School District Night at the Avalanche Game

Last night my family went to the Avalanche game. It was a night sponsored by our school district. Basically the local sports teams make tickets more affordable for families in the school district and the district gets some money out of it to benefit our schools. We get fliers about one every few months. I have had friends that have gone to Lacrosse, Soccer and Basketball. We haven’t attended one yet, because they haven’t been at a good time for us, but I decided to try it out. It was a great experience and I will be taking advantage of as many sports nights I can.

The deal: We purchased tickets at $22 a piece. There isn’t a limit on how many you can buy so we took one child, two parents, a grandparent and an uncle. The tickets aren’t assigned until later, but the venue promises it will be in the $41 to $123 seat range. You basically reserve a spot with your school and the schools with the most people buying get the best seats. If you don’t purchase by a certain date you will only get upper level seats – you won’t be seated with your school. This is all explained ahead of time and is spelled out pretty well on the flier we received.

On to the game. My son really enjoys seeing sports in real life. You get the sights and sounds and textures of the game. You get the excitement of people jumping up and screaming, and of cheering with the crowd and of dancing with the kind of cute “older lady” down the aisle who thinks it’s funny you are copying her moves. (she wasn’t old – just in her 20’s) We had great seats. I looked them up afterward and they go for $103 per seat. Again, we paid $22. We saw everything. We saw the blood in the fist fights. We could feel the slams on the glass reverberate up to us. We also happened to go on Military Appreciation Night, so we saw some touching tributes to our military, including a paratrooper who dropped into Normandy on June 5, 1944. It was so nice to see so much support for our military.

And what an amazing game to see. It was fairly high scoring as far as hockey games go. The Avs played the Tampa Bay Lightning and won 5-4. There were two major fist fights and a lot of really aggressive, fast play. My son was able to see well enough to really follow the puck and see the passing and scoring. He totally got into the game. At the between period intermissions they drop coupons or t-shirts on parachutes and my son got one of the t-shirts, so he was super excited. Apparently my husband who was getting a beer saw that happen on the TV in the lobby as well.

BUT the best part of the night as far as I was concerned was the hat trick. I’ve never seen one at a game I watched in real life and it’s hard to put into words the excitement in the arena when that happened. A hat trick in hockey is when one player scores 3 goals in one game. That’s no small feat in such a fast paced and low scoring game. The player who accomplished this was Nathan MacKinnon – a 19-year-old who now has the distinction of being the youngest in Avalanche history to do so. Joe Sakic being the only one younger by a few days for the entire NHL.

The craziness that ensued was awesome and my son truly enjoyed it. Everyone in the stands went crazy. The players went crazy. People were screaming and jumping up and down and hugging and dancing. Within seconds the entire rink was covered with people’s hats and it was really cool to see the “ice girls” cleaning them all up as the team celebrated. I truly enjoyed the night and so did everyone who was with us.

I wanted to research on whether or not other districts do the same thing and here in Denver, CO I found that most of the districts do have different sponsored sports nights. Check in your area and take advantage of them if you can. It was an awesome night.

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Nathan MacKinnon scores a hat trick.

(Photo by http://avalanche.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=754684&cmpid=rss-knabenbauer – read more about the player and the game here.)

September – 8 things cancer has given me

It’s September. It’s thyroid cancer awareness month. Many of my thyroid cancer friends are using social media to put the word out about thyroid cancer. To tell people to check their necks, that it’s not the good cancer like we are told, and that there are more body parts that get cancer than boobs. I have done this myself for many years. Shared my story, tried to help others. This year, I just can’t seem to work up to it. I am not in the right place “in my recovery” right now. I still want to participate in the support groups I am in, I still want to help the people I mentor, talk with my cancer friends. In fact, I am going to meet 2 of them next month in real life and am really excited about it. But I just can’t post about neck checking and radiation awareness and …. and all things thyroid cancer …… not right now for some reason.

So I decided to talk about what cancer has given me. Cancer takes a lot. Sometimes it takes your life. Some times it takes your quality of life. It almost always takes your time and well-being at least for a while.

But in my case I am at the point where I can look back and see what cancer has given me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those “sunshine and lollipop” girls. I don’t go around trying to find the good in every situation. In fact, I very often do the opposite. But I do know that cancer has given me some things.

1. A new perspective.  The summer before I was diagnosed with cancer I got a haircut. I hated this haircut. I could see that I hated it before I even left the salon. It was exactly the haircut I asked the girl not to give me. I remember this very well because I was “home” for the week and I went to my dad’s office and cried. I mean cried. Now, in my defense, I was like 6 months pregnant and had undiagnosed thyroid cancer, so I was a ball of horrible hormones. And I felt giant and puffy and not attractive at all, so having my beautiful hair ruined made me feel worse. But still. I cried about my hair cut. In front of people. My SIL tried to help me figure out how to style it and I got over it. I got a new haircut a few weeks later. 8 years later I have noticeably thinning, greasy hair. I mean really greasy. I can’t go 14 hours without it turning to grease. It’s one of the side effects of synthetic thyroid hormones and my body not processing stuff right. Thin, greasy hair. Nice side effect. I hate my hair. Even though I have a stylist I love now, I never ever like my hair much. I used to truly love my long, thick, soft hair. Now I hate it. You get the drift. BUT, guess what is the last worry on my mind almost every day of my life? My hair. I do it, I let it go. I don’t worry about it. It’s hair. I watch it fall out, I watch it get greasy. I take 2 showers on days we are going somewhere important at night. That’s it. Hair.

I use this perspective as much as I can. It helps. A lot. Things don’t go your way one day? Everything goes wrong? Life just seems to suck this week? It’s not cancer. You aren’t dying. Move on.

2. Inner strength. Nothing makes you feel strong like surviving a disease that kills so many people. People say “fight the good fight”, “you are a survivor”, “kick cancer’s ass.” That makes you feel pretty strong inside. But those moments when you don’t know if you can go on, those moments when you don’t want to go on, but you do…. those are the times that really let you know what you are made of.

3. Knowing how to take care of myself. Look, I was never good at this. I was a mess for the beginning of my adulthood. I didn’t know how to “function well.” I didn’t do the things I needed to do for me. Now I do. Now if I need to rest, I rest. If I need to meditate, I meditate. If I need to eat better, I try to eat better (work in progress here.) I do my PT stretches very day. I gave in to my migraine doc and I started taking pills to help me sleep when I need to. I say no to things I don’t have the energy for. I don’t hang out with people who make me unhappy or don’t add to my life in someway. I don’t do things that don’t benefit me or my family or make me happy in some way. I focus my energy on things I really value. I don’t party late or drink much or go out with my friends on the town. I miss that sometimes, but I also know it makes me feel badly for days. I take my meds at the same time every day. I don’t miss any. I see my docs when I need to. I get injections in my head and face and sternum and neck to help with my pain. Every 3 months for all 3 procedures. I get pedicures once in a while. I write. I read. I watch a tv show with my hubby most nights and we visit a little. I try to catch moments with my son and freeze them in my memory. I try to breathe him in. I like those times. I don’t beat myself up if I am not running around with a butterfly net trying to catch those times, either. I breathe. I love. I see the people who I love when I can. I try not to fight against or about things I can’t change. I try to change things I can. I work at staying in touch.

4. Being able to ask for and accept help. I went a long time without accepting help from anyone. I didn’t want it. I wanted to do things my way. I didn’t want to owe anyone or to let anyone have power over me. I accepted help from my parents (again, I was a mess a lot of the time) but I hated it because then I felt like they were in control of me somehow. And accepting help was a difficult as taking care of myself. Not a pretty place to be. Then I got sick. I got married, I got pregnant, I got sick with a newborn. Suddenly I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t wash our clothes. I couldn’t get dinner on the table. I couldn’t do anything I needed to do. I accepted help from perfect strangers my parents conjured up, old friends of theirs, family members of friends of mine. I asked for help from friends. My parents became parents again – the kind of parents that get up in the night and feed your baby, the kind of parents that get up in the night and make you take your meds, the kind of parents who go to bed at night bone tired and wash your clothes and feed you. I accepted help from my sister-in-law. I accepted help from people in my parent’s church who I hadn’t seen in years, from my aunts, from cousins, from my brother, from my grandma, from my husband, from everyone in my life, it seemed. I got really good at sending thank you notes. This went on for over 3 years on and off. And even after the surgeries and treatments were over and the healing was beginning, I still needed a whole lot of help. I learned something about asking for help during this time. I learned it’s ok. It doesn’t hurt you. It doesn’t demean you. We have lost the ability to ask for and accept help in our culture and it’s a shame. Because asking for and accepting help – it doesn’t just benefit you. It benefits the helper as well. it benefits the people who help you, and their families. It “fills their cup” if you will. And now when I can help, I do. Because my cup needs filled as well.

5. Learning to live with change. I am not good with change. I never have been. That’s the way my world is. I like it this way and not that way. I want everyone to kind of stay the same and go along their merry way, doing what they have always done in the places they have always done them. But they don’t. And neither do I. We can’t. In 2006 I got married, I got pregnant, I stopped working, I had a baby, and I had my first thyroid cancer surgery. Those events are entwined in my psyche. I can’t think of one without the other. That year my whole life changed. And a few years later it happened again. And again. And again. Not just with cancer. With many other pieces of my life. I still don’t like change. But I am learning to live with it with some sort of peace. I am learning to try to stay in the eye of the storm instead of running headlong into the winds.

