Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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The hard ask

It’s that time of year again, when nonprofits tally up what they’ve accomplished and work out the details for the year ahead.

And when they ramp up their fundraising efforts.

There are so many good causes, all of them vying for our attention — and that’s not even including the political candidates who are daily asking for donations. It all makes me want to crawl back into bed, pull the sheet up to my chin, and watch mindless television until this winter is over.

But that won’t solve the world’s problems, and for almost every problem there is a deserving group of people trying to make things better.

Many of you know what problem I’ve been trying to make better, the issues I’ve been working on for the past fifteen years. But in case you don’t, let me tell you the story.

And then I’ll make the hard ask.

Very early on the morning of December 23rd, 2004 my dad was driving from his Alabama home to the Atlanta airport with the intent of catching a flight north to spend Christmas with my sister. It’s a two hour drive, and his flight was at 10 a.m. so he left long before daylight.

About an hour into his trip, just after he passed the Alabama/Georgia line and right in front of a truck weigh station traffic slowed and then stopped. Up ahead not too far away was a small fender bender crash; there were already police and fire trucks attending to the scene. A trooper was waving traffic into the left lane.

Multiple sets of emergency vehicle lights were flashing in the dark morning along that straight stretch of freeway.

Dad pulled over behind a semi truck. Another car pulled over behind dad. The semi behind that car, driven by a young man who was exhausted, did not stop. The car behind dad noticed the semi coming and pulled over into the median.

My dad didn’t stand a chance as the semi barreled into him at 65 miles per hour.

And so the story of our family changed in that instant. My mother had died suddenly with no warning in July. Dad was killed in December. Their four adult children were left stunned.

But we wanted answers. How could the truck driver not see all those emergency vehicles ahead of him? Everyone else was able to slow and move over. Why not that semi?

Turns out the driver fell asleep. He fell asleep while driving a vehicle because he had driven all night in order to get a load of electronics to Atlanta to be sold for Christmas. He was enticed by his dispatcher to push to Atlanta even though he was tired, enticed by the offer of another load heading to Florida where he lived. If he made it to Atlanta that morning he could take the load to Florida. He could be home for Christmas.

Instead he spent the day in jail and my dad spent the day in the morgue.

As we learned more we found out that this is not an isolated thing, semi trucks are plowing into the back of stopped traffic almost daily. There are a lot of reasons why, and there are a lot of other safety issues in the trucking industry too. Most of the problems are not the drivers, but the way the industry operates and has historically treated drivers.

It’s complicated.

But what is not complicated is that almost 5,000 people die in crashes with big commercial trucks every year, and over 100,000 are injured. Since my dad was killed almost 75,000 people have been killed in truck crashes. A million and a half people have been injured.

And everywhere any push for change is met with resistance. From the ATA (American Trucking Association) and the Independent Operators. Because changes for safety are perceived as challenges to profit.

And that’s where the Truck Safety Coalition comes in. It’s a nonprofit, combining CRASH (Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways) and PATT (Parents Against Tired Truckers). Both groups are made up of volunteers who are family members of those killed or injured. The coalition provides a combined management of staff and resources for the two groups as they fight to educate the public and the industry about issues that make our roads unsafe for everyone.

This past year we focused on four bills that we have in the House and Senate, each one addressing a different issue. We support speed limiters for truks, underride guards on trucks to prevent cars from sliding under the semi in a crash, increased liability insurance, from the $750,000 required since 1980 to something indexed to inflation, and especially requiring automatic emergency braking for large commercial trucks.

Automatic emergency braking might have saved my dad.

In 2019 we also held a four day conference so that families of victims and those injured can gather together, gain strength from each other, and learn about the issues and how to talk about them. Then the volunteers go out and meet with their Representatives and Senators, pushing for support on the legislation we have pending.

All of this work costs money. Some of the volunteers are able to donate, but many didn’t receive a settlement, are regular working people trying to support their families and don’t have much to spare.

And that’s where the hard ask comes in.

There are two ways you can help us. Because Tuesday is “Giving Tuesday” on Facebook, I started a donation post there in the hopes that we’ll get matched, though to be honest I doubt it, there are so many others out there that we have never had a match from Facebook.

