Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sundays In My City

This was written 1/29/2010 while sitting at the kitchen table fuming over having no internet for days and days. Finally, internet connection has been restored so here you have it .....Sundays In My City.

We are having another pretty good ice and snow storm right now. We haven’t lost power this time but we have lost internet service. I have so much to do today with both my jobs being online plus my blog. My frustration at losing the internet can get quite high at times like these.

Because of the storm, our granddaughters, Ahni age six and Corina age 2, have spent the last two days here with us, Nona and Papa, since the schools and daycare are closed. I love having them here but I realized something today. I am missing out on my time with them because I am always so busy.

This thought made me reflect on my life in general. I have always been a very busy person. My friends and family have commented on this fact for years. A therapist once asked me why I stayed so busy all the time. When I said I had no idea, it just seemed that was how my life went, he asked me this question. “What are you so afraid to stop and think about that you have to stay so busy?” I hated that question then and now because I know there is some truth in it. Maybe a lot of truth. I would have to stop long enough to think about it really and I just don’t have the time.

Anyway, listening to the girls play as I was trying to call our ISP for the fourth time made me think about my grown children. I have very little regret about the kind of mother I was. Oh sure I wish I had said yes more and no less. I wish I had been kinder and laughed at the childish things that made me angry. I wish I had stayed less busy and been more connected in the now of the day. One thing I know for sure though, wishing changes nothing. What is behind me is behind me and I can never go back. I also have no promise of a tomorrow. What I do have is this moment right now. That’s all I get. That’s all you get too by the way.

So, this week has not gone my way. I did not get to go back downtown due to work issues. I did not get to go today either due to the weather. I cannot get any work done because of having no internet. What I am getting to do, being forced to do really, is live in this moment. I think I could learn to like this.

C ~ You’re my mom’s mom

N ~ That’s right

C ~ Mimi is my dad’s mom

N ~ That’s right, Rini Beanie

C ~ When I get home I turn into a monster

C ~ It’s chocolate lemonade cake, Nona. Eat it all up. I’m a pretty good cook.

A ~ I don’t get why people don’t go to school when they say don’t go to school because it’s dangerous to drive in the snow then grown-ups drive to work in the snow. I don’t get that.

A ~ Nona, you have ice cubes on your house. It’s so pretty outside I can’t stop looking at it.

C ~ Yes, I do

A ~ No, you don’t

C ~ Yes, I do

A ~ No, you don’t

C ~ Yes, I do, Lisa

A ~ I’m not Lisa. I’m Nancy

N ~ Hey girls, take it easy on my window.

C ~ But this is our hospital.

N ~ It’s gonna be a hospital if you break my window.

C ~ But this is my monster house.

A ~Whoa, look outside Corina!

C~ It’s blowing snowing!

Unknown Mami

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sundays In My City

Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain

And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet

When the wind comes right behind the rain.

Oklahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I

Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk
Makin' lazy circles in the sky.

We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!

And when we say
Yeeow! Ayipioeeay!

We're only sayin'
You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K.

Unknown Mami

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Laugh In The Face Of Fear ... Then I Usually Run Screaming

Well, I didn't make it to the Rescue Mission Monday night for orientation so I‘m signed up for next Monday. I started my new ... and second ... job this week. Bob arrived home two days ago right at five to find me sitting at the kitchen table crying like a little baby. That's right, just like an orphaned calf, a stuck pig, a trapped goose, a wounded goat…. you get the idea. Both my jobs are work from home and require equipment that WORKS! My brand-new headset decided not to work Monday. The trainers could hear me but I could not hear one word they said. Well, that is not totally true, either, I could hear about every tenth or twelfth word when I wasn't listening to what sounded like a wind tunnel. After nine hours of this including all the tech trips, I was a blubbering idiot, literally.

I got to thinking about why something like that would send me over the edge. The answer was really easy to find. First, I am under more stress than usual right now which is saying a lot since my life seems to be fueled by stress normally. I like to think of it as the gas that makes me run. Second, I am an extremely competitive over-achiever. I can never be happy to just succeed. I have to be the top of the heap. How stupid is that? Yeah, I know! Anyway, the last two days have been great and I am back to breathing ... and writing.

