraldine Ferraro, Peter Boyle, Roy Scheider, Ann Landers, and Sam Walton.