20 Ways for a Better 2014

This is my first blog post in 3 years!  Thought I’d take this opportunity to gather up my ideas for a brighter 2014 which is already underway. Here are some ideas for improving our part of the planet together.  Thanks for joining in!  

Twenty Suggestions for 2014 To Make our Part of the World A Better Place

  1. Use blinkers. Despite the new-fangled vehicle gadgets, there’s nothing that replaces the blinker. I can’t tell where you are going by the look in your eye if I’m behind you. It takes a second to hit your blinker switch. You have time to text; you have time to turn your blinker on.
  2. Kindness matters. Even a little.
  3. Believe in at least one cause. Feel strongly about something. See where that leads you.
  4. If you are often times mean to people, you may be what people call a “mean person”. Don’t be that person.
  5. Yelling at your kids in public is not funny.  You think it is cute because we all turn and look at you and you have our attention.  All we see is that you are bundling all your parenting skills into one event. Please don’t show us all you’ve got.
  6. In 2014, can we agree to quit complaining?  I keep this saying hung up at work and at home: “The things we take for granted someone else is praying for.” Think about the times we complain and then think about who might be happy to have that complaint.
  7. Avoid people who constantly say, “I don’t want any drama”. They do. If you hear someone frequently use the word “drama” (and it’s not in reference to the theater), sprint from them.  They may want to heighten the negativity around you.
  8. Use punctuation in social media.  It’s already easier than writing a letter, putting addresses on envelopes, licking stamps and mailing letters to all of us at the post office when you want to ask us rhetorically, “When is the highway department going to get out and cinder Highway 63 is slicker than snot”. See how that looks? Take the extra 1.3 seconds to use punctuation.
  9. In 2014, let’s not curse in public. Yes, free speech a wonderful thing and I am a firm believer in it, but let’s try one year of not cursing loudly in public in front of children and see how it goes. Just maybe in 2015 you will like how it went in 2014 and decide to curse only around people who know you and not around strangers who really do not care to see you again.
  10. As many times as you can, spend locally. That money keeps your lights on, your water on, keeps those potholes filled in.  How do you think those things happen? If you live in a big city, venture out to smaller towns and see what charm lies there and spend your money in smaller communities from time to time.  It’s a good investment.
  11. Can we not litter as much in 2014?  As I walk in the front door of my home, I don’t start throwing things into my front yard, but yet, I see people throwing things onto the ground as they exit their cars and enter stores—all the while trash cans are nearly everywhere. It shouldn’t be too difficult to hit one every now and then.
  12. Help someone every day.  You are thinking, “Every day? Seriously? I’m a busy person.” I’m referring to little things that connect us to strangers in small ways and remind us that we’re in this together; open a door for someone; ask someone if they want your shopping cart in the parking lot as you are leaving and they are walking in the store; park farther away so someone else may park closer; or pay for the person behind you in the drive-thru.
  13. Just once go to a Central Missouri Honor Flight Welcome Home when the buses return to Columbia with approximately seventy veterans. These men and women have spent nearly 24 hours traveling with guardians, a medical crew and flight crew to Washington D.C. to see war memorials dedicated to their service.  It’s an experience you will never forget. If logistics don’t allow this, learn about the honor flight experience and talk to the veterans in your life, especially the WWII veterans, and get an application sent in.
  14. Learn the difference between “wants and needs”. Talk to your children about that lifelong lesson.
  15. Maintain a “to-do” list. Time management eases so many problems.
  16. For those of us who are married, be present in that marriage.  I’ll paraphrase something I read recently: “Marriage isn’t 50-50. Divorce is. Marriage is 100-100.” For all those who are married, give it all you’ve got.
  17. Help non-profits. Give to the needy. You would be surprised that the people most in need are often times the people who give back first.
  18. Have a sense of humor. The world is rough enough without laughter. Why can’t we laugh every now and then instead of jumping to conclusions?  Chuckle. Snicker. Giggle. Guffaw. Chortle.
  19. Tell a student they are doing a great job and you believe in them. It’s incredibly difficult being a kid these days.  I would not trade places with a young person if I had the chance today. I’ll keep my Mayberry memories of safely walking home after school to Mom waiting for me with a sandwich, then sitting in front of the 3-channel T.V., watching Dark Shadows and doing homework, waiting for Dad to get home from work. That evening we’d laugh and eat a big dinner, watch Bob Newhart, MASH, or All in the Family. That’s not the life kids have today. Being a student athlete or a student involved in extra-curricular activities is demanding.  And the worries today weren’t even thought of when I was meandering home from school.
  20. A quote from one of my storytelling heroes, Harry Chapin, is timeless: “All of us should be involved in our own futures to create a world that our children will want to live in.” My parents did their job. I ate my sandwich after school; I had my idyllic childhood; I had no worries, no obstacles—only laughter, love and a wonderment of how to help others live a good life too. We’re all in this together.