6. Learning that time is relative. 5 hours in excruciating pain seems like an eternity. Imagine months of it. Moments become days. Time drags on so slowly it feels like you are in one of those movies where the second hand on the clock takes 2 minutes to move. The secret is, it works the other way too. 5 hours meeting up with your cousin and best friend on the last day of your vacation can also feel like a long time. If you let it. If you slow down and appreciate it. If you stop stressing about where you have to be and why your kid is acting like a fool and what your in-laws are saying. If you slow down, you can slow down those great moments too. 3 days in ICU sucks pretty bad. 3 days in the mountains with most of your extended family you only see once every few years? That can be pretty darn cool. But you have to allow it to be cool. Pain takes you to the point where all you can focus on is the pain. That is why time slows down. In order to enjoy the good moments, you have to consciously focus on what you are doing right now. Focus on the good, focus on what your friend is saying. You only get to eat dinner with her twice a year, if that, slow down, listen, enjoy the sound of her voice. Drink in her words. Look at her eyes. Focus. Put down your phone, let your kid run all over the park and get dirty, ignore the distractions, slow down and listen. We don’t do that enough anymore, and we need to. I believe our minds and our bodies crave it. It’s a choice, and I try to make it.

7. Kindness. Sometimes I don’t chose to be kind. Sometimes I think it’s more important to be right, or to prove a point, or to tell someone “how it is”. That hurts everyone. Kindness matters. The other day one of my friends posted a little article on facebook with her opinion on it. I completely disagreed with her. As I clicked to comment and express my disagreement, I paused. I knew it had been a long week for my friend. I knew that if I commented there would be a whole long line of comments after mine either agreeing with her or I. I knew that it would cause unneeded stress for her. Probably for me too. For some reason I had latched on to this particular article and it was hard for me to stop thinking about it. I do that sometimes. My friend wasn’t hurting anyone, or ruining the world, or even hurting anyone’s feelings. It wasn’t really a big deal. So several times I told my self “kindness matters.” Several times I stopped hovering over the “comments” box and I told myself to stop. It’s a simple, simple example. But that’s what we have the opportunity to chose every single day. Yes, if you are hurting someone else, I am going to speak up. Other than that, I have decided that it’s more important to be kind when I can. Imagine a world where we all choose to be kind whenever possible. Imagine a world where people don’t flip you off in traffic, or shake their head at you as you cross the street, or sigh really loudly behind you in the grocery line. Imagine a world where we all treated EVERYONE else with kindness. Kindness matters.

8. Love. This one is more difficult to express. But love has been an important part of my journey. I used to close off my heart a lot. I am very empathetic and I love too much and too hard. I used to protect myself by keeping people at an arm’s length as much as I could. I tried to pre-perceive any pain that person might cause me and keep them just far enough away from me that I wouldn’t hurt so much when we said goodbye. I also made some bad decisions about whom I hung out with, and some of that arm’s length was justified.
And now? Now I find that if you love someone, that love will only multiply. You will receive so much more love if you give love. Yes, sometimes you love people who will hurt you. Sometimes they will hurt you really badly. Sometimes things in a relationship get really uncomfortable and weird and you just want to back away and run. Sometimes you meet someone whom you really just don’t like all that much and you don’t want to let them into your inner circle. And those things are all ok, too – in fact, sometimes those feelings are a protective reaction – that gut feeling that you should just stay away. Like when you see a snake or spider. Like when you pull your hand away from something hot. It’s natural. It’s good to listen to.

(Disclaimer: This part is not about people who hurt you physically, or people who hurt you intentionally over and over. This part is not about abuse or assault or people who take advantage of you. That kind of hurt is not useful and we all need to protect ourselves from it.)

(extra space, because here comes the important part)

What is not ok is to not love other people because of the one person who hurt you or made you feel weird. Or the 10 people who hurt you or made you feel weird. What is not ok is to stop allowing love in your life. What is not ok is to deprive yourself of love from other people and of loving other people because you might get hurt. Guess what? You get hurt. People hurt you. That’s life. Your siblings and your parents and your husband and wife and boyfriends and best friends and most frequently your children – they will all hurt you at some time. They will, most likely. And then what? What do you do? Do you stop loving them? No. You breathe deep. You work through it. You talk to them. Or you don’t and you find a way to let it go. You realize that they are different from you, they didn’t know they were hurting you, they didn’t know you were upset, or they were in a bad place. You move on. You move forward. Don’t, for the love of man, stop making new friends and loving new people. Don’t deprive yourself of that. You deserve love. You deserve people around you who make you smile, who make you want to be your best self. Who make you want to make time for them. Find those people. Love them. Make time for the people in your life you really need – like oxygen – and see them, or talk to them, or email them, or facebook them, or google hang out with them… there are many options. But do it. It may be inconvenient, it may take time or money. Make it happen when you can.

There are other things that cancer has taught me or given me. But these are my top 8.

I look back on my journey (which may not be over yet, but right here and now things look good, so we are taking that and running with it) …. I look back on my journey now and I don’t think “geez, I wouldn’t trade that for the world. Cancer gave me so much more than it took.” There are moments, hours, days, weeks, months that I would gladly give up in this journey. But, I do say, “I wouldn’t trade learning all those things, spending all that time with my boy, having all that time with my family, seeing the world through new eyes… I wouldn’t trade that part of it for the world.”

 

 

Suicide – my thoughts in the wake of a celebrity’s death

Yesterday I read some jerkwad’s *coughmattwalshcough* opinion on suicide after the media frenzy of Robin William’s death. (I started this post last week, but haven’t had the strength to finish it until today.)

To say I felt he completely missed the nail is putting it lightly. He wasn’t even hammering in the same room as that nail.

I feel like I have something to offer on this subject and I want to share it. Normally I don’t want to share the deepest darkest parts of me, but I have been rolling the whole subject over and over in my mind since the news broke and I just can’t stay quiet. I have been appalled by some of the things I have read concerning suicide and his suicide in particular.

I have been depressed before – clinically and situationally depressed. I have been depressed to the point that I have lost jobs, only left my apartment to get some soda and cigarettes, stopped talking to friends and family, and self medicated – heavily. In those times I have often thought that perhaps the world would be better without me. I have thought that I was no good and nothing good could come from me and I would never ever get better. I have toyed with the idea of killing myself. I still struggle sometimes with depression.

But twice, twice I was truly suicidal. Twice it was only because something interrupted me that I am still alive today. Twice I had a plan and a time and day and I was ready to go through with it. That’s the difference between being depressed and having suicidal thoughts and being truly suicidal. The plan, the preparation, the time and place and day. That is what it means to be really suicidal. One of those times I was hospitalized for about a week. Obviously I am happy I was interrupted and happy I had the chance to get past those times in my life, as hard as it was.

Matt Walsh (I won’t link to his article because I don’t want to increase his traffic, but all you have to do is google “Matt Walsh blogger” and you will find him and his article) states:

“I can’t comprehend it. The complete, total, absolute rejection of life. The final refusal to see the worth in anything, or the beauty, or the reason, or the point, or the hope. The willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.”
From this one comment I can see he has never been suicidal in his life. He has no idea what it’s like. Being that depressed and that suicidal is not a refusal to find beauty. It’s not a turning of the head away from anything good. It’s a feeling that there will never be anything good again for you. Not that you can’t see what you once did, but that you can no longer enjoy it. Not that there will never be happy times again, but that you can’t find a way to get to that point. You can’t find a bridge to take you from the worst emotional pain you can imagine to a place where you are happy again at least most of the time. And the family part – yes, most of us think of our family. We try to make it easier on them. We hang on as long as we do because of their love. We don’t want to hurt them, but our pain is so great that we can’t hold on any longer, not even for them. Depression lies. Sometimes it tells you your family would be better off without you anyway. It lies and it’s lies are mean.
Mr Walsh also indicates that happiness is a choice. That people who are depressed need to chose to be happy. While there ARE things that help many depressed people (therapy, medication, exercise, eating well, meditation, socializing, being outdoors, getting sunshine) there is no one choice you make to become depressed or *ping* undepressed. It’s not a conscious choice. I dare anyone out there to choose to change their body chemicals. Why isn’t he calling on diabetics to change their blood sugar and for thyroid patients to make their thyroid start functioning more correctly? It’s a chemical imbalance tied together with a whole lot of situational stuff that has kicked you until you are down. And kept kicking you. And most people don’t ask for help until they are truly down
There is another component in this particular case, though. Robin William’s wife issued a statement that he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. A horrible disease that takes away the control of your body. It attacks the nerves. People can live for decades slowly watching their body betray them more and more. When people learned this fact, the whole tone of the suicide changed. Suddenly the angry and mean comments were no longer being said.
I also know something about this side of the issue. My mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. A little more than 3 years later she killed herself. She told us from the start to expect that. She had seen other people decline with this same disease and she wasn’t going to allow herself to get past a certain point. She didn’t want to lose all she was and had been. But she was also depressed. From the moment she realized what was happening (in my opinion) it depressed her. While Alzheimer’s does that to many people – the chemicals in the brain being completely different can cause chemical depression – I feel it was also situational. She couldn’t stand her mind not working the way it used to and she didn’t want us to see her in a different light. She couldn’t take the land slide of changes in her life due to this disease.
She attempted once and then she succeeded a few months later. Everyone in my family has a different opinion on it. Some just feel like she died from Alzheimer’s – that the suicide wasn’t really her choice, that it was the disease that forced her hand so to speak. Some feel like she purposely planned it to happen just as she was really losing herself so that none of us would see her at the worst part of it. I fell like it was an act of love and kindness as well as the act of a diseased mind. She loved us too much to “become a burden” (though none of us saw her that way) and she wanted to spare us from taking care of her in that state. I also don’t believe she would have killed herself if she hadn’t been physically ill.
The interesting thing to me is that while many people see it as tragic, I haven’t met anyone who sees her death as wrong or selfish or hurtful like they do with a younger or physically healthier person who takes their own life. They understand it. They empathize with it.
Why is that empathy removed from so many people’s reactions when the reason is “just depression”? Why can’t people understand that depression is just as painful as other diseases?
I suppose my answer lies in the fact that people who can’t understand suicide have simply never been in the type of pain that severe depression brings.
When I was in high school a teacher of mine asked the class to raise our hands if we had been in physical pain before. Then he asked us to raise our hands if we had been in emotional pain before. Then he asked us which one we would choose if given the choice. Of the three people who had raised their hands for both, all of us said we would choose physical pain. Being 20+ years older now, I have had severe physical pain due to cancer and surgeries. Very severe pain. And I have experienced more emotional\psychological pain since then as well. I would still chose physical pain over psychological any day.
(I won’t even start with how the physical pain and psychological pain feed off each other.)
I suppose I am writing this post is to implore you. To ask you to please try to see suicide for what it is. To stop calling it selfish and hurtful and weak. To ask you to realize that it takes a lot of pain for someone to get to that point in their lives and that you may never realize just how much it takes, but that perhaps you can try to remember that your experience and someone else’s are completely different. I can’t truly know your pain and you can’t truly know mine. But we can BOTH be kind. We can both stop pointing fingers and saying that this or that is wrong for the other person. I think that the post I read made me so upset because instead of finding compassion and hoping to reach readers who need help and give them just a little, this person instead chose to blame and tell others that their pain isn’t real – it doesn’t count. That they can just suck it up, pull on the old bootstraps and fix themselves.
Please, instead, find it in your heart to open your arms and help others who are in pain. Listen for the people who need help. Show them compassion and love. And know that even if, in the end, they choose to leave you, like my mother did, that the compassion and love was not wasted. The kindnesses I showed her were not in vain. She felt them and they helped her at that time. Please know that the good doesn’t take away the bad and the bad doesn’t invalidate the good.*

