Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Century Ago

I woke up today with a sad glint of recollection. Today, December 10th would have been my grandma's 100th birthday. It occurs to me that since her death in 2010, so much has happened that we haven't gotten to share with her.

It's funny how the passage of time can escape us until a commemorative date like today appears. I miss her on so many days - particularly on those she would have told me how proud she was of me and how much she loved me with a hug and perhaps a tear or two. 

I thought of her the day I got married and imagined how much she would have loved her grandson-in-law. I thought of her the day my sister's beautiful baby girl Rachel Valerie was born, knowing how much she would have loved having her name in my niece's middle name. I know she would have marveled and sighed at the advances made in medicine in Rachel's time. She had always mourned for her own premature baby girl who today would have surely survived.

There was no question, my grandma came of age in a time of incredible hardship. She was the first of her parents' five children to be born in the United States. At four years old she lost her dad and the family had to work to keep the family farm learn to survive without him. Through it all she taught us all so much about love compassion, family, service and loyalty.

Grandma, I miss you and remember you today with so much love in my heart.

Those of you reading this: if you are lucky enough to have a grandparent who is living, I have some advice.

- See your life as a way of celebrating your grandparents. The pride they experience in their grandchildren means more than you might ever know.

- Remember to spend time hearing stories. Someday those stories will be worth more than you can even imagine.

- Savor those little moments. In the grand scheme of life, those little moments are big. If we don't slow down enough, we miss them. It's often the very young or the very old that truly understand this philosophy.

Happy 100th Birthday to my Grandma, Godlieve Valerie Duxbury. You are never forgotten.

Monday, October 20, 2014

They said it goes by in a does!

Let's face it...when I started this blog more than 7 years ago I never thought I would be entering a blog post about my wedding day. (I write this almost 2 months later...sorry for the happened.)

When I started blogging back then it was as a cynical single girl who couldn't say she'd been jaded by love by any means, but she couldn't have said she'd been knocked over by its force in the way that songs seem to speak of. No one had entered my life in a way that made me shed that cynical layer... that is, until I met Patrick. 

On August 22nd I married the man who changed my life and the day passed by in a flash. At least, in hindsight it seems that's how fast the day way went by. I was definitely forewarned by many brides who knew the drill. For a day you spend so much time planning, it sure has a way of flying by when it finally arrives. 

I will never forget how blessed I felt on that day. Happy tears and so many memories with so many wonderful family and friends who joined us. 

Something old- The handkerchief I carried was trimmed with lace my great grandmother (a lacemaker in Belgium) made.
 Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
 Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Something new- I felt blessed in so many ways that day, but especially with regard to something fresh and new. My flowers were a gift from a family friend, Dawn who is an incredibly talented florist. When she heard I was cutting corners in my flowers and planning with a small budget she told me that she wanted to give me a special gift -my flowers. It's a gift I can't begin to ever thank her adequately enough for.

Something borrowed- I am lucky to have many friends with great taste. I borrowed my veil from my friend Jennifer. As it so happens, Jennifer is also the friend who introduced me to Patrick. It saved me some serious cash and it matched really well with my dress- lace trim and all!

Something blue- This was my wedding gift from Patrick, a blue topaz necklace. Not bad, for a girl who before her engagement ring still saw Claire's Accessories in the mall as her go-to jewelry stop!
 Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
I was so excited when I opened the necklace and put it on for the first time. Actually, the gift was not a surprise...and neither was the watch I gave Patrick. Truth be told, I had to tell Patrick a couple times to put his gift back in the box until he wore it on our wedding day.

 Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

All my ladies got ready at my sister's house...Do not be fooled- we were only this put-together for all of 15 minutes before leaving for the church!
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
And I couldn't forget a picture with my favorite girl, Lucy...the dog who got me through my second bout with cancer.

Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

 My dad has been asking me for weeks to write this blog- to describe what I was feeling that day. He's of course one of my blog's most devoted readers. 
When I look back on this picture I can't help but think of what I felt in that moment. I could only try to absorb what my parents were feeling as we readied for that day- my dad particularly. As my dad linked my arm, I could feel somehow that this long walk (yet all-too quick) down the aisle was as surreal as any moment I'd known before. Yet, at the same time I felt complete clarity with all of the emotions that had been swirling up until that point. All the nerves I had been running around with all day settled.
All that time worrying and scurrying shifted into a clearer vision. I looked down at the pews ahead filled with some of the most important people in my life and the end of them was the man about to become my husband.

