My mother’s gift

My mother recently turned 80 years old, which she thinks is a miracle because both her parents died when they were 78.  That entire year she thought she was going to go join my dad.  However, that didn’t happen and we are blessed to have her for a few more years.

My mom, Betty, when she was 18 months old

My mother is a strong woman.  I have always known that.  She had eight children and was step-mother to my half-brother, Tim, but to him, she was always Mom. She was married to a man who didn’t always treat her the way she deserved and she knew when to say goodbye.

She worked outside the home, which was unusual for mothers to do back in the ‘50s, but she really had no choice.  She had to support her family somehow.

My mother met my dad when he he joined the ad agency she worked at as a receptionist.  His famous pick-up line, “I have some Jackie Gleason records. Do you have a record player?” became an inside joke that they played with throughout the years.

My dad was in a terrible car accident when I was 4, which incapacitated him for almost a year.  My mother worked nights at Collins and visited him in Iowa City during the day. I remember wanting her to stay home because I missed her, to which she shook her head and said, “You’ll understand someday.”

My mother is a strong woman. I have never known her any other way.  Even when my brother, Pat, died in a car accident in California, she didn’t fall apart, but I knew she wanted to.  She held the rest of the family together, just as she had done so many times before.

After my father died two years ago, I saw a side of her I had never seen before. She wanted to give up.  I know she did.  But she didn’t, even though she missed him so much.  After grieving for a while, I think she came to conclusion that my dad wasn’t really gone. She keeps his side table the way it was the day he died.  I think it comforts her, so we don’t push her to put his things away.  It’s a comfort to us, too.

When my mother turned 80 this year, she made us promise not to buy her any presents. So what could I do that would show her how much I loved her, how much I appreciated her, how much she means to our family? I decided that I would try to write her life story, as much as I could in a month, anyway.

Each morning that I was able, I would sit and talk to her about her life.  I started at the beginning and took notes, just like I would any interview. But as I sat and listened to her amazing, I realized that I was getting to know my mother as Betty, someone I couldn’t have possibly known before.  To me she has always been Mom, but when I began talking to her about the things that she endured, her heartaches and her triumphs, I realized that I was getting to know my mother as a person.

My mother today

That sounds silly, I know, but when I sat with her and allowed her to open up about things she had almost forgotten, I could see a spark in her eyes that I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

I am so glad I could give this gift to my mother. Just sitting and talking with her has made our relationship even better, something that I know we both treasure.

My mother is a strong woman.  She has seen more in her lifetime than most people have.  But I think that it’s that strength that has made it easier for her to keep moving forward, even when she thought it was impossible.  It’s that strength that she passes on to her children and grandchildren, a strength that will live on for generations to come.

It’s the thought that counts

I love buying greeting cards.  I take my time, scope out almost every single card that is available for that occasion, and pick out the one card I just know the recipient will truly appreciate.

Should I be attending a 12-Step program for my obsession with greeting cards?

I know there are others like me because I share my problem with some people, laughing at myself for taking such care to find a greeting card that most people will throw away.

“Oh, I do that, too,” they say, sympathizing with the craze that seems to stir up as soon as a card aisle is spotted.

“My boyfriend won’t even let me go into a Hallmark store anymore,” said one young woman.

“It takes me an hour to find one card!” said another.

So at least I know I am not alone in my addiction to greeting cards. But is it necessarily a bad thing?

There are worse addictions, but the frustration at not being able to find the right card, the disappointment when I have to just pick one because I am on a time crunch, the sadness I feel when I know that I have not gotten that one card meant for that person, is sometimes maddening.

But my card-browsing is not in vain.  I have found an appreciation for greeting cards, the sweet sentiments that I know someone has picked out just for me. (And believe me, I can tell when they haven’t taken the time)

I would much rather receive a beautiful versed greeting card than a wrapped present. I love the cards that have been hand-made for me through the years by my children and grandchildren. I tell my them that all I want for my birthday or Mother’s Day is a card, and I mean it.

