The Ultimate Determination

I have a friend I met almost four years ago through a job.  Carrie and I were hired within a month of each other and had an immediate connection.  We’ve talked about our souls being connected in the past and I knew she came into my life to help fill in the gaps of my own inadequacies and I to help her in the same manner.  We only worked together for about a year before some political drama and employment cuts ended up with her out of the job.  The situation makes me cringe to even think about and I could easily go into a downward spiral of hatred considering what happened…  So I will stop there and move on.

Our friendship continued although, our face to face contact became more dispersed.  She and I talked about the possibility of a business venture since our personalities complimented each other so well.  She is slightly older than I and sometimes it felt like she had a lifetime more life experiences.  There were times I would smile and nod at her question “You know what I mean?” hoping she wouldn’t recognize I knew nothing before I could puzzle together some context clues.  Carrie has a knack for getting her needs met, her southern drawl could reel anyone in and convince them of whatever she was requesting.  Her dark curly hair is the kind most women would lay down big money to duplicate, and this is on the days she claims she didn’t have time to fix it her own way.  She has warm brown eyes, a bright smile, rounded face and naturally tan skin.  Carrie’s outward beauty barely begins to exude the beauty within, as she has worked her life serving others.  Her career has involved advocating for those who cannot do it for themselves, and she is exactly who I would want representing me if I were incompetent to make my own decisions.  Sounds like I have painted the picture of a wonderfully warm and generous human being who speaks softly, with manners and always kind and gentle.  Yes, this is true of Carrie in many ways although I would warn you…  Don’t cross her, she can outwit you and pull the totem your pride was standing on before you can catch your next breath.

These characteristics have served Carrie professionally and recently in a deeply personal way as well.  This story is about the ultimate determination I have witnessed in my friend and an incredible journey to parenthood I am so honored to be able to report.  Seriously incredible and worth making into a movie, I told Carrie she would be played by Angelina Jolie.

Two years ago Carrie talked to me about her desire to be a mom.  She had been in a number of serious relationships throughout her twenties and thirties, none of them amounting to “the one” worth marrying.  Since she was well into adulthood, built a professional career and firm foundation, Carrie felt the tug of parenthood greater than the need for following society’s approved order of becoming a parent (i.e. relationship, marriage than baby).

Haters – stop right there.  I know some people immediately get all judgmental when someone acts out of the realm of what is traditional.  Need I remind you a large number of youth grow up in single parent households in the present day, single moms can do just fine providing all the emotional, physical and financial support a child can possibly need.  AND there is no such thing as a traditional household anymore – family make-ups are all unique and no one is better than another – just different.  There is no specific recipe for what ingredients make for a healthy child – love and resources in what ever form they may come.  

So Carrie began with looking at her options.  She wanted the experience of being pregnant, of feeling the baby growing and kicking, and delivering it into the world.  She submerged herself into research about the medical advances in using donors and insemination.  She met with doctors and began preparing her body.  She revised her diet and workout regiment, she was religious about vitamins and necessary medications.

I can’t recall all of the details of each insemination attempt. I know there were many and I know a few took to pregnancies and all ended in miscarriages.  Between attempts she became well versed in the medical terminology, being able to converse intelligently with her doctors about what tests they were failing to administer which increased her chances the next time around.  She submitted her body to a strict regiment of shots and medications to prepare for and retain the pregnancies.  With each attempt Carrie was more hopeful and then more upset with each loss, feeling dreams of motherhood crashing.  Feeling pregnancy may not be an option for her she looked into adoption.  Adoption also appeared like a hopeless path as adoption agencies look for two parent households.  The foster-care into adoption situations would only consider her for older children, sibling sets or children with special needs all of which she felt unprepared.

I heard her talk about “This will be the last try,” leading up to the most recent medical procedure, and I was elated to hear the positive test results several weeks later.  Without trying to sound pessimistic I questioned how she and her doctors felt this one would hold better than the last and if she would on-going increased care.  I so wanted Carrie to experience to joy of being a mom, to carry a healthy baby and experience the terrific pain of childbirth, I just had a sinking feeling this might not work.  In March Carrie told me the news, there was no heartbeat on the sonograms and this pregnancy also ended in a miscarriage.  It was devastating to hear and I cannot even begin to imagine how she was feeling.  Weeks went by before I heard from her again, and this time it was a phone call I will never forget.