The second way, and perhaps the more efficient way, is if you would consider donating directly at our website. This link will put you directly on the donation page. But if you would like to know more about the organization, I’ll put the home URL here.

It’s hard for me to ask you, my readers, my supporters, Katie fans, music lovers, photography nerds, to donate to my cause. I’ve never been a great salesperson. And most people don’t think this is an issue that relates to them.

Until it does.

Because truck crashes aren’t political, they aren’t blue or red, they focus on no specific religion, no social class, crashes don’t care if you’re straight or gay, male or female. Mothers and fathers, and sister and brothers and uncles and aunts and best friends and lovers and babies die in crashes caused by unsafe practices.

And truck drivers die.

Driving a truck is one of the most dangerous jobs in this country. In 2017 about 800 truck drivers died just doing their jobs. The work we do will save drivers’ lives too.

So. During this hectic holiday season when all you want to do is focus on family and friends, good food, days off work, colored lights and beautiful music, I’m asking you to think, for a moment, about trucks and death.

I know it isn’t easy.

Just know there are thousands of families out there this holiday season who are missing someone lost to an avoidable crash. There are families out there struggling with huge medical bills for the care of their injured loved ones. There are families out there that are turning their grief into energy for change, to honor their family or friend. To do something with the pain.

Help us continue that work. Please give what you can.

I will be forever grateful.

Thank you.

At my wedding in 1990


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Meanwhile, back in Norway…

I promised a few photos of the churches we visited so let me do that before I get even further behind! The first church we visited was in Vance, a town not too far from where we were staying. It’s beautiful and sits in the center of town.

A family member is the caretaker for this church and he gave us a personal tour of the building…

…including taking us up into the bell tower.

This is the church where my husband’s grandfather is buried so it holds a lot of family history.

It’s history also includes a tiny little door over on the side which is where the women, back in the day, were required to enter.

I’m glad those days are gone!

And then we were able to attend an outdoor Sunday service at the church where my husband’s grandmother was baptized when she was a baby.

It happened that there was a baby being christened that morning, and I couldn’t help but think the ceremony might have been similar all those years ago.

In fact, the baptismal used in the ceremony we witnessed was the same one used back then.

We were given a tour of this church too, by a town historian who said his English wasn’t very good, but we found it to be perfect.

It’s a smaller church than the one back in Vance, but just as beautiful.

Our Norwegian family went out of their way to help us understand family history. We met with several people over the two weeks that knew something of the history of the area or of the family.

It really made our time there special; everyone was so friendly and helpful. We know we only saw a tiny bit of what was there, but hopefully we’ll be back some day to explore even more!


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Never stop

Day one of our Sorrow to Strength conference was a success, but oh so emotional as the 30+ families each shared the reasons they were attending. Survivors relived their crashes, tears often streaking down their faces. Families of those lost did the same. No one was judgemental. No one was impatient as we let those emotions flow.

And at the end, when our large, sad and somewhat soggy family was all talked out, one of the volunteers passed out bracelets she had made. One for each person, placed into hands still holding damp tissue.

She chose the hummingbird, she said, because they never stop.

Just like us.


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A taste of Norway

We’re still away, and there is little time to blog, but I’ve been working on editing several hundred photos and I thought maybe you’d like to peek.

Our home away from home.

We are exploring southern Norway, following my husband’s family history. It’s beautiful country.

Near the site of my husband’s great grandfather’s home. What a view he had in the early 1900s!

It’s hard not to fall in love.

Small communities dot the coast. I wonder what it would be like to live here.

We will be home soon. I’ll write at least one post about our experiences. I don’t know how I’ll pick the photos.

Following the coast looking for sweet images. They were everywhere.

There’s just so much to see.

This looks like a peaceful spot.

I’ll catch up on your blogs when I get home. I fall asleep every night before I can make much of a dent in my email.

But it’s a good sleep.


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Fifteen years without you

Father’s Day has rolled around again, the fifteenth one without you.

