Sunday Thanks: Happy Birthday to Me!

Three years ago today the doctor removed my breasts after a breast cancer diagnosis.  In the three years since this time, I am thankful for every second (well, almost, minus the ailments) which has been allotted to me by the Big One up above.  If it weren’t for the Big “C,” I probably never would have walked too many miles over the course of two days, never met some endearing friends, never released stressors from my life, never been more honest, never loved more deeply, never paid attention more, never thanked more people, never truly listened more, never attempted to let people know they matter on a daily basis, never laughed at myself more, and never squeezed on more people.

So, on this Sunday, for what or whom are you thankful?

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Bras, Brooches, and Beads

Jacoby Arts Center.  Our Brownie troop had a field trip this past Saturday to the Jacoby Arts Center located in Alton, IL.  Without a doubt, this is one inspiring nonprofit arts center.  Entering the historic building we immediately saw rows of decorated bras hanging on the walls of the gallery.  As a breast cancer survivor, I knew I was home.  That evening the Jacoby Arts Center along with Alton Memorial Hospital hosted Bras on Broadway, an exhibition of art bra creations to benefit Alton Memorial’s breast cancer support program, You’ve Got a Friend.  Our third-grade Brownies enjoyed viewing the themed bras and selecting their favorites;  my Brownie was partial to the Wonder Woman bra since this was who she chose to be for Halloween.  I gravitated towards the sequined bra which must have involved a LOT of gluing.

Making our way downstairs for our BeJeweled class, we met Ms. Susan Elmendorf, a knowledgeable teacher who held the girls’ interest and encouraged their creativity from start to finish.  The first project consisted of creating a brooch out of magazines, ribbons, sequins, and construction paper.  The results truly exemplified inspired thinking outside the box.

IMG_1318The next project involved working with clay in order to create enough beads for two bracelets.  Again, the sky was the limit as to bead formation.  Ms. Elmendorf stressed the importance of carving tool safety with much humor and explained the mental and physical benefits of working with this medium.  Soon moms, dads, and grandmas were joining in on the handiwork.

With all of the collaboration happening, I thought I might have heard Unchained Melody in the background.

I (heart) Jacoby Arts Center.  Give it a try, and you will be saying, “Ditto.”

Writing Workshop Wednesdays (10)

My English 111 classes recently read Alice Walker’s “Beauty:  When the Other Dancer Is the Self,” which revolves around an eye injury a young Walker received at the hands of her brother.  As a result her eye is a “. . . glob of whitish scar tissue, a hideous cataract . . .”  (Kirszner and Mandell 36).  The scar in question inevitably results in Walker’s self-loathing until her two-year-old daughter inspects the eye with childish wonder and reveals to Walker, “‘Mommy, there’s a world in your eye'” (40).

So, for the purposes of this Writing Workshop Wednesdays, I want YOU, the writer, to tell YOUR Life in Scars either visually as in the picture or in the below comments section.

Life in Scars

What a S*%t World!?!?

Hormones.  I was up until nearly two in the morning because I was hot and crampy.  So, I spent this time reading about current events, the life of James Foley*, and his inspiring body of work as a journalist.  A handsome, intelligent, forty-years young man loved dearly by his family, friends, and coworkers. . .

His death is an abomination; senseless; unconscionable.  Really, there are no words to properly describe this.  I have to think the man responsible for Foley’s exit from this earth, on some level, is ashamed of his actions, or else why would he be hiding behind clothing if he truly thought his actions were just?  If one were truly proud of his actions, would he disguise himself?  I kept thinking to myself as I was reading, “Who are the parents of a man who thinks taking another life is justifiable?”  At one point in life, as we all are, this veiled man was a child, a gift from God, full of potential.  As an adult, this man is responsible for his own actions, but who molded this man into what he is today?

The slaughter of Foley along with the events in Ferguson, MO, along with the suicide of Robin Williams along with . . . is a lot to comprehend and sort out when there seems no rational way to do so.  These happenings in our world cause me to question the safety of my own children.  Will they be able to follow their own dreams someday without the threat of others or the overwhelming heartbreak of this existence?  How can people make a change in the here and now for the better?

Walking at Watershed Nature Center this morning, I was thinking of all of the above while encountering the beauty of nature.  Sweating profusely in the heat minus a bra (perk of breast cancer) and adjusting my fitness belt which is meant to make my life easier when hauling keys and a phone for musical purposes, I spotted a field of beautiful white flowers.  I believe these are a type of hibiscus, but a horticulturist I am not.  Fiddling with my phone, I accidentally caught a bee taking nectar from a flower.  Truly amazing . . .  I thought to myself, “Such beauty in our surroundings if we take the time to look . . ..”  Then, I rounded the corner.

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What I saw in front me on the ground was graffiti on the walking trail of this nature preserve, letters which probably have meaning and a symmetrical skull.  What a perfect juxtaposition of the perfection of nature intermingled with the intrusion of man (or woman).  Walking further on, I found more graffiti which at first reminded me of my honeymoon in Hawaii because, at first glance, I thought it was a recreation of a pineapple.  Of course, on closer inspection, I saw it was marijuana.  Hey, I’m forty-three.