The day before Easter Carrie called to tell me she was going to be a mom and her baby is due by the end of the month.  I wanted to cry, I wanted to hug her through the phone, I wanted to be there with her getting to see the expression of joy she had to be having.  Words wouldn’t even formulate in my mouth to ask appropriate questions of – how did this happen?  She provided me with some background and wanted some information, since she had spent two years working on how to become pregnant she missed the nine months women usually have to prepare for the baby.

Through this phone call and conversations we have had since I understand the bizarre and amazing connections which brought my friend to motherhood.  Even greater, the determination my friend sustained throughout this journey demonstrate she can tackle whatever challenges a parent may face.

Carrie and her mom learned of a young woman who was pregnant and wanting to give her baby up for adoption.  The birth mom was addicted to a multitude of prescription drugs and knew she couldn’t be responsible for the infant after the birth.  She used throughout the pregnancy and had no prenatal care at all.  Shortly after meeting with my friend she agreed Carrie is meant to be her baby’s mom.

Carrie scurried to get all of the necessary legal documents completed including a home inspection and began making purchases for a nursery.  She paid for a hotel room for the duration of the pregnancy and time afterwards since the birth mom had no stable living arrangements.  And she took the birth mom to buy food and to doctors appointments where she learned she was having a boy.

The birth mom reassured Carrie about how even the baby knew she was his mom, when he would calm his movements when her hand was on the belly.  She the only person who provided calm for him in the chaotic environment his birth mom surrounded herself with.  Carrie said there were various times when several women and handfuls of children would also be staying in the hotel room when she came by with groceries.  During one such visit an ambulance was called when one of the birth mom’s guests had a gran mal seizure.  The way Carrie described the individuals she interacted with, they sound incredibly intimidating.  She certainly wouldn’t let any fear show, as she was there for her son.

The estimated due date provided Carrie with about a month to prepare, except two weeks early she was rushing to the delivery room with the birth mom.  The hospital staff requested Carrie’s cooperation to help the birth mom through the labor as she was the only one the panicking woman would respond to.  For hours during active labor Carrie was on her knees on the hospital floor to bring her baby into the world.  One Monday, at a perfectly healthy weight and size her baby was born, miraculously showing no effects from the drugs or withdrawal symptoms.  

You might think hooray, and it ends there…  Not for Carrie, with adoption it’s not over until the paperwork is signed by the judge.

Court was scheduled for Thursday, leaving four more days in the hospital.  Carrie snuggled her newborn and got to enjoy the first feedings and diaper changes, while in a separate room birth mom recovered.  The hospital social worker was obviously disapproving of the adoption arrangement and questioned the birth mom “wouldn’t you want your son to have two parents?”  When her questioning wouldn’t budge the birth mom’s decision she talked about child protective services coming to speak with her.  After the conversation with the hospital social worker, and without the knowledge of Carrie or any hospital staff the birth mom eloped from her recovery room.

Once the social worker and director of nursing became aware of what was happening they approached Carrie about taking the baby to the nursery, because she was not a legal guardian for the child (yet.)  The social worker and DON were no match for all Carrie had been through in the last two years for this child, and she made sure they understood how they had failed this child by making the birth mom feel insecure and allowing her to walk out.  She made sure they understood she would not allow her son to be punished by removing him from her care because of their mistakes.  Carrie tolerated the babysitter/security they staked out in her room for the remainder of the days leading up to the court hearing.

A head hospital administrator learned of the events taking place on the nursery floor and came to Carrie with an apology.  He offered two $10 gift cards to the hospital cafeteria as a gesture, ha – as if that could make up for the furry Carrie felt toward his establishment.

On the Wednesday evening before court the lawyers began drawing attention to the birth mom’s absence and her unresponsiveness to calls.  It was clear if she didn’t make it to court, the proceedings wouldn’t happen and the baby would become custody of the state.  Carrie’s mom stayed with the baby while Carrie went on a chase.  She drove to every sight she had ever been to with the birth mom, contacted each connection she had made with the birth mom and followed every possible lead to where she may be.  Around 2am Thursday morning Carrie found herself in a trailer park with some shady characters looking high out front.  She found the birth mom inside a trailer passed out and helped her regain enough consciousness to get into the car and return to the hotel room.

Despite the roller coaster of emotions during the week and a sleepless night before the hearing, Carrie made it to court with the birth mom.  In the meeting room before seeing the judge the birth mom continued to try to put her head down and sleep, with the lawyers looking on frowning for fear the judge may postpone the date.  Carrie insisted she stand up and jog in place with her to stay alert and ensured all of the final paperwork was signed and approved.

 

 

 

My friend Carrie’s story of becoming a mom is the ultimate determination.  Her son is as lucky to have her as she is to have him, and I am fortunate to have her friendship.  Carrie’s dedication to fulfill her dream is an inspiration to me and to so many others who have witnessed her journey.