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” Henri Nouwen

Be the one who chooses to give love and share pain rather than telling other people what they need in these situations or that they are wrong.

*paraphrased based on a quote in Dr. Who

Perspective and 7 year olds

My son and I had a “your life isn’t so bad if you really look around” conversation this morning. It may have been the first one we have had. I purposely avoid comparing our lives to other people’s lives for several reasons. One is because everyone has pain and your pain and my pain may be different, or even seem less severe, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that I am in pain. Another is because he is 7 and let’s face it, 7 year olds don’t have the brain development necessary to really understand that across the world somewhere is another boy just like him who’s life sucks – bad – and we can’t even really do anything about it from here. Not directly anyway. However, this week has been challenging for both of us. The last few weeks really. This morning we were talking about getting his hair cut for his uncle’s wedding and school photos. He was upset because cutting his hair makes him “so itchy”. Now, I know that haircuts are challenging for my son. Lots of kids with sensory issues have a hard time with haircuts. He hates the razor, it doesn’t feel ticklish or funny, it feels like it hurts. He doesn’t like the scissors either – he feels like he is getting poked or pulled or hurt in other ways. He feels attacked. And a few times the stylist has told him they weren’t hurting him, and then nicked his ear or neck. It’s better than it used to be. We used to have to hold him down and only got haircuts every 6 months or so. But. We weren’t going to the stylist today. He didn’t need to freak out about it today, before school. So I told him to stop. I said that being itchy after a haircut isn’t the worst thing in the world. There are lots of worse things and he needed to chillax. He asked what the worse things were and I said “kids who are hungry because they don’t have enough food.” He said “or kids who are orphans.” I said “or kids who don’t have a home and have to sleep on the cold hard ground who are orphans.” It actually helped. He was then thinking about other kids who’s lives were harder instead of worrying about being itchy. And then my fussiness about people being in my way in the kitchen as I prepare his lunch for school also seemed pretty petty. Sometimes a little perspective is a good thing.

Trauma and Hope – My Messy Beautiful

We collect tragedies and traumas, don’t we?

String them together like shiny, sharp beads on a cord to wear around our necks.

They glint and reflect the sunshine – showing themselves to all who see us.

This one is for the day I woke up long past time to get up for school and knew something was wrong because I had slept in – the day I woke up and found out my grandmother had died. My first real loss. This one is for the chest surgery I had 2,552 days ago – and all the rest of the surgeries and treatments and pain my cancer brought me. This one is for not being what my mother needed when she needed me most; even though she was always, always what I needed. This one is for the day I signed the papers for my son to enter special ed. This one is for one of the days I woke up not able to function in life, killing my pain with addictive substances and pushing out all the good people I knew. There are so many more. Some are bigger and sharper than others, but they are all there, shiny and sharp and making up my life.

I define myself, really, by these “bad events” in my life. I always have. If you ask me who I am, my mind goes to the days that hurt the most – because somewhere in my mind I think they shaped me the most. And they did shape me, both the tragedy and the relief and release and beauty that came from them all.

But, did they shape me the most?

What would happen if, instead of letting those beads define me, I made a necklace of good things that have happened in my life? What would happen if I let those sharp painful beads rest in my dresser drawer, underneath the socks and underwear for a while?

The new necklace would be full of bright colors and soft curves. Also shiny and also seen by all who know me.

This one is for the days I played in the park as a child, unafraid of the world – climbing trees and laying in the soft grass and hiding in a “clubhouse” of evergreen clusters with my friends and brothers. This one is for the horse riding at the cattle camp with my grandpa and uncles and cousins and dad. This one is for graduation with all my family there to see and all of my friends happy and smiling. This one is for the day I realized it wasn’t all horrible – that life is beautiful and kind and lovely as well. This one is for getting to know my brothers as adults and truly enjoying their company. This one is for the day my husband met his son, standing in the airport after a 15 hour plane ride, holding his 3 week old son and smiling. This one is for the first day I heard “Mama” and this one is for the snuggling and hair twirling and little kisses on my face. This one is for the day I signed papers for my son to enter special ed, but also realized that he is wonderful and beautiful no matter what – and that my job is just to help him, not to “fix” him. One for every family member and friend. Again, there are so many more, all different sizes and shapes. Also making up my life.

But that necklace, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t show my whole life either. It doesn’t shape me in the same way, it doesn’t let me learn from my mistakes and the pain and the sorrow. It doesn’t define me either.

So now, day to day, I am learning and trying to live in a way that allows me to have both. To put those beads side by side. The shiny sharp ones and the colorful curvy ones. I am learning to open my heart to it all, as painful as both the beauty and the sorrow can be.

We are not only our tragedy and trauma, and we are not only our hopeful and happy. We are messy and beautiful all at once.

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life

Life is hard. It is. It’s hard. And it’s lovely. Both. One of my favorite bloggers (Glennon Melton at Momastery) says that life is brutiful. Brutal and beautiful at the same time. I agree. But here is the secret: you can’t know one without the other. When I was young I was somewhat obsessed with quotes. Especially the inspirational kind. I would type them up (yes TYPE on a typewriter) and cut them out into little strips of paper and put them on my wall. One of those quotes was “you can’t enjoy the sunshine without the rain.” I have no idea who first said it or if we even know. It seemed to strike a chord with me. I didn’t know that I would one day learn (as perhaps we all do) how true that saying is. You can’t know happiness unless you know sadness. You can’t know peace if you haven’t experienced turmoil. Our understanding of emotion is based on how we interpret our lives. Sometimes things have to be difficult. Sometimes things have to hurt a little. It is only then that we have a comparison for the good things. That’s how life goes.

I have several friends struggling lately. I worry for them. One of the common themes I find in all people who are going through a hard time is the “I just can’t wait until this part is over” thinking. I do it too. Maybe it helps us get through that part of life. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism – it makes us think about how things will be different, better, later on. It gives us a point to focus on and push toward. It’s like running long distance and finally seeing the finish line. I think. I don’t run, but if I did I can totally imagine me seeing that finish line and it giving me a little extra nudge to get there. If that’s how it helps us, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I have always been a “runner”. Not the racing kind, but the “I can’t get out of here fast enough” kind. It’s like my default way of dealing with stuff. I would run away from problems. Either by moving or by quitting or by using a variety of “chemicals” to help me forget. Sometimes I just used sleep and tv. Sometimes food. In the past few years I have experienced some things I can’t run away from. Things that you have to face head on or be broken by them. I believe those lessons have made me a better person. I want to share some of what I have learned. Maybe one day it will help someone. Maybe one of my struggling friends will find comfort from it.

