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By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Monday, March 17, 2014
Saturday I decided to make some cookies for St. Patrick's Day.
I chose some pretty rainbow refridgerator cookies and used THIS RECIPE from Flour on her Nose.
I was hungry and decided we needed a lot of cookies so I doubled the recipe.
Rainbow Refrigerator Cookies: Makes 4 dozen
2.5 cups of flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
16 tablespoons of room temperature butter (2 sticks)
1 cup of sugar
1 tbsp of any extract or flavoring (vanilla, lemon, mint, whatever!)
pinch of salt.
Cream together the butter and sugar. When that's light and fluffy, add in the egg, and the extract/flavoring.
Add in the rest of the ingredients, and mix until the dough comes together.
Divide the dough into 7 parts, but not equally! To make sure the layers of the rainbow are the same thickness, the portions have to get progressively larger (from purple to red)
Color the smallest portion purple, and so on, and the largest red.
Cover and chill the doughs in the fridge for an hour. (or in the freezer for 15 minutes if you're a lazy bum like me)
Roll the purple dough into a snake, about 1 1/2 feet long. (for cookies the size of mine, about 1 1/2 inches across. If you want bigger ones, make the snake shorter and thicker)
Roll out each color, in order to fit perfectly over the color before it, and trim any excess before adding the next color.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Return the log to the fridge and chill until stiff enough to easily slice. (or the freezer again ;] )
Slice the log into 1/4 inch pieces, and places on a lined baking sheet.
Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, and let cool completely on a rack.
It's been my experience that choosing recipes randomly off the Internet is pretty hit or miss. But this recipe is definately one to keep around because the dough itself is spectacular. I had to work the food coloring into the dough pretty hard and nonetheless the cookies were still light and delish. It's a basic dough that could be changed a manipulated a thousand different ways, all with great results. It's my new favorite obviously.
I cut the dough into seven uneven parts, then added the color. One suggestion though, do the yellow and lighter colors first. I did the blue/greens first and then I had some trouble getting it off my hands so it wouldn't taint my lighter colors.
I also layered all the colors into a log then sliced and baked the cookies.
I couldn't figure out how to make a cookie with a nice edge that wouldn't spread while baking. So, instead, I cut my cookies in half after they had cooled a bit to get the rainbow. Added bonus, I ended up with a lot of cookies. Enough to eat, to save for the preschool class, and to hide and freeze for later.
Happy St. Patty's Day everybody. Hope your day is full of rainbows. (or some kind of similiar cliche'. )
By Robin Dearing
Friday, March 14, 2014
Pain makes me bitter. I'm very bitter today.
Since becoming ill last year, I've been suffering chronic pain in my hips and knees. It tends to be worse when it's cold, when I'm very active or when I'm there's not enough steriod in my system. It's the kind of dull aching pain that begs for anti-inflammatories, like ibuprophen — the kind of anti-inflammatories that I can no longer take due to the GI troubles created from my life-sustaining oral steroids.
I met with my primary-care doctor who determined that anatomically, my joints are sound. I do have some arthritis in my left hip and some kind of thing with my right knee, but nothing seriously wrong. That's good news. The bad news is they tend to hurt for some reason undetermined by my doctor. Since the pain started when I got sick, I am blaming Addison's disease. It's such a jerk disease, it should get all the blame.
In hopes of building up the muscles associated with these joints and alleviating my pain, I started physical therapy several weeks ago. The physical therapist checked over my joints and came to the same conclusion as my doctor. There's not much wrong with them anatomically. He did some research on Addison's and joint pain, finding a single article from the 1970s which summarized a paper written in the 1940s. It was of no help in that it just suggested that people with Addison's disease may suffer inflammation of the joints.
I now have an extensive routine of exercises that use a giant, yellow, rubber band, an exercise ball and 5 lb. weights. The first couple of weeks, the exercises created caused more pain, then less pain. I was starting to think maybe the physical therapy was working. Last week I was sick and taking extra steriod to combat my cold. The pain went away entirely. It was awesome. This week, I'm back on my regular dose of meds and the pain is markedly worse.
Why not take more steriods? Last week, when I bumped up my steriods by as little as possible, I gained five pounds in five days.
So, my choices: I can take more steriod to relieve my pain and gain a pound of fat a day which will likely eventually form into a hump on my back (this is not a joke, look up Cushing's disease) or I can suffer joint pain that I can't treat with anti-inflammatories. I do have some pain pills that I take when the pain keeps me awake at night. I can take those and sleep my days away, but the thought of spending my day in a doped up stupor when I have work to do and a life to live, is beyond depressing.
