Monday, December 1, 2014


Most Sundays I skip the main service with its contemporary worship music, opting instead to sit with the little old ladies in the chapel where we sing traditional hymns.  Yesterday morning, however, I sat in the auditorium where I could fully experience the gospel of Legacy Five.  Why I looked so forward to their performance I do not know, as this was the first time I had heard their music.

While the rest of the congregation focused their attention on the vocal harmony, my ear was tuned to the piano.  My eyes were drawn to Trey Ivey, a young man playing with amazing ease.  At times, I had the impression that his hands were working in a mechanical way, as though he were resisting the impulse to jazz it up a bit.  Early in the performance, his body was fairly still and he maintained a pleasant but fairly nondescript facial expression.  By the end, his body swayed and emotion played across his face.  He seemed to be infused with energy as the tempo increased.  There seemed to be more trills as time passed, and I wondered whether he ever played the same piece exactly the same.  He was not just making music with his instrument.  He was living through it!

I found myself holding my hands over my heart, as though to capture the warmth spreading from within.  Goose flesh spread over my arms, legs and back.  Tears were close at hand, though I could not have told you why.  I was simply enraptured as I recognized a talent that I have not encountered in the 21 years since my father died.  I felt that I was a child again, watching my dear daddy play his beloved organ.  I could sit there for hours just watching and listening!  In fact, the night that electric organ was delivered, our entire family did just that.

Without formal training, my father had never learned or desired to still his body as he played.  He, too, ceased to be a piano or organ player.  After a few bars of any song, he was one with his instrument.  He would sway this way and lean that way, seemingly leaping from one end of the bench to the other as his feet worked the pedals.  His hands and feet had a life of their own, and he never played a song exactly the same twice!  

I recalled the stories I'd heard as a child.  Stories of Gordon Doty, the musical prodigy.  I remember my grandmother telling me that they learned of his talent when one day, at a young age and with no training, my dad sat down at the old pump organ in the parlor and started playing.  Nobody but my dad ever could coax a note out of that beast!

My dad told me about how he had learned to play the organ by sitting on a bench and working the foot pedals while his mentor worked the keys.  He had no formal training to speak of.  The training he did receive was less than what the average middle class family could provide a child of average ability today.  But my father was blessed with far greater than average ability, and his mother with far less than a middle class income.  He was also quite hard of hearing, almost completely deaf in one ear and with moderate hearing loss in the other.  His early experience with hearing aids had been quite negative, and so he went through life hearing very little.  He was superb at lip reading, and so most people never knew the extent of the impairment.  I used to wonder quite often where life would have taken my dad if he had been born 30 years later.

One of my favorite stories from my father's childhood was about the time he was uninvited to play for church because he was jazzing up the music too much.  (My dad told some tall tales, but I always believed that one because I would frequently lose all track of the melody as I let myself be drawn into what my dad was playing.)  As the story goes, the only person to play in his absence was the pastor's wife, and her piano skills were rather elementary.  Therefore, after a period of time that was considered to be enough punishment (of the congregation!), my father was asked to resume playing for church.  He was asked not to jazz it up so much, and he was inclined to agree just to gain access to play again.  Until the next time someone complained about his fancy playing and it was time for him to take another break.

As I sit with these memories, it occurs to me that it has been a very long time since I have existed within them.  I certainly have not shared them with my children.  Today I felt my father's presence more keenly than I have in nearly 20 years.  It is time to introduce my children to their grandfather as more than a shadowy, distant relative.  I have no recordings of my father's voice or his music, but now I know where to find something reasonably close.

For a taste of the music that took me back, you can watch yesterday's performance for yourself.  If you close your eyes, you may just  hear my dad's fingers tickling those ivory keys!

Legacy Five at The People's Church

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tears of Gratitude

With a great deal of support (and perhaps a shove) from a dear friend and the subsequent hand-holding from someone who was (until recently) a mere acquaintance, I recently found my way back to church after 20+ years away.  This has been a difficult process for me - one that I have contemplated for 9 years and seriously considered for many months now.

I was fairly certain last week that I had found my new church home.  As the week progressed and I interacted with various church members and leaders, I grew more confident.