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Again, I thought to myself, “Where are the parents of the person who is defacing a nature preserve?”  I am not saying the crime was committed by a teen.  For all I know, it was a forty-three-year-old woman unleashing on the sidewalk. I just wonder why a person would think this is okay to do.  Did he/she not learn from his/her caregivers to respect other people’s property?

At my age I do not graffiti, nor have I ever, but I did try and think back to what I have done to other people’s property.  I tee-peed a friend’s house and a teacher’s house while in high school.  I, along with other female eighth-grade friends used to wet paper towels in the girls’ bathroom, wad them into balls, and then throw them up at the ceiling so that they would stick.  I have no idea why, but this still brings a smile to my face.  I stood watch while a loved one had diarrhea behind a dumpster at Little Caesar’s and again, on another occasion, had diarrhea over a vent opening of a house which was in the process of being built.  This was in no way malicious, though.  She truly had some bad reactions to some less than desirable food choices.

Returning to my car a sweaty hot mess and feeling icky about the world in general, I thought there must be a way to be an agent of change at even this miniscule level, but how?  On a global scale, how can anyone change the thought processes of angry irrational human beings?  I don’t know, but I wish I did.  I felt like what I am, a tiny tadpole in a 6XL pond.

Sorting through the mail when I returned home, I opened a letter with a personal note of “Thank you” written on the back of the envelope.  Intrigued, I tore through the envelope.  Inside was a handwritten note saying woman blessing Christin had nominated me for a Pay It Forward contest, and I won a one-hour massage.

Tears flowed down my face.  I had no idea I had affected anyone in a positive manner.  As a teacher, I hear a lot of groaning about the amount of work instead of what I long to hear, gratitude at the amount of learning.  As a volunteer, people often complain rather than realize, “I am utilizing my own time and resources in an attempt to improve the world by helping guide your child.”

Anywho, I have never had a professional massage in my lifetime, and I am more than overjoyed to knock this off of my bucket list.  In the meantime, I am going to e-mail and see what I can do to aid in the removal of the graffiti.  More than anything, I wish I knew who was responsible so that I could ask him/her to lead our Girl Scouts in a positive way through an art lesson after he/she assists in the clean-up of the trails.

*For the family of James Foley, I am praying for your healing, and I am honored to have read through his writings.

 

 

Why I Ditched Facebook and “Like” It

So, I took the plunge this summer and finally deleted my Facebook account after a few years of reluctant use.  Originally becoming a member because my BFF refused to e-mail me pictures any longer, I succumbed to the peer pressure.  When Instagram became available as a photo sharing site with brief accompanying descriptions (and after my fourteen-year-old neighbor set up my account for me), I now had my opportunity to exit.   Yes!  I held on as a Facebooker for a while longer because I administered a page for a women’s blog at church.  When this blog went belly up, my obligations ceased, and I severed my association with Facebook.

facebookdon'tlikeFor me personally, this was the right decision.  My e-mail is no longer congested with invites to play such-and-such game or with Facebook reminders telling me I am “missing out on so-and-so’s latest post.”  I enjoy my lean e-mail inbox now which frees me up for more quality time with my family and friends.

In addition, I no longer have to deal with angry people who do not seem to have a sense of control over what they write to other people behind the security of their keyboard.  Has everyone forgotten the saying . . .

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!

On Facebook, I have witnessed people typing some of the most vile words to one another.  When did this become okay in our society or rather the norm?  To me it seemed as if there are a lot of people out there who are ticking time bombs just looking for any reason to engage in an argument with another person.

wordsforgivenCase in point . . .  on a religious site no less (am I the only person who expects religious people to be kind?), a person posted a story about a pastor disguising himself as a homeless person before attending church.  He then wrote of how the majority of the congregation lacked empathy for him, but rather turned their backs on him.  When I then replied to said post with something to the effect of, “The Methodist church in San Francisco feeds X  number of homeless people.”  The person who shared the original post replied, “Let’s not make this a theological debate.”  Okay . . .  I posted this information about said church not because I was trying to engage in a debate, but because my family and I had just returned from San Francisco.

Case in point . . . a breast cancer survivor, I dealt with the entire ordeal with lots and lots of humor.  This is how I roll.  It was either this or tears, and there was not much opportunity for the latter with a three and five-year-old in the house.  I needed to reassure them Momma was going to be okay despite the fact she spent a good chunk of 2011 and 2012 in the hospital.  Thus, those who know me know I embrace the light-hearted approach to breast cancer.  So, when a friend posted a Mammo-Graham snack recipe (an ideal means of explaining prevention to little kiddos) to my wall, I shared it with one of my survival groups.  In addition to several “Likes,” one person wrote an essay explaining how insensitive I was and how breast cancer was not a joke.  Of course, this wounded me to the core because as a breast cancer survivor, I KNOW it is no laughing matter, but I do think laughter is conducive to healing, at least for me personally.  In fact, the hub and I took “the girls” (my ta tas) on a final vacation to Chicago immediately prior to my double mastectomy.  We documented their final hurrah by taking their pictures at every location we visited.