I'm so on the verge of shaking my fist and shouting my hatred for this disease, but this disease is part of me. Hating it, is hating myself. Learning to not hate myself is something that I've been trying to overcome since middle school. So today will be a suck-it-up day with that hopes that tomorrow will be a better day.
By Randee Bergen
Friday, March 14, 2014
We Americans! We’re a bunch of insincere and pompous phonies. Liars, even!
Or so the French seem to think. Our tendency to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, and go on and on past the small talk and into deep ideas and details about ourselves, is incomprehensible to the French.
I've been reading Au Contraire! Figuring Out the French (because my daughter is spending her junior year abroad in France) and the nature of friendship–and how it differs there from here in the U.S.–is so far the most interesting and easy-to-illustrate aspect of French culture.
I have found myself in several situations over the past few months doing just that–explaining how friendship in France works–and with complete strangers to boot. First it was a man at a wedding reception, someone I didn’t know, someone who sat down beside me to say hello because he had heard that I was from Grand Junction, a town he had been to a few times and had really liked. An hour later he knew a whole heck of a lot about my town and myself and my daughter going abroad and I was teaching him about French culture. Next it was a lady who was in line near me to get passports. We started talking about where we were going (I’m not really going to France, just want to be prepared in case there is an emergency while my daughter is there) and she made a comment about the French. I thought I better explain to her that much of our perception of the French stems from our differences in how we build relationships. And then there was a parent at parent-teacher conferences, a mom I sat near at my daughter’s swim meet, the man at the…
Well, since I’ve explained it so many times, I’ll share it with you, too. It really is quite fascinating.
Visualize a French person with about five concentric walls built around him. The outer wall will be the highest and each successive wall going in and toward the individual will be shorter. Now visualize an American, also with concentric walls surrounding him. The American’s outer walls are low, but as the walls get closer to the person, they get higher, taller.
Now, imagine that you are trying to develop a deep and lasting friendship with each of these two people. With the French guy, it will be extremely difficult to “get in.” It may take weeks, months, years to scale those outer walls. But, once you’re over that barrier, there will be a mutual agreement to commit to the friendship and it will become easier and easier to get close to the person, to get to know the real him.
Now, the American. I’m sure this will sound familiar. You can approach almost any American and start a conversation. And as long as you’re not creepy or overstepping boundaries or holding a person up from whatever it is he or she was just about to do, most Americans will keep chatting with you. Just like I did with the guy at the wedding reception and the lady in the passport line. Not only did we chat, but I shared a lot about my life, including that my daughter was going to France and oh by the way let me tell you something interesting about the French culture.
The thing about the American’s walls, however, is that even though it’s easy to get in, it’s difficult to continue climbing upward and inward to the real core or the real self of an American. In fact, we Americans may not ever truly know our closest friends and family members. We usually have a lot of mediocre and somewhat superficial friendships.
As I said, once you’re over the outer walls with a French person, you’re in and expected to commit to a truly amazing friendship. With Americans, a friendship might be based on a shared interest, a hobby, or just the fact that two people are coworkers. Once someone loses interest in the hobby, quits a job, or goes his or her separate way in life for whatever reason, the friendship might be over. Not so true with the French.
Another difference in friendships between our two cultures is that Americans are into “doing” whereas French people are into “being.” We like to do things with our friends–go out for coffee, go hiking, take the kids to the park, go to a movie. The French are more inclined to just hang out together. They might talk about what they should do and what it would look like, but no one minds if the group never gets around to doing it. To them, talking about it is fun enough.
Also, Americans don’t like conflict. We tend to not bring up anything that will cause an argument or jeopardize the friendship. The French consider this to be boring and tedious. In France, people like to argue. They look at it as entertainment, as educational, as something that friends can do together. French friends can be direct and frankly critical and it is not at all a problem between them.
I really like that aspect of their culture.
In America, the backbone of the culture is the individual. In France, it’s friendships, groups, the “circle.” In our country we fall in and out of friendships. In France, you are expected to put your heart into a friendship, now and forever. A common expression between friends in America is “I owe you one.” The French language has no equivalent to this. They do not keep score. If you’re not friends, there are no obligations; if you are friends, you’ll do nice things for each other no matter what. And it is baffling to them to hear us say to our new “friends” or to those we were once close to and happen to run into, “Yeah, I’ll give you a call,” or “We should get together sometime and catch up,” when neither party has any real desire or intention of doing so. Liars!
So the French find it weird that we’re so open and chatty with whomever, wherever. To them, that seems arrogant and cocky. Wait, isn’t it the French who are supposed to be arrogant and cocky?