Today's message was on the Attitude of Gratitude.  Gratitude for everything your life.  Everything!  Even the stuff that is feels like there is no good in it.  Gratitude for everything that God has given because it is all for a purpose.

As I listened intently to the message, my mind was flooded with examples of all that I had to be grateful for.  There were so many!  I nodded in agreement.  In that moment, my rational mind was right there with the message.  Just then, I knew that even my forsaken marriage is a gift worthy of gratitude.  I am physically healthier and emotionally stronger now than I was 7 months ago.  There are a good many people in my life today whom I never would have met if my world had not shattered at my feet.  And without the loss of everything I thought to be true in my life, I would not have been driven to find God again after so many years of pushing Him away.  Yes, even the bad in my life is good!

And then - just a split second later - came the emotional response.  Tears flowed - slowly at first, one teardrop at a time.  I did not wipe them away.  Then they came faster as a wave of emotions crashed over me.  While my tears were silent (or so I hoped!), they were not unseen.  Each time I would begin to pull myself together, there was a hand on my arm or my shoulder - someone I'd never met before letting me know that I was not alone.

As the service came to an end, I thought that I was finally going to win the Battle of Tears!  But then a man made his way over to ask what he could do for me.  Afraid to say more, I simply asked him to pray for me.  He assured me that he would.  As he walked away, the last of my emotional strength crumbled.  Instantly, I was surrounded.  I quite literally cried on the shoulder of a woman I had never met, my tears so thick that I couldn't even see her face.  Others were holding my hands, sharing words of comfort and tending to my children.

Three faithful and resilient women sat with me as I cried more tears than I knew existed.  There were not enough tissues in the world to mop me up!  The only explanation that I could give for my devastation was a basic description of how my world imploded last September.  (Not that an explanation was necessary or even requested, but how does one sob to perfect strangers without saying something?!)  But as I spoke, I knew that it was just a sliver of the truth.

The truth is that I didn't even really know all the reasons I was crying!  Sure, there is the pain of my husband's betrayal , the loss of so much that I yearn to recover, and the uncertainty that goes with contested divorce proceedings.  But there was more.  So much more!  Some of it is beyond my own understanding.  There was pain and sadness and loss and anger and other undefined feelings that were thoroughly unpleasant!  But there was also an overwhelming appreciation for the love of God and His people, and an overall feeling of emotional safety.

Mostly, I think that the tears I cried today were those that I have held in for many days, weeks and months as I have attempted to handle for myself something that is simply too big for any human.  They fell today because they could.  They fell today because I knew that I was not alone.  They finally fell because I have found my church home and people of faith who are ready to help me accept what I have fought for so long.  Today's tears were something special.  They were

Tears of Gratitude

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Overachieving as a Single Mom

I have been sitting on this post for 6 months.  To begin with, I was shell-shocked.  Then I was hurt.  Hurt by actions, words, opinions, the choosing of sides, and generally grieving the loss of a relationship that started 19 years ago.  A relationship that apparently was not what I thought it was.  Then I just didn't want to put it out there, as though doing so would...  I don't know.  Make it real?

Did I think that my marriage was perfect?  No.  Not by a long shot.  I knew there were issues.  Very Big Issues.  I knew that we both contributed to those issues, and that we would have to come together to work on them.  I thought that we were going through a rough patch - that we would find our way through that rough patch and eventually come through it with a stronger relationship in the end.  I believed that with all my heart!

But my heart was wrong.  In the end, there was no choice for me to make as far as my marriage was concerned.  That choice was made for me.  The man that I gave my heart to and intended to spend the rest of my life with was gone.  My attempts to hold onto family and friends - to make them understand - resulted in further alienation.  It's no wonder, really.  But in the moment, I just could not accept the changes to my life that I had not asked for and did not want!  All I could see was doors slamming in my face.

It wasn't long before word spread.  It is hard to say whether it was harder to endure the looks of pity that followed me, or having to explain the constant waterworks to those who had not already heard from someone else.  Mixed in were also hugs and words of encouragement from women that I didn't even realize were single moms.  They always seemed so organized and put together that I never would have thought they were doing everything on their own!  How could anyone go from where I was to so...put together?  Maybe there was hope for  me!