I can't say that I'd ever been sure I would experience this moment until I was there, in my own skin. Looking out and realizing that this day was really here, I couldn't help but squeeze my dad's arm and smile at him.

There aren't many moments like that so you have to just pray it will all stay locked in memory forever.

So many memories to lock into my mental scapbook. I'm thankful that there we have some incredible images to help keep those memories. Here are just a few of the wonderful pictures captured by the amazing team of Steve and Mick at Preferred Photography. We just loved having them with us every step of the way!
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

Monday, June 2, 2014

Lawn seat culture

This past weekend Patrick and I attempted to check an item off our bucket list- seeing Dave Matthews live. Let's just say it was a time we will remember likely for the rest of our lives - and not in a good way. Let me explain. 

Saving for our wedding, we didn't have the money to shell out for the 'good seats' so we selected a pair of lawn seats which weren't cheap mind you. I've taken the lawn plenty a time and though view might be less than perfect it's always been enjoyable and great just to hear the music.

Our experience Saturday night at Saratoga Performing Arts Center was beyond horrible. What we suffered through began with a striking omen. The second we opened our car door into a parkling lot full of pre-gamers we heard the quote that summed up the fanbase we saw. 

"Everything I do is to the extreme," shouted a flexing muscle boy to the left of our car. 

Along the 1/2 mile walk to the venue we saw a collection of drunken people strewn girl sat on the ground gazing up at cops assessing her condition. "Oh yeah, I'm okay now," she said unconvincingly. She was not in the minority. Several people staggered in stupor. 

The concert was an hour away from start time and most of the crowd entering seemed totally unprepared to tie their own shoes- let alone sit through a concert. We got there with plenty of time to select a spot on the hill to put our blanket on. We were sure that once the music started all would be well and this tangled cluster of frat house wannabes would settle down to enjoy what they came to see. Dave Matthews. Surely this pre-gaming would give way to allow the real show to be heard. Wrong.

After waiting a half hour for the music Dave at last took the stage. Having no opener, this was the show... the main act. Yet, the supposed fans wouldn't shut up enough to hear it.
I barely heard anything from the band we came to see. 

All around us the "fans" talked to each other as if they weren't even at a concert- because they weren't. The lawn was a thick throng of people so disconnected from what was happening they appeared misplaced in space and time. 

Who pays actual money to go to a concert and ignore the artist? And this wasn't one random couple that others had to shush.This was everyone around us. All we heard was crowd murmur. Patrick and I could barely hear the strains of the song we would later find out online was Bartender.   
That's exactly the role Dave Matthews was least to this lawn crowd. 
They had come only to drink, not to listen. But their bartender should have cut them off and closed out the tab.

If there was anyone there actually there to hear the music they were drowned out by those who had downed a six pack pre-game and had become more interested in becoming a part of the show, the one we had not paid to see.

Everywhere we looked fans were talking amongst themselves during the first song...hooping and hollering out of turn. Then the second song. Were they unaware the concert had actually begun? By the second song the crowd chatter had become even worse. By the third song we were at a level of despair that needed correction. We picked up our blanket and walked away.

In one last attempt to find a place to hear the concert we moved ourselves entirely away from the center of the lawn and found a nice quiet spot by a tree. We spread out our blanket again, hopeful. It wasn't even ten minutes before Patrick stood up in disgust. Unbeknownst to me a woman had crouched down, dropped trow and begun to urinate right on the side of the tree I was leaning against. We immediately packed up and left.

Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that people drink at concerts. I've been to many. I've seen the crowd enjoy the show from their cheap seats. I've heard the music fill a grassy hill and settle over the crowd who was tuned in and loving it. This was not that experience. I've just never seen such a disorderly mess of people who seemed to be completely disengaged from the entertainment and incapable of behaving like rationale human beings.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

A feisty patient

Dear Little Rachel,

Some day when you are older I am going to tell you how brave your mama is. I am going to tell you how strong I've had to see her be when she didn't think it was in her. I know so clearly that you are her daughter because 'feisty' is just what you are. In all of nature's unfairness - to be given the hand you were dealt before your tiny little lungs drew breath - you somehow found a way to be here with us. And that I know is not a universal quirk - it is a solid and steady indomitable will...just like your mama. 