So, last night I went back to The Refuge to hang out. Everyone that lives there is young. Twenties and thirties young. Some single, some married, some with little babies and small children. Even though I was definitely the old gal in the group, I felt very welcomed and invited. We had a relaxed dinner together and shared some of the most wonderful conversations. To hear the vision these people have for their community is simply awe inspiring. Two of my daughters went with me, Miranda age 11 and Belen age 25. I have a strong suspicion Belen will be moving into The Refuge sometime in the near future. I am okay with that. The thought that my daughter would choose a life of sacrificial living over an easier life is very humbling. In fact, it makes me weepy. When Bel first mentioned the idea to Bob and I, we were not for it…at all! As parents, we want to protect. Bel doesn’t need our protection anymore. Someone greater has her back. I know this is true and I can relax. Remind me of that periodically, please!

Tim, the crazy young man that started The Refuge, shared some great hopes for the city with me last night. One of them is to have a vegetable garden that draws the homeless into community with others. Well, it just so happens that I am a veggie gardening, farm living, home canning, farm girl from way back when. It also just so happens that I had already talked to some others about possibly doing that very thing at The Refuge. When Tim showed me the gardening boxes that were already built and waiting, I knew I was in the right place! So a spring project is on the calendar. I can hardly wait. Just picture it. A garden inside the chain link fence that is surrounded by hookers and drug dealers. Do you have any idea how something so simple and yet so crazy can change a community and the lives in it? It can. No, really, it can. Just watch.

When it was time to go, the girls and I did a quick loop through the area looking for Nikki. I think I might have seen her under the bridge however it was dark and there were a bunch of men over there also. I’m crazy not stupid so we just kept heading for home. That, and I know Bob reads this and would have killed me if I had stopped. Not that I would have. I had my girls with me. Not that I would have if I was alone. Thinking about it doesn’t mean I would actually do it. Relax already! You’re stressing me out!

Anyway, I am going to head back down there on Saturday just to hang out and see if I can find Nikki. I want to have lunch with her if she is willing. She’s scared. That’s ok. So am I.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

We Don’t Need No Stinking BBQ

Well, today was our much anticipated, long awaited, and eagerly planned for BBQ for the Homeless. Guess what? We never even unloaded the grill from the back of the truck. Now, you might think that would have me in all kinds of fits of despair but that could not be further from the truth. When our plans were once again dashed upon the rocks of frustration, I had to literally stand back for a minute and ask, “God, what are you doing and why am I getting it so wrong?” That’s when plan B which actually turned into plan C which was probably suppose to be plan A all along, well it finally came together.

When we first arrived, security from the Rescue Mission said we were not going to be allowed to grill on their property. When I nicely asked if they would have a problem with us grilling on public property next to theirs, I was told yes, the police would probably be called to make sure we had a permit. A permit? To give away FREE food to homeless people. Seriously? I could feel my smart mouth tude rising up into my throat so before I lost my Christianity in front of these fine people, I thanked them and strolled across the street to plan B, The Refuge.

The Refuge was a major hub of prostitution and crack dealing until two years ago. A crazy man named Tim bought the building, packed up his little family and moved from California into the pit of hell…literally. Other crazies have since joined him and are living there also. From the outside it looks like an old warehouse. On the inside, it is simply apartments where families and singles live. These people all have jobs and support themselves. There is nothing strange … until. Until you realize every single person living in that building feels called there for one and the same purpose: to build a relationship with a homeless person and take back what has been destroyed. I’m not just talking about the neighboring buildings and streets. These people want to take back the lives that have been destroyed. They are radical and yet normal everyday blokes. I like them.