Knowing that someone has taken their precious time to pick me out the perfect card means a lot to me.  Maybe that’s why I do it. Maybe I’m not insane after all but just simply sincere.

My love for greeting cards isn’t a bad thing. I think I just need to accept that it is what it is and leave it at that. Besides, there are worse things I could be obsessed about.

Forever friends

Friendships don’t just happen. Lucky and rare are the friendships that can happen in an instance, where two minds can

 think alike and never have any disagreements.

I share a friendship with someone that has lasted almost 40 years. It started easy enough but has been a challenge to maintain. Not because of disagreements, but mostly because we have taken different paths.  I had children right out of high school; she chose to own a business and had her family later.  I have grandchildren and she is raising pre-teens.  But no matter what, we manage to meet when we can, to catch each other up on our hectic lives, to share those precious memories that we fondly keep in our hearts. Though the get-togethers are too far in-between, birthday and holiday cards are sent, just a reminder that we still care.

I met Lori half-way through fourth grade, after I moved to a new school district, I was shy and kept to myself.  Lori  came over and start talking to me. She told me that she lived a block from the school.  She had two older brothers who had their own families, so it was almost like she was the only child.  She parents were older and she had a dog named Pierre.

I was happy to have made a new friend.  Unfortunately, her best friend didn’t like it and gathered a bunch of girls to intimidate me after school.   Lori, not wanting to hurt her friend’s feelings, was right there beside her.  What could I do? I felt terrible that I had somehow found myself in the middle of something I wanted no part of. So I ran home, vowing not to return to school the next day.

But, of course, I did.  I avoided all the girls for a few days and things settled down.  I could never understand it, but kids will do silly things, that don’t seem to make sense.

One day Lori asked me if I wanted to go to her house after school.  I was a little scared and I told that I didn’t want to make her friend (also named Cindy) mad. She said she didn’t care and I guess I didn’t either.

I loved Lori’s house. They had a living room that they only used for company.  They had a piano and a stereo, which she played a lot.  Lori was of Syrian/Lebanese heritage and her father, George, had the distinct characteristics.  He was short and had olive skin, like Lori did. Her mother, Marge, always wore her hair the same, in a bouffant style, and I remember that she was always so nice when I came over.  She always had the radio playing in the kitchen and played Bunko with her friends.

Lori’s room was one that I wished I had.  Not only was it her own, but she had so many clothes and shoes and pretty pillows on her bed.  I had to share a room with two sisters and hand-me-downs.

Every morning I stopped by Lori’s house and we would walk the block to school.  If I got there early, she would put on the Carpenters and we’d sing the songs together.

That year Buchanan School closed and Lori and I went to different schools and lost touch. However, we met up again when we both went to McKinley Junior High.  We just picked up where we left off.

Lori was fun, she was exciting, she was the leader and I just went along with whatever crazy ideas she came up with. It was always an adventure when I was with her.  We were there for each other and when I was feeling sad, I could count on her to bring me up, to forget about my life for a while and just have fun.

After graduation, Lori went to Capri College to become a hair stylist, something we all knew she was destined for.  She tried to talk me into going with her but I got married instead. Lori wanted to go into business for herself and opened a hair salon called Floyd’s, Beauty and the Barber.  I was so happy for her but I knew that we were moving further apart.

Through the years we have kept in touch.  Not only is she my oldest daughter’s godmother, but my youngest daughter is named after her.

The last time we met for lunch, I knew that we didn’t have much in common anymore, but it was still really good to see her and talk about where we were in life.

Lori’s dad recently passed away; her mother died a couple of years ago. As I entered the chapel of the funeral home, the memories of our childhood came back in one crazy blur. But under that, there was a feeling that belonged only to Lori, a feeling that this was my one true friend, my forever friend. It didn’t matter how much time had passed, only that I was there then.

I realized that the reason I kept sending cards and staying in touch was because I didn’t want to let go of that. This kind of friendship happens once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky to find it at all.  Now I know what people mean when they say, “You are my best friend.” It means that no matter what happens, where our lives may lead us, we will always be there, no matter what. It’s a vow that we won’t let go.