25 Years

     My mom’s casual comment to me years ago has always stuck with me.  She said she had been with Dad longer than she had been with her parents.  I never understood why that would matter because, aren’t our parents with us always? Who cares which one has more impact on your life? You never quit being a daughter or a son, right?  And then it became apparent as to how deeply a spouse affects you.  When Dad died in 1994, we tried to keep Mom entertained and worry-free, we always fell short.  Her smiles were pasted on and she had an emptiness in her laughter.  One day while talking to my sister about how we could make Mom happy again, Donna explained it quite succinctly. She said, “Shelley, don’t you realize we can never fill the void left when Dad died?”  Bam.  There it was.  It was more than a total investment in Mom’s time, it was an investment in her heart. It had nothing to do with calendar years.

July 27, 2010 will be the 25th wedding anniversary for me and Mike. I’ve been his wife longer than I was with Mom and Dad.  Bam.  There it is.  I’ve said it now too.  It has nothing to do with the years on the calendar, but everything to do with our hearts.

     Thankfully, we’ve changed and, thankfully, we’ve stayed the same.  I would hope that I’m not the same girl I was 25 years ago.  But, in the same breath I’ll say that I hope I’m still that girl he married 25 years ago.  I hope I’m still trying to find my way, but still sure of where I want to go.  I hope I’m still loving and playful but still focused.  I hope I’m still willing to take on new ways of thinking, but still the girl with the same core values and beliefs.

     Mike and I didn’t arrive at the 25-year mark in our marriage without emotional bumps and bruises. We’ve hurt each other & we’ve disappointed each other. I’m sure I hurt and disappointed my parents 1 or 2 times also. But, as with our parents, and with our spouses, we are “family” and we move forward,  remembering why we spend our time as one. 

     Any regrets? Absolutely.  Life isn’t scripted.  Don’t dwell and, for the love of God, don’t think you are perfect. Marriage isn’t a contest or a race.

     If we had to “see our lives flash before our eyes”, my wish is that we get to see the good and the bad. Both are equally etched in my heart. The nervous first kiss, the realization that this is “the one”, children born, children no longer with us, job promotions, buying homes, friends, debt, vacations, holidays, parents no longer with us, watching your daughters in sports, the effects of MS and watching one child walk across the stage and 3 weeks later, walk down an aisle and slip out of your grasp.

     We started out in Dutch’s house in Martinsburg with our whole lives ahead of us. We wanted children, lots of them, because we shared a vision of  what our parents were to us. We come from similar backgrounds. While my family isn’t  agricultural, Mike and I are products of parents who were always married to each other and raised a Catholic family of 4.   That’s all we knew. We set forth making it work.  

     My dad was humorous.  One of the funniest people I knew. His sarcasm was impeccable. It wasn’t biting humor but it always had a kick. When asked how long he and Mom had been married, with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, he’d always say, “I was born married.”   The hook of the  joke was that it could be a dig on Mom as if life was dragging on.  He was in on the joke because he knew that we knew that he couldn’t live without her—nor would he want to!     

     That’s how I hope Mike feels.  That’s how I feel.  Mike has been too good to me, Meghan and Madison. He’s provided well, he’s come home to us every night, he’s fed babies bottles when I was too sleepy to hold my head up, he’s held their hands when they were scared, he’s rescued me when I’ve gotten stuck in snow at 4am on the way to work. He’s learned hobbies and discovered new interests. He’s mentored our girls with his faith.  He’s worked on school projects and showed them what it means to be analytical. He’s painted any wall that I thought should change color. He’s moved furniture at the spur of the moment when I thought “something just looked out of balance”. He’s taught our daughters to ride bikes, made them their special meals, bought feminine products for them when they really needed them and blushed when he realized how grown up they are getting.  He’s defended our daughters, praised them, dressed them, put their hair in ponytails and said “goodbye” to them each morning at the babysitter’s. I’ve seen him carry his father-in-law to bed at the end of his life,  I’ve seen him comfort his dying mother-in-law and I’ve seen him cry when he realized he’d never see them again.  And for me, Mike has held my hand when words weren’t needed and he’s been proud of me in triumph and defeat. 