1. Pain is inevitable.

Pain is part of life and you can not escape it all. No one can. When I was younger, trying to find myself, I took some meditation classes from a Buddhist center where I lived. It was a lovely place filled with lovely people. They gave meditation classes to the public every Sunday night. I enjoyed what I learned there. We had lovely lessons and even lovelier guided group meditations. One of the things that struck me was a set of phrases they used. They told us that if you feel pain while doing your meditation (say your back hurts from sitting too long, or your leg falls asleep, or your foot itches), don’t move, don’t try to wiggle it out. They said that life is full of pain. Trying to run away from it or change it does not help you. Instead they told us that if we experienced pain during our meditation the best thing to do was to accept it, breathe into it, acknowledge it and just be in the moment. That the pain would pass. Pain can be physical, emotional, and mental in the way I am using it here, and trust me, they all hurt. I believe this ties into the “you can’t experience the sunshine without the rain” thought process. If you don’t allow yourself to experience the bad, how will you know the good? I actually used the “breathe into it, acknowledge it” part a lot in years to come when I had painful surgeries, when my son was born, or when my chronic pain tortured me. But let’s analyse this in a real life situation, because let’s be honest, most pain doesn’t come when you are sitting in the Lotus position and breathing deeply with a calm mind. Let me use an example. When my mom was sick it was very painful for me. (for her more, but we are selfish beings) I worried about it. I stressed over it. I felt unable to help, and unable to fix things and unable to even be there the way she needed. Those are very difficult emotions for me. They caused a lot of emotional pain for me. I always fix stuff. But I couldn’t’ fix this. When I would quiet my mind and meditate and breathe into the pain, it helped me calm myself back down and find a more centered spot. It didn’t last long, but it did help me center myself again for a while. When my mom died it had been a really hard 6 months for our family. I can tell you almost all of the moments during a 5-6 day period of time with my family during the time of her death and funeral. I can remember all of the love, all of the pain, all of the breathing, all of the faces, all of the kindnesses. Because there was nothing I could do but sit, breathe, acknowledge the pain. Roll around in it. Wrap myself up in it. When time slows down like this, you know – you know you are in a life changing moment, and I am thankful I was able to accept it in this way. That’s not to say I didn’t have pain anymore. Or I still don’t. But I did my best to treat it like a part of life. A moment to learn from. When my Grandfather died I was not in a good place. I was using alcohol and drugs to calm my mind. I was hiding out from my family – not keeping in contact. I was losing jobs left and right. I was living in a dirty apartment. I was unable to process my feelings about his death at the time. Because I ran. I am happy I was able to learn that lesson later. Not all people meditate (though I recommend it to everyone because it’s awesome), but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the hard parts of life. Attempting to push the lessons you may be needing to learn away, trying to stop things from happening, trying to shelter yourself or others, does not help anyone. It causes more pain because your stress builds up. Your worry intensifies. You do not learn the lessons you are meant to learn. You do not progress.

It is the same way with our children. We want to protect them, stop the bad things from happening, keep them from being hurt. Some of these things are wise and good – like keeping your child from playing in dangerous chemicals, or keeping your baby from putting things in the electrical socket. But some things need to be experienced by our children – it’s how they learn. When my son was a baby I read that the way a baby learns to stand and walk is by falling down. Falling down and standing back up develop muscles babies need to be able to stand longer and one day walk. Falling down also helps them learn how they are oriented in space, cause and effect, how to control their bodies, and many more things. If we keep our toddlers from falling down, we rob them of the chance to learn. If you have read very many of my other blog posts, you know that my son struggles from time to time in different ways. One thing he struggles with is social aspects of life. He is loud, persistent, expectant, demanding. He knows what he wants and he WILL get it. Sometimes other kids don’t like these qualities – they call him bossy or mean or tell him to leave them alone. When this first started happening my instinct was to run to help. I was the mama bear just wanting to keep him from getting his feelings hurt, and to protect other kids too. Because he would throw big fits, I got into the habit of kind of hovering. I would always go with the kids so I could intervene at any moment. I would try to protect him from other kids AND himself. It wasn’t until he stopped the fit throwing most of the time that he started to really learn what other people expected of him socially. I realized that was because I was finally stepping back and letting him learn it on his own. I was finally giving him space to get hurt a little, or mess up a little, or even lose a friend so he could learn how to act in a socially acceptable way. I was protecting him too much. You can explain to a person HOW to ride a bike all you want. Until they actually do it for themselves they can not learn it. Now, sometimes he still needs social cues, and I try to give them if I am there and able to hear what is going on. But I also let him work things out on his own. If he asks what to do, or gets upset, I will give him advice or hints. But I let him fall down sometimes so he can learn. There is a time for everything, including being in pain. There is a time to sit and breathe in the moment and just accept the pain and let it roll around you. Robbing my child of his chance to have those moments didn’t do him any services. Like a toddler who’s parents don’t allow them to stand up on their own some, he would never learn to walk if I didn’t allow him to get hurt some.

2. This moment will never happen again.

This lesson brought to you by the words Cancer, Parenthood, Alzheimer’s, Death, and Love. Actually this lesson was brought to ME by those words. Life is fleeting. It really is. When you are 5 years old, each moment can last all day. When you are 35 you turn around and your son is in Preschool and you don’t know how it happened so fast. You can never get this moment back. And thank goodness for that for some of them, right? Like the ones where you are elbow deep in child poo and can’t reach the wipes that fell on the floor. Or when you son comes up to you with his hands full of something smelly and brown and says “Mom, I think there is poo on the playground.” (thanks to a friend for this example) Or when you are at the store and your son throws a fit because he wants something and you end up having to haul him out of the store kicking and screaming while everyone watches you and (in your mind) judges you as a bad mom. (hm, that’s a lot more potty talk than I am usually prone to. sorry for those mental images) Thank goodness some of THESE moments are fleeting. But some, some you do need to absorb. To slow down and look around you and make a mental photograph. To remember the exact way his smile turns up. To remember the laughter at your silly faces. To remember your husband and son holding each other, trusting each other, loving each other. To remember your mom walking with your son, holding hands, telling him the names of flowers, pointing to beautiful things for him to see. Things you did not see yourself. If you are constantly in a rush, how do you absorb and remember these? If you can’t slow down and stop pushing forward, stop forging the way, how do you remember the lovely lovely moments in life? How do you let them into your heart? When I was at my sickest from cancer – when I was at my mom and dad’s house with my baby – my husband 500 miles away – trying to prepare for another surgery – when I couldn’t lift my son – I sat and looked at him. I watched him. I touched his hand, stroked his toes, kissed his head. I handed him the soft ball he liked to hold, or held a toy up for him to reach for. I tried to absorb all of the moments I could. I had nothing to do but sit. Sit and rest and let my body be strong again. And so I did. I sat and I paid attention to those things in my life I needed to remember. When they wheeled my down to surgery, doped up on Versed, all 4 times, I had one beautiful thought in my head. I remember consciously choosing to drift off into never-land with the image of my son yawning in my head. The first time was spontaneous, but it calmed me so much I made it the routine. From the beginning he did the funniest cute little pucker of his lips at the beginning of his yawn. I loved it with all my heart – that moment of pucker, that second of adorableness – and I clung to that image. I let that image be my life raft, bringing me back to him when the surgery was over. I couldn’t help but think that this is what it must feel like when we die. Flashes of the most precious things in our life. A look, a touch, a kiss on a forehead, a pucker. Slow down. Slow down and see these moments. When you are bent over a pile of paperwork, or trying to get the dishes done so you can help with homework and get the kids in the bath, or counting the minutes until bedtime…. stop. Listen for a second. Look around for a second. Capture a moment instead of pushing them away.

3. No one can live like this all the time.

When I was at my sickest, as I mentioned in #2, I was at my Mom’s house. She watched Grey’s Anatomy every week at that time. I was off my thyroid meds and couldn’t follow 5 minutes of anything, so I just sat and watched with her. One of the episodes had a scene – and this scene is branded onto my mind – involving “enjoying every single moment.” One of the women characters (Izzy maybe) had had a near death experience of some sort, and had been going around all week telling everyone to enjoy every moment, pointing out the beauty in every single thing. Telling people to just be thankful they were alive and stop bickering, thrusting her amazement at the beauty of the world onto everyone else. One of the other women characters (Meredith perhaps) told her to knock it off. She said she was glad that her friend had this experience, and that it helped her see the beauty in every moment, but that most people just can’t live like that all the time. Most people are just trying to get through the moment. ** That hit me as well. It was true. While I was sitting, getting stronger, absorbing every minute I was able to stay awake, my family was bustling around me. Arranging child care help, feeding us, cleaning up after us, helping me with showers, getting up in the night with my baby. I doubt they were able to absorb much of anything, honestly. And I realized that sometimes it isn’t the “season” for absorbing and loving and seeing the beauty. Sometimes it the season for pushing ahead, getting up and going forward a few more steps, pushing yourself to keep going. Like a child learning to ride a bike, if you fall down and just sit there and wallow in the hurt and think about how scary it felt to fall, you will never get on again. If you don’t pick yourself up and try again, you won’t learn to ride. Sometimes it’s the season of getting up and trying again.

4. Life is easier with those you love.

Find strength in those whom you love. In those who love you. Find happiness and peace and a place to be safe in your friends and family (whatever your definition of family is). Give to them as they give to you and everyone’s load will be lighter. I could go on all day about this one. Just know that in every hard moment, and in every good one, the people you love will make it better. And remember not to only call them when life is hard. Definitely call when life is hard, but also when life is normal or happy. Share all the times, not just the bad ones. My husband’s family is better at this than I am. They make time to get together, they drop by each other’s houses for coffee and tea. They see each other all the time. I have been trying to work on this more – getting together with people who make me happy, and children who make my son happy. We all need that in life.

I know that none of this is easy. Again, life isn’t easy. It’s messy and it hurts and it brings you to your knees sometimes. But it’s also beautiful and full of love and beauty as well. Life is brutiful. Live it accordingly.

** You’ll forgive my lack of knowledge about this episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I hope. I never was a devoted follower and I was so sick I didn’t know what was going on around me. In a thyroidless induced walking coma. If any devoted fans know this episode I would love to watch it again. It may or may not have been around the time of the “red mist” episode in which there is a bomb in the hospital – I remember watching that episode in the weeks I was there as well.

PTO and Fundraising

I have been contemplating something since a friend of mine brought it up and today I witnessed it first hand. I decided I need to “talk” about it to help myself work it out in my head.