Lori and I may never be the kind of friends who hang out together, go shopping, or even talk on the phone.  But I know she’s there, and she knows I’m here. And we always will be.

The best of the best

The Mount Mercy Times Staff

     I was able to attend the Iowa Newspaper Association (INA) Conference, held in Des Moines this past week, to learn more about my chosen profession.  It was also an opportunity to rub elbows with some of the best journalists that Iowa has to offer. Editors from big name papers and small town tabloids gathered together to pay tribute to the best of the best.

     My adviser and five other staff members of the Mount Mercy Times left the school bright and early Thursday morning, the day after a snowstorm buried the midwest with more than a foot of snow. The drive was interesting, as we counted the cars and trucks in  the ditch and jammed to classic rock.

      The conference was held at the Marriott in downtown Des Moines, where, as luck would have it, was also where we would be staying overnight. A trade show, the location of breaks and networking, also included displays from various companies. A variety of seminars were held, with themes such as advertising, how to be a better writer, multimedia, social media and other issues.

      After a great lunch at which a panel of three answered questions about the media, we were invited to  attend the seminars (one that told us the positive future of  newspapers  and another that told us that Iowans are watching TV more than they are reading the newspaper) came the hour that all college journalists wait for: The Iowa College Media Association (ICMA) Awards. Student writers are recognized for their talents, when they can finally stand and be regarded as true journalists (even if it is inevitably followed by ‘in-training’). In all, the Mount Mercy Times brought home 11 ICMA awards.

     The next morning INA sponsored a kick-off address, presented by Aaron Thomas, son of Applington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas, who was killed by Mark Becker, a former player of Thomas’.

     “The Meaning of Courage: A Story of Family Compassion,” began with a 10-minute video that showed the life of Ed Thomas and the courage that brought the Thomas and Becker families through a most painful and heartbreaking time in their lives. Aaron explained that though it was an unbelievable ordeal, he credited Iowa journalists for respecting their family and dealing with the media aspect of the tragedy with grace.

     A statement Aaron made the day his dad died showed that Ed Thomas taught his sons well.  He told the town of Parkersburg not to blame the Becker family for what happened, that they were hurting, too. “It’s what my dad would have done,” he said.    

     Aaron said something that I have heard before but is good to be reminded of: “Life is 10 percent what happens to you, and 90 percent of how you respond to it.” You can be angry and feel sorry for yourself, or you can do the next right thing.

     “We felt we were doing the right thing,” he said.

Aaron Thomas speaks at INA Conference

     The rest of the day was filled with other seminars full of great advice and tools to help me become a better journalist. But by the end of the day, we were ready to go home.

     The INA held its award ceremony that evening, paying tribute to their best of the best.

     The conference was a great experience for me, mostly because I have a desire to learn, and where else can I learn from the best?

      There’s a lot to be said for learning in a classroom, but some things you learn by experiencing them. That’s why I  never pass up an opportunity to experience something new. You never know where it will take you.

Phil sees his shadow–an early spring?

February 2 just so happens to coincide with a major snowstorm in the midwest this year, so it’s funny to think that “the Seer of Seers,”  Punxsutawney Phil, would not see his shadow, indicating an early spring.  But I would think that seeing the sun would actually mean an early spring.

As a child I questioned how this groundhog could possibly know if it would be an early spring, but I always went along with the fun in trying to predict it myself.  Will he or won’t he? 

We were always hoping for the latter, to think that after many long, cold months of snow and ice, spring will come sooner than expected.  We would be able to shed the heavy winter coats and venture outdoors in search of warm sunshine.

 But the magic of Groundhog Day has seemed to vanish from my logical adult mind. The thought of an early spring is nice, but I have seen snow as late as May (anything is possible in Iowa). I no longer hold my breath for March 20 because it is not a good indicator that spring is really here.