So, when I threw myself on Tim’s mercy to let us BBQ in their parking lot, he gave me an incredible gift instead. He gave me plan A disguised as plan C. He took me out front, right on the street and said, “Marla, I want you to see something. I think it will answer a lot of your questions and tell you why you are really coming down here all the time.” So we stood out front and watched as car after car pulled up and homeless people ran over, grabbed what was offered and ran back to their original spots on the street. I watched as beautiful cars filled with smiling beautiful people drove away, happy that they had reached out to someone in need. Then I watched their offerings being thrown on the ground. That’s right. Right there where we stood, food and clothing were literally thrown in the street.

Tim explained that people like us had trained the homeless to behave like animals in many ways. We drive up in our cars; they run to the window, grab the bag and run off. No harm, no foul. Forget that they already get three meals a day from the local shelter and churches. Forget that they have more jackets and gloves and hats than they know what to do with because of well meaning people like us. I would not have believed Tim if I had not gone walking the streets with him and seen the discarded clothes and food with my own eyes. My stomach hurt and I felt sick.

“So, what do we do? Is there nothing we can do to make a difference?”

“There is definitely something you can do to make a difference. It’s what you have been talking about doing but just going about it the wrong way. Come down here and hang out with them. Talk to them. Plant flowers around The Refuge. Mow lawns. Pick up the trash left behind. Show them you value them by bringing life into this darkness. They want relationship as much if not more than you do.”

So that’s what we did today. We stood on the corners for hours and talked to people. When a young man approached me and held his hand out to me, I took it. I asked his name, spoke comfort to him as I would hope a mother would do for one of my sons and I prayed for strength for this journey I am on. I sat with women at a table and listened to their stories of frustration at not being heard. I handed out bags of toiletries to each woman that crossed my path. I hugged Diane, laughed with Brenda and admired Tana’s tattoos.

Finally, it was time to go. As we drove away I still felt like something was missing. I knew we were finally on the right track but there was one question still unanswered for me. “Who is it, Lord? Point her out. If you’ll do that Lord, I’ll open my heart and my home to get her out of here. Please God, give me one.” I asked Bob to go back and make one last pass down the main street so I could look one more time.

Her name is Nikki.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

I was thinking about my mom today. I was remembering how mad she would get at my sisters and me when we were little. I never could understand why she made such a big deal out of things. I mean, seriously, we were just little girls doing little girl stuff. It wasn’t like we were biting the heads off of bats and knocking down old ladies on the street. That came much later in life. Although, there was that one incident with the new furniture.

My mother was very frugal. My dad was just the opposite. While my mother sat at the kitchen table for hours clipping coupons and planning the route to the seven stores she would hit to save a dollar, my dad was out buying the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos the world had to offer. My mom wanted to drive her car into the ground while my dad was off to London on the Concorde. They were quite the pair, those two.

When my father finally talked my mother into new living room furniture, it was an event in our home. The green scrolled velvet high backed chairs with matching Mediterranean couch and fancy hi fi in the cabinet that matched the end tables which matched the coffee table which matched…. Well, you get the picture. Then there were the new lamps to complete the ambiance of the place. There was the giant round ball looking thing on one side of the room but on the other side, are you ready….on the other side was the three foot naked angel lamp. Yeah, you read it right.

This amazing creation of a living room was really more like a museum to us. We were not allowed in there. It was for company. Adult company. Not us. “Do you girls understand?!?!?!?!” Now think about that. You have a room in your house with all new stuff in it including a three foot naked angel lamp and then you say stay out. What do you think is going to happen the first time you leave your little darlings home alone while their dad is on the Concorde and their mom is hitting seven stores to save a buck?

So we decided to build a fort in the museum living room that fateful day. First, we got rope from the garage. My sister Kelly tied one end of the rope to the giant round ball looking thing on one side of the room while I tied the other end of the rope to the three foot naked angel lamp. Once we got the rope just the right height, we ran to our bedroom and pulled the blankets off our beds. Running back to the museum living room giggling with excitement, we each grabbed an end of the first blanket and threw it over the rope. Imagine our surprise when the giant round ball looking thing on one side of the room and the three foot naked angel lamp on the other side of the room flew off their matching Mediterranean tables and came crashing down onto the coordinating green shag rug.