Our PTO at my son’s elementary school is very involved. I have in the past helped with a committee that brings in lunch for the teachers once a month. I think that’s a nice use of PTO resources and it tells the staff we appreciate them. I love being involved with my kid’s school. I volunteer once a week in his class and I try to volunteer anytime help is needed such as the book fair or turkey trot. Recently a friend of mine was in charge of the “fall festival” and I helped set up a few things the day of the event. I would have liked to have helped more but I had been really ill. We usually go to PTO sponsored events at the school such as the fall festival, welcome back ice cream party, and those sorts of events. They don’t cost a lot and they are a fun way to be involved with the school and I feel they foster a sense of community. I am able to meet some of the parents I don’t normally see, and see how my son interacts with other students.

Then there are the serious fund raisers. Some families really get into these events and try to outsell (produce, whathaveyou) each other. I am torn about these things. First of all, I think that we should be expecting more from our state and federal funding to fund whatever the school needs. We shouldn’t have to donate a dollar every 4th Friday so the kids can wear caps for computers. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a worthy goal, it’s just that I think our funding should come from the community (yes, taxes. why is it ok to spend 22% of the budget on war and only 3% on education?) In my sister-in-law’s old school district it sounded like the local companies were very involved in donating and I think that might be a good avenue to look into. And it’s not that I am against helping out at school. I just think that if we keep funding things through the PTO instead of demanding it from the avenues the funding is SUPPOSED to come from, we will never get the community to give what they should. I think that an educated community benefits us all and I don’t think that we should skimp on it. I also think that having children sell things people don’t need is teaching bad life skills. It’s consumerism at it’s worst – you don’t need a single thing in that catalogue, but you buy it because it’s your friend’s/neighbor’s/coworker’s kid. You don’t need those thin mints, but you buy them…. well you just buy THEM because they are delicious. But you get my point.

So, what happened today that made me stop and think?

I volunteered at my child’s school today. I do this every Monday. But this Monday he had asked me to also go to lunch with him. Recess is between my volunteer time and before lunch, so I stayed for recess as well. Today was the day that the children who sold a certain number of “butterbraids” were taken on a limo ride for lunch with the principal. Which, is actually kind of an awesome reward for little kids. We didn’t do the butterbraids fundraiser this year. We have done it before and these things are delicious. I know I could have sold plenty of them, people love them, but we had just moved and we had been sick for weeks and I just decided not to do it. Well, when we got outside the limo was waiting for the few kids who sold 12 butterbraids or more. My son didn’t really get upset he wasn’t going, but some of the kids did. They said it wasn’t fair that only some kids get to go on a ride (and I didn’t argue with that). They said they sold butterbraids too, they should get to go. One kid even said she sold 12 and she should get to go. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but she was upset. You know who I noticed wasn’t complaining about it, but was still looking longingly at the Limo? 2 kids who’s parents struggle. 2 kids who I know don’t get to do most of the extra “things.” 1 one of them only has one parent who is young and works very long hours.

This made me stop and think.

A friend of mine mentioned recently that these sorts of fundraisers are unfair to kids who don’t have a lot of financial resources. I tend to agree. Who do we usually sell to when participating in these sorts of things? We sell to family, friends, co workers, neighbors. Generally, if our family doesn’t have a lot of financial resources, our extended family doesn’t either. Generally our neighbors are part of the same socioeconomic group we are part of. Generally our co-workers make around the same salary we do. So, in sending home fundraisers that come with a “reward” at the end IF you sell enough of them, you single those kids out. Those kids often don’t have the ability to sell enough to get the reward, or even to sell any. They go to school and see their friends being rewarded for selling crap no one needs and they feel badly because they couldn’t sell any crap.

Then there are the fundraisers that involve cutting labels or boxtops from the package of the products we normally buy. I understand – it’s all marketing. If you buy x brand you get more boxtops than if you buy from the store brand. That’s how it got started. Good marketing. But here’s the thing. How often do you think those kids who live in lower financial situations get the name brand cereal? So, this month we had a “boxtops for education” drive. The classes who brought in the most boxtops get a special reward. I believe it was a pajama and movie day. So, the whole class has pressure to bring in boxtops and I can imagine at the upper grades the kids realize what is going on and start to “encourage” each other to bring in more. And then, who is left out, again? The kids who’s parents can’t (or won’t) buy the most expensive raisin bran.

Even the fall festival leaves kids out – some kids can’t afford $8 to go spend 2 hours at the school having fun. For me $8 is a great deal for some Saturday night entertainment for me and the boy. But for some people that’s out of the realm of their budget.

I know most of the fundraisers (which feels like they happen every month) involve a suggested goal and a reward. Even nights where you can go to a certain restaurant for dinner and get money for the school involves the parents shelling out money.

And there is one other way that kids who don’t have “as much” get left out at our school. This one isn’t just related to finances though. This one is related to kids who have 2 parents that work. I am lucky. I can almost always go to my son’s class when there is a valentines party or the class music program or the kids are reading a special story they have written. We have enough two income homes (whether out of necessity or out of the desire to work outside of the home) that I see kids’ faces fall every single time. And I feel sorry for both the kids and the parent. Not everyone can make it to everything and I think it’s really hard to explain that to a 5 or 6 year old.

I am not sure what my proposed solution is here. Maybe some of my friends will comment about it and get my wheels moving on it. I will continue to support what fundraisers I can/feel ok about supporting at this point. I don’t have anything against the PTO or it’s activities. I know those parents work hard and they are doing what they feel is important for the school. Next year a good friend of mine my be the president of the PTO. I will help her out with what she needs. I volunteered for my son’s preschool PTO and thoroughly enjoyed the people I got to spend time with and working with the school. I just don’t think that it’s fair to segregate kids who already feel like they are on the outskirts of the school’s society.

Our school is pretty good about involving everyone. When we go on field trips they give parents the option of helping to pay for “students in need” to go on the field trip too. I appreciate those sorts of things the school does. I just wish there were a way to do get what the school needs, support the parents who want to be involved, and to not make children who are less advantaged feel worse about their situation. Maybe there is. Maybe it starts here and now with parents who feel the same way I do….

Fat, Fit, Free

There has been a large amount of press this last few weeks about weight, and fat shaming, and people not feeling good about themselves – or about people feeling good about themselves despite living in a culture that tells them they shouldn’t. Or about people who work really hard/hurt themselves/go to extremes to feel good about their body.

A friend of mine posted about it today and I loved her post because it wasn’t just about the societal issues. It was also about health. It inspired me to talk about my own story.

My opinion on this comes from a different point of view and I feel it is a valuable opinion that might help others out there.

First, a little background.

Most of the women I grew up around were a healthy weight. I remember them talking all the time about needing to lose weight though. My mom was proud of the fact that she was 98 lbs until after her second baby – she was also short so it wasn’t an unhealthy weight for her. After that she was always talking about the 5-15 lbs she wanted to lose, though I never saw why she needed to. Some of the other women in my family had closets full of different sized clothing because they were constantly trying to lose weight and went up and down the scale. Most of the women in my life, however, were a healthy weight and they were not super active, but busy with family and work and such.

As an elementary school child I was skinny – much more skinny than most of my friends. I remember being teased about it a little. Not much. I was never athletic – I was clumsy and didn’t enjoy running or sports or PE. In middle school and high school I was healthy – definitely not over weight but not super skinny. I still didn’t enjoy sports or exercise, except weight lifting. I had injured my ankle twice and had to do physical therapy after surgery. Part of that included going to the gym and I liked feeling strong and healthy when I could lift weights. When I was sixteen I went through some situational depression. I lost weight and the doctor had my mom give me carnation instant breakfasts in addition to anything she could get me to eat. That was the last time in my life I was underweight. When I went to college I put on a few pounds – the freshman 15 – because I was eating top ramen and noodles and cheesecake. I did exercise at the field house though and enjoyed that, especially with a friend.

During college I was put on a bunch of medicines for “psychological issues” and many of those had a side effect of gaining weight. After that I perpetually went up and down on the scale. Dieting, exercising, losing weight, then gaining it back again, being sedentary, eating poorly.  Most of the time I was a little overweight. Sometimes I was a lot overweight. That’s hard to say. But it’s true.

When I was 24 I had my gall bladder out. I found out that gall stones are often a result of extreme weight loss, which I had recently experienced. I had been dieting in a very unhealthy way and lost a bunch of weight and my body created gall stones and by the time they took it out it was gangrenous. I had a horrible recovery, staying in the hospital for 28 days and numerous drains placed to try and stop the abscess in my gut. I was so weak and sick when I got out I couldn’t walk around my apartment. Little by little I gained back my strength, but I don’t feel like I ever really got back to the health I had before that. I was also putting a lot of partying miles on my body. I’m sure that didn’t help.

I look back now and I wish I had realized the wonderful thing it is to have a healthy body. I wish I had realized that having a body that could run and jump and exercise and take a walk without asthma acting up or my vocal chord collapsing was a wonderful thing. I went through periods where I was more active and physical – running and eating well and going to exercise at the gym. I went through times in my life when I was less active – rather sedentary – and didn’t use my body at all. I went through times when the fuel I put into my body made me feel healthy and clear. And times when it muddled my brain and other body parts. I went through times where the work I did was very physical and I enjoyed being strong. I went through times where my work was very sedentary. But through it all, one thing never changed. I didn’t know how wonderful it was to have a body that worked well and allowed me to use it in strong, healthy ways.