Some day when you are older I will tell you how I watched your mama stay calm and peaceful for you as you turned from perky pink to clamshell grey, to a most horrible oyster blue in her arms. Your mama listened calmly to Lisa, the nurse as she talked her through how to coax your body back and nudge you back into the breath your brain and body are too young to get control of yet. There was palpable fear in the room and tears were streaming down your mama's face but she was focused on keeping herself calm to let you know you would be okay. 

Some day I hope I can tell you that your Mama and Daddy are two of the bravest parents I know...Here it is - only day 22 on earth- they have already had to dig down deep into their hearts and souls for you. Long before you made your entrance they had to summon up some courage that knew no carved-out path before them. When the rest of the world told them you should not or could not be here - they believed in miracles. But little Rachel it is you who are showing them the way. I watched you endure these moments yesterday- in one long untaken breath - a whisper of agony for us all in the room. Agony for your mom and I - and even for your very wise nurse Lisa - who told me as we sat in the chairs together talking side by side that she has hard moments in her job like these. It touches her soul to watch this bewildering terror of moms who see their children fight for these breaths.

 I watched all of this that happened with you and saw you show US all how to breathe calm again. How, you say?...You made us laugh when we needed to take that breath of exhale again.Ten minutes after you stunned us to tears and pindrop silence, you stretched out like a pin-up girl in your crib and smiled. And minutes after your next terrifying 'event' you blew a giant bubble. I was able to take a picture...and I will show you. And oh, yeah your feeding tube upgrade - that was all you - 'removed by patient.' Feisty indeed.

Yes, little Rachel you are tough and some day I am going to tell you when you can really understand. Some day I am going to tell you how as scary as that was for me today, to see you and your mama endure these unfathomable showed me how to be even braver than I thought I could be. And as we sat together quiet in that chair - just you and I- and a lot of beeping noises, I felt my heart grow too. 

I love you, my niece, little Rachel and you don't know this, but you remind me of someone I know and love very much. She's the person who held my hand when I needed it so many times. So I wanted to hold hers today. And yours, little Rachel.

You are your mother's daughter.

Love Auntie Leah

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A 'good journey' of promise

There is nothing to put age on you like returning to the former stomping grounds of your college campus...and at last, realize you can no longer pass - even by a longshot- for an undergrad student. Trust me, I tried yesterday- sneaking back to my old dorm. 
Now I am an officially seen as a card-carrying alum- might as well face it. With all affection and reverence, of course.

Yesterday as I gave the keynote speech at the 2014 Woman of Promise awards, I realized how far I have come since the time I sat as a petrified freshman in that same auditorium in which I was now taking the podium. 

I looked up in the audience and saw "Denny", the professor who changed my life- forcing me to stop, plow forward and believe a four year college education was not only doable, but within my reach. He had pulled my transcript for our first meeting scratched his chin and said "18 credit hours...18 credit hours," he repeated. "18 credit hours of college level work in high school...That's impressive." 

 For a young woman whose 'then-life' had been filled with nothing but chronic illness and high school teachers who graded and returned my assignments with little other than casual obligation, someone who had been written me off as the 'sick-kid' or the school phobic, this was a pivotal and monumental idea. Someone could be impressed by me?
The kid who was perhaps doomed to a life of scrambling just to strive for mediocrity and normalcy. How could I ever impress anyone? 

I was happily and joyously wrong.

Whether Denny's exact four words were "I-believe-in-you" or was the clear and solid message to an 18-year-old who had spent all but brief flashes of her high school career between being bed-ridden or wandering through a constant fog of cognitive dysfunction from an illness no-one really could demystify.

I kept looking at him, remembering where I was then...and how long it took me to get from there (knees knocking in a freshman 101 class) to delivering a keynote before the journalism school. 

I told the crowd of students that those four words changed my world. They did. 