Hi…Ummm…Bye

Language development in a toddler is amazing to hear unfolding.  Each day my daughter, Parker, is repeating new words, able to point to and identify new items, form somewhat recognizable statements, sing to the tune of songs and verbally respond to situations.

She is 20 months old now and growing rapidly in so many ways.  She mimics gestures, uses wild facial expressions and easily communicates humor with everyone willing to interact.  Parker has created some of her own terminology, as many toddlers do, like “baba” represents her pacifier and “wawa” is for water.  “Ye-haw” is what you might hear in response to a sneeze or in place of a clear thank you.  Image

One expression I have heard her using a lot lately has caused me to examine my own language usage – and no, I am not cursing a lot around my daughter.  It has been comical to observe her with her pretend phone conversations.  Anything to a Parker represents a phone – an ipod, calculator, remote control, pad of paper etc.  Over a year ago she pretty much became motivated to crawl when a cell phone was dangled in front of her to reach for.  Let’s just say the allure of a phone is present and she loves pretending to talk on it.

Her baby babble often follows a clear “hi” and at some point she abruptly ends the conversation with a clear “bye.”  Within the last week there have been pauses between the indistinguishable babble for an “Ummm” thought pause.  Now it seems every phone call she takes contains the hi, the bye and several umm’s.

Now I understand I am not the only individual she encounters who may use “umm” to pause and prepare words.  As her primary adult interaction, and the individual she most often listens to and likely observes on the phone – I gather she may have learned this un-word from me.

My daughter is constantly a source of inspiration.  This week she has inspired me to be more mindful of pausing silently rather then filling the space with an “ummm.”

Lessons in Love, the Mother Teresa’s Homes – Kolkata

We toured several Mother Teresa’s Homes in Kolkata.  The five homes we toured reminded me of the Ramakrishna Mission, our temporary home in Kolkata, in the way that outside the walls of the center were bustling crowded chaos and inside was a friendly, peaceful sanctuary.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa

The first home was private although what we could tour was Mother Teresa’s tomb, a museum and artifact area and also a peak into her bedroom.  I thought it was a perfect way to start the day since it provided us with her background, turns out I never had much of an education on who she was before then.  Seems that most of my history lessons in school related to war and left little room for the world’s charitable heroes.  It was enlightening to learn about her purpose and drive to help everyone in need, especially in a culture where “untouchables” were ignored so easily.  What amazed me most in the museum was the poster of locations of Mother Teresa Homes around the world – including the United States and as close to my home as Denver, Colorado.  She unconditionally loved and taught others how love can help transform people’s lives even when they are poor, when they are hungry and when they are dying.

“Live simply so that others may simply live.” – Mother Teresa

Looking into her bedroom I reflected on how she lived so simply, a clear indicator of how she was unselfish and entirely devoted to serving others.  Mother wore the same blue and white sari each day and repaired her own sandals rather than purchasing new, she had artwork on her wall made by her own hand, small bed with a thin mattress, quaint wardrobe closet, desk and table.  The room was smaller than my first college dormitory and was located at the top of the stairs centrally located in the building.  Feeling a sense of her spirit in this way helped to prepare me for the rest of the tour.

“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”  – Mother Teresa

The second home we saw was an orphanage and center for people to come and get medication they could not afford.  At first I noticed the music coming loudly from the upstairs of one of the buildings.  When we walked in there were bright colors and blown up beach balls hanging from the ceiling.  Past the entrance a large room held rows of cribs for infants.  Upstairs was the room the music was playing, boys around the age of two were running back and forth across the room in fun.  Most didn’t seem to notice or care about the visitors at the gate and a few curious little ones came to check us out.  In other buildings were children with mental and physical health needs.  It appeared some of the kids might have had developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy and hearing or sight issues.  These children ranged in very young to around twelve years old, the room had rows of both cribs and beds.  Some children had severe needs and were completely crippled and immobile, these were difficult to witness.  I found myself wondering how each of these children came to live at this Mother Teresa’s Home.  Had their parents tried to care for them and what circumstances led to their decision to leave them?