Wait, let me say that again. I didn’t know how wonderful it was to have a body that worked well and allowed me to use it in strong, healthy ways.

And then cancer came into our lives. And my body forever changed. I won’t list all the ways it has changed, but there are a few that are important to this discussion. First – I have asthma. AND a paralyzed vocal chord. Sometimes breathing is difficult. Especially when I am exercising. Protip: Ya gots ta breathe to exercise. I have several parts of my body that are permanently damaged in ways that cause me extreme constant pain. I have limits to what my body can lift. I can no longer lift weights with anything but my legs. I can’t lift my body in any way – no push ups or pull ups or burpees or whathaveyous. I can’t lift my son. I can’t even do many of the household/gardening type activities I used to do – my pain flares and I am down for days. Carrying groceries is a monumental task. I no longer have a thyroid and no matter what they tell us, a synthetic pill just doesn’t completely replace the natural chemicals your body makes. I have fatigue issues. Many thyroid patients do. I have found ways to deal with the pain, with the help of some awesome doctors. But I have yet to find ways to deal with the fatigue. Still hoping to find that part of the puzzle. I get sick extremely easily. It seems we are sick every month and when that happens, I am in bed unable to complete daily necessities, much less exercise.

And now – now I see what a wonderful thing it was to have a healthy body. To have a body that worked the way it is supposed to. I see what I shouldn’t have taken advantage of. But… that is the way of health. You never really know what you have until it’s gone. You don’t truly appreciate being healthy until you aren’t. You don’t truly appreciate having a strong body until you don’t.

When I read these articles about “losing weight and being healthy and crossfit and boot camp and if I can do it you can too”… it makes me angry. It makes me angry that I can no longer do those things – because I think if I could again I would. I would never stop running and lifting weights and doing crazy crossfit workouts. If I could feel strong again I would never want to let that go. It also makes me angry when others don’t realize that not everyone is like them. Not everyone CAN do those things. That “if I can do it you can too” attitude isn’t the truth. I want to scream: “There are plenty of people out there who literally CAN’T do what you do. So stop shaming others and go enjoy your healthy body.” I love that they are encouraging others to use their bodies in a healthy way. If you encourage in a certain way, then it WILL help. But shaming others into feeling fat and “not the way they could/should/ought to be” is wrong.

Could I do more? Yes. I could. I should. I work towards that. But my body will never be the same. I will never do what I did 7 years ago. I will never be strong and healthy and full of energy again. I will never feel like I once did. I honestly think about whether I will live another 20 years and what I will feel like at that age a lot. The other day I said “blah blah blah in 20 years…” to my husband. He said “do you think you will live to be that old?” He was teasing. And he wasn’t. I don’t want 20 more years of pain and exhaustion. I don’t want to live in a body that often feels like a prison.

What’s the point of this post? The point is this: I encourage everyone I know who has a relatively healthy and strong body to use it. Use it in ways that make you feel good and alive and happy to be here. Use it in ways that make you feel like you are the king or queen of the world. Jump and dance and run around with your kids. Ride a mountain bike. Climb a tree. Go on a zipline. Run up a mountain. Feel the sun on your face. Backpack with your friends. Go to the school jogging club in the mornings with your kids. Take martial arts with your friend, or boxing, or ballet. Go rafting and ice skating and slide down slides. Go to concerts and dance until you want to pass out. Do all of this for those of us who can’t anymore. And do it for your family. And do it for you. Don’t do it because you want to see a certain person in the mirror. Don’t do it because you feel like you have to weigh a certain amount of pounds. Do it because it feels damn good. Do it because you are alive and you want to FEEL alive. Don’t put pressure on yourself to weigh in or measure up or have a certain body type. ENJOY your body. That’s the magic of the human body. It can be enjoyed. And the more you enjoy it, the better you feel. And the better you feel, the more you enjoy your body. It’s a wonderful “mysterious” cycle.

Use that cycle – love your healthy body – allow yourself to realize that all that really matters is if it works well. And if it doesn’t, well, you and I have a lot in common – and we still find ways to be happy and love life. That’s the big secret. Love life. If you do that, the rest is just gravy.

Guns

Sometimes things happen in your periphery that make you stop and think. Make you truly wonder how you feel about a particular subject, make you stop and decide what side of the fence you are on.

I have been around guns most of my life. I was raised around guns – my family did small amounts of hunting, we had small rifles. I went hunting a few times, my brothers went hunting, though none of them liked it much. I had an uncle who had a pheasant farm for a while for hunting. My community was a hunting type community. I never felt badly about hunting or people who hunted. I have eaten dear and elk and other types of game meat. I like it. My husband has a pistol. He needed it when he was working on armored trucks and now he just uses it to shoot once in a while – go to the firing range and shoot. I am careful about the gun safety since I have a son, but not overly so. I am comfortable around a gun. We keep our gun locked in a digital safe, with the ammunition in a different place. I don’t discourage my husband from teaching our son about the gun, and it’s danger/uses. I think it’s important for all the people in the house to know about any gun the family owns and how to be safe around it. He has showed him how it works, how to load it, how to make sure it isn’t loaded and doesn’t have a round in the chamber. I have encouraged him to take him to the firing range soon to let him see the power a gun carries and let him get his curiosity out about this thing we have in our house. I think he is big enough physically as well as mature enough now to go try it out with his dad in a safe setting. I am not anti gun in general by any means.

Lately, though, I have wondered what I really believe about guns in the general population. Last night there was a news clip about a shooting in a Portland Mall right before I went to bed. I didn’t hear the whole story about how many people were wounded, etc until this morning. This summer there was a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Co not 15 min from my home. I have been reading a book which has at it’s beginning and as a recurring theme the Columbine shootings. I lived here in the Denver area then, and remember the horror of watching that – the terror of it’s unfolding on the TV before me. The feeling of shock and anger and sadness in our community is still fresh in my mind and heart. I have watched since then for years as every year another school or college or church or mall or theater is attacked by gun wielding “madmen”.

Last night as I lay in bed thinking about all of these things I decided I need to think about what my position on guns and the general population is.

I do not know if this will be the first in a series of posts yet or not. I will say I am researching as I write – I am looking at facts. Numbers, statistics, meaningful and measurable things. I am formulating opinion as I go along. Let me just say right up front that I don’t know WHAT the solution is right now. I don’t know HOW we change this problem, but I do think it needs to change and that we as a population need to change it. I hope to find some answers in this discovery process. Answers I can be a part of.

Violence in America is an epidemic and gun violence is a big part of that. Compared to other industrial countries, an American child under the age of 15 is 5 times more likely to be murdered, 2 times more likely to commit suicide, and 12 times more likely to die of a gun related death.

On average 24 people in the US are killed every day by people with guns. This does not include suicides or accidental shootings. It is one person being shot by another person. If we include all of the accidents and suicides and attempted suicides and the cases where police officers are forced to shoot someone, that number increases to 268 people a day.

268 people a day are shot by a gun in America.

Shockingly (to me) according to the Brady Campaign, “Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.” That’s compared to the 23 most wealthy countries in the world. (Obviously places like Darfur and the Sudan have more gun deaths, I assume.) This fact floored me.

So, what goes into this whole “Americans with guns and violence” equation?

First – why do people own guns in America? 1. For hunting. If you own guns for hunting you only need to own rifles or shot guns. No one needs a pistol or a semi auto gun for hunting. I have read the forums with people arguing that semi autos have a place among hunters. I don’t buy it. If you can’t shoot it with a rifle or shotgun, you don’t need to be hunting it. People shot bears and moose and caribou for hundreds of years with regular rifles. If our forefathers could kill all of the meat their family needed for the year with a musket, we can shoot animals we mostly shoot for sport with a rifle. There is no reason to own a semi auto for hunting. That is my opinion and I am sticking to it. 2. Protection. This is where the pistols come in. People feel that pistols are more powerful and more easily accessed in an emergency. Also, they are easier to carry with you. 3. For sport. Some people keep guns for hunting as a sport (not to eat), some people skeet shoot or target shoot. This is a common reason for owning guns. Especially the big, semi auto guns and the pistols.

Let me get the hunting part out of the way first. According to several gun owner organizations, between 11 and 15% of Americans report being active in hunting. That certainly can’t account for the enormous number of guns out in our population. I feel people should be able to hunt for food if they want. Really, I don’t mind trophy hunting all that much, I don’t see it as necessary, but there are a lot of things we do that aren’t necessary. I’d like to see people who hunt use the meat for food and leave the trophy part out of it. That being said, am not really in huge opposition to it. I think hunting helps keep elk, deer and other populations down, and I think it is good for our ecology. I think rifles should be used in hunting and I think that if used/stored properly, hunting rifles are fairly “safe” type of guns. In fact, hunting rifles and other long barrel guns make up less than half of the gun deaths in our country per year and are mostly accidental deaths, not homicides and suicides.

I was surprised to find out that in homicides from 1976 to 2004 in the US handguns were used more than 2 times as often (some years 3 times as often) as other types of guns (including assault riffles), more than 2 times as often as knives, more than 3 times as often as “other methods” and more than 5 times as often as “blunt objects”. Some years the handguns were used up to 8 times more than other methods. I know that if someone wants to kill another person, “they will find a way”. I also think that guns make killing another person easier. They put some distance, some anonymity, between the victim and the killer. They take away the up close and personal part of the killing usually. They make it an easier split second decision.

Now, let me address the home protection part. I think people have a right to protect their homes and their families. I also think that guns are rarely used in this type of protection. (By rarely I mean comparing how many people say they own a gun for protection, and how many of those people actually USE the gun for protection.) The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence states on their website:

“DID YOU KNOW? On the whole, guns are more likely to raise the risk of injury than to confer protection.

