Thursday, December 30, 2010

Adventures in Ranching and SuperJam

Yesterday, I had pretty much the best day ever. I spent the day volunteering at the Long Meadow Rescue Ranch run by the Humane Society in Union, Missouri.

There were horses, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, cows, ducks, guinea fowl, donkeys and a llama named Mama. For an animal-lover like me, it was hog heaven. 

After my orientation I got busy cleaning the stalls with the staff. My first visit was with a super cute white mini-horse that loved to scratch his hiney on my big bucket. It made cleaning, um, challenging. Next, it was feeding time in the outside pens for a handsome pygmy goat named Fonzie and his pal Ralph, a big beautiful white horse named Annie, and some sweet, sweet, sheep. After that, I spent some time in Miss Kitti's stall. Miss Kitti is a very curious and beautifully majestic quarter horse. However, getting her to move around the stall so I could clean was only slightly easier than moving a school bus with my bare hands. I don't often feel small, but next to Miss Kitti and friends, I feel pint-sized. She was HUGE and every time I got her to skooch five feet away, she'd come right back like a boomerang and put her big velvety horse nose right in my face, "Whatcha doing? Huh? Can I see? Please!" If Miss Kitti could fit in my Honda, I'm pretty sure she would love to go for a ride and hang her head out the window, mane blowing in the wind. Cleaning stalls and feeding is back-breaking work (hats off to the awesome and totally bad-ass staff!), but it's a small price to pay for the opportunity to spend time up close and personal with some truly amazing creatures.

Meet Duncan. Isn't he handsome? He's a real sweetie, too. Rub his neck, he likes that.

I didn't catch this little guy's name, but he cracked me up. Nosy, nosy, piggy. I bent down to take his picture and he ran over to check out my lens.

This guy was one of my favorites. I heart donkeys. He likes it when you scratch behind his ears and has the sweetest, shyest way about him.

This big dude weighs over 1,000 lbs! His name is Norton. We made a giant bed of hay for him to snuggle up in for the night. For all of his snorting and slopping noises, he's a surprisingly dainty eater when it's all said and done. It only takes a couple scoops a day of piggy kibble to maintain his slender figure.

After we cleaned the stables, fed and watered the animals and took horses out to the pasture for exercise, we took a spin in the big truck to close gates and check on the grazing cattle and horses enjoying the fields.


By the time the day was done, I was totally exhausted, covered in poo and sawdust up to my knees, I had fistfulls of hay in my hair and I'm pretty sure I smelled like a goat, but I was grinning ear to ear. SO MUCH FUN!

On my way home, I had to make a quick pit stop to take a few pictures of my friend Jeff's band, SuperJam.  Barn to studio, baby, that's how I roll. Anyhoo, I'm really pleased with the results and they're a great bunch of guys to work with -- they didn't complain about the smell, even once. If you're in the Lou, you definitely have to check them out. All the cool kids are doing it.

Eric, Dave F., Joe, Jeff, Dave A.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

To: Dr. E and Mama Judy. Thank You.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the people in my life who inspire me. Particularly the ones that went out of their way to be kind to a kid with who thinks entirely too much for her own good and needs to talk it all out sometimes. A kid that hasn't always been and probably never will be, problem-free. I'm blessed to have two mentors. Ladies I've known collectively for over twenty years. I might not always see them often, but they are in my thoughts almost daily and never cease to inspire me, make me laugh, lift me up, and challenge me to be my best self.

First up, Dr. E. Isn't she regal and beautiful? Look at that smile!

 I met her when she was the interim dean of the evening college at the university I attended. I stopped by campus for advising and she was the lucky duck who received me that day. Initially, I was intimidated, her office was filled with all sorts of interesting objects and she commands a room. At that point, I don't think I'd ever met a dean and I had no idea what that meant, but I knew I didn't want to piss her off. She was authoritative, but very warm. She must have smelled doubt on me, because mid-appointment she looked me in the eye, paused, and told me in no uncertain terms, that I could do, "it" -- get a degree. And then another one after that, if I wanted it bad enough. She made me feel smart. She shared her journey and her confidence with me. Her story is one of tenacity, hard work, and determination. She told me to keep in touch, because I might need a letter of recommendation some day. I couldn't believe that this woman, who had just met me, would not only take her time to share herself with me, but also extended the offer in to the future.