By Robin Dearing
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Saturday night, I had my most favorite preformance moment ever. That's saying a lot because in the last 10 years, I've had some great times playing music with my band, Riveter. I mean, we opened for the English Beat, the Supersuckers, Bret Michels (really, Bret Michels) and we played South By Southwest in Austin two years in a row.
The funny thing about this performance is that I wasn't playing with my band. I didn't even have a microphone to share my witticisms with the crowd. Nope, I was just the mom standing off to the side with the guitar.
I had the opportunity to play guitar while Margaret sang to a rowdy crowd at our dear friend's barn party. Yes, we live in western Colorado and people throw barn parties and thank goodness for that. Our friend's barn parties consist of really great people playing music, watching music, eating great food and drinking local brewed beer and spirits. It's great fun.
Saturday, my husband played bass with his band. While they were preparing, I thought maybe Margaret could sing a song. Bill agreed that it would be a great venue for her in that it would be a friendly crowd, plus she would have the opportunity to sing outside of the formal choir opportunities.
Unfortunately, this bright idea didn't come until a few days before the party. Good thing Margaret is great at learning new songs.
We tried to get Mar to sing songs to a recorded backing track, but she claimed that was too uncool and that she wanted live music. She didn't have time to prepare both the vocals and piano or guitar parts, so I volunteered to play guitar for her. She chose to sing Flogging Molly's Drunken Lullabyes. A nice, angry Irish song.
I listened to the song and got the chords off the Internet. We quickly realized it was too low for Mar's voice, so we transposed it to a higher key and began practicing. We had two days.
We played the song over and over. You know what? I was truly impressed. Mar didn't need any cues from me at all. She knew when to come in, when to pause, when to belt the song and when to hold back. She worked on getting the lyrics right and then worked on singing it well. I tried to play the right chords most of the time.
So Saturday comes and it's our turn to take the stage inside the barn. As I was getting my guitar on, Mar puts her hand out and says confidently, "I'll introduce us." I looked at her and said, "OK." But in my mind, I was a little taken a back. I had already planned out what I was going to say. Then I realized that I was just the accompanist. It was Mar's show. She was the star.
When it was time, she quite expertly introduced herself and me and said what song she was singing. Without further ado, I started playing. She came in perfectly. Just like we practiced.
She sang great and really drew in the crowd. After the first chorus, Mar was rewarded by enthusiastic cheering. Oh the look on her face. It was priceless. It made me want to cry which I started to do, but then remembered I had a job to do. By the end of the song everyone the crowd was singing and shouting along.
It couldn't have gone better. I was on cloud nine and all did was strum a few chords. Mar was the star. Experiencing that with my girl will always be one of my most favorite moments.
By Randee Bergen
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
You never know where you’re going to end up in life. Right now, I am headed toward Race Directorship. In a little over a month, I’ll be a Race Director. And that thought frightens me a little.
Last month, I helped the Mesa Monument Striders running club with the timing of two small races here in the valley – the Valentine Massacre 3 Mile Prediction Run and the Lions Club’s Cabin Fever Reliever 5k. I am learning how to do the timing so that I’ll know the procedures and what to watch out for on the day of the race that I’m planning, the Lincoln O.M. ROARing to Run 5k (April 19, 8:30 a.m.).
One thing I noticed as I was working the timing table at the Cabin Fever Reliever is that when participants came to us with questions, the guy in charge would say, “Oh, we’re just the timers. You’ll need to ask the Race Director.” Then, he’d point out the man, the Lion, who was in charge and send that person his way. Some of the questions they asked, ooo la la, I was glad I wasn’t yet a Race Director because I wouldn’t know how to answer them and wouldn’t want to deal with them.
Other than learning how to time races, I’ve been busy running possible routes, securing insurance, checking into permits, creating a website, designing a race t-shirt, choosing who will make our t-shirts, setting registration fees and age groups, selecting awards and accepting donated door prizes, planning race day snacks and race day registration goodie bags, creating and distributing flyers, organizing a running club at the school to get the students fired up about and trained for the race, lining up volunteers, trying to think through every little detail that needs to be in place on race day, and the biggie – rounding up sponsors. Did you know that races make most of their money (ours is going toward technology for our classrooms) from their sponsors and not through race registration fees? That will definitely be the case with our race as we are keeping our fees incredibly low so that our students and families will be able to participate in this event.
It’s been a bit stressful and I know I’ll be sleeping a whole lot better after April 19, but trying to organize a race has also been a good learning journey.
I just have a few more things to figure out before I’ll be comfortable in my Race Director chair.
By Richie Ann Ashcraft
Monday, March 10, 2014
Soren had his first science fair last week.