By the time our mother arrived home with her value crammed grocery bags, the blankets were back on the beds, the rope was back in the garage and the giant round ball looking thing on one side of the room and the three foot naked angel lamp on the other side of the room were back on their matching Mediterranean tables. It was years before she ever noticed the glued back together body parts. That is the very good thing about a room rarely used. It buys you time to live.

What made me think about this story today? As I was putting away the last of the Christmas decorations, something caught my eye in the nativity. Baby Jesus is missing an arm and I am pretty sure his head was not on backwards before Christmas.

Darn kids!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Bad Seeds

I have written a lot about my younger sister over the last few years. Some of it I have shared in other places and some I have kept private. She is so much on my mind right now that I wanted to share some of the things I have written in the hopes that you would be encouraged to remember her and pray for her. I can post these since she refuses to read my blog out of protest. Although, I would post worse things about her if she did read my blog because that's my job as the bigger sister, to harrass, annoy and bug the snot out of her. I am very good at my job.

Kelly is my 48 year old little sister. Isn't it funny how even at her age I still see her in two long braids with a big toothy grin whenever I look at her. She will always be that skinny legged blond child in my mind just as my own babies remain "my babies" even as they enter their thirties. I am only three years older than Kel however I feel very motherly towards her sometimes. I always have in many ways and the years have brought it out even stronger in me.

Kelly and I have led very different lives just about from the start. As a child, I was always so self-conscious and unsure of who I was. I could be painfully shy and even worse, moody. Kelly, on the other hand was outgoing and so sure she was loved. She went through life not only knowing she was loved by family and friends but she just assumed she was loved by the world. After all, she was the darling chubby cheeked baby of the Casas family. What was there not to love?

I married young and quickly filled our lives with family. My world consisted of family. My husband, my birth children, my adopted children, foster children, church family, exchange students, neighborhood elderly, any and all that passed our door who were in need. These became our family. Kelly married in her twenties but her love, her life, her "family" was her career. She seemed to instinctively understand Corporate America and how to win. She thrived, excelled, advanced and prospered. I gave everything I had to others. So did she. We just did it in different worlds and in different ways. Sometimes I envied her life. She always seemed happy, fulfilled, ready to have fun. She had time and money. I went through those years feeling tired, stressed, financially strapped, wondering if I was even a good wife, good mother, good daughter, good anything.

In our thirties we each had our own breakdowns and breakthroughs. I emotionally broke down and started therapy. I began to deal with the childhood issues that had choked the inner life out of me for so many years. I took responsibility for my part in allowing others to dictate who I was. I stepped up and stood up and moved forward as much as I knew how. During that same time, Kelly's marriage came undone. My mother turned on her and Kel's world came apart. She knew love and success. She was the family shining star. She didn't know how to deal with being a disappointment to our mother, her sisters or herself. Life got very difficult for us all. Our "perfect" family was coming unraveled and revealing truths we did not want to see.

In the midst of all of this Kelly was diagnosed with a brain tumor, a benign Mengionoma. She would face five surgeries over the next nine years. In October 2006, she was diagnosed with cancer in various parts of her body. There was a 1% chance her brain tumor would spread throughout her body and become cancerous and it had happened. During 2007, I went out to stay with my sister and her new husband about six times. I tried to stay at least two weeks each time. I didn’t do much while I was there really. I was just a mother. I cooked, cleaned and listened. I talked about the past and made Kelly laugh. I hugged her when she cried and teased her when she was morbid. When she was grumpy or not feeling well I sat with her and watched movies.

One of our favorite things to do together when we were kids was watch scary movies. As we got older we would call one another whenever "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?" or "The Bad Seed" would come on late at night. We would laugh and talk about how scared we were as kids watching those movies. The best part about the movie "The Bad Seed" was that the evil little girl named Rhoda looked exactly like Kelly when she was little right down to the braids and dresses. How I miss those days!

