A Work In Progress

I once had a boss, Dr. Ed, who was a well-respected accident reconstructionist. I worked for him for nearly fifteen years. He was a tall, deep-voiced, imposing man who tended to terrify people who didn’t know him—but in truth he was big hearted and caring, not to mention brilliant. And moody and complicated and completely exasperating! But he considered his staff his family, and we loved him. When I first met him, he was eyeball deep into cycling—as in really nice road bicycles. He had all the gear, several bikes, and would go out on the weekends to participate in races. Being a cyclist meant he also held himself to a very strict diet and exercise regimen. He wasn’t one to devote himself to something half-heartedly. He was also interested in firearms. He took every course he could find, learned the mechanics of them, learned to shoot them and educated himself on every bit of minutia there was to know. He earned all the certifications there were to earn. Soon, he was being called not only to consult and testify regarding fifteen car pileups–but also incidents involving firearms.

But Dr. Ed wasn’t finished challenging himself yet. Next, he spent a few years learning everything about Harley Davidsons, and acquiring several beautiful bikes and a show trailer, etc., etc. Then, he started racing. First, he bought and raced Dodge Vipers. Then, Ferraris. He didn’t just race them. Like all of his “hobbies” he learned everything about them—he even traveled to Italy to tour the factory and see how they were built. As an engineer, he was intrigued by the mechanics and performance dynamics of all vehicles. They presented a host of complex problems to him. Problems he wanted to solve! I still remember a funny moment when, completely bewildered, he told me his driving instructor said he was too analytical, overthinking every moment on the race track, and that he needed to learn to rely on his instincts. He had a really hard time with that, as you can imagine. Even funnier was when he called to say he was at a driving course with a guy who “was in some band called AC…DC…” Had I ever heard of it? He had not, that he could recall. Dr. Ed was a little sheltered from popular culture in that way. As you can see, I remember him as a bit larger than life. He was, and suddenly, out of the blue, he was gone from our lives. At his funeral, we all gathered at the race track and in our own vehicles and followed the hearse around until they waved the checkered flag when he crossed the finish line.

I learned A LOT from Dr. Ed, and he made a real impression on my life. Not just mine. When my son was about five years old, Dr. Ed gave him a poster of him driving his Ferrari and autographed it for him. My son still remembers going to watch Dr. Ed race. Just yesterday, my now 16 year old son put that poster in a new frame and hung it on his wall and that got me thinking about how eleven years later, he’s still a part of our lives.

Dr. Ed inspired me to always be a work in progress. To never stop being interested in new things, and learning and bettering myself. While I don’t have his very hard-earned and well-deserved budget, I know budget really doesn’t matter. For example, for the past year, I’ve been teaching myself Spencerian handwriting.

Spencerian

It’s a small thing, and although I’m not very good, I love it. This example, from the Fountain Pen Network is what I aspire to…

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My handwriting, as an adult, wasn’t so great, probably because of my reliance on the computer. Not only did I want to improve it, but I love the historical aspect of beautiful cursive writing, and it pains me that kids aren’t learning even the basics in school today. That’s the subject for another blog, though.

Another challenge I’d like to tackle, but haven’t yet…public speaking. I’m awful at it. I love people. I can talk to anyone. But put me up on a stage with a podium and microphone and … something in my brain trips a breaker and I start speaking in tongues. I need to join Toastmasters…just the thought terrifies me. Ha! I may immerse myself in the art of French cooking first.

What about you? What’s something you are currently learning or is there something you would like to learn how to do? Tell me, because I may decide I need to learn it too!

Summer Fun

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By now many, if not most, school districts and universities/colleges are back in session. Summer is over and it’s time to get back in a groove of school, homework, longer commutes and busier schedules.

The dog days of summer are behind us—though in the Southeast, we’re still feeling the heat and humidity. And typically will for months to come.

With our kids and teachers starting back to school, I thought I’d call upon a beloved class assignment from my past: the age old, “What did you do this summer?” essay.

I have to say, I had a blessed summer of 2014. My girls are older, so they’re not home all that often now and when they are, I treasure every moment.