  • A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide (11x),criminal assault or homicide (7x), or unintentional shooting death or injury (4x) than to be used in a self-defense shooting. (Kellermann, 1998, p. 263)
  • Guns are used to intimidate and threaten 4 to 6 times more often than they are used to thwart crime (Hemenway, p. 269).
  • Every year there are only about 200 legally justified self-defense homicides by private citizens (FBI, Expanded Homicide Data, Table 15) compared with over 30,000 gun deaths (NCIPC).
  • A 2009 study found that people in possession of a gun are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault (Branas).”

Those statistics say a lot to me. If less than .6% of all deadly shootings are legally justified self defense, I would say that self defense is really a negligible part of this equation. I would also go on to say that it is a poor excuse for owning a gun. IF there were to be some sort of foreign invasion on our soil (the type that includes large numbers of people coming into our country by foot or car which we could actually shoot at), or IF there were to be some sort of zombie apocalypse, or IF there were some sort of “post apocalyptic fall of society” then yes – guns would be useful as protection. Except with the zombies. Everyone knows shooting zombies doesn’t stop them. Unless it’s in the head. (A little humor in this serious blog post.)

I would like to address the issue of guns as recreation. I suppose I really don’t have a problem with this part either. Though the kinds of guns generally used in recreation are the kinds often used in crimes.

The problems we have, then, become criminals owning or finding a way to get guns into their possession, people using guns they already have in a crime, and domestic violence/home accidents.

Obviously, making gun safety and education a priority in homes that have guns is an important factor. This would cut down on the accidents. Domestic violence involving guns is a much more complicated matter and will have to be an entirely different post, I suppose. But needless to say there are things we can do to help prevent domestic violence in general, including incidents involving guns.

The guns which most often used to commit crimes? Handguns, as we have already established, are the type of guns most often used in crimes. So… how do we keep handguns out of the hands of people who use them for killing?

Now, I am not one of those people who think that rounding up all the guns and taking them away is a good idea. I am not naive enough to think that the criminal element will not still retain the ability to purchase/locate guns and I am not naive enough to think that there wouldn’t be major fall out from something like this. I know that in studies done on the Australian gun ban and buy back, it has shown to not be extremely effective in reducing  the number of gun related homicides and crimes. There has been a healthy decline in the rate of suicides in general and gun relates suicides in particular. But there are still guns in the population and people still die by gun violence. I do think something has to be done here in the US to lower the rate of gun related crimes and deaths. So what is that something?

I think we need to look at gun violence as a bigger picture. Why are Americans so violent in general? Why do we have such high homicide rates? Why do we have people walking into malls and theaters and schools killing each other? Why do we have children killing other children? Why do we have children being bullied so terribly that they kill themselves? Why do we have strangers walking into public places shooting at people that they have never even met before? These aren’t all robberies gone bad or home invasions turned murder or abusive husbands being shot or one child being angry at another child or group of children. These are very often random killings committed by Americans who don’t even know each other, without an explanation as to the reason. Why? Why are we so violent.

I would like to mention 2 things in the wake of those questions I posed above. First, we are a violent country. We have always chosen war over peace. We were birthed in war. The Europeans slaughtered Native Americans and African slaves. They fought against their own mother country for the right to be a separate nation. Less than 100 years after becoming a country we were at war with ourselves. We have fought many wars since then and I am sure will continue to fight more. We go off attacking other nations, trying to democratize them, saying they are a threat to us, saying the way they do things is wrong. We go to war to help others, sometimes without them asking for our help. We go to war over things like oil and land and control. We go to war claiming that our way of life is the best way and everyone else needs to do it our way, all the while having our own problems here at home that need to be addressed. We are a warring country. We teach our children to fight, we use words that are violence based when talking about most things. Our entertainment is more violent than not, even in the children’s entertainment. Movies, games, music and more all condone and promote violence. We tell our children “stand up for yourselves”, “be brave”, “don’t let yourself be picked on”. While I tell my son these same things I realize only now that they are violence based. Fighting is the solution for my 6 year old boy? Being brave at night in his room alone is the solution? Where does it end? We war with everyone and everything that even slightly resembles a threat. And yet, even war has changed – become faceless and less personal. We have unmanned planes and weapons that go into battle that are controlled by someone no where near the strike zone. We used to fight face to face and hand to hand, looking into the eyes of dying men and women, but now more often than not, it is impersonal, at a distance, and more deadly with the stronger, faster, better weapons we have. Then we bring those soldiers home and expect them to go back to real life without help. And our returning soldiers now have a suicide rate unparalleled to any other group of soldiers in our history.

Second – we are an easily frightened people. Easily frightened people are not only easily controlled, but also easily spurred to violence. Part of the problem with violence in this country is the fear we all have. Fear that the government is “taking over”, fear that the violence is coming to our home, fear that people of a different race or class are coming for us, fear that poverty will take us over. (*one thing that would help our violence problem would be for us to work on our poverty, race, and class issues) Michael Moore spoke about our fear in a very well written post after the Aurora shootings:

“What are we so afraid of that we need to have 300 million guns in our homes? Who do we think is going to hurt us? Why are most of these guns in white suburban and rural homes? Maybe we should fix our race problem and our poverty problem (again, number one in the industrialized world) and then maybe there would be fewer frustrated, frightened, angry people reaching for the gun in the drawer. Maybe we would take better care of each other.”

We are a violent people. I don’t think anyone can deny that. Look at the statistics. We have the most violent crimes in all of the free world. The most homicides, the most gun violence.

In my readings I came upon the best answer I have found yet. I believe, after reading a lot about this, that he thing we need to change is the way we look at this phenomenon. We need to change our perspective. We need to look at this violence as a human health issue. As a disease that can be treated. I don’t believe that guns should be ripped from the hands of “well meaning citizens”. I do believe that there needs to be a lot of changes made. Do we make it harder for people with a mental illness, a past record of violence, a previous attempt at harming someone with a weapon to get a hold of guns? How do we decide what needs to be changed and when and where to make those changes?

If we take a step back and look at gun violence in a public health approach, it becomes more cut and dried. It becomes less emotional. People stop freaking out that there is “so much gun violence” and that “someone is going to take their guns away” and start looking at the causes, repercussions, and treatments of the epidemic. (Let me note here, I think looking at all violence from the perspective of a public health approach would help as well, but since gun violence is the topic of this piece, I will focus on that here.)

I don’t believe the answer is going to come to us in a drastic way. I don’t believe taking guns away, banning guns, dramatically changing gun laws will help. I believe the answer is going to come in subtle, scientific ways.

On of the doctors who found himself treating victims of the Sikh temple shooting last year has written in the Wisconsin Medical Journal about the gun violence epidemic. He says that just because it is becoming the norm doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. Dr Hargarten has stated that looking at it as a public health issue is the way to go. I think I like his (and many others) way of thinking.

“Unlike almost all other consumer products, there is no national product safety oversight of firearms,” he wrote in the Wisconsin Medical Journal. Why is this? We are so afraid of loosing our right to own guns that we don’t even want to make sure the products are safely made? We don’t want them to go through the same testing and oversight as a car or a child’s toy? This is our first step. To make sure that guns are being produced properly and safely.

If we look at the issue as a “public health issue” there are certain classifications we look at. It gives us a scientific method to follow. Some of the things to look at are as follows:

“_”Host” factors: (for example) What makes someone more likely to shoot, or someone more likely to be a victim. One recent study found firearm owners were more likely than those with no firearms at home to binge drink or to drink and drive, and other research has tied alcohol and gun violence. That suggests that people with driving under the influence convictions should be barred from buying a gun, Wintemute said.

_Product features: Which firearms are most dangerous and why. Manufacturers could be pressured to fix design defects that let guns go off accidentally, and to add technology that allows only the owner of the gun to fire it (many police officers and others are shot with their own weapons). Bans on assault weapons and multiple magazines that allow rapid and repeat firing are other possible steps.

_”Environmental” risk factors: What conditions allow or contribute to shootings. Gun shops must do background checks and refuse to sell firearms to people convicted of felonies or domestic violence misdemeanors, but those convicted of other violent misdemeanors can buy whatever they want. The rules also don’t apply to private sales, which one study estimates as 40 percent of the market.

_Disease patterns, observing how a problem spreads. Gun ownership – a precursor to gun violence – can spread “much like an infectious disease circulates,” said Daniel Webster, a health policy expert and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore.” “There’s sort of a contagion phenomenon” after a shooting, where people feel they need to have a gun for protection or retaliation, he said.”

That was evident in the wake of the Colorado movie-theater shootings. Reports came up around the nation of people bringing guns to “Batman” movies. After Columbine some teachers reported thinking teachers should have conceal and carry permits.

The above examples are just a very few of the things we can look into and find answers in. Subtle changes can make a difference. Treatments to health epidemics often come in the form of education and prevention as well. For example, the spread of HIV slowed down dramatically when how the disease was spread was discovered, and education about how to prevent the spread was widely distributed.

If we take a logically based approach there is actually a lot we can study and use to make gun violence decrease. If we stop freaking out about our second amendment rights and our NEED to have a gun, we could do a lot of good. If we stop freaking out about “the enormity” of it all and stop trying to ban all weapons and work WITH gun owners and gun sellers and gun organizations, we could learn a lot. We could study how guns get into the hands of people like the theater shooting perpetrator or the columbine kids (their 18 year old friend went to a gun show and bought them – no background check, no wait time), and we could make gun laws based on how they are bought/procured and by whom. (why do private sellers not have to do background checks? What happens to guns that are in evidence lockers around the country? How do illegal gun runners operate and what can we do to stop them?) We could study what kind of people are more likely to commit gun violence, we could increase our violence prevention tactics.