Slowly, I have been figuring things out.  I am finding new ways to do things so that I can at least make sure that the basics are covered each day.  My little family of 3 has adjusted old routines and settled into new ones.  The boys miss seeing Daddy every day, and one of them is still convinced that Daddy moved out because of brotherly arguments or too many "Daddy! Daddy! Daddies!"  But they are also somewhat appeased by getting to do things that they never got to before.  Like staying for after school care on days when I simply cannot be in two places at once.

There have been moments of frustration when time has run out and there is still too much to be done.  Or when Mom just can't do something the same way that Dad would do it.  Or when they want attention but I am too busy to take a break from the increased responsibilities of single parenthood to play a game of Irishopoly.  But then comes the break that we need, usually just when we need it the most.  Sometimes it is an "Aha!" moment that leads to increased efficiency.  (An hour of drawing up liquid medications for a week makes for sore thumbs, but mornings are sure a whole lot easier!)  Other times it is a "laugh or cry" situation.  And since there have already been too many tears in recent months, laughter is the standard response when things go awry.  My Super Productive Morning gave me one of my first big laughs as a single mom.

Slowly but steadily, I am regaining a sense of community.  Acquaintances and even former strangers have stepped into roles that were vacated by others just 6 months ago.  I still miss the friends and family that walked away or distanced themselves under the guise of not picking a side.  I still experience the grief attached to the death of my marriage and so many dreams.  But sadness is no longer my primary emotion.  While my legs are still shaky at times, my feet are once again under me as I take one step at a time into the next chapter of my life.  This new chapter is

Conquering Single Motherhood

The emotion?  


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bunches of Thanks for my Dietitian

Today is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day, and therefore a day on which I want my Registered Dietitian to know just how much I appreciate her.*  Of course, I should be letting her know that anyway!  Just like appreciation for mothers should not be held back until Mother's Day or appreciation for fathers held for Father's Day, I should be thanking my dietitian routinely for making my life easier.  Still, I know that I am guilty of  uttering "thanks" at the end of a phone call in a way that is more reflective of habit than a heartfelt sharing of appreciation.  Plus everyone likes to get a little bit of extra love every now and then!

So what awesome show of appreciation did I plan for my dietitian so she could feel some love before sitting down at her desk for another day of helping parents figure out how to meet their kids' nutritional needs without much more than sugar and air?

Not         a          thing.

And it's not because I didn't know that today was special.  It's because life was busy.  I was focused on my kids' schedules - their school stuff, medical stuff and extra activities, along with my own version of each.  At the same time, I was also trying to do what my dietitian has taught me even when all I want is to serve my kids a gourmet meal of hot dogs while I dive into a sleeve of Thin Mints®.  Or maybe it's just because I still have not learned the lesson on punctuality - or the ones about run on sentences or punctuation, for that matter - that my 8th grade English teacher just could not make me learn.  (Sorry, Mrs. Hammen!  I know you tried.)   But the day is not done, so I still have time to throw together something awesome(ish).

It is now my pleasure to present...

Just a few of the bunches of reasons I appreciate our dietitian*
  1. She is always just a phone call or voicemail message away.
  2. When she answers the phone, she does so with a smile - even if what she is really thinking is "Oh, Dear Lord, what can she possibly want this time?!"  (And yes, I have called her so frequently that she often knows it is me before she answers.)
  3. She doesn't laugh at my questions, ridiculous as they may be.
  4. At our first appointment, she looked silently at the huuuuuuuuuuuuge list of allergens we must avoid and resisted the urge to blurt out "What does he eat?!"  Instead, she suggested that we ignore the overwhelming list of allergens and focus on the much shorter list of foods that are safe.
  5. She doesn't yell at me for feeding my kids too much sugar.  Not even when I told her about my "Just Sugar" cookies!
  6. When I ask her if the 9 syllable ingredient that I can't even pronounce is safe, she often knows exactly what I am talking about and whether it is worth taking the chance.  When she doesn't, she takes the time to find out.
  7. Samples!  (Need I say more?)
  8. She doesn't yell at me about not eating my greens.  Instead, she works with me to ensure that I am getting the necessary micronutrients without making me feel even more self-conscious about my persnickety eating habits.
  9. She tallies the number of calories my children need to grow and develop properly, and then retallies after each growth spurt or weight gain/loss.
  10. She helps me review the options presented by the allergist to decide which food to trial next.
  11. She recognizes that what looks good on paper may not work perfectly in real life, and she helps me adjust feeding and meal plans accordingly.
  12. I think, after all this, that it goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway.  My Registered Dietitian is just plain awesome!

