Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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In the heat of the moment – Washington DC

A press conference a couple years ago.

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We’re headed to Washington DC today, to attend over the weekend and into next week, the 8th Sorrow to Strength conference. Many of you know that I’m a volunteer for the Truck Safety Coalition, that I’ve been working with them on truck safety issues ever since my dad was killed by a tired trucker in December of 2004.

Every other year a lot of families, all whose lives have been forever changed by truck crashes, meet in DC to provide support to each other and to lobby for safer truck regulation.

Tami, a good friend now, lost multiple members of her family in a truck crash and resulting fire.

It’s hard.

But it’s good too, to reconnect with people we’ve come to know and to meet the new families, fresh in their grief.

At another press conference, fighting double 33 foot trailers.

I’ll let you know more about it next week, if I have time to post, or after we get home if I don’t.

Safety is no accident.


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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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Conflicted

I don’t want to talk about this and maybe that’s the problem. Maybe no one wants to really talk about this, to leave our own biases behind and talk and then listen without interruption to the other side of the debate.

I wasn’t exposed to guns growing up. My parents didn’t hunt, I didn’t have any friends that hunted. I have cousins that hunt but I was never actively involved. The closest I’ve been was to walk by deer hanging in the back of a pole barn, and though the first time was startling, I didn’t have an objection, knowing they used every possible part of the deer as a food supply for their family and friends.

Tree peony at it’s peak.

Still, I’m not personally comfortable with guns. And sometimes that bothers me, because I don’t know how to understand both sides of the gun debate. I’ve even considered taking a lesson or two, in order to know what it feels like to shoot a gun. Though that feels a bit intimidating.

But I do question the need for the average citizen to own automatic weapons. And yes I know I don’t even know the differences between them. But weapons that allow a shooter to pull off multiple shots a minute, kill and injure so many in the first moments of an attack, well, I just don’t think those should be in the hands of anyone but active military.

Blue thoughts this morning.

We hear the arguments against banning assault rifles every time the topic comes up. The constitution gets waved and we’re reminded it guarantees gun ownership. And besides, we’re told, these weapons are already on the streets and we’d never get them away from the bad guys anyway.

But I don’t think the writers of the constitution, when they were giving us the right to bear arms, knew anything about the devastation created by an assault rifle. I doubt they could even imagine such a thing. Moreover, banning a certain type of weapon or accessory doesn’t ban all weapons, doesn’t take away a person’s right to bear arms.

And if we don’t begin somewhere, don’t attempt to make our country safer, then what?

Geranium looking for a bit of light.

Do we just continue down the road we’re on now, where every few months people, sometimes dozens of people, lose their lives for no apparent reason? People just doing their jobs, running their errands, going to school, seeing a movie, enjoying a concert? Attending their place of worship?

Do we just continue to watch the news, see their faces through a fresh sheen of tears, while inside giving thanks that it wasn’t someone we knew, no one from our family? And do we just keep saying, sometimes out loud, that someone ought to do something? And then let it slide from our mind as we go about our daily lives?

Virginia Beach victims, photo from the internet.

What will it take for people in this country to have an honest discussion about the whole problem. Not just the guns, I realize there’s a problem with our mental health system too, but guns can not be left out of the equation.

What will it take for all of us to leave our comfort zone behind, leave our assumptions and personal histories behind, what will it take for us to face this uncomfortable place where we sit across from family and friends with opposing views and just talk.

And then come up with some viable first step.

My bleeding heart is fading among the forget-me-nots. I am not immune to the irony of that.

Sandy Hook with it’s children and teachers lost should have been everyone’s last straw. That tragedy should have been the catalyst for change, but even that loss wasn’t enough for most of us to be brave.

It’s complicated. Change is hard. But this morning, as I wandered my gardens looking for a peace I didn’t find, I grew convinced we have to try.

Can we find the light?

Because how many lost is the magic number, how many shattered families are too many, what does it take for us to grow up and do the hard work to become a responsible nation?

Can’t we be the adults here and sit down with someone we know holds opposing views and talk? I think we have to.

It would be a start.

Forget-me-nots remind us to never forget.


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Truck rant

Several lives changed or ended abruptly in Colorado Thursday, April 25th.

Photo taken from the internet.

As many of you saw on national news a semi truck came barreling down a mountainside, out of control according to witnesses, stopping only when it struck rush hour traffic. Four people were killed. Ten people, including the semi driver, were treated for injuries.

This crash brought out strong emotions in me, the daughter of a man killed by a semi driven by a sleepy driver. I know first hand how difficult the road ahead will be for the families of those killed, and have friends who know all about the hurdles facing the surviving victims.