Sidebar: I didn't even know he was studying the planets. I try to be an engaged parent, and up until then, thought I was. But, when you don't even know that your kid studied Pluto until you get there, well that put me in my place.
Back to the science fair. Pluto.
He told me all about Pluto, the gases, the moons, etc. etc. Then I asked him, "Is it a planet?"
"What? Yeah ..."
"How many planets are there? Eight or nine?"
"I don't know, Mom. Shhhh. Nobody asks that."
So, I went around the room asking all the kids how many planets there are? Soren was horrified by embarrassment. Not a single kid told me how many planets there were.
Because I couldn't let it go, I asked his teacher what they were telling kids these days.
"There are eight confirmed planets," she said, "and one dwarf planet. But, really the book says that nobody really knows."
"Pluto can also be called a Plutoid," the book said.
Eight planets and a plutoid. That's what I'm going with.
When I told Soren he looked at me like I had grown two heads. I guess he's right in a way. Does it really matter? Probably not. But still .... we all need to be on the same page here .... for some reason ... at the science fair.
By Robin Dearing
Friday, March 7, 2014
Thursday morning, we had to get up extra early to attend the Student of the Month breakfast at Margaret's middle school. By the fit that Margaret threw over the prospect of losing 30 minutes of sleep, you'da thunk we were taking her to the gulag. She had all kinds of reasons why she didn't want to go, but I put my mom-foot down and told her if she didn't come to the breakfast, I was going to be mighty pissed at her. Luckily for us, that did it. She finally relented and agreed to get up early and go to the breakfast before school
And I'm so glad she did.
Look at the look on Little Sugar's face while Mr. Betts is sharing her recent accomplishments. Margaret loves her choir teacher and has grown so much in her three years of singing in his choirs.
This year has been quite an exceptional year for her. First, Margaret was selected to be part of the School District's Honor Choir. In addition, she was selected to be part of the first Colorado All-State Middle Choir. She was one of six selected from our district.
She performed with the District Honor Choir and then the next week, we drove her over to Denver in the middle of winter so she could sing with 300 other middle school girls for the all-state choir. It was a great experience for Margaret. She had to work on and memorize seven songs for each choir. I don't know how she does it, but learning songs is practically second nature to her.
In Denver, the choir spent hours and hours over a day and a half singing and practicing. They sounded amazing and I'm not just saying that because I'm the mom of one of the kids. I was blown away by the quality of music those girls performed. She couldn't have participated had Mr. Betts not also made the trip, at his own expense.
Once we were back in Grand Junction, Margaret began work on her songs for the School District's Solo/Ensemble Festival. She prepared a solo song and a duet with a friend and classmate. Here is video of her singing her solo:
She earned Superiors on both songs which is the highest scores. She got great feedback from both of the judges and she walked out of the festival feeling pretty good about herself.
Mar is definitely gaining confidence in herself as a singer which is so wonderful to see. This week, she lugged my acoustic guitar and several sheets of paper up to our bedroom where she gave us a preview of a song that she had written herself.
She always comments on the fact that I always get teary eyed whenever she sings ... honestly, I get teary eyed when I write about her singing, too. I'm so dang proud of her. Seeing my girl take an interest in something and work and suceed ... well, it's makes all the other hard parts of parenting seem not to matter so much.
I think that's really the key with Margaret and her singing. She is not blessed with perfect pitch or a naturally beautiful voice. She has to work at it ... a lot. Every song starts out rough, but she plucks away, working on each part, getting each note. The end result is incredible beauty to this mother's ears. It's that kind of hard work that will pay off for her, not just in music, but in anything she puts her mind to. It eases my mind knowing she has that in her. Knowing my kid can and will suceed at whatever she wants to makes all of our trials so much easier to manage.
By Randee Bergen
Friday, March 7, 2014
I saw a disturbing scene the other morning.
It wasn’t a typical day for me. I didn’t leave my house and drive to work as usual. Instead, I headed in the opposite direction to an all-day class. And on the way to my class, I made a quick stop at City Market, the downtown location.
I was feeling carefree and content as I got back into my vehicle. Though I wouldn’t be there, I knew all was in order for my students to have a productive day without me. I had caffeine and a banana and a little something sweet in hand for breakfast. And I was looking forward to a worthwhile day of professional learning.
I didn’t particularly want my happy morning to be disturbed.
There was honking. Different rhythms, different tones. Different horns being played by several different drivers.
The honking was coming from 1st Street. First street has four lanes and is quite busy, especially at 7:45 in the morning, but when I looked up it was at a standstill.