*Technically "them" rather than "her" because I actually have two dietitians that I can and do call on as needed!  But they are both women, and therefore a "her" will suffice.  I have no doubt that "they" will understand the need for me to find a way to use fewer words!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cost Savings 101 (Corporate version)

Step One (Day 1)
Customer notes that the warranty on her laptop is about to expire.  She calls technical support.  Specifically, she notes that 4 of 8 bottom plate screws have fallen out.  Another 2 screws are about to fall out.  There is also a mysterious rattling inside the case that does not affect performance, but sounds very much like another loose screw.  Tech support offers to send someone out with 4 screws and a new bottom plate, just in case that is also necessary.

Step Two (Day 3)
Tech support arrives at the customer's house with 1 screw and a new bottom plate.  The mysterious rattle is identified as a screw rolling around inside the case.  Said screw is put back into place.  New bottom plate is attached with 5 screws.  (Pill bottle of screws carried by Tech Support cannot be used because this laptop does not take standard screws.)

Step Three (Also Day 3)
An order is placed for 3 screws.

Step Four (Day 5)
Someone else from Tech Support returns to the customer's house with 3 screws.  After wrapping his brain around the complexity of the problem, he installs the screws and fills out the associated paperwork to prove his technical brilliance.  On his way out the door, he thanks the customer for an enjoyable service call.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Safe Food Is Love

Some memories are so powerful that a simple phrase is all it takes to transport you back 30 years.  I had one of those moments tonight when my fingers generated these words before I had any conscious thought of them.
"I have two little boys who would love you forever if you could line them up with some orange-pineapple Splash!"

Instantly, I was transported to a warm kitchen in snowy Minnesota, having just spent all day in a frosty car with my parents.  My uncle was telling me that all I had to do was give Skippy a treat and she would love me forever.  I could not have been more than 6 or 8.  I remember giggling as I took the dog biscuit from his hand.  I assured my uncle that Skippy would already love me forever because I had fed her during our last visit.  Still, I was as delighted to give Skippy her treat as she was to receive it.  The moment that my uncle would share the secret to winning Skippy's love was a much anticipated introduction to every visit.  Even when Skippy's hair turned gray and she spent more time sleeping than nuzzling up to me, I still looked forward to that moment during each visit when I could once again earn her eternal love.

As I reflect on this memory, my emotions are aswirl.  Babies learn very young that Food Is Love.  In the early days, nearly every cry is initially answered with the offer of nourishment.  Babies eagerly drink down the love while mothers' hearts swell in the process.  As babies grow older, the message is reinforced.  Grandmothers bake cookies.  Grandfathers sneak the baby his first taste of ice cream.  The message is very clear.
"Food Is Love"
Image Courtesy of Tina Phillips
Stock Photo - image ID 100143596


When my children were babies, food was love.  But after a while the strain of identifying food allergens, reading every label and always being on alert for an allergic reaction resulted in a shift of my opinion.  Food was not love.  Food was evil!  Any adult feeding my child without my express permission was committing an act of war.

Very often in the allergy community, we trade stories about extended family members who just don't get it.  You know the people I am talking about!  The aunts, uncles and grandparents who just can't get past their "food is love" training for long enough to consider replacing a weekly trip to the ice cream shop with a weekly trip to the park without feeling that something is missing.  They try to share their Food Is Love message with our allergic children, and we become rightfully upset.  We zero in on the dangers of food, and we see our loved ones' obsession with food-related activities as insensitive.  We sometimes do not recognize that our extended family is also hurt in these interactions, as we have essentially told them that they are not allowed to love our allergic children.

It is very easy to become entrenched by our own emotions about food allergies.  My child has food allergies.  My child's food allergies could result in premature death.  Therefore, food is not love.  Food is evil!  But is it really?  Does it have to be all or nothing?  Or could my fingers have delivered a new message tonight?

What if we take the allergen out of the picture but we leave the food?  Or at least the idea of food?  Last year I wrote Not Just a Cookie.  Tonight I suggested that some orange-pineapple Splash would bring eternal love.  Maybe food is not love after all.  Maybe...