Kelly never had children of her own or so she thinks. My seven children and six grandchildren adore Auntie Kelly. She is a crucial part of their lives. She is loved and adored by them all. To them she is not her cancer. She is outgoing and fun, the life of every party. She is the one that listens to them and has the answers they want to hear. She is young. She is one of them. She is a mother.

Yes, I believe we are both good wives, good mothers, good daughters, good women. We are not really very different after all. We might have looked like Bad Seeds here and there along the way but the fruit of our lives has turned out to be pretty satisfying and fulfilling.

Kelly and I use to speak on the phone every day and see one another a lot through the year. Things have changed lately. We talk rarely and haven’t seen one another since last June. Maybe a scary movie will come on soon and reignite what use to be. It could happen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Moving On

I have been trying to write a post for the last three days and just have not been able to do it. Well, that’s not totally true. I have actually written them but they were so depressing that even I, in all my wickedness, couldn’t bring myself to do that to anyone foolish enough to read this drivel. So, I will condense it all for you and then move on, pretending life is wonderful and I am wonderful and there is a Santa Claus. Denial. It’s a good thing.

My little sister, the one I fight with constantly, the one with cancer, the one I love more than life itself, is not feeling well. I heard resignation in her voice the other day. I am hoping with all my heart she is only doing this to piss me off because she knows it does. If that’s the case then I am fine with it. I think I am scared. Feelings denied and moving on...

My children. A few are going left. Everyone knows I am right. Enough said. Throwing these into the denial bin also. Keep moving …

In the words of that classic and deeply thought-provoking song:

“Your love gives me a thrill but your love don’t pay my bills. I need money!”

Finances. I hate money, finances, dollar signs, coinage, pictures of presidents, you get it. I just want to grow my garden, feed my chickens and ride my horse. Did I just hear the ghost of my mother yelling in my ear, “Grow up already!” Like I ever listened to her anyway. So, I am starting a second job next week. It’s temporary and necessary and I am thankful for it. Don’t I sound thankful?? Denied!

The final poor me thought of the day: I am fifty-one. Is this it? I really had such high hopes for myself back in the day. Seriously, Hansen, look at what you have done with what you were given. That’s the best you could do, for heaven sake? Pathetic! Boarding the boat on the river of denial …

Enough about Egypt. Let’s talk about the list. I am turning the page on the VA … for now anyway … and moving onto the next list item.

4. Join an open AA meeting and befriend someone there.

I called the City Rescue Mission yesterday and signed up to be an official volunteer. The rest of this week will be about filling out paperwork and then attending orientation Monday night. This opportunity and where it may lead is so exciting. The thought of actually impacting someone’s life through relationship is awesome. When I spoke with the coordinator yesterday, I was very honest about my reasons for volunteering. I am such a relational person that mentoring is definitely my first choice. I am not afraid to scrub toilets, clean kitchens or take care of someone who is sick either. Ultimately, I want to know I have made a difference in someone’s life no matter what that looks like or how it came about.

The Mission has an AA program that I can be a part of as a volunteer. This could get interesting …

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sundays In My City

I Love Oklahoma

Here is our state flag

This is our state capital. It's a great place to visit with incredible artwork inside and on the grounds.

Here is our state flower. Yep, it's mistletoe. MWAH

Here is our state rock. Yep, we have a state rock. No, really, we do. It's a Rose Rock. See, it looks like a Rose. Well, sort of.

This is our state bird. He's a scissortail flycatcher. We need a flycatcher here on the farm in the summertime.

Our state flower is Indian Blanket. Isn't it lovely?

Our state instrument is a fiddle. Shocking, I know!

This is our state dog.

No it's not. That's Ruby Jo. Silly dog.

Unknown Mami

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Funeral For A Friend

Well, I finally made it to the VA … sort of. Miranda and I loaded the cookies in the car yesterday and headed downtown, determined to do or die. You are all invited to the funeral.

