Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Healing walk

This morning was the 15th anniversary of the semi-truck crash that killed my dad. Fifteen years of working on issues to make our roads safer. Fifteen years of missing him every single day.

For whatever reason this year was rougher than usual. So after my physical therapy session I planned to take myself off for a walk in the woods. Unseasonably warm, at 52F (11.11C) this December afternoon, I packed extra water for Katie-girl who insisted on going along. “We can’t waste a day like today mama!”

Early afternoon sunlight felt warm on this December day.

Though it was a Monday there were plenty of people enjoying the sunshine. Everyone we met smiled at the cute sheltie who was showing off her good side by letting little kids pet her. We even ran into a woman who said she used to handle shelties at dog shows and that “someone did some good breeding” with Katie.

A perfect day to walk in the woods.

We moved at Katie’s speed which means we walked very slowly. There was so much to see and sniff. I was in no hurry either, thinking about Dad and Mom, and how much they would have enjoyed a walk in this woods on such a beautiful day, and that made me smile.

Do I get to choose which way we go mama?

About an hour into the walk my phone, which I had set to map our walk, intoned “Mile 1, split time – not moving.” I laughed out loud. We were so slow that the GPS in my phone didn’t think we had moved at all. Katie was insulted.

We’ll come back here soon.

All in all it was a lovely walk in a beautiful park. It’s new to us, we were introduced to it just this past fall by a friend. Katie says we owe her cookies or something else equally nice, as this is a wonderful place to walk. While we were there I bought a pass for 2020 as I’m sure we’ll be back!

Sometimes life throws you curves.

There’s nothing quite like spending time outside to shake the blues. I’ll always miss my parents, but it felt good taking them with me on today’s walk.

And I bet they enjoyed it just as much as we did.

Made it through another Dec 23rd.


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Truck Drivers want to spend the holiday with family too

So much of what I write about trucks talks about their affect on us in cars. Trucks plowing into the back of slowed traffic. Trucks representing such a high percentage of crashes in construction zones. Fatigued truck drivers. Distracted truck drivers.

But did you know that driving a commercial truck is the most deadly job in the United States? The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks it as #1 on the list of dangerous jobs in 2018.

In fact, in 2018, 831 truck drivers died on the job. Many of these were truck on truck crashes, or individual trucks going off the road for a variety of reasons. But there were plenty of truck/car crashes too.

In 2018 almost 5,000 people died in truck related crashes. The numbers have been trending up since 2009. The stresses of driving a truck intersecting with the stresses of driving a car never end well for those in the car. And the guilt and grief most truck drivers experience when there’s a crash, particularly a fatal crash, can be overwhelming.

Recently I found a few articles about trucker suicide. The drivers are caught in the middle, between the shippers that want their goods moved quickly, the trucking company that wants the goods shipped profitably, the loading docks that are overbooked, road construction everywhere, and people driving cars much too close — not leaving enough space for trucks to maneuver safely. And to top it off they are paid by the mile. Every delay costs them money.

It’s hard to make a living on the road.

For those of us working on safety issues 2019 was a busy but frustrating year. We pushed four bills, each addressing a different issue, the objective of each to make our roads safer for everyone – truck drivers included. It was hard to feel like we made much progress, politics being what it is today, but we were out there sharing ideas and pushing safety and people on the hill and out in our communities listened. That’s a beginning.

But we all know that every moment we are out there pushing for safety more people, people in cars and people in trucks, are dying. Every delay in our work costs someone his or her life. On average 13 people a day are dying in truck crashes.

Next year, 2020, we’ll be working hard again. If you’re still thinking about donating to our cause, here’s the link. We’d appreciate it. Our work is so important and we can’t do it without your help.

And if you know a truck driver, give them a hug and ask them to stay safe. Spread the word among your family and friends during this holiday season about driving safely around trucks. Remind everyone that safety advocates are working to make the roads safer for everyone, truck drivers included.

Because they want, and deserve, to go home to their families too.

Dedicated to my dad, killed by a tired trucker Dec 23, 2004.

Ten years before.


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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.