I'm no dummy, I took her up on her offer! Over the next few years, I visited with Dr. E many times. I took every single one of her classes that I could -- she's a cultural anthropologist specializing in the study of Africa. We spent a semester together, doing an independent study and it turned out to be the most exciting and engaging course experience I've had yet. She didn't want me to just read, she wanted me to analyze and chew on the readings. We'd spend an hour or so each week talking about what I read, what it meant in the world, and what it meant to me. She taught me to think big. To consider being an agent for change where I saw a need for improvement. She didn't just talk about it either, in the time I've known her, she has done incredible things personally and professionally.  Once, she offered to babysit my girl so I could go to class. That's HUGE for a single-mom with less than two nickels to rub together. She has done pro-bono work assisting asylum-seeking women who are trying to protect themselves and their daughters from FGM (female genital mutilation). She's canvassed her neighborhood to encourage people to vote. She mentors. She teaches. She's a published author and coveted speaker. She wears a dozen hats on any given time. She's a single-mom to three lovely daughters. She has a fantastic sense of humor and a laugh that is so sincere and so genuine it's impossible not to join in the fun. She is kind and gracious, always.

About six years ago, I had a bad car accident and broke both my legs. Dr. E hand-delivered my medical leave paperwork so I wouldn't have to come to campus when I was all banged up. My house is forty minutes away from campus and no where near hers. She's listened to my struggles and celebrated my successes. She is always a source of light and inspiration. 

Many times, when I have felt like quitting, I have thought of Dr. E. Thought about how much she has invested in me and that she believed in me -- if she could do it, I could, too.  This past summer, I applied and was accepted to graduate school. Dr. E wrote one of my letters of recommendation, as promised so many years ago.

Much love Dr. E, much love. Thank you for ALL that you do, for me, for all your students at school and in life.

Then there's this lady, she's cute huh? She's exactly as fiesty as she looks, too. Her name is Judy and she's my other mother.

Once upon a time, in an industrial park, I worked in a building that peddled promotional marketing products and Judy worked there, too. She was an inventory buyer and I was her assistant. She used to get mad at me for bothering her too much during the day and would shoo me back to my desk. She was jovial and sometimes grumpy and absolutely, positively irresistible. 

Back then, I smoked, and Judy and I would take breaks together. Sometimes, she's break in to song; she loved to sing. Her passion made up for the wobbly notes in spades. She cussed like a sailor and told dirty jokes. At the same time, she could switch gears, jump in to any conversation and hold her own and then some on what seemed like any topic from classic literature to statistics. 

I found her fascinating and drove her absolutely crazy, but she loved me anyway. I was the punk kid that followed her around, tugging on her coat sleeve. Every once in a while she'd give me "the look", the one where I knew she wanted me to stop asking questions or rambling and practice being quiet. The look your mom gives you when she wants you to shut up.  

She been a tireless cheerleader in my efforts to go to school and I'm pretty sure threatened to kick my ass if I didn't finish. She taught me practical things like how to open a 401k and how to forecast inventory trends. She has always, always said, "You can do it, kid!"  

Over the years our friendship and fondness grew. I came to know all the players in her family and learned about her history, which has had no shortage of challenges. Her joy, even in difficulty was inspiring. I also learned that Judy is an extremely generous spirit and has many, many times, quietly and humbly, offered her assistance to friends and family in need. Her humility and thoughtfulness is heart-warming.

In 2003, Judy started feeling sick a lot. She was having a hard time staying awake during the day and her voice was taking vacations without her permission...

 It was the big C. 
Cancer of the vocal chords. 

The tumor in her throat was the source of the gravely sounds and why sometimes her voice just disappeared. Forced in to early retirement, Judy had her surgery and started her radiation treatments. It was hard. Really hard. By that time, Judy and I were spending a lot of time together outside of work and had become pretty close. Her daughter lived a good distance away and often couldn't get in to the city and her son was out-of-state. Her best friend, Michael, and I spent a lot of time at the hospital with her during those days. With all the pain (which was significant) and all the challenges that are a part of the process, she always remained hopeful. She never lost her sense of humor. She never, ever, gave up. 

Those days with Judy changed me. I recall sitting with her and her daughter at the emergency room, she was so frail and barely breathing, I didn't know whether to pray for her to live or die. I'd never seen anyone suffer like she did. I couldn't imagine a way out of it, but her will was stronger than her body and with sheer determination and the help of some amazing doctors, she got better.

She helped me learn that it's truly an honor to be with someone when they are sick. That it's okay to look death square in the face and put one foot in front of the other and hope for the best. To be afraid and proceed anyway. Judy, taught me what courage looks like. For a girl who spent most of her life secretly terrified of death and illness, it was perhaps my greatest life lesson thus far. 

She was doing fabulously for quite some time. The trach tube was out, she had her strength back and then some and her enthusiasm was contagious. She's been brought back from the dead! It was a miracle to witness and I learned to experience joy in a new way. Every time I saw her doing so well, my heart would swell.

Then, the cancer came back. 