"Safe Food Is Love"

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pay to Pee: A Piss Poor Example of Classroom Management

Have you heard about the Pay to Pee controversy at Cascades Elementary School in Lebanon, Oregon?  A friend brought it to my attention today.  And once she did, it was all that I could think about!  While I frequently think "I should blog about that" and even work up a rough draft in my head, I am rarely still stuck on an idea when I actually have the time to sit down and type it all out.  But this?!  This has my dander up!

Image courtesy of:  kjnnt

Stock Image - image ID: 10095488
As the mother of two children with GI conditions that are treated with what boils down to liquid diets and frequent bathroom breaks, my first instinct was to consider how such a policy would affect them.  But then I realized that my kids would be fine.  They have a documented medical need to pee every 5 seconds, whether it is convenient to the classroom schedule or not.  But what about their classmates?  

This policy is wrong on so many levels!  

American schools are already teaching our kids to ignore the body's natural hunger cues by introducing unnecessary food into classrooms.  Get a math problem right?  Have a piece of candy!  Someone's birthday?  Let's have cupcakes!  Someone gets a big promotion?  We MUST HAVE CAKE!  Yes, there are exceptions.  My children's school put a stop to parents bringing in sugary treats for birthdays at the start of last school year.  But there are still sugar-packed holiday parties a few times each year.  The students are still rewarded every so often with pizza and ice cream parties for various accomplishments.  Later this week, we will celebrate the promotion (and mourn the departure) of our school's beloved janitor.  I bet you'll never guess what we're doing for him!  And yes, I do mean "we" because as annoyed as I am that it always comes down to food, I am still going to make safe sugary treats for my little overachievers so they can join the celebration.

We all get the urge to move a bit after we have been sitting still for a while  But our children are discouraged from doing so.  They must sit on hard chairs for the entirety of one or more complete lessons.  (When is the last time you sat in one of those chairs without squirming?)  Standing, walking around, and any other medium to large movement that could be distracting to others is prohibited.  Traditional American schools are teaching our children to ignore their bodies' cues to move around in order to ease muscle tension.  The result is to teach them to be sedentary for most of the day rather than incorporating physical activity into their day.  (Can you say rising rates of obesity in children?)

The Pay to Pee policy takes it a step further.  This policy is teaching kids to hold in their stool and urine even when their bodies are telling them to hurry up and let it out.  This sets the children up for bowel and bladder accidents which are embarrassing in the moment and set them up to be fresh targets for bullies.  

Holding in urine increases the risk of urinary tract infections.  Students who are particularly concerned about whether they can make it from one scheduled bathroom break to the next may elect to drink less, leading to dehydration.  Younger children (think kindergarten and first grade) who are stilling working on perfect bowel control have a very real need to get to the bathroom the moment they feel the urge to poop.  Teaching them not to do so sets them up for chronic constipation.  A bowel that is full of stool causes discomfort which is distracting and will lessen a student's ability to learn.  When enough stool has built up, the pressure on the bladder can lead to urinary incontinence.  Those who continue to withhold, either intentionally or because the colon has lost its ability to send messages of urgency can even end up hospitalized due to fecal bowel obstructions.

Now let's look at those kids who, despite their best attempts, must miss classroom instruction to use the bathroom.  While students at Cascades Elementary School are no longer required to pay for bathroom breaks, the school's current policy still allows for recess to be withheld as a punishment for missing instructional time.  What does not seem to have been considered in the policy revision is that physical activity stimulates the bowels.  Therefore, limiting a student's physical activity can actually lead to an increase in the amount of classroom instruction missed due to a decline in bowel function.  

The impact of exercise incorporated into the school day has been documented to result in an increased ability to learn and retain new information.  (Citation to come later...maybe...if it's still on my mind when I have time to sit down and look for it.  It's out there!  Trust me.  Or don't trust me and go Google it for yourself.)

Instead of working with teachers to restructure classroom schedules to build in bathroom breaks often enough to address the needs of the majority of students, the school has encouraged teachers to punish students for listening to their bodies.  Instead of motivating students how require unscheduled bathroom breaks to get to and from the bathroom with maximum efficiency, they penalize them for not doing enough.  

What a load of crap!