I started off with a three-week visit from with my youngest before she headed back to college for the summer session. Yes, I tried to pack as much fun as I could in her short time with me.
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Then, my youngest niece and nephew arrived to spend two months with my parents and me. Talk about reliving my past. It’s been a while since I’ve had elementary and middle school kids running around the house. From World Cup soccer parties to 90 minutes of trampoline time at a local Skyzone…they certainly kept me hopping—in a fun way!

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Between two writers’ conferences, a rousing family reunion celebration in Texas
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and the passing of a beloved uncle, my June and July flew by.

To cap off my summer, my middle daughter arrived home for two weeks and we headed off for a long weekend in Key West, my old stomping grounds during junior high and high school.

We biked all around the island,
P & G biking KW
hit Duval for a little dancing and nightlife, watched a glorious sunset on Mallory Square, caught sunrise before hitting the tennis courts, spent a relaxing day on a boat with old friends, passed by my childhood home and enjoyed playing tourist. It was a jam-packed weekend of catching up with good friends and sharing my hometown with my daughter.

Some folks have commented on all the traveling I managed to do over the past few months. Yes, I’ve been blessed in that respect.

For me though, what I really count as a blessing is the time I’ve been able to spend with family. The memories we created together. The hours spent in each other’s company. The opportunity to say, “I love you” in person to loved ones I don’t get to see often enough.

I’d say the highlight of my summer was the blessing of family time. With the traveling being the icing on the cake. ☺

So, as the Key West sun sets, the homeschool teacher in me wants to know: What did you do this summer?
KW sunset

I Don’t Like Johnny Football

I live in Texas, and I’m married to a very enthusiastic Aggie (are there any other type?), so I’m sure I’ll be flayed for this. But here’s the truth: I don’t like Johnny Manziel. On the other hand, I went to the University of Texas. Maybe I’m expected to disparage the former A&M quarterback.

There are a couple reasons I don’t like Manziel that have nothing to do with him personally.

1) He’s only 21 and making millions of dollars in the NFL. I know that’s not his fault. That’s legal. But at 21, he should be in school, getting an education, learning how to manage money wisely. I think the NFL, the association who looks out for student athletes, and the media do kids a disservice when they put them in situations like this. I don’t want to see Manziel crash and burn, but there’s a good chance he will.

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2) The media is making him a bigger deal than he is. Sometimes I think the media creates news, and they created this story for sure. Yes, Manziel is a good player. So are hundreds of other players. So are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and a lot of other football players. And you know what? There are a lot of people who don’t earn nearly what the worst pro football player makes, and what they do is a lot more important. Let’s talk about police officers, soldiers, teachers, EMTs, plumbers–yes, plumbers! Ever had a water leak flooding your house? Give me a plumber over a football player any time.

Why I don’t like Manziel personally.

3) He’s not a role model. Man, I wish Tim Tebow had been able to stay in the NFL. I’m sure there’s some football related reason he didn’t last, but he was a good guy. I could get behind Tim Tebow (as much as I can get behind any football player). But Manziel doesn’t have a great record. He gets in trouble. He gives the other team the finger. He’s not a good sport. He drinks, parties, and acts a lot like a 21-year-old kid. Oh, wait. He IS a 21-year-old kid. So that goes back to my first reason for not liking him.

manziel

Can we please stop idolizing football players? I suppose that’s about as likely as persuading people to stop idolizing rock stars. That’s a whole different blog.

An open letter to the family who donated my mother’s kidney,

First, please let me begin by thanking you for your generosity at a time that must have been unimaginably difficult. My mother received a kidney transplant in late July and I will never be able to express how thankful we all are. Instead I would like to tell you what your gift means to my family and to me.

DSC_0085_NEFMy mother has been suffering from renal failure for nearly twenty years. At first, it was manageable with diet, but eventually—nearly ten years ago—she had to go on dialysis. She has been on the kidney transplant list for the past six and half years.

I have young children, ages nine and six. This means their grandmother has been on dialysis for all their lives. The grandmother they have known has always been weak and fragile. She has been unable to babysit them, or get down on the floor and play with them. Due to her dialysis schedule, she often hasn’t been able to attend school events. Holidays have been cut short. Multi-generation family vacations have been impossible. I know how much she loves them and how hard it has been on her to not be a “normal” grandmother to them.