The driver’s life has changed forever too. He’s been charged with 40 charges, including four counts of vehicular homicide. His family, of course, supports him.

He was newly hired at the Texas company who owned the truck, a company who has had previous safety violations, including those involving brakes. He was only driving a truck temporarily to earn some money. He wasn’t planning on becoming a professional driver, though he was happy to get the job.

But the story gets even worse.

This crash was the perfect storm of all the things that can go wrong when an inexperienced driver gets into the seat of an 80,000 pound vehicle, working for a small, independent company. A company that obviously didn’t care about safety, as evidenced by their earlier safety violations and the lack of training. A small company, with only five trucks, a company that carries only the minimum liability insurance of $750,000.

That minimum insurance is required for a truck company to operate, the law requiring it was implemented in 1980 and has never been increased even though the cost of living, including medical costs, have skyrocketed since. Small companies often carry only that much, even though, as we can see, the death and destruction caused by a semi crash doesn’t correlate to the size or wealth of the company.

So those four families who’s loved ones died last week, and the families of all those injured, some still in the hospital, will have to split the available liability insurance of $750,000 between them, and share it with the state of Colorado too, if there are any needed road repairs as a result of this crash.

Seven Hundred Fifty Thousand doesn’t begin to cover the costs. It won’t begin to compensate families for their losses. It won’t cover lost wages, or pain meds, skin grafts or surgeries. And what about the company itself, the one who put that young driver in the driver’s seat and sent him off to the mountains of Colorado with faulty brakes?

They will likely file bankruptcy and start up again the next day under another name. And don’t think they’ll have learned anything from this – the likelihood of them becoming a safer truck company in their next incarnation is negligible.

Because for companies like this it’s not about safety. It’s all about the money.

And unless we raise the liability insurance minimum to something substanstial so that the insurance company will underwrite the truck company, including it’s safety record, until we require companies to cover a larger portion of any damage they cause, then there’s no incentive to put safety first.

The opposing argument is that increased insurance requirements would be too expensive, that it would put small truck companies out of business. Well. My opinion is if you can’t afford the actual cost of doing business you should find another business to be in. Don’t pass your costs on to innocents, who will then have to file bankruptcy themselves, buried under medical bills, and eventually get assistance from Medicaid, which is paid for by all taxpayers.

I don’t know about you, but to me it’s only common sense to tie the required level of liability insurance to the rise in medical expenses. But I know that’s not likely to happen all at once, if at all. I’d be happy to get it raised to $2 million, which also wouldn’t have been enough to handle all the loss and expenses from last week’s crash.

This week some of those families are likely finding out there’s little to nothing available to them to help them in their new normal. It’s going to feel like a slap in the face.

Image taken from the internet.

Those people were sitting in their cars in rush hour traffic. Doing nothing wrong. They got up to go to work or school or the grocery store and the world as they knew it imploded in a split second because of greed. Because profit trumps safety. Because people, with no thought of anyone else, made some very bad decisions.

For those involved in the April crash spring will never come again in quite the same way.

And this is why we go to Washington, over and over and over again. Because someday someone will hear, finally hear, how crazy this all is. This year it’s remotely possible that there will be another attempt to get the minimum required level raised. If that happens I’ll ask you all to call and text and email your Washington Representatives and Senators.

It takes a lot to get their attention, so we’ll need you all. Thank you for reading this far, and thank you for your support.

The regulrly scheduled blog will continue shortly. While you wait, if you’re the praying sort, send a little prayer up for the families involved in this crash, and for the victims of all the other crashes happening daily across our country.

Thank you.

Hey Dad. Hope you’re showing the new people around heaven.


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The misadventures of a Katie-girl

Katie here. HEY! It’s not my fault if I had a few unsettling adventures around here. It’s not like mama takes me anywhere fun after all.

Happy at my park.

First I thought I was going on an adventure and I ended up at camp for a whole week while they were off frolicking in Florida. I like Florida, I’ve been there three times, I love to run on the beach and stuff. Plus my boyfriend Mr. Reilly is there. So I don’t get why I couldn’t go with them.

Me, my boyfriend Mr. Reilly and his little brother Denny on our first beach adventure way back in 2017!

So I showed them. The morning after I got home I talked mama into taking me on a walk. She was tired cause she just flew home herself, but she felt guilty (as she should) for making me stay at camp, so she took me up the street.

Me in my yard, which is not an adventure mama!

I was doing my sheltie prance, butt wagging, sniffing all the good stuff like usual when suddenly I slowed down. Mama thought that was odd. Then I turned around and looked at her and threw up! And then I threw up two more times!