Upon leaving this home, we waited outside the gates for our transportation to arrive.  A pretty little girl in tattered clothes with a big smile came up and started begging my classmates and I for money.  Having discussed what we all felt comfortable doing in this situation, as it happened so frequently, we opted to give food.  I first observed Jesi giving her a granola bar; the girl took it and placed it behind her back to move on politely to my next classmate.  Julia offered her another food item and again the girl placed it behind her back to step over to my next classmate in line.  A man came by behind the girl and took the food from her hands, I assumed this was her father.  While we were getting into the cars it appeared this girl’s parents were irate with her, maybe for not getting enough from us or for it not being money.  They came to the vehicle window and spoke in an angry manner towards us and the girl.  This situation was upset me to think how parents would exploit their children in this manner. I felt like it was a fitting time to witness this behavior, and realize how many of the children living in these homes being loved may have otherwise ended up begging on the streets like this little girl.

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”  – Mother Teresa

The third home we toured was for the dying and destitute adults.  It had volunteers from all over the world who would help with cleaning, cooking and feeding responsibilities.  Men were responsible for going out and picking people up off the streets and taking them to this home.  All of the patients, including women, had shaved heads, many appeared mentally ill and some were incredibly frail.  Two long rooms separated males and females, each room with a long path down the middle and cots lined up on either side.  It was uncomfortable walking around not assisting in any way, all I could do was offer a smile to the woman as we passed.  The way we toured felt like we were visiting a zoo and walking through an exhibit.  These conditions were not comfortable and not dignified by Western standards, however, the alternative of dying alone and unloved on the streets of Kolkata are worse.  The fourth home was no less depressing, it was specifically for mentally ill and handicap adults, although there was one young male patient appearing very young and out-of-place.  His collarbone projecting through his body and I couldn’t help wondering what kind of future lie ahead for a boy like him.

“Joy is strength.”  – Mother Teresa

The last Mother Teresa Home we visited was my favorite of the day since we were able to really interact with the children in the orphanage.  The nun who showed us around was an obvious favorite of all the children in the yard since they all called to her and ran towards her when she was in their sight.  She took us upstairs to where there were infants and toddlers.  In one crib there was a tiny baby whose legs were so skinny it looked like her diaper would easily fall off.  The toddlers were all friendly and jumped into my classmate’s arms.  One older girl tapped my legs and waved hello.  I knelt down to talk to her, she spoke a little English and was able to tell me she was 14 and couldn’t walk because of problems with her back.  She told me she enjoys painting and pointed out a friend in the room.  I asked her if she attends school at the Mother Teresa’s Home and she looked at me funny and replied no, as if I should have known she wouldn’t go to school.  That made me wonder a little more about the homes and what happens to the children, especially if disabled, as they grow up and “age out of the system” as we might put it in the United States.  At the end of the visit we passed out candy to children in the yard which Julia had brought from home for a special occasion such as this.  We played for a while, some were able to communicate their names and gestured requests for what they wanted us to do with them like spin or go down the slide.  It was a necessary to end that day on a positive note.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

The lessons I learned from one month in West Bengal I will continue processing for the rest of my life.  And the people, the children and the conditions I witnessed in the Mother Teresa Homes was a day I will never forget.  I felt a deep sense of compassion for everyone I saw.  My judgement about this day was related to the Western standards for quality of life and how these homes were lacking, of course this was dismissing the fact that these homes far exceed the quality of life these individuals would have on the streets of Kolkata.  And my sadness was about these individuals not having the same opportunities a lot of the world takes for granted.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”  – Mother Teresa

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This post is the fourth part of my series about my summer traveling in India.  I went with a group of students to study the social welfare systems in Kolkata, this month marks the fifth anniversary of the trip.  I will continue posting about our adventures, programs we toured and paradoxes we struggled with this month in reflection of the trip that influenced me so greatly.

India – Maintaining Sanity

This is the third post regarding my travels to West Bengal five years ago.  I am pleased to be submerging myself in photographs, writings and videos I captured while I was there as well as revisiting and viewing new literature, movies and other media related to India.  Ultimately, the country is so big, the regions vary greatly and the population is huge… my perception cannot be taken for truth.  However, I do feel an obligation to share my experience as India has influenced my life so greatly.

My last posting about India related to the traffic and while I did my best to paint the picture of chaos it is something you cannot imagine until you are in the middle of it.  Beyond the traffic there is the confusion of poverty and wealth, beauty and disgust, enlightening ideas and pure nonsense everywhere I turned, then heat – heat – heat over it all.  I was over stimulated with new sights, sounds and smells, and disturbed by contrasting values and foreign systems.