For me, the hardest part has been knowing that even the limited part she has played in their lives couldn’t last. Dialysis is hard on a person’s body and I have watched as it shaved years off my mother’s life, knowing that the inevitably result of my mother’s kidney failure would be that she would not live to see my children grow into adults. They would never know her as teenagers. They would not be able to turn to her for guidance in those tough years. They would never see her through the eyes of an adult.

My mother is my children’s only grandmother. We lost my mother-in-law to pancreatic cancer three years ago. It breaks my heart, but they have already begun to forget her and how much she loved them. Knowing they would lose their other grandmother too, that they would forget her, that they would enter adulthood with no grandmother … that has been heart wrenching for me.

That is what this gift you’ve given us means to me. Not only does it mean more years with my mother for me, but it means more years with her for my children. It means she will live long enough to see them graduate high school and probably college. It means they will have the chance to know her. My mother is one of brightest, most cheerful, most optimistic people I have ever known. She has faced true hardship in her life, and she has always done it with a smile. Her optimism and joy infect everyone around her. At my darkest moments, I’ve been able to think, “What would my mother do?” And the answer is almost always, “She would find the positive. She would find a way to smile through it.” Sometimes, just having that example is enough. Because of your family’s generosity, my children will have that example, too.

Thank you. Thank you a thousand times, in a thousand tiny ways.


 

Emily McKay lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country where she bakes and collects eggs from her yard chickens.

Wingmen

Shortly after the tragic news about Robin Williams broke, when messages of shock flooded Facedbook, a friend of mine posted this:

Where was your wingman, Robin Williams? For all the joy you brought to people, all the fans mourning your loss and others condemning, who among us was there for you? We never really know what’s going on in the mind of someone else.

Over the next few hours, her words became a constant echo through my mind, poking and prodding, nudging, shifting into new questions: Who’s my wingman? Who can I call? Who can I lean on? Who’s there for me? But then…Whose wingman am I? Do they know? Do they know they can call me anytime…about anything? Do they know I am there for them? Do I demonstrate the things that I think in my heart? Do I reach out? Do I touch base and check on them? Do I let them know when I think about them?

For the past several weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship. It started earlier this summer with my dreaded annual mammogram. I believe in them, but wow, do they stress me out. Because of that, I’d put this one off a bit. But I knew it was time to go, so I mustered my courage and went. Then I waited. A day went by with no phone call. Yay! Day two. The morning went by. Yay! Maybe I’m in the clear….but then…the phone rings. It’s the hospital…the nurse…they’ve found something…an abnormality…I need to come back…my head is spinning…I’m feeling dizzy…

Okay, maybe you know that drill. I do. It’s happened before. But I stood there, all barely able to breathe and freaked out and…alone. And I wanted to call someone. I needed to call someone. I needed someone to take my hand and tell me it would be okay. I needed a wingman.

But I had no idea who to call.

At first I thought about my husband…but he was working and I didn’t want to worry him while he needed to be focused on his job. Then I thought about my sister…but she’s got massive big stuff on her plate, and I didn’t want to stress her out. Then I thought about my sweet neighbor…but I didn’t want to lay that on her. Then…

I just stood there, because I honest to God had no idea who to call. Because somehow I’ve reached this point where I have lots of people with whom I’m friends, but I’m not sure I have…a wingman.

There, I said it.

It’s odd that I can be surrounded by so much, a loving husband and wonderful kids, by great neighbors and friends, but still sometimes feel alone. And I know that part of that is my fault, because sometimes I don’t know how to reach out, to say, hey, I’m scared. I’ve got a problem. I need help. I need someone right now. I need a friend. I need YOU.

It takes a lot of courage to make yourself vulnerable like that. It’s like standing before someone naked.

But just like you have to get naked with your spouse (or significant other or whoever you’re crawling in bed with), I’m realizing you have to get naked with your friends too (figuratively speaking, of course.) (unless you’re like trying on swimsuits or something.) (but maybe that’s a topic for another day).

Sometimes I wonder when things got so complicated. Maybe they always were, but it seems like marriage and careers and motherhood, LIFE, all add extra layers and pressures to our daily existences, and sometimes it’s friendship that takes the backseat.