Then I just lay down in the middle of our street and I started to quiver all over.

I told mama not to show anyone my tummy!!

Mama said that was not normal. And even though we were only about four houses away from home she called my dad and he came and got us. Then she called the vet.

So the next car ride I get was to the vet! This is not an adventure mama! They poked me and looked in places no princess should allow, and they took my blood. I didn’t give permission for any of this, but I felt kinda miserable so I couldn’t argue much.

I guess my backyard is better than nothing.

The vet couldn’t come up with anything, but mama had a sinking feeling cause I had an episode just like this in 2015, also one day after being sprung from camp. We didn’t figure out anything then either.

I finally convinced mama to take me to my park.

So the next day I was feeling all happy again, but mama put me on a low fat wet food for awhile just to see. Boy that was good! And when I stayed happy for several days mama did a bad thing.

She scheduled me to get my teeth cleaned, and while I was out she asked them to do an ultrasound of all my innards!

So the next week I find myself at the vet again! This is so not fair, especially because this time daddy left me there! Mama couldn’t even come because she fell on some ice and had both hands and wrists wrapped up in splints and she didn’t feel so good herself.

I would like to say, for the record, that mama’s fall was not my fault!

My park needs my inspection more regularly!

Anyway, I got all sleepy and stuff and when I woke up I didn’t feel so good and my tummy was cold! Mama and daddy came to get me and I was sort of happy but kinda confused. The vet said he didn’t see anything on the ultrasound, but he’d send it off for a better look by an expert.

All I wanted to do was get out of there.

I watched two sandhill cranes very carefully. Not going to chase them though, cause they are bigger than me!

I got home and I slept and slept and slept. But when I went out to do my business my #2 was liquid. And you know what? It’s been four days now and it’s still not right. But the vet said the ultrasound didn’t show anything abnormal.

Sigh.

Mama and daddy are talking about my poo all the time now and deciding what to do. They have even cancelled their next adventure because they don’t want to send me back to camp. Score one for Katie!

They say they might have to take me back to the vet. Uh oh. Minus one for Katie!

Trying to look cute so they don’t take me to the vet again.

Somehow that’s not a win for me, ya know? So I’m doing my best to produce a normal poo for them so we can get on with some fun stuff. Mama did take me to my park yesterday for a short walk around the pond. That’s where most of these pictures come from. It was a beautiful day and I was very very very happy to be there.

We didn’t get to walk all the way around the park because mama’s hands are still wrapped up and her mittens don’t fit. She is a wimp!

Mama says if I straighten up my act (and if her hands ever heal) we’ll do something fun cause spring is almost here. Heck I told her, I like cold weather, we need to be out there enjoying it right now!

All that poo talk made me sleepy.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I hope all of you are having a much better end to your winter than mama and me. She says to watch out for black ice. I say to watch out for car rides to the vet!

Talk later, I got stuff to do now….maybe even a #2!

Your gal Katie.

I’m outta here people! I’ve got adventures to plan!


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Photography makes me fat

I admit, the title of this post wormed it’s way into my brain during sleep last night. It made perfect sense then, but it’s less clear in today’s snowy morning light.

I weighed myself yesterday because my knees, hip and legs ache most of the day and night. I particularly notice my knees when I’m carrying the dog, an extra twenty pounds on top of my own extra poundage.

Snow is on the way.

In my sleep I analyzed the situation. I rarely take long walks anymore. When I do walk, even on short neighborhood strolls, I almost always have a camera, though sometimes it’s just my phone. There is always something to stop and take a picture of.

Always.

So the walk turns into a photo shoot. Very few calories are expended while leaning over a mushroom or shooting up into trees.

Let’s go for a walk before it snows more mama!

I wear my Fitbit and religiously note the dismal number of daily steps. Even knowing I’m barely moving doesn’t get me off the sofa. It’s just so warm and snugly there. And here comes winter in full force. Record breaking cold is on the way. More snow. Little sunlight. The odds or me taking more steps slips lower.

But! We have a perfectly good elliptical in the basement. It’s been there for years and I’ve used it twice. It’s hard. It’s boring. But I have no excuse, something has to change, probably more than one something.

Darn. Change is hard.

Don’t stop visiting us lady!


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Trent’s Weekly Smile or A Bird in the Hand

During the holidays I’ve lost track of Trent’s Weekly Smile challenge, but surely there are things to make me smile this week. After all Christmas was just this past Tuesday.

Come along with me, there’s got to be something to smile about down here!