     It goes both ways, you know. Mike has been with me longer than he was with his parents. Can I say I’ve been the spouse to him that he’s been to me? I pray he feels the same.  25 years is a long time. That’s a whole lot of living and growing. I want us to be the same wide-eyed kids that got married July 27, 1985.  I’m hoping we still want to take on new things together and live in wonderment of all around us.  I’m hoping that young couple from 1985 is still alive inside us to remind us that it’s good to be innocent and light-hearted and proud of all the experiences and all the people along the way that got us where we are today.

     And if we could talk to those two kids from 1985, I’d like to tell them that they’re going to do okay.  I’d like to thank them for believing in each other.  The old Mike and Shelley could tell them that it’s going to be a bumpy ride.  We could also remind them that they’re going to change a little after 25 years, but they won’t be unrecognizable. We can still see them clearly.

The Aisle

Two little words: An image captured in our mind. The dream of a little girl.  The hope of a Bride-to-be.

In one silly car ride several years ago, we were driving home from Columbia. A picture-perfect scene: Parents in the front seat, children in the back seat. We’d done this a thousand times, however, this trip is frozen in my mind. As car rides go with your kids, you talk about all kinds of non-sense from who’s “going with who” to how bad the school lunches are to some drawn out, convoluted story that Meghan or Madison heard from a friend who heard from a friend’s cousin’s friend who told them about something crazy they just knew was fact!  We listen, we laugh.

On this particular road trip, we came upon the question of what would be our super hero ability. Each of us tried to come up with the most outlandish skill with a story as to why we’d want that ability. Meghan wanted to leap tall buildings, which we predicted would be Macy’s or Dillard’s so she could get to the shoe sales quicker. Madison wanted to have super-human hearing, which we thought was hilarious since she is known for zoning out when TV is on.  I wanted to be invisible, which the girls razed me was because I’d just spy on them.  Each statement was followed by giggling because of the absurdness of it all!  Including Mike.  It was a funny conversation.  One daughter teased, “Dad, your turn. What would you like?”  With a pause, Mike offered that his super-human ability would be to walk his daughters down the aisle when they get married.  Upon hearing that, the contest was over.  We couldn’t one-up that.  His words froze in the air because we realized that while we take his MS for granted, the reality of it, and the progression of it, are ever-present in his mind.

Mike was diagnosed with MS in April of 2004, 8 months after his first symptom appeared.  That first symptom appeared out of nowhere in August 2003 at the age of 42. The “quick” diagnosis is the reason he is doing so well handling his disease. In those 8 months, he underwent painful tests to rule out other diseases.  And the tests that confirm MS are no walk in the park. They involve a lumbar puncture to remove spinal fluid.  The spinal tap was always followed by a “spinal tap headache” relieved only with a “blood patch”.  None of those words are pretty by themselves, let alone together.  In between the first symptom and the final diagnosis, we went to 7 doctors from optometrists to neuro-ophthalmologists to neurologists.  The journey took us from Centralia to Columbia to St. Louis to Columbia again.

The aisle is the dream of every bride.  All of her life she envisions making that grand march to join hands with her groom.  Meghan has earned that walk. She and Shannon have grown up together and have made all the right choices to be allowed to make that walk together.  They met in kindergarten.  Their day, their walk, their aisle are coming soon.

But there is another person who has longed for that aisle.  Unbeknownst to us, that aisle has been Mike’s clear and present vision.  The father-of-the-bride has dreamed since 2003 of being able to make that walk with his daughter.  And God willing, in a few years, he’ll get to do it again arm-and-arm with our second daughter.

On May 29, 2010, Mike will dress in his tuxedo and drive us to the church.  He’ll look dashing in his tuxedo, but me and for Meghan and Madison, we’ll know that it serves as his cape.  At 2pm, on May 29, 2010, all the father-of-the-bride wants to do is put one foot in front of the other and glide down that aisle like a Super Hero.