Here are the VA rules as I understand them, although I will never really understand them. In order to visit anyone you must be a relative or a trained volunteer. If you are not a trained volunteer, then you must be escorted and not by just any old Joe Schmoe, mind you. The Director of Volunteer Services prefers to be the escort of choice. The Director, a very friendly man, whom I have spoken to on the phone a few times, is a lovely fellow, I am sure. The problem is, he seems to be in meetings quite often therefore making him less than flexible when it comes to escorting crazed, cookie toting, women on visits.

Trying to get a call back or a time scheduled this last week and a half has left me in quite the state of frustration. When I mentioned this to Bob, his reply was classic.

“You’re dealing with the government. What did you expect?”

What did I expect? What did I expect? I’ll tell you what I expected, buddy boy. I expected when a mother of two military officers calls the VA five freaking times and all she wants to do is deliver a bleeping cookie to a veteran, that the VA would respond in a positive and timely manner. Something like,

“Why, thank you Mrs. Hansen. We would love to have you deliver your bleeping cookies to our veterans. Of course, you do realize we will have to run them through a series of tests to make sure they are safe to eat. Oh, and there is also the strip search in order to make sure you are not hiding any contraband cookies anywhere … uh hum … else.”

The truth is, I spoke with them yesterday and explained the cookies be damned. I just wanted to visit someone that would benefit from a visit, even from a stranger. I asked if there wasn’t some part of the hospital that desperately needed visitors. The response was, yes the Hospice unit. There were eight to nine men there at any given time. Most had little to no family and rarely received visitors.

I explained that was a perfect spot for me. I have been involved with Hospice for years. I am on our local Hospice caregiver on-call list. My parents, my mother-in-law and my uncle all died with my arms wrapped around them. I get it and I am not afraid. Holding the hand of someone, especially a veteran who is dying alone, matters to me. Could I just hold a hand this afternoon?

“Sorry, not without volunteer training or the Director escorting.”

Ok, really, when did it become necessary to be trained to hold someone’s hand? I understand if you don’t want visitors. I understand if your family asks that no outside visitors be allowed. I don’t understand when a person has nobody and could use a hand holding, denying that comfort due to “lack of training or escort.” Seriously, USA, I love you and will stand by your side with my last breath and last drop of Red, White and Blue blood. But seriously??

So, maybe I failed. I failed to make an appointment. I failed to play by the rules. I failed to work within the system. I will give them that. Time to move on before I really get my rebel self in a hissy fit tizzy.

To close out this week on The List,

3. Ask your pastor if someone on your church’s sick list would like a visit.

I have spent more time in hospitals with others than I would have ever imagined. That’s how Butts and Ashes began, remember? One of the people I have had the privilege of hospital hanging with is my little sister, Kelly. She has cancer and has had a miserable time of it. I love her very much and am thankful for every moment we have spent together. She has a blog and requested that I keep it updated for her during some of those hospital seasons. We got quite crazy and I blogged it all … much to her dismay, I am sure. Here is the link to one of the posts that proves I have experience dealing with sick people. It also proves I need a shrink. Think good thoughts, say some prayers, chant some chants or whatever it is you do, for my sister. Just no voodoo dolls, please. That’s just creepy!

Oh yeah, about the cookies. Randa and I drove over to the Rescue Mission and made some little kids very happy. All's well that ends well.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Going Commando

No call back from the VA. Baskets and baskets of cookies on my kitchen counter. This means war! I am heading to the VA tomorrow with cookies in tow, no matter what. I plan on storming the joint with a smile on my ever growing bitter face. I, my friends, have seen Rambo. They can ignore me but they can't stop me from invading. And when all is said and done tomorrow afternoon, I will be able to say, in the words of Rambo himself, "Mission... accomplished. You know there's more men out there and you know where they are. Find'em. Or I'll find you."

I was talking to my oldest son about this whole VA fiasco today. He had some very good advice for me. Matthew is a helicopter pilot in the Army and an amazing young fellow, even if I do say so myself. Our second son, John, is a helicopter pilot in the Navy, and also quite the dude. The interesting thing about GI Joe and Popeye is this; they were not allowed to have toy guns or play war as children. I had this crazy idea that if I raised them to be pacifists, they would be better human beings. Jokes on me because these two military men are as decent and good and kind as they come.