Still, I was feeling kind of blue, typical for me around this time of year, with the anniversary of my dad’s death on the 23rd. And this year I had the loss of two people I’d call friends, one in his 80s who was a big supporter of our community band, another a friend from almost forty years ago, someone I haven’t seen in many years but still count as a friend. Both died this week of cancer before Christmas had a chance to arrive.

So early this morning I headed out to my favorite park with my new camera, intent on figuring some camera stuff out while searching for a smile. This park never lets me down.

Even though it’s winter there are still colors here.

My goal was to figure out the manual settings on the new camera, how to set the aperture, the iso, the shutter speed. I’d read the manual and I’d searched youtube. Still, though it made sense while I was sitting on the sofa, I hadn’t been successful on the fly once in the woods.

New ice.

Maybe without Katie to distract me I could figure it out today.

I hadn’t intended to grab images of the birds eating out of my hand this time. You’ve seen those before.

Sure, I’ll pose next to these berries for you lady. That will be one seed please.

But I did have a pocket full of seed, hoping to lure them to me so that I could get good photos of them in their ‘natural’ habitat.

Got anything for breakfast lady?

But darn they were cute on my hand too. They were so hungry! I think I was the first human out there and as soon as I started down a trail they’d be swarming overhead.

Wait your turn!

So I set the camera back to auto and tried to get those iconic ‘eating out of my hand’ shots.

Back off titmouse!

One thing I noticed is that it was harder to get a clear focus. I think I’ll need to work on that. And I haven’t figured out how to fire off a bunch of shots at once yet. So I missed a lot of stuff. But I still had a blast.

Does this seed make me look fat?

I didn’t spend too much time feeding the birds at the beginning of the trail, I dropped some seed and moved along, and around the next corner was the flock of turkeys.

Nom nom nom nom.

I tossed them a bit of seed and kept on walking. The birds were following me and making a fuss so I stopped and took a video with my phone just to show people how crazy it was. And while I was doing that a male cardinal showed up.

Surprise!

This has never ever happened. I’ve had a cardinal here and there that was interested in the fact I was feeding the birds, but they’ve always been too shy to hop up on the hand themselves. They generally waited till I tossed some seed on the ground and moved away.

Good seed lady!

This guy startled me, I’d been focusing on the little birds and suddenly my hand was full of a big red bird!

He sat there and ate until he finished all the seed. I talked to him, stopped the video and clicked through some stills, he tipped his head and looked me in the eye, then casually selected another seed.

Yep, I’m pretty from all angles.

He was obviously king of the birds, because all the little birds waited on the ground or flew around my head while he was eating. One chickadee was braver than the rest and did a fly-by and grabbed a seed without stopping. Everyone else waited respectfully.

Meandering makes me smile too.

Finally he finished the seed, nodded at me and flew off across the swamp. I couldn’t stop grinning.

And that’s my smile for the week. A cardinal sat on my hand for a long time. Maybe he was sent from Aunt Vi, or my friends who have recently moved on. Maybe he was just a hungry bird. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.

These guys are still hanging around. They make me smile too.

I couldn’t ask for a better smile, it’s one I’ll remember forever.

And when I got home this little bit of nature was napping on our deck.

I hope the images here made you smile too.

Magical.


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A Christmas visit to pay respects

This afternoon, with the sun popping in and out of high clouds, I visited the nearby veterans cemetery hoping to find images that remind us all how important the people resting here were and still are.

The sky couldn’t decide between clouds and sun.

When I first arrived the sun was hiding and the images seemed flat. Still, there were stories to imagine as I read headstone after headstone.

Everybody here has someone missing them.

There are so many buried here, with room for thousands more. It’s a peaceful place way out in the country, surrounded by farmland, far away from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Still there’s a bit of Christmas tucked among the stones.

A wreath stands among the white headstones.

Some sections of the cemetery had wreaths placed against each stone, other sections had what looked like more personal decorations, perhaps placed by family members.

Some holiday cheer in a solemn place under dark skies.

I was just about to leave, not pleased with the images I had, when the sun come out, spotlighting the edges of the lines and lines of stones.

Sunlight changes everything.

Then a gun salute went off somewhere on the other side of the cemetery, and taps was played as another soldier began eternal rest. And the sun continued to shine, showing this place in all it’s beauty.

The sky clears.

If you have a similar cemetery near you, take some time and explore it, even if you don’t have family or friends there. There are many stories on the headstones, each one telling us a bit about the person resting below.

Notice this young man died at 24 years old, and the stone just to the left and back one row was a WWII vet, dying in the same month and year, but with so much more life lived.

We owe them at least a bit of time. I think you’ll find it a beautiful experience, especially this time of year.

Wishing you all joy and peace this holiday season.

Merry Christmas Mr. Kirchoff.


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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.