Curious about the history of Groundhog Day, I came upon some interesting facts, finding out how the tradition of Candlemas Day, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, found its way to America to form a holiday all its own…Groundhog Day.

According to stormfax.com,  “If the weather was fair, the second half of Winter would be stormy and cold.  For the early Christians in Europe, it was the custom on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people in the dark of Winter.  A lighted candle was placed in each window of the home.  The day’s weather continued to be important.  If the sun came out February 2, halfway between Winter and Spring, it meant six more weeks of wintry weather.”

As for the Groundhog Day itself, “Pennsylvania’s official celebration of Groundhog Day began on February 2nd, 1886 with a proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper’s editor, Clymer Freas: ‘Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow.’  The groundhog was given the name ‘Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary’ and his hometown thus called the ‘Weather Capital of the World.’  His debut performance: no shadow – early Spring.  The legendary first trip to Gobbler’s Knob was made the following year.” (Stromfax.com)

And yeah, it was a great movie, too.

Mental illness misunderstood

The thefreedictionary.com defines mental illness as: 

n. Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual’s normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma. Also called emotional illness, mental disease, mental disorder.
 
While it’s a very broad definition of what mental illness can mean, most people have a specific kind of mental illness; depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality, or schizophrenia, just to name a few. I work with mentally challenged adults who often struggle with such disorders.
 
But mental illness is not just something I deal with at work, it affects my personal life, as well. 
 
My grandmother suffered from depression at a time when doctors had no idea how to deal with disorders such as hers.  They tried institutionalizing her, experimental drugs and even electroshock therapy.  She was hospitalized for a long time and, according to my mother, was never quite the same.  She was afraid to be alone and my mom had to stay with her. She never worked outside the home and often cried for no reason.
 
Research has come a long way since the 1940s, bringing with it hope for millions who suffer from the various maladies. But there are some people who might think that just because they are sad, their situation calls for medicine to relieve their uncomfortable feelings.
 
I  believe that medication is needed for some types of chemical imbalance int he brain, but many people who think they have depression, really just need someone to talk to, to help them work through their problems. Many doctors are too quick to prescribed medications that many people don’t really need.
 
I was 19 years-old when I first developed panic attacks. I had no idea what they were and I thought I was dying. I was taken to the emergency and they asked me if I had been worried or stressed lately.  I had just gotten married a few months before but I didn’t feel stressed because of it. They gave me a prescription for a sedative and sent me home.
 
The attacks came and went.  I had no idea what caused them or how to deal with them.  I didn’t know what to do.  I saw an ad in the paper for a research study at the University of Iowa for panic attacks and decided to join.  Not long after I began, I got pregnant and had to quit.  As it turned out,  I had been on a placebo anyway, but at least I knew what and why I was suffering from the attacks. (for more info see http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/panic-attacks/DS00338.   The research assistant told me that relaxation tapes would help me relax, which they did, but I still suffered periodic attacks.
 
I finally went to see a psychiatrist after my daughter was born, who prescribed the anti-depressant, Imipramine.  The pills didn’t seem to help much, (not even for the depression I developed) but every time I tried to go off the medication, I got a severe panic attack.  I ended up staying on the medication….for 20 years.
 
I still went through bouts of depression, but it could be attributed to the problems I was having at the time.  Every visit to my psychiatrist consisted of three questions.  How are you doing? How are you feeling? Do you want to kill yourself? I felt rushed every time I went to his office and even though I knew something was wrong, always told him that everything was fine. Maybe because I didn’t want to admit it to myself.
 
I finally decided to go off the medication seven years ago and vowed never to go back on antidepressants, if I could help it. They made me gain a lot of weight and I was tired all the time.  And they didn’t seem to help me.  I managed my panic attacks on my own by telling myself that this is what it was, and not to panic, and it would go away. 
 
I started going to therapy three years ago where I was able to work through many of the issues that I had kept bottled up for so long. But I was one of the lucky ones.  So many people tend to mask their problems with alcohol, drugs and medications; they don’t give themselves the chance to feel those things they really need to feel in order to heal themselves.