Well, they are as decent and good and kind as they come, unless they are playing practical jokes on one another. Like finding a picture on my laptop, doctoring it and then sending it out to the entire family. Boys are weird and they never change. Men are just hairy boys and they are still weird. See for yourself.

Oh well. I guess I will just have to remember them when they were sweet and little and I could control them better. I was the one to say what they ate, who they played with and even what they wore.

Yes, boys, mess with mommy’s laptop again and there are plenty more pictures I am willing to share with the world. Remember bath time?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Welcome Home, Joe

The VA called today. Tomorrow won't work for our visit. Seems the volunteer administrator had something come up so they want us to come Thursday instead. I am confused. Why do we need a chaperone to deliver cookies and say, "Hey!" to veterans? Are these veterans armed and dangerous? Will they take me hostage? Or is the VA worried if they let a crazy cookie toting woman inside and allow her to wander freely from room to room that some of the veterans might go missing? What am I going to do, bring them home with me? Ok, maybe I would but still, a chaperone, seriously? So Thursday is VA visit day, hopefully. Why am I starting to get scared?

I was thinking a lot about the veterans today as I prepare for this visit. Then I remembered an article I wrote last summer when our town hosted the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. I hope I can do these men justice through my words.

Joseph Anthony Janowicz was a tall, thin, quiet man. He loved my cousin Maureen and was going to marry her in just a matter of weeks when he was killed. It was 1968 and the Vietnam War exacted a toll on our family that would send ripples of pain for years to come.

The day the call came telling of Joe’s death, I was at my Aunt Meta’s ranch in Cayucos, California. The Thorndyke ranch was the epicenter of all family happiness on my mother’s side. It was the place everyone wanted to live, vacation or visit. The ranch was berry picking and horseback riding. It was family dinners followed by boisterous conversations over coffee afterwards while the children played under the dining room table. It was family. No matter who you were before you walked through the door, you were family once you entered the ranch kitchen.

Having spent my first ten years being a part of such a wonderful, happy place as the ranch, it was difficult for me to fully comprehend the pain that enveloped the entire 140 acres the day Joe died. To see my cousin Maureen in such deep sorrow and our family surrounding her with little hope of healing this wound brought the reality of Joe never returning home. As days went by and plans were discussed in regards to when Joe’s body would be flown home and when the funeral would be held, I hung on every word. Having never been to a funeral before, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but one thing I did know. Joe was coming home and I would get to see him and tell him goodbye. I found great comfort in this thought.

As our home in Los Angeles filled with family and friends coming to stay before the funeral, I thought of Joe. I thought of the Janowicz family reunion I had attended with him and Maureen. I thought of riding in the backseat of his car when he and Maureen would take me to the movies with them. I thought of how much I would miss being a part of their lives. I wondered if my cousin would ever be the same again and I cried alone in my room as the adults busied themselves with funeral preparations. The day of the funeral, my mother came to tell me I would not be going with them. She felt I was too young and it wasn’t a good thing for me to experience. I begged and pleaded through tears but she wouldn’t budge. The decision had been made and was final. I stayed in my room as I listened to everyone leave and I cried.

Forty-one years later, I received an email from my pastor saying Piedmont was bringing the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall to Piedmont. They were looking for readers who would be willing to read the names of the fallen. It would take about eighty hours to accomplish reading the more than 58,000 names. I immediately signed up.

July 1, 2009 the wall passed down Piedmont Road, escorted by hundreds and hundreds of motorcycles. As I stood on the side of the road with my eleven year old daughter by my side, I wept. I wept because Joe was coming home. I wept because I would see him as I read his name on that wall. I wept knowing I would carefully rub a pencil over the paper I would place over his name. I wept because I would finally be able to say out loud,” Welcome home, Joe.”

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Cookie For Your Thoughts

Abbey came over this afternoon so we could bake cookies. We baked and baked and baked. Ok, the truth is, Abbey baked and baked and baked and I talked and talked and talked. This might explain why I burned two dozen cookies and Abbey didn't lose one to the fire oven god.