This time, her vocal chords could not be saved. The singing, cussing, joke-telling lady, would have no voice. N o   v o i c e. 
The thought overwhelmed me so much that I could not choke back the tears. She said it would be okay. She showed me courage, again. There was a small chance that she could learn to talk with a prosthetic piece and lots of speech therapy, but no promises were made. 

Clearly, they didn't know who they were dealing with. She made up her mind and that was that -- she would talk and in the mean time she'd write notes on a dry erase board and use the dirty-word flash cards Michael made. Treatment was very difficult. At one point, she had to go on a feeding tube because the swelling in her throat was so significant she could no longer swallow. A nurse started coming to the house regularly, then she became so weak she had to stay in a skilled nursing facility for a time. The trach tube was back, but now it was the permanent kind. Recovery has been slow and it's not really done yet. Yet, she persists.

True to her word, she talks. In fact, I saw her yesterday. She's been at home for quite a while now. No nurses. No feeding tubes. It's not easy for her, but she keeps trying anyway. Now, almost 70, things are harder than they were when she was a spring chicken. No field trips in cold weather - it's too hard to breathe and she's on a nebulizer, but like always, her body might be frail, but inside is a tiger -- Judy is a bad ass. Sharp as a tack, she does her crossword daily and is as funny as ever. Even with intermittent coughing and a voice that comes and goes (who knew my lip-reading skills would be so handy!), she still nearly makes me pee my pants with laughter. We have a Scrabble date, where she will crush me to bits, in about a week. She says we're going to go out to eat first before she kicks my ass. :) But the thing that impresses me the most, and always will is her heart. In all of her own suffering, she still thinks of others. She's not been feeling too swell lately and was bummed because she hadn't gotten her Christmas cards in the mail yet. She's old school, she always sends cards. Wonderful, funny, cards that always make me smile.

Yesterday, after a long overdue visit she said a bunch of stuff that made me cry (in a good way) and then wrapped it up with, "We need each other kid." She's right, we do. I'm really not sure what it is that I bring to the table for her, but I know my side is piled high with love and lessons from her.

Today, I am grateful for my mentors, Dr. E and Judy. You have touched me with your kindness, inspired me with your strength, and have brought immeasurable joy to my life. 

Thank you, for everything.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

If I Had $500 to Blow on Books

I'd get every single one of these for my craft library + 1 about NPR, because I heart them, too. Chronicle books is having a crazy contest and the lucky blog winner gets their list of books they post on their blog. Genius promotional idea if you ask me.  I'm generally not the lottery-winning sort, but I figure, hey, if all I have to do is share my craft porn list with y'all and there is a teeny weeny scant chance I could win this giant pile, I'm giving it a shot.  Any of you kids have any of these books? Anything you'd recommend or skip?

Oh and if the universe smiles on me and I win, if you've commented on my post, you win the big pile, too. Neat huh?

Crossing my fingers, eyes, and toes.

Product(s)  PriceComments
Appliqué Your WayAppliqué Your Way$19.95
Artful JewelryArtful Jewelry$19.99
Cake Pops by BakerellaCake Pops by Bakerella$19.95
Craft Inc. Business PlannerCraft Inc. Business Planner$16.95
Daily Doodle: 2011 Daily CalendarDaily Doodle: 2011 Daily Calendar$12.99
French General: Handmade SoiréesFrench General: Handmade Soirées$29.95
French General: Home SewnFrench General: Home Sewn$24.95
French General: Treasured NotionsFrench General: Treasured Notions$24.95
Hot TypeHot Type$14.95
Kyuuto! Japanese Crafts! Lacy Crochet!Kyuuto! Japanese Crafts! Lacy Crochet!$14.95
Kyuuto! Japanese Crafts: Fuzzy Felted FriendsKyuuto! Japanese Crafts: Fuzzy Felted Friends$14.95
Lace Knitting to GoLace Knitting to Go$16.95
Lotta Jansdotter's Handmade LivingLotta Jansdotter's Handmade Living$29.95
Lotta PrintsLotta Prints$19.95
Lotta's Printing StudioLotta's Printing Studio$19.95
Paper + CraftPaper + Craft$19.95
Reprodepot Pattern Book: FloraReprodepot Pattern Book: Flora$24.95
Reprodepot Pattern Book: FolkReprodepot Pattern Book: Folk$24.95
Stencil 101 JournalStencil 101 Journal$12.95
The Guerilla Art KitThe Guerilla Art Kit$19.95
The Handy Book of Artistic PrintingThe Handy Book of Artistic Printing$40.00
This Is NPRThis Is NPR$29.95
Whip Up Mini QuiltsWhip Up Mini Quilts$24.95
Total:     $498.98