Though Denny wasn't the only voice at St. Bonaventure who told me I could do it...his was the most constant. He was my advisor. His voice was a stern but loving echo in that time, one fraught with fear and frequent trips home to recover from pneumonia or bugs I picked up at school and I couldn't fight off like the 'average', 'normal' and 'healthy' kids who took for granted their God-given immune systems and happily washed the weekend down with shots... simply exercising a rite of passage. I didn't have the ability to exercise the freedoms of casual abandon because I was fighting to keep my grasp on as close to normal of a college experience as possible. Denny knew if I was out of class it was not because I was recovering from a hangover. He knew my story. He knew I would always get my work done...or die trying.

The woman for whom this Woman of Promise award is named, Dr. Mary Hamilton, also held a number of my fondest memories at St. Bonaventure. During my senior year Dr. Hamilton was my senior capstone advisor- in the dark ages when the 'hottest technology' for storing large filed documents existed on giant drives you could barely fit in your backpack - and that last semester of school I lost my entire senior capstone project. I had already completed most of it when the drive malfunctioned and warped the entire document, rendering it utterly useless.

My project was a 40 page retrospective yearbook on the history of the Francis E. Kelley Oxford program of which I had just returned from as a student that previous summer. I had all but one of my articles in hard copy so that was easily retyped but the design work and the hours in the lab and designing and finagling were gone. Scanned pictures- gone. Hours of work and design - lost. 

Dr Hamilton was my advisor for this project and she encouraged me as I rebuilt the document. Doing everything but sleeping in the yearbook office using its high-end software program- the one I could not afford to purchase for my dorm computer. I began to wish I had taken the research paper route instead. That project went through numerous and careful revisions, but when I put that finished yearbook on Dr. Hamilton's desk- she smiled from ear to ear. 

These are the people you never forget. These were my rainbows in the clouds. 

When you remember the people in your life who made you better, you remember not their words, but how they made you feel. And those feelings are transformative. 
They can help you wade through the thick waters of disappointment or disillusionment when someone knocks you down. Perhaps like many of us, I've had my fair share of those who have played this other unfortunate role in my life. Yet, coming back to campus and having a few of these special heroes embrace me was like a warm blanket wrapped tightly around my shoulders.

I had the good fortune to help present the Dr. Mary Hamilton Woman of Promise award (alongside Dr. Hamilton) to a very special young woman named Makeda Loney. Remember that name because she is going to do incredible things- I know this.

As she climbed the stairs to the stage I couldn't help but hug her before even going in for a handshake. I had read her story and in between the lines of her biography I sorted out the story of someone who much like me had challenges to overcome when she first stepped on campus. No doubt, she fought through them in a way that led her to be wholly worthy of being honored yesterday. 

"Are you nervous," I asked. 
"YES", Makeda answered back without hesitation.

As she visibly fought through the nerves of preparing her acceptance speech my whole life came full-circle with the sound of Patrick's voice. My fiance who had been quietly smiling and playing the supportive role all day interjected with a smile.

"Makeda, can I give you some advice?," he said
"Yes," Makeda answered.
"When you are talking up there...when you are speaking and you see our just have to know that everyone in that audience is on your side."

This journalism major is also steps away from being a theater minor. Patrick, an actor was just the person to give these words of advice. 

I smiled with pride. Full circle indeed. Here was my husband to be, the man who had successfully conquered his own childhood fears of stage fright, giving this special young lady some words of encouragement. 

This is why life is good. This is why you should never give up. We all have moments where we doubt ourselves and our abilities...we all have moments where someone else judges us unfairly and steals our joy. Yet, we have to keep on keepin' on and looking for those rainbows in the clouds along the way. When we find them- we have to work extra hard to make those 'I-believe-in-you' voices louder louder than those voices that discouraged us.

Yet, when we are able to take that power and give it back to someone else...then we have become aware of the fullness of our humanity. It is the power of life. It is the power of love. It is the power of promise.
With Makeda, truly a woman of promise
I told Makeda in my speech that there are 3 things to keep in mind about being a woman of promise. Perspective, perseverance and purpose. 

Perspective- to see where she started, and where she is now.
Perseverance- to see how she can keep going in tough times.
Purpose- to know who she is fully and know what drives her.

Those are things we can all remember when we believe in our own promise. Life will never ever be easy - but it sure will be worth it.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Zen with sneakers

In spring 2010
I have a confession. Without realizing it over the last year I've slipped into somewhat of a fitness slump.