The Standard Bearer

An accurate reflection of your value on this Earth is measured best when you leave this world.  Sgt. Ray Cooper lived his life as a giver, a protector, a gentle giant. The comments made about him reflect a man who mattered. From his days of working as a butcher, to his years as a police officer, to his role as a loving father and grandpa, to the way the kids in town respected him, to his devotion to the badge and to the city, he was valued. He was large in stature but larger in character. His standards were high, but simple: Be kind, be smart, be loyal, know the truth, treat people well, and appreciate life.

Ray was a folk hero in my lifetime. A few snapshots of Ray include his love of rock music, his work with leather, and his love of motorcycles. He would flash that sweet smile with a twinkle in his eye. He was good for a kind word and mannered greeting every time you saw him. Not sometimes, every time. It was a standard. Read more…

The Transitioning Year

I’m fearful that 2010 will bring on an avalanche of changes and emotions. If ever I needed to keep a check-and-balance over my life, this will be the year. When Dad died in 1994, I wasn’t prepared. I had never buried a parent. I was pregnant with Madison.  “One door opens and another one closes” became a worn out mantra. I was facing a storm of life changes. What was “normal” was no longer “normal”. When Mom died in 1996, my soul threw up its arms and said, “For the love of Pete, give me a break!” I struggled with how to find “home” again in my heart.  I couldn’t physically go home anymore. I hated transitioning into a new life. My psyche didn’t understand the ebb and flow of finding the new me. Watching both parents go into the ground that close together threw me into the buoyant waters of life.

2010 means my “normal” is changing again. Meghan moves out to find her “home”. I’ve muttered, “That’s the last time we’ll do that before you get married,” about a thousand times already this year (and it’s only January). I’m focusing too much on the calendar. May 29th. The day my 2 pound preemie baby girl walks down the aisle and marries Shannon.  Oh, don’t get me wrong. This is the dream all right-thinking moms should have: Elation that their daughter found a wonderful man and has carved out a tremendous life. Believe me, Mike and I say prayers in thanksgiving that Meghan and Shannon are getting married because we feel so strongly in their decision. We count them among the countless blessings we have. Read more…

Birth Order

No matter where the “grandkids” live, they’ll have a piece of Centralia in their soul. This is where my Mom and Dad lived from the late 50’s until the day they died. And this is where we all came back to like fireflies, like nomads, like magnets.  Easters, Thanksgiving, birthdays, 4th of July,  Arbor Day, Bastille Day, you name it.  And Christmas.  I grew up with the grandkids (my daughters grew up with the great grandkids). I’ve spent many December days walking down snowy sidewalks to stand in line to see  Santa. And holding my frosty hands were the pudgy hands of various grandkids—my nieces & nephews. Centralia has always been the epicenter of family memories. Read more…

Reflectors

We would soon be crime victims. Christmastime 1987.  Mike & I had been married 2 years, living in Martinsburg, Mike’s hometown.  I was asked back to KCMQ-KTGR and needed radio again after the birth of Meghan in June 1987.  Martinsburg was the loneliest time in my life.  I needed home.  In Centralia, we rented from P.O Fenton on Jefferson Street.  Moved to Centralia Thanksgiving weekend 1987. Besides college in Moberly, this was the 1st time Mike had lived far from Martinsburg.  My farm boy was in the “big city”. With a driveway abruptly emptying on a busy street, Mike put reflectors at each side of the drive. It was his “country boy” habit.  Seemed foreign to me.  A few days after the reflectors went up, they left.  Mike was infuriated.  As he described the major crime, he envisioned a burly thief pulling those reflectors out of our rented driveway and speeding off with them, laughing in delight!  A thief in the night.  Mike was appalled at this “big city” crime.  I heard the grumbling of, “This would never happen in Martinsburg.” He mumbled about “what other crime” would he see here.

My mom enjoyed a good prank.  She adored Mike. Christmas 1987.  Mom asked everyone to secretly place reflectors in my yard as they walked in with their gifts and covered dishes.   At the right time, we asked Mike to get something from one of the cars.  One-by-one reflectors had been plopped into the yard by Tuggle elves.  That joke helped soften Mike’s stance on this town and he started seeing it as his own.Reflectors Read more…