I don’t have any new photos of you to share. I wish I did. I wish I could just snap a few the next time I’m down in Alabama. Photos of you laughing like you used to. Or reading the paper. Or sound asleep on the sofa after a day out on the lake.

Photos of you building something, or fixing something. You used to build stuff for us all the time and you could fix anything.

I wish I could take a picture of you sitting in the back of the church during Mom’s evening organ practice, timing the pieces she planned to play at the next Sunday’s service, letting her know when you thought it would be cool if she played a bit louder.

And I’d love to snap another memory of all of us out in the boat, you driving while one of us skied behind, you grinning. Us too.

Or climbing Smith Mountain and then the fire tour. You were seventy-five and still raring to go all the time. No mountain was too tall for you, no fire tower had too many steps.

I wish I could spend another holiday with you, the family favorites on the dinner table, us all sitting around the table talking and laughing long after the meal was over.

I wish.

But all the wishing in the world won’t make any of that happen, so I have to be satisfied with the memories I have, the snapshots I’ve already collected. But darn, I wish I had some new pictures to share.

Happy Father’s Day in heaven Dad. We all miss you every single day.


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Florida ramble

Stormy weather.


How do you picture Florida? Sun, swaying palms, white sands, blue water, attractions filled with laughing crowds and roller coasters, poolside drinks, pulsating bars, sunscreen and colorful umbrellas?

Sounds good.

But if that’s what you’re focused on then you’re missing an awful lot of authentic Florida.

Early morning light makes the moss glow.

My husband and I are visiting relatives in a quieter part of the state. We have been staying at a fishing camp on a beautiful lake north of Tampa.

A good place to spend a few days.

Each of the past three mornings I’ve gone outside early in the morning to see what the sunrise had to offer. This morning’s was the most colorful, but Monday and Tuesday morning were softly pretty too.

Good morning world!

Yesterday we walked the neighborhood and enjoyed the moody skies just before a thunderstorm rolled in.

What this lake probably looked like in the 1940s. And today.

This place has the feel of old Florida, when times were simpler and small things got noticed. A time before Disney World and all inclusive resorts.

Lots of open land with cattle grazing. Taken with my phone from the back seat of a moving car.

As my husband and I enjoyed the company of an extended family we let the crazy world go on by, kept the TV off, didn’t read the news, and sat into the evening telling old family stories and enjoying good food.

Not a bad way to begin a vacation.

Tuesday’s sunrise.

Tomorrow we’re going to see a baseball game at the Tiger spring training camp and then we’ll figure out what we’re going to do next.

Contemplating deep thoughts. And bubbles.

Not to say we’re entirely ignoring those white sand beaches and blue skies. No, I think at least a peek at the Gulf is on the list.

After all, we are in Florida.

This is Herman. He likes to steal fish from fishermen’s buckets.


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Release

Contemplating this past week.


It’s been a long and reflective week, beginning Saturday morning when I woke to hear the news that former President Bush had died. My first response was a deep sadness for his family, particularly for his children. My second thought was joy that he was reunited with his beloved Barbara and daughter Robin.

I guess that’s typical, the intertwining of sadness with joy during times like this, the emotions washing up and even overlapping as you maneuver your way through the tasks that must be done to celebrate a life.

Being retired I was able to watch the last journey of the President’s body from lying in state at our Capital to the beautiful ceremony at the National Cathedral and then his flight to Texas and the train ride to his library and final resting place in Houston.

A bit of joyful color in the bleak winter landscape.

And I watched his children and their spouses as they stood time after time watching the transfer of the coffin, on and off planes and the train, into and out of buildings, up and down stairs, all the while being watched by an entire world. Showing their grief or holding it in. Probably exhausted and moving on adrenaline. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, to have such a prolonged and public goodbye.

I’m glad they had a private time together when they said their last goodbye at the library. And I hope today, the day after all the ceremony is done, I hope today they are spending time with each other quietly remembering, laughingly remembering, wistfully remembering.

Looking for simple beauty.

This holiday season will be the first without their parents. To lose booth of them within the same year is so hard. So much change in such a short time, celebrations will never be the same. This year, for sure, will have sad undertones.