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The “girls” taking in their final cup of hot tea.

More importantly, what I find disturbing is how much Facebook seems to prevent quality, focused time.

Case in point . . .  I teach writing to college freshmen.  When a bright student turned in a handwritten rough draft, I asked why he did not utilize the computer as a revision tool which heavily expedites the writing process (believe me, I went to school using an electric typewriter for papers, and I had to write a lot of them).  He told me if he used the computer he was constantly distracted by Facebook.  I still did not understand being that I had to intentionally log in to Facebook if I ever made use of it.  He said his Facebook automatically popped up on his screen.  I then replied, “Log out of it while you compose your papers.”  His response was something to the effect of how trying to remember that many passwords would be too difficult.

Case in point . . . with two young children, we visit a lot of child-friendly locales where I witness a plethora of parents looking down at their cellphones instead of savoring these moments with their children.  My girls have recently undergone a growth spurt which has had a bittersweet effect on me.  Sweet in that they are healthy, happy young girls, but bittersweet in that I have come to understand especially in this past year how quickly this time with our children passes, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

Early this past summer, I was in the McDonald’s restroom waiting for my girls when a middle-aged woman came in to mop the floors at the same time a young mother studying her cellphone exited while her young children were trying to gain her attention.  The employee and I exchanged pleasantries and then she commented, “I don’t know how to use a cellphone, but it doesn’t matter because I can’t afford one.  I see people on them all the time in the play area when their kids are trying to get their attention.”

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To me, this was a profound statement on so many levels which instigated my deletion of Facebook.  I was never one to scroll through posts while with others, but I was usually the one tinkering with my phone trying to figure out how to post and tag a picture until I eventually would give up out of frustration or due to a locked-up phone.

Not only when considering quality time with children, I have observed how it interferes with physical face time with other adults.  A friend told me the only time she hears from another person is through a mass invite via Facebook.  Another friend said an RSVP was never answered to her child’s birthday party, but the person in question found the time to constantly post pictures of herself on her Facebook wall.  I have been with friends on planned get-togethers, and they will be engrossed in their phones rather than involved in the here and now which makes me wonder, “What is so important that it can’t wait until you are home?” or “Am I really that boring?”  I then break into an inner monologue much like John Candy’s in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, “I like me.  My hub likes me.  My squirts like me.”

Perhaps it’s a generational issue . . .  I feel as if I’m an old soul at heart and now chronologically.  I like the written word, and ooh and aah over cards found in my mailbox.  Several of my friends are not on Facebook and have never even expressed an interest, “I don’t do that sh%t!” as my author friend once eloquently told me.

Whatever the case may be, I think I hear my kiddos stirring, so I am off for now in order to spend some quality time with my girls.

Boobs, Bobby, Books, Burgers, and Brownie Bites

Looking for a St. Louis outing with the kiddos?  Well, how about one free of charge?

After a yearly check with the breast cancer surgeon at Siteman Cancer Center, the girls and I decided to partake in what has become our annual visit to the World Chess Hall of Fame in the Central West End.  Did I mention FREE?

The current exhibitions are Cage and Kaino:  Music and Performance, Strategy by Design: Games by Michael Graves, and A Memorable Life:  A Glimpse into the Complex Mind of Bobby Fischer. We explored the three levels of exhibits and composed music by moving chess pieces as well as challenged each other to various board games set out to sample.

Our final stop at the World Chess Hall of Fame was none other than Q Boutique where we discovered a new book for our collection, Goodnight St. Louis.

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After an outdoor game of giant chess, we decided to give Lester’s a try, and we were glad we did.  Ordering from the kiddo’s menu, each of my squirts ordered the Twin Mini Burgers (one order with cheese and one without) while I decided to go Meatless Friday with the Pesto, Feta, Mushroom, Eggplant, Artichoke Flatbread.  Yummers!

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To maintain tradition, a short walk to froYo where the girls piled on the toppings (including brownie bites) concluded our latest exploration of the Central West End.

Five Minute Friday: Finish

Finish . . .  Reading Lisa-Jo Baker’s response to Finish makes me think of my own “passing the torch,” so to speak, on a not grand scale at all.

In October of 2011 I went on a women’s retreat with an amazing group of women blessings from Troy United Methodist Church.  Prior to this weekend, I had my first mammogram at the age of 40 which called for an ultrasound and then a breast excision.  So, my upcoming surgery was definitely on my mind.

The women’s group leading workshops at the retreat published Between the Lines.  Inspired and refreshed from the weekend, I read through the magazine and decided I wanted to have a similar publication for the women at my church.  Also, I thought the creation of Ruby Magazine would make for a welcoming distraction for what turned out to be a diagnosis of breast cancer.

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The magazine/blog ended up having an amazing three-year run with women blessing interviews, personal essays, recipes, and prayers, but I felt it needed to come to a finish this summer as the contributions dwindled.  It was time to finish.

When I put out a request for someone to take over, woman blessing Steph went above and beyond by creating The Gentle Yoke, an open faith forum and digital magazine.  Now, I have the pleasure of reading her posts and responding to them.  So, my finish was really just a blessed beginning.