My sanity – besides having seven new friends who related to my dismay – lay in the accommodations we stayed in throughout our trip.  The Ramakrishna Mission near Gol Park was my oasis.  It was my safety and quiet from the perplexity which existed outside those walls.  The entrance on a side street took you into a courtyard where the walls became a barrier to the honking craziness.  The energy of anxiety melted into a calm entering through the gate.  The courtyard was filled with flowers and the occasional kitten with her momma.  The evening chants and bells were a peaceful reminder to slow down and take the whole experience in.  The pots planted on our first day contained sunflowers, the Kansas state flower, feeling like an welcoming home.

Our rooms were modest, two roommates sharing twin beds.  Our bathrooms had real toilets and while our showers didn’t get hot water, wouldn’t have wanted a hot shower in the heat anyways.  There were days I showered 3 times do to perspiration.  Making friends with some Australian girls we learned not all of the rooms at the RKM had air-conditioning, I was beyond thankful we did.

We ate most of our meals in the dining room at the RKM, it was all traditional Indian food with some options at every meal.  For breakfast, as one of my travel mates recently reminded me, we ate cereal flakes with warm milk and eggs cooked to order.  Our stomachs quickly grew sick of the foreign meals so we attempted to consume as much yogurt as possible to try to calm this.  The yogurt was served plain with the clear liquid, most of us added four and five spoonfuls of sugar in to make it edible to our pallets.  At dinner our plates would arrive with three or four separate piles of food items with rice and naan on the side.   The entire month I had no idea what I was consuming other than knowing it was the vegan option.  Vegetables never looked familiar and even when my instructor put names to what I was eating, I never seemed to retain the words.

The very best food from the RKM kitchen was when they offered mangoes.  The mangoes were the freshest, sweetest and most juicy mangoes I had ever tasted, even to this day.  Now I am not sure if they were that good because they are the best mangoes in the world, or if it was simply because I was so in desperate need of something sweet, slightly familiar and not tainted with Indian spices.

At risk of being called a sheltered Midwestern/American girl… I needed quiet, inviting flowers and air-conditioned evenings with occasional mango slices in my yogurt to maintain my sanity during my month in India and the Ramakrishna Mission was just that kind of place.

 

Progress (or passing of time since last posting) on the yard.

My backyard/snake pit/unattractive heap of debris continues to be an eye sore.   However, there are some items to report regarding the mess since last writing.

Last weekend a random dog walking neighbor knocked on our door.  Mind you, this is less than 10 minutes after laying our daughter down for a nap instigating our dogs to spring into protective barking action at the knock.  The gentleman and his two dogs alerted us to the fact a tree on the side of our house was catching fire from sparks between the branches and the power lines.

Immediately the fire department was contacted and by the time the truck arrived the branches already burned themselves from connection to the power lines or the trees.  Thankfully no flames and no harm came from the excitement, it was just another reminder of the work that needs to be happening on the yard – including a good trim of the trees.

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Secondly, we have been in touch with a friend who owns a landscaping business.  My husband and I contacted him knowing of his business, although knowing nothing of his business.  Let me explain, our relationship with this friend is from a former colleague of mine.  In years past, friends from work would gather with our spouses and enjoy socializing with a few beverages.  So our interactions with this friend are limited to observing his Coors Lights in a collapsible cooler and speaking fluent Spanish to bail out an employee from jail during one such gathering.  After approaching him regarding help reaching our goals, I then checked out his business website…  Holy Crap, the million dollar estates where he was responsible for the stonework on patios and driveways, along with irrigation systems and landscaping were an eternity away from the insignificant yard and miniscule budget our call was regarding.  I gave him an opportunity to get off the hook and not be obligated to a friendly favor, he insisted no job is too small and often small jobs turn into referrals for big ones.  No wonder he is so successful.

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Finally, the last piece of news to report…  Like a teeny bopper with a blushing squeal – I GOT AN E-MAIL FROM PETER WALSH.  After I wrote my post about how he inspired me to look at my house as my life and work on my yard, I thought I would try to let him know.  I looked up his website, directed a sincere message of appreciation and included the link to the post.  Within the week I was startled and jubilant to receive a response as follows:

“Thanks so much for the email Holly and for your kind words.

I love the blog!

Best

Peter”

Okay, it totally could have been someone who works for him and sorts through his e-mail.  I would have still enjoyed a response had it have said “Best Peter’s People.”  I like it better to assume it was my organizing idol, he read my words personally and acknowledged how he influenced my life.

My Indian Summer

Yesterday I caught myself wincing from the sunlight when I had forgotten my sunglasses.  It reminded me of the summer I opted not to wear sunglasses.  This was an intentional thought I had in preparation for traveling to India.  I wondered if it may be inappropriate for me to wear a luxury item in this part of the world where so many people went without basic needs being met.  Prior to the trip I even wondered if going without some lenses might help me fit in better with the non-sunglasses wearing Indians.  How quickly one can learn that a minority will stand out regardless of what they are wearing on their face, and a minority with light skin is regarded in a sort of freakish celebrity status in West Bengal.  The irony of forgetting my sunglasses yesterday is that today marks the fifth year anniversary of arriving in Kolkata for my Indian summer.