Have you ever felt like that? Like someone just took their friendship away? I have. Maybe we don’t mean for that to happen. We don’t want for it to happen. Maybe we don’t even realize it’s happened. Then one day we realize it’s been weeks—months—since we’ve talked to someone. Maybe we’ve missed someone’s birthday or some other important milestone in their lives. Maybe we’ve hurt them and haven’t even realized it. Maybe they’ve hurt us. The next thing you know you’re estranged, and you’re not quite sure why. (Or maybe you are, but you don’t know what to do about it, because doing something about it is HARD and SCARY.)

Recently I’ve reconnected with two longtime friends (Hi, Stacey, Hi, Wendy…you better say HI back!) and having them back in my life has been like this great big GIFT dropped down in my lap. With them, there was no falling out, just a drifting apart. Our life paths diverged. Technology (okay, and baseball) brought us back together (thank you, Facebook!), and it’s been wonderful But there are two other friendships that did experience a fracture. I’m really not sure why, but I’m working on fixing those. And yeah, it’s scary. But that’s okay. Friendship is worth it.

Wingmen are worth it.

Make sure you’ve got one. Make sure you are one.

You never know just how important it might be.

(And oh yeah. The whole mammogram thing? Everything turned out fine. Cysts.)

Depression: A Serious Disease

depression 3
I had a different idea for today’s blog, but my heart is heavy after learning about the loss of two people to depression and suicide in less than 24 hours.

One is a Hollywood legend that touched the lives of millions around the world with his laughter, insight into character and engaging personality (Robin Williams). The other was a young man, barely in his twenties. A beloved son with his entire life ahead of him.

But depression doesn’t discriminate. It knows no bounds. Age, sex, race, status… It doesn’t matter.
child depression
And depression isn’t something a person can merely “get over.” Or “set aside.” Or even worse, “just suck it up.”

For the person struggling with the disease, life can seem worthless. They feel lost, alone. The lows can be abysmal, with no light to reach for evident.
depression 2
For family members, it can be difficult as they struggle to understand the depths of the disease and how it affects their loved one.

Depression is not something to take lightly. To brush off. To dismiss as a weakness. It’s an evil disease. It takes lives. It leaves families shattered.
depression 1
If you or a loved one, a neighbor or co-worker…if anyone you come in contact with shows signs of depression, don’t let it slide. Instead, find the name and number of a local crisis center. Learn about the resources available and share that information. All it could take is for that person struggling to know that someone cares, that help is available. That they are worth it. That life can be a beautiful gift. That their life is a beautiful gift.

So please, look up that number and jot it down, add it to your phone contacts, share it with others.

And today, remember to hug your children and let them know they mean the world to you. Tell your spouse you love him or her. Call your mom and dad, sister and brother, grandmother and aunt. Email your favorite teacher. Text your best friend. Smile at the person in line at the bank or grocery store. Share a joke with a co-worker.

You never know when you have the chance to be the ray of sunshine in someone’s day.
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Resources to consider:

http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/help-for-depression#TreatmentFacts1

http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depresssion-support

Baby Shower Gifts

I hosted my sister’s baby shower last weekend. She’s due mid-September with her first baby. It’s been 5 years since my baby shower and there are already new, cool gadgets and baby items out there. I wish I’d had some of them!

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Of course, what I thought I needed at the time and what I really needed were not always the same thing. Wouldn’t parenting be easier if we knew what our baby would be like before he or she would be born?

Watching my sister play the party games and open gifts, I was struck by how clueless she was about what was to come. Life will change forever and irreversibly in about 5 weeks. But all she was thinking about was holding the baby and dressing him in cute little clothes and taking pictures of his firsts. She’s excited to meet him and become a mom.

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That’s why I love baby showers. They remind me of the time before my daughter was born, when motherhood was a wonderful mystery. When every kick and flutter was amazing. When I was scared and excited all at the same time. All moms need a dose of that new baby excitement once in a while. I went home and hugged my big girl, snuggling her like I would have if she’d let me as a cranky baby.

And you know what I realized? I love her more than I did when she was a baby. All the excitement I felt was warranted. My life has changed in so many wonderful and unexpected ways. The fear was warranted too. Not everything has gone how I envisioned. I love giving my sister the gift of a shower, but she gave me the gift of renewed appreciation for my “baby” too.

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