By the time Patrick came home a month ago and nudged me to accompany him on visits to the gym, I realized exercise was the thing I had been chopping off my list consistently when there was any time crunch. Fatigue has also played a role in this...

With the way my life is set up now, I didn't really even realize how slowly and yet dramatically this pulling away from exercise has impacted me.

There are lots of ways to find spirituality. I'm not speaking about God necessarily. I don't do any of my praying during workouts. I'm speaking about a sense of calm and serenity- and an ease that everything is going to be okay. Even if it isn't, everything will be okay. A sense that somehow the things you have no control over don't have a hold on you and instead you can hold on them at bay. A sense that you can  channel any negative messages or fears and turn them around.

Everyone needs a place to release and re-invite that message that 'everything will be okay'. That place for me over the last month has oddly enough been the gym.

For the last few weeks when I'm sweating it out on the eliptical, it's the one place I can't be reached on the phone or feel I need to attend to something else. I zone out completely and let the pure rush of solitude (in a crowded gym) wash over me. Here I have a very singular purpose and here there are
no interruptions.

The spin class with the amazing Marti has become my zen. And Patrick's too. Even though we're pedaling beside each other in class - the experience is totally our own. Yesterday I entered the class carrying many worries in with me, but by the end of class they were unburdened and I felt that comforting hum that is peace.

In no way am I advocating abandoning religion for a gym membership.  I just think it's time I regain a little sweat equity in the work that is just on me.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mary's little lamb

Just 48 hours ago I got a tearful call from my mom. "Mary's water broke."  Ready or not, baby Rachel was very likely coming and far too early for all of our liking. The fear in that call jarred me out of a sound sleep and the only thing I could do after I hung up was pray and struggle into a pair of jeans.

When your only sister faces a health crisis your heart beats faster as your brain treads on a momentary stabbing pain of 'if' ...and it scares you to death. Then you rationalize and try to just move...and do something.

 Both Mary and I have intimately known this fear before. Mine as she underwent a harrowing spinal surgery, hers, likely through various portions of my two bouts with cancer.

But this time around (and all along these three months prior) I've been terrified about the health and safety of two precious sister and her unborn baby Rachel.

Just after Thanksgiving we learned that the baby Mary was carrying (who we had just learned was a girl) was in trouble.
Fluid was accumulating inside of her, threatening the development of her organs. We feared together as Mary and Karl learned the odds were not great. The terror they felt as they were given an option to terminate her pregnancy woke my family into a reality that once again, life can be as cruel as it is beautiful.

But somehow my remarkable sister and brother in law were given a gift- medical hope for an experimental inter-utero intervention.  Faced with little other options they chose this sliver of hope...and they chose to try.

I watched my sister press on with courage and incredible love for this little girl who she and Karl wanted very much. Even though there was fear in her heart she kept her love and anticipation and her belief that this little life would make it. 

We took Mary and Karl's lead and held the fear at bay and celebrated the hope they had been given that this little girl might have a shot. Many people didn't even know that the baby they were expecting had been dealt such a tough prognosis. That is because we kept up the celebration. We were waiting for a new life...just like any other family.

And Tuesday at lunchtime my brother in law texted me a picture of a cluster of nursing staff lifting a tiny little form into an incubator. My eyes filled with tears. The next text was "she is here and she is breathing on her own".
Rachel Valerie Sieburg

I am an aunt! Rachel is here and all of us love her to pieces. 
At just two pounds and 14 ounces, she might seem fragile and helpless, but I think we all know better. This little girl who might not have been here without faith and hope is already showing us she is ready to take on life with a feisty spirit.

I looked at her last night in her incubator and recognized the visible etching of my sister's face. I see in Rachel the same rosy full lips from Mary's baby pictures. Karl, he's in there too, no question, but I am guided back to a time my childhood memory can't conjure. It's a time I am told of through family stories...a time when a little skipping girl (not even three) ran into a hospital room and presented a tiny rattle to her baby sister. That first gift would be one of many but that little girl never knew how much her baby sister would mean to her then. And certainly that little girl never had visions of another baby, three decades later that would mean just as much. A baby we were so aching to meet...hoping that she could find a way.

According to most translations of the meaning of the name Rachel, it means sheep. I thank God for watching over his little we could have her here with us. But to me, her Aunt Leah, this tiny little miracle is a sweet little lamb.