I love Abbey! Having her in my life is like having another daughter. Daughters have turned out to be an addiction for me. I can't seem to have enough of them and I keep picking good ones. Don't get me wrong. I love those boys of mine but they never want to bake cookies, have coffee and talk all afternoon. I suppose if I was willing to learn to find enjoyment in spitting, tooting and shooting things, I would be the boys first pick for hanging out. Yeah ... not gonna happen.

Abbey and Robert

Anyway, the cookies are baked, bagged and in baskets for Wednesday's delivery to the VA hospital. We put two in each bag, one peanut butter and one chocolate chip. I think I might even bake a few batches of oatmeal tomorrow and throw those in the mix. I can hardly wait for Wednesday!

Our daughter Rachel, her husband Joel and their girls were here for dinner tonight. They come over every Monday and I love it. It was so nice to eat, laugh and visit. Then Rae went to give the girls their bath while Joel and Bob played guitar. Bob sang Cowgirl In The Sand to me. It's one of our songs and makes me very mushy towards him everytime. The big ape!

Joel is a paramedic in training and was telling me some VA stories. He was wondering if I was prepared for what I might encounter. Oh, I'm ready. Don't worry about me. The real question is ... are those poor veterans ready for me?

Mr. and Mrs. Crazy

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sundays In My City

Wow! Today was awesome. Well, wait a minute, I might need to clarify that statement. The last half of today was awesome. The first half sucked rotten eggs.

The first half of the day included Bob and I fighting like two wild monkeys. Now, this might sound like a normal thing for an old married couple like us but the truth is, we rarely fight. Oh, we have our disagreements but fighting, nope. Except for this morning. It was on, baby. I seriously was so mad that I told him I was ready to get in the car and never come back. Monkeys can be very stupid when fighting over a bruised banana. Yes, I was a very stupid monkey this morning. Sorry Bob. I should have never been so ugly to you. Even if you are a big, hairy ape. I’m just saying …

Now, the second half of the day, well it rocked. Rob & Abbey, our surrogate children, have joined forces with us on this homeless adventure. They had already started off on this project on their own weeks ago, so it was easy for us all to come together. Along with our eleven year old, Miranda, and my prairie chick friend, Jana, we all headed off to the City Rescue Mission around two this afternoon.

 We rescheduled the BBQ due to the snow, which never materialized I might add, and went to plan B. Rob and Abbey picked up fifty McDonald’s double cheeseburgers and we picked up fifty pairs of gloves.

The last few times we did our giveaways, we all stayed in our cars, doors locked and handed the items out our windows. Not today. I mean seriously, if we are going to make any difference, shouldn’t we stop being cowards and get to know these people?

That’s when the amazing part of the day happened. I was able to get out of the car and talk to people. I met men and women who were more than willing to talk and give us direction without realizing that was what they were doing. I made a connection with three women in particular, who allowed me to ask them a ton of questions. They were open and honest and really gave me new insight like never before.

Once the food and gloves were gone, our group went to dinner to discuss the days happenings and what it meant for the next time. I am pretty sure we were all talking at the same time. It was just too wonderful to have connected with PEOPLE. Not homeless people. Just people, like us. People who have the same needs and fears as we do. People who want to connect with us just as much as we want to connect with them. We all agreed on some very important issues over dinner. We agreed that we can’t change the fact that there always have been and always will be homeless people. We agreed that handing items out of our car windows is not enough. What we are called to do is about so much more than giving stuff away. It’s about giving ourselves away. It’s about relationship.

Again, we can’t change the fact that there always have been and always will be homeless people. But what if we can change the number of homeless people to one less?

We spread the word through the streets that we would be back on January 17th, no matter what the weatherman said. We told everyone we will be grilling hot dogs, serving chili and having a tailgate party to get to know them better. We also told the women we will be handing out special goodie bags with personal items just for them.

Life is so very good. Even when you start your day like a stupid monkey fighting over a bruised banana. Life is good.

Unknown Mami