Within two minutes of reading there was going to be a program studying in India I had determined I would apply to attend.  Along with seven other students, I was chosen to study the social welfare systems in Kolkata, West Bengal.  It wasn’t until after all was set in stone, I began learning about what I had signed up for.  My stress was high as the days led up to the adventure.  I believe part of my anxiety was knowing I was in for a life changing experience; I would witness things I had never imagined and be in more unfamiliar territory than ever before.

Feeding monkeys in Puri, Orissa

I was accurate with my worries.  I had never felt further from home.  Clothes, food, traffic, language, and everything seemed unrecognizable at first.  After about a week and a half I was exhausted thinking I wasn’t even half way through the program yet.  Our group of eight went through fun then turbulent then close again stages having to spend so much time together.  Despite being diverse in age, background and interests, we were all an important contribution to the group as a whole.  The sights, sounds, people and culture I witnessed during this month deeply impacted who I am and how I think about the world.  I feel so fortunate to have been able to travel to India and get an up close look at the systems in place to help an impoverished population.  One of the most important lessons I learned is that even people lacking resources have a lot to teach Americans about traditions, values and happiness.

In the next month I will be posting stories, photos and links to the agencies I visited while in India.  It’s been five years of reflection which I am overdue in sharing.  During that trip I felt a great desire to do something with the information I was gathering and become more of a resource to those individuals who had made such a great impression on my life.

(left to right) Colleen, Julia, Michelle, Kate, Natalie, me, Jesi & Abbey

Seven years ago…

Seven years ago I would have been preparing for my Euro-backpacking adventure with my roommates. We each committed to the trip years before and despite some conflicting life courses we were able to pull it off. We each loaded our packs and unloaded several times narrowing down to a handful of select outfits which we would wear on a steady rotation for the next four weeks. Our itinerary began with flying into London, then a flight to Amsterdam. Between there and our scheduled flights home was completely spontanious. Our adventures were influenced heavily by the advise of fellow travelers who made suggestions of “must-see” and “skip that – it’s overrated” locations. I’d like to think I am still spontaneous and I know the enthusiasm for travel is still present, however, the priorities on my pocketbook prevent me from living how I did seven years ago.

The following is an e-mail I sent home from some forgotten internet cafe in Amsterdam:

Hello All,

I have already lost track of time and have no idea what todays date or the day of the week is. I keep calculating the time in Kansas and I am blown away thinking about what I would be doing if I were at home right now, instead of drinking my 6th beer at the Heineken factory, I would have been getting ready for work (just an example from yesterday.)

We flew into London on Tuesday, even though it was a 7 1/2 hour flight it went by really quickly. We each had our own TV with about 12 channels to choose from, plus I slept alright for most of it. We found our way with only a few wrong turns to our hostel in Westchester called Wake Up London. Wednesday we toured London on a double decker bus. We saw all the sights there are to see just passing on the bus, and also took a ferry ride. That night we saw a musical at the Queens Theater, it was great but I was so exhausted that it was hard to enjoy it. David Schwimmer had a play going on in the theater right next door that we could have gone to and I think that I saw something about Val Kilmer in a pay there too.

For the past two and a half days we have been in Amsterdam, crazy city – I love it!! I could spend a year here just watching the people and studying the prostitutes – no joke!! We visited Anne Frank’s house yesterday morning and then took a tram down to the Heineken Brewery, I don’t think any other museum could live up to that. Along with your ticket in you get three free drinks and a free gift ticket. JoJo, Sheila and I met two Canadians, a young married couple from LA and a med student from Oklahoma. We used far beyond our three free tickets in drinks each! All of us went out to dinner and then the guy from Oklahoma met up with us to walk through the red light district last night.

There is a huge selection of prostitutes, it was kind of how I expected it to be, but I guess I had never thought about the “clients” in the business. It was bizzare watching men walk out of the small doorways and then the curtin would open back up again and the prostitute would be ready for her next sale. We found a coffee shop/bar across the canal from a busy red light spot. We started analyzing the business and timing how long people go in for. We had so many questions to ask about this business, and the longer we sat there the more questions we came up with.

I have so much else to tell you all, but my time is running out on the internet. We are leaving for Berlin tomorrow and I will try to make time to write again soon.