But there’s that sneaky joy that will infiltrate too. At times when they least expect it they’ll hear Barbara or George’s voice, telling a story, singing a silly song, laughing at an old joke. They’ll see them in the food they prepare, family favorites or maybe not, if broccoli is on the menu.

But I like broccoli mama!

And little by little, over the months and years there will be more joy and less sad. And best of all, while the sadness recedes, their parents, grandparents, great grandparents will never be far away.

Today as I watch a gentle snow fall and listen to Christmas music I realize that it’s the same for all of us during the holidays. The losses are always there, but the love is always there too.

Let the light shine on you.

My wish for the Bush family is that they spend these precious days together in privacy and peace, certain of the gratefulness of their nation and of the love they will always share within their family. I wish for them a release from the tension and pressure of such a long and public goodbye.

Let your joy show through.

And I wish, for all of you, peaceful holidays too.

Live in the moment.


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So they aren’t forgotten

Something horrible happened in this beautiful place.


We’ve all seen them, those markers of loss by the side of the road. Do you wonder about the person they represent? When a new one appears do you feel a sudden stab of emotion?

I do.

Sometimes these memorials act as reminders to drive safely.

I think I’ve always unconsciously noticed the markers, but ever since my dad was killed on a Georgia freeway I’ve been more aware.

And more curious.

I don’t know who this was, or what it symbolizes, but I nod hello when I go by.

Because I know we as a family wanted the spot that dad died be marked. A life changing event happened there and it seemed wrong that the road returned to normal almost immediately after. That thousands of people passed by and no one knew what an extraordinary place it was.

Somehow you want people to know.

Sadly, turned left in front of a truck.

So for a few years I’ve stopped at roadside memorials, wherever it was safe to do so, and taken a picture to document the name and dates.

The driver lost control, she was ejected from the vehicle.

And back at home I’d try to find something out about that person. Sometimes I’d find a report of the crash, or the obituary.

See the gash at the bottom of the tree? I think she became an angel right here.

And then, each time I passed the memorial I’d remember that person, sort of an acknowledgement of their existence, a bit of sorrow at the way they left.

State trooper hit by vehicle pulling a trailer, dragged to his death.

I think that’s what the families want, to keep their loved one alive in the minds or hearts of people.

It’s not always a religious symbol.

I feel sad for all of them, but none so much as the young ones. The young drivers, the children who happened to be in the vehicles.

A young driver, he crossed the center line on a curve.

There seem to be so many of them.

Nothing permanent, just left the flowers from the funeral. Motorcycle hit a deer, then a car hit him.

So what, are you asking, did we do at the site of the crash that killed dad? It’s on a very busy piece of freeway, about an hour west of Atlanta, right at a truck weigh station. We knew we couldn’t safely stop there for much more than a moment.

Some crashes happened so long ago, but family never forgets.

So we concocted a plan.

We bought three bags of daffodil bulbs, loaded up into the car with a pic and a shovel and drove there one rainy afternoon. We pulled over as far as we could, piled out of the car, hacked a hole in the soil, tossed the bulbs in and covered them up as fast as we could while cars and trucks streamed by.

Some are so recent.

In the fourteen years since, I’ve rarely been in the South at the right time of year, and never have I taken the more than hour drive from the lake over to the crash site to see if they’ve survived.

The loss of small children breaks my heart.

But last spring I went.

And the road was still as busy, several lanes of trucks and cars flying by. Lots and lots of trucks on all sides of me. I couldn’t really take a long look. But out of the corner of my eye, as I passed the site I saw something.

Waiting in the dying light to offer solace.

Just a simple flash of yellow, there below the guardrail.

I’m not sure how many daffodils were in bloom, I think more than one. To be honest it could have been a yellow solo cup, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that for a brief moment, driving down that freeway, my heart sang and I smiled.

So many stories lost.

So if the daffodils really bloom, there along the highway every spring, then I have to think a few other people have noticed them as they speed past. And maybe they smiled too, and wondered at their meaning.

And I think dad would have enjoyed the beauty and mystery of that.

Hope.