I feel like I have started to find an answer here among my research.

We, as Americans, have a gun violence problem. A handgun violence problem to be more specific. We, as Americans, want that to decrease without loosing the rights of the majority of people. We, as Americans, don’t have a crystal ball to see what might happen in the future, but if the last 20 years is any indication, gun violence will continue to rise.

I would like to finish this part of my journey into “how I feel about guns” by saying this: I know that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” but really, how many of those people would kill with a different weapon? There are plenty of estimates on this, some say as high as 85% of violent crimes and 80% of suicides by gun would not happen without access to a gun. In other words, when asked if they would have tried the same thing without a gun, perpetrators said no – up to 85% of them. Yes, violence happens without guns every day. A small town close to where I grew up (Casper Wyoming) was recently devastated by a suicide murder in which the perpetrator shot 2 other people with a bow and arrow before turning the weapon on himself. I ask you this, would the Aurora theatre shooter been able to kill or hurt so many people in such a short amount of time without the weapons he had? If he had a knife or bow and arrow, would all of those people be dead or injured? I don’t believe so and I doubt you do either.

Only we can change the violence in our country – only we can heal this epidemic of gun violence. Please, stand with me to stop the dramatic extremes in our opinions about guns, look logically at the problem, and find ways to fix it. We can all play a part. Leave the emotions at the door and look at it through the eyes of scientists and doctors and public health nurses and help to heal this disease.

More reading:

http://www.bradycampaign.org/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-moore/its-the-guns-_b_1700218.html

http://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_21292776/treat-gun-violence-public-health-issue-experts-say

https://fishjello.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/death-and-life-in-america/

 

****EDIT: in talking with some like minded friends about this article it seemed to me that I had left something unclear in it. I don’t think anyone needs to have a military grade weapon in their possession unless they are active military/police force. There are plenty of very responsible gun owners out there who take the time and care to store and use their weapons carefully. But there are some people who don’t. Weapons end up in the hands of criminals all the time – through home invasions or store robberies. These guns, when used in mass shootings such as the Aurora shooting, are more damaging and much easier to use to hit a large number of moving targets. The gun the Aurora shooter used first was an Ar-15 assault rifle which can expend up to 50 rounds per minute. This gun would have been illegal to buy from the early 1990’s until 2004. This year he was able to buy it with no problem. My biggest problem with a gun like that is this: during a mass shooting like this a shot gun, a handgun, a normal hunting rifle, etc – they all have to be aimed and fired and reloaded. This man just shot and moved the gun, pointing it into the crowd. He didn’t have to take time to aim or time to reload. These things may seem trivial, but it could have given some people a chance to run, escape, hide more, try to get away from the bullets. The rounds this gun uses are also very powerful. They shot completely through the wall of the theater into the theater next door and wounded and killed people there. Those walls have sound containing panels and everything. That is a pretty powerful round I think.

I have to admit, I used to think that taking these weapons out of the hands of the majority of the population would do the most good. I don’t anymore. I think it’s part of the equation that needs to be addressed, but it also happens to be a small part of the equation. Hand guns seem to be the weapons most often used in gun violence, and while it might help with the mass shootings we have seen, it won’t help with the other 200 + people shot on a daily basis.

Vacationing at the YMCA

My husband had to take his vacation time this week. Long story short, he thought he could just cash it all in like he did last year, but they wouldn’t let him cash any in unless he took a week off. Take a week off, cash a week in. (Thank you, universe.) So, he took all of this past week off.

We cleaned out the basement some, he hung out at home some. I tried to get him to go out with his friends but he never did.

Thursday we left to go up to the mountains and stay at a “lodge” and enjoy the winter activities.

We went to the YMCA of the Rocky’s Snow Mountain Ranch. It’s an old farm that was converted into a guest ranch. There are still historical buildings there, and the history has been preserved throughout the ranch. They have several types of living quarters. The lodges provide a basic room with bathroom. Some of them have a mini fridge and microwave in them, some don’t. It looked like they all had a balcony, lobby area where games, coffee, tv’s and books were provided, ours had a fireplace in the lobby which seemed to be a drawing point. There were also cabins, small and large, newer and older. The cabins were for more than one family and out of our price range for this weekend, though it might be a lovely place for a family reunion. There were “vacation homes” offered, which I didn’t get to check out, and in the summer there are yurts and campgrounds available. All in all the actual accommodations were fine. Not exciting or luxurious, but clean, well taken care of, safe and comfortable.

To explain a little about our trip I will explain something about myself, I am a planner. If I don’t get the normal time to plan things out, I feel totally unprepared and wierded out. I didn’t get time to plan this trip – and I didn’t get to do enough research. As a result, we really hit the mountains too early – not enough snow to even sled, the ice skating rink hadn’t frozen over yet, we heard the ski conditions were terrible so we didn’t want to spend the money on that, which disappointed my son. We ended up in the cold, with no winter wonderland. I believe the ranch would be pretty fun when the snow comes in and packs up. They have cross country skiing, snow shoeing, dog sledding, horse drawn sleigh rides, ice skating, a sledding hill, and more. Most of that was closed still, as we have had a dry late winter.

We made the most of it. The boys hit the pool several times – I hit it once (swimming really takes it out of me now). The pool was clean, well taken care of, and they had a small slide and a climbing wall which you could jump into the pool from for older kids. They also had life vests for the little ones, which my son really took to. There was a craft shop which my son really loved. There were a large amount of options to choose from, the prices were reasonable, and the lady who was working there both times we came really was helpful. We made a ceramic owl piggy bank together and they fired it. It turned out lovely and my son is so proud of it – it looks professional with the fired glaze and the details we put on it. We did a few smaller crafts too. There was a game building with Foosball, a pool table, ping pong, large trikes that the boy had fun on, rollers skates, balls, etc. They do have a climbing wall but that was closed because they were completely re-vamping it. There were some family programs we participated in. Dodgeball seemed to be a big hit with both of my boys, a free craft in the library was offered, family game night. We rode horses for an hour in the freezing and blowing cold. We played board games  (some we brought and some they had to borrow) did homework, read, hung out together, used our imagination, had an art contest, just had a great time. The boys “tussled” a lot – which is what the 6 year old was calling wrestling this weekend. The second day it did snow and was frigid, but the snow was light and dry so sledding and snowball fights and snowmen didn’t work, even when they were brave enough to go out in that cold.

Yesterday on our way home we stopped by a big snow tubing place for the boys to get their sledding fix. That was fun for them. They had more than an hour of sledding down a giant hill, being towed back up, and going again. I stayed in the nice warm hut.

All in all we had a great time.

The “ranch” we stayed at would be perfect for a family going skiing. It would make a great base camp. I think it would be even better to meet a group of family friends at or your cousins – if the kids had someone to play with it would make the ranch much more fun. If you had a family who enjoyed skiing with you and the kids could entertain themselves in the evening, it would be ideal. The rooms were clean and warm, there weren’t any “extras” but we didn’t really want any. There was a TV in the lobby of each lodge – I liked not having one in the room and didn’t take our portable dvd player either – no movies or cartoons for anyone for 3 whole days. (Well, mom and dad watched Netflix on the kindle fire after the boy was in bed one night…) We really spent time together as a family away from home and distractions. We learned some things about each other and we enjoyed each other’s company. The food options were limited but tasted good and weren’t too “fast food”. You do have to watch the time for the cafeteria – they have a set time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and if you don’t get there, you may have to eat at the grill if it’s open. The grill food was fine – but more fast foodish. They offered things like grilled cheese, microwave pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, etc. We had brought healthy snacks and food for my son who doesn’t eat regular food, so we were fine if we missed a meal at the cafeteria. The ranch was fun, but I think it would be better as part of a larger vacation – as I said, as a base camp for skiing and then to use the facilities at the camp on one of the days for relaxing, or in the evening.

I would like to see what the ranch offers in the summer. I think that might be more our style. They have fishing, hiking, horse riding, canoeing, campfires, a very nice lake close by, several hot springs areas close by, archery, a zip line, and a lot more. They still have the craft store, the game building, and the swimming pool as well as some family programming.  I noticed a lot of “groups” up there, some were a bunch of teenage boys together with very little adult supervision – but they were polite at the cafeteria and allowed my son to play with them in the game room without complaint. Some were even nice to him and included him without being asked. One group of teens were from out of the country, one group seemed to be more abled teens paired up with less abled teens, working together, helping them out, and in charge of their partner’s well being. That program intrigued me. The ranch also has camps in the summer, so I suppose that would be something to keep in mind as far as how busy it is.

Over all, the ranch wasn’t quite what I expected. We went at the wrong time (which is my fault) and the facilities weren’t all as I had pictured – but I suppose that is the danger of assuming how a place might be. If you are looking for a cheap alternative to family or couple’s weekend near a ski town (there is one at Winter Park Colorado and one at Estes Park Colorado which I can’t speak to the quality of) and have plenty of adventurous spirit, check it out. It isn’t new, shiny, luxurious, or exotic (to me), but it is a nice, clean, safe mountain vacation spot with plenty to do and an opportunity to spend time away from the normal every day experience. If you like the outdoors and want a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, this might be just your thing. I am glad we went and got away from it all.

As we ate breakfast the last morning I asked my son what his favorite part of vacation was. He said “spending time together.” Any vacation that makes a boy say that is a winner in my book.