Love – Holly

Can inspiration be drawn from state government?

I am no expert on state government, I don’t get involved in local politics and I am not into advocating for different ordinances.  I have consistently paid my state taxes on time and I have been a state employee.  Based on these items, I felt compelled to write about my thoughts when a letter from the State Department of Revenue arrived in the mail.

First, my history working with the state was not a fulfilling, healthy employment experience.  Once I realized my position in middle management I understood my battle to supervise staff could never be won with the hypocrisy of administrators managing things above me.  At times I described my situation as trying to reverse a freight train of unproductive behaviors, beliefs and systems that would/will perpetuate the wasteful spending and abuse of the system.  Ultimately this effects every single state taxpayer by draining their pockets to continue this cycle whether they realize it or not.  Just think every state taxpayer has something they wish would be improved in the state – education, healthcare, roads, support for the military – and we continue to hear about limited budgets and financial crisis.  My experience working for the state felt immoral, illogical and toxic at times since I maintained my common sense and strong ethics.  I was able to appreciate the job for educating me on how my tax dollars are blown, for the knowledge of how the state tolerates negligent employees and an understanding of how individuals work their way into positions of power not by evoking change for the positive, rather schmoozing up the ladder by helping others to cover-up situations and make themselves look better.

Needless to say, when a letter from the State Department of Revenue arrived and declared the state does not have a record of us paying state taxes in 2009…  Anger erupted from the dark black box inside of me where I have been burying hatred from this job and the recognition of what is wrong with the state government.  And at the same time I realize, it makes sense they would loose the paper work for our taxes.  It makes sense they wouldn’t look this over back in 2010, maybe, and try to correct mistakes then.  It makes sense they are out of money and have to go back years to collect on it now.  It makes sense that governments can be corrupt, spend wastefully and demand that we have to go out of our way to provide them evidence when they loose it.  Who is there to make the government accountable for change?

I wish I knew the answer for effecting change in such a damaged system.  Going back to the title of this post, I hope there will be inspiration to change the status quo of our government systems.  I hope at some point sooner then later, the populations living within these government systems realize how to unite to hold the governments accountable for the disasters they have created for us big and small.

Until then this disgruntled, former state employee had better go resubmit my 2009 state taxes to settle my small disaster.

The Master of Disaster

My husband affectionately coined the name Master of Disaster for my daughter.  She, as toddlers typically are, has an extremely healthy level of curiosity and a seemly endless amount of energy to explore.  We did the usual child-proofing measures of putting locks on drawers, the gate at the top of the stairs and plugs in sockets.  While she continued to grow in bravery and independence we quickly learned to clear clutter in her path and try to keep her confined when possible.  Since I have not discovered how to be a hovering mom AND accomplish household tasks this has led to the nickname Master of Disaster.

For example, this morning she sat in her booster chair eating her breakfast while I was in the kitchen.  I take advantage of the moments when she is strapped in and with food to occupy her so that I can clean the kitchen and complete tasks like emptying the dishwasher without an assistance climbing in.       She sat eating in a cheerful mood, talking throughout her meal in her indistinguishable baby garble.  My overly productive morning quickly turned to the realization that my back was turned to her too much when she indicated “All done,” and I saw how she had used most of her yogurt as lotion for her pants.  

Her favorite disaster creating media is water.  She could spend hours in the bathtub, sprinkler, or faucet just playing.  The unfortunate part is that we don’t have all the time int he world to be playing with those things and she sometimes tries to make do with the dog bowl.  I have found her with a measuring cup from the drawer scooping water from the bowl to the floor.  I have scolded her for using her play kitchen set spoons to stir the dog’s water bowl.  And I have noticed a pattern in her intentionally dipping her hands in the dog dish in order to get to play with the water in the faucet since the only rational step after putting hands in the water dish would be to wash hands.

By far the most comical, yet disgusting, Master of Disaster move I have seen yet with the dog’s water bowl happened as most of these incidences started.  I am busy trying to keep up with my household mess and trust she is innocently playing with her things until I realize she has been quiet and independent for too long.

“Parker” I call from the kitchen.  Within seconds she steps into the doorway from the dining room to the kitchen, facing me, hands to her side, silent with a pacifier plugged in and avoiding eye contact.  “Have you been in the water dish Parker?”  I ask.

She loosens from her frozen position and moves past me in the kitchen to the refrigerator magnets.  I can almost see the thought bubble in her head trying to distract me from questioning if she takes position with an approved activity.  I continue to look down at her and recognize her hand is wet, of course she has been entertained by the water bowl.  Crouching down on her level I show her that I noticed.  She finally looks up at me with her big brown I’m sorry don’t I look too sweet to punish eyes.  She resumes use of the pacifier in her mouth and I can tell from the wet escaping with every suck that it too has been submerged in the dog’s water dish.

A not so great reminder of why living in the mid-west is GREAT.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the “silver lining” when the clouds continually present themselves.  I decided to create my own meaning for a few could-have-been-disasterous events which have happened recently.  And I relate this meaning to reminding myself why I love living in the mid-west.

Earlier this month my family and I were riding back to Kansas City through the scenic Flint Hills.  We decided to get an early start on the travel home so that we would have some relaxation time when we got there, turns out we needed that relaxation time for a major hiccup in our plans.  Less than thirty minutes into our journey my husband had to pull to the side of the road as the driver’s side front tire deflated.

Together we maneuvered our 2 dogs, yes our whole family was in the vehicle, from the back to the front in order to get to the spare.  Unfortunately, we lacked the key needed to remove the flat tire from the car.  Standing dumbfounded on the side of the interstate with the Acura manual open, a truck pulled up behind us.  A gentleman from a small town, also headed east for a meeting the next day, offered to help us.  He was off duty and employed by the department of transportation.  After figuring out there was nothing we could do to change to the spare without the key the gentleman took my husband into the nearest town to find a way to rectify our situation.

My toddler loved the opportunity to play around in the front seat as we waited for their return.  She bounced around smiling, turning the stereo up and down dancing, and pretending to steer the wheel.  Luckily the weather was perfect to have the windows down and feel a cool breeze.  I made a conscious effort not to look at the time, as I knew it would make the minutes cooped up in the car on the interstate progress in slow motion.

Her entertainment distracted me from two other vehicles who separately pulled up behind us to check on our wellness.  I was surprised each time to see a friendly smile appear at the window asking if we were okay.  Living in the mid-west where it is not out of the ordinary for people to go out of their way to help each other, it still seemed extraordinary that we would have so many generous offers for help.  I believe the larger of my protective guard dogs sensed the sincerity in their offers since he did not bark at the strangers.  In fact, the only noise he made was growling at the curious herd of cows coming to the fence to inspect our situation.

During the time my husband was away, a third car pulled up making that four individuals stopping all together.  This time it was a highway patrol officer and after hearing our situation put his lights on behind us and stayed until their return.  The officer eventually assisted us in calling a tow-truck as we discovered there was no way to unlock the tire and put on the spare.  Despite being irritated from our derailed trip home, my husband and I enjoyed the conversations with the tow-truck driver and highway patrol man as they brought us into town.  The Manhattan Wreckers driver and I discussed my afternoon on the highway and the unexpected offers of help I received.  He recalled his experience with the tornado that came through town three years ago and how members of the community chipped in to ensure everyone was taken care of.  

My poor dogs were stressed enough from the days events and finally we were at the brink of getting new tires and ready to head home.  Another saving grace to the day happened to be friends in town who picked up our pets to give them a break from being in the car and some time to play in a backyard.  We are forever, and repeatedly indebted to the Schottlers, for everything they do for us!

Eventually we made it home tired and safe, adding about 7 hours to what we anticipated it would take for our ride home.  The car had a full set of new tires and drove smooth again.

Exactly nine days later, in our other vehicle, I was again on I-70 when I felt the same feeling of the tire deflating.  “CRAP – How could this happen again?” I thought as I pulled to the side of the interstate.  Determined to be an independent woman and put the spare on all by lonesome, my aspirations were squashed when I couldn’t event figure out how to get the jack to loosen from the side compartment in the trunk.  

Midwest generosity to the rescue again…  A friendly stranger happened to stop behind me to check his own equipment at first and when he realized I was in need of help set aside his own priorities to make sure I was taken care of.  While initially I asked for help loosening the jack, he insisted on completing the whole job.  While he cranked the car up he told me about the grinder he had just purchased and the inventions he had made and sold.  I got a lesson in recycling carpet for plastics and oil, more importantly I received a lesson in going out of my way for others in need.

While I may not be of much assistance pulling over to help someone with a flat tire, there has to be more ways I can pay it forward in order to repay the individuals who have helped me.  These two incidences of flat tires in such a short period of time initially had me irritated and wondering why I had such negative karma being delivered to me.  After the bitterness settled, these situations reinforced my faith in the people living in the community around me.  It is nice to know I’m not all alone when I need help.  Despite the craziness of the world there are good people who do good things with no expectations of a return on their investment.