A man, in a grungy tan coat, was staggering through the middle of the street. It was apparent that he wasn’t trying to get to the other side of the street, necessarily; he didn’t seem to realize that he was in the street. His gaze, skittish yet glazed, flitted from the direction of the honking horns, down to his seemingly unruly feet, to his left hand, which danced in front of his face like a suspended marionette appendage, the cigarette there powerless in connecting with his waggling head.
And behind him. He kept glancing behind him. Not from where he had come, which was too distant, both physically and in his memory, but to the street. There was something on the street that, unlike the traffic and his wayward body parts and that cigarette, was better able to maintain his attention, his focus.
And then I saw it.
A dog. His dog.
He was a short-haired heeler mix, dressed smartly in a clean puffy jacket zipped down his spine. I watched as he wandered toward one of the stopped cars, the passenger side, and looked longingly at the window, hoping, perhaps, to get in, to be taken somewhere, somewhere other than this currently confusing situation.
I considered, briefly, opening my door and calling him into my vehicle. But that would leave the man alone.
After a few seconds, he turned and trotted after the man, following him faithfully.
The man stepped onto the sidewalk and into the shrubs that lined the parking lot.
Really? I thought, as the man slogged through the bushes. You have to go through the vegetation instead of around? And then I knew. Any compassion I may have initially had for this human being had turned to anger and complete disappointment.
It was the dog. It was one thing to get himself into this situation, to be so messed up so early in the morning, to not know where he was or where he was going, to put his life at risk as he wandered aimlessly through the city, across busy streets. But to get a helpless being involved? To bring a creature as wonderful as the dog into this mess?
The man mangled several of the dense, low-lying branches of the bushes before he got hung up and tripped, falling onto his left shoulder to the pavement of the parking lot. The dog leaped the span of shrubbery and went straight to the man, sitting down near him, nuzzling his face. The man grasped the dog’s head and used it as leverage to get himself into a sitting position.
And that’s the last I saw of them–a man and a dog sitting face-to-face on the pavement of a grocery store parking lot–as I drove away, away to my own day.
Disturbed. Downright disturbed.
Who was this man? What was his story? Was he always so out of it or was the majority of his time spent lucid and thinking and feeling? What about the dog? Were his needs being met? Was he getting fed? Was anyone going to take that jacket off him once the weather changed? Did he feel loved? Was he getting the same love that he was giving? (Does any dog?)
And what in the world was going on with my feelings? Why did the concern I felt, initially, for this human being dissipate so quickly and turn to anger? Was it easier that way? Easier to be angry than caring? Did being angry make it easier to drive away and continue on with my day?
Disturbed. What right did this guy have to disturb my otherwise wonderful morning?
What a horrible question. What right did I have to be upset with a slight disturbance, when his entire life might be one big disturbance? To himself, to society.
Most of us don’t want to be disturbed, including me. It’s easier to not look, not see, to just drive away and get to a place where my mind can quickly become preoccupied with something else. Something more normal, less perplexing and muddled.
And I find that terribly disturbing, exponentially more disturbing than the scene that disturbed me in the first place.
I suppose that’s what’s supposed to happen. We get disturbed and if we get downright disturbed, or get disturbed often enough, then we might actually force ourselves to notice, to really see what’s going on, to take action.
I am grateful for those who are there already, who are able to recognize their feelings, who are willing to take the time and make the effort to do something.
I am disturbed that I don’t feel that pressure. Am I selfish? Uncaring? Powerless? Too busy? I’m busy working, teaching children, raising my own. Busy doing what I can to make sure others don’t end up in the same shoes, the same street, the same parking lot as this man.
Yeah, that’s a pretty good answer. I’m busy making sure others get a good start in life. It’ll stop my disturbance meter for now.
But it’s definitely gone up a notch.
By Robin Dearing
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I’ve got a cold. It’s not a terrible cold at this point. It started with a minor sore throat and now my nose is stuffed up. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is … everything is a big deal since I was diagnosed with Addison’s disease.
Why? You ask. Mostly because Addison’s disease is an asshole.
Pretty much everything that happens to the human body — whether it be good, exciting news, or an injury, or sad news, or too much activity — all affects how a regular human body produces cortisol in the adrenal cortex. Maintaining healthy cortisol levels is incredibly important to being a healthy person.
So those of us with Addison’s disease or other adrenal insufficiency have to try to reproduce cortisol production through oral steroids (and some are now using insulin pumps to inject liquid synthetic cortisol, Solu-Cortef).
There is no blood test, like there is for blood sugar. We just have to predict how much cortisol our body might need before any kind of stress/activity/emotion, etc. or dose ourselves during or after any kind of something that might require more cortisol.
It’s a big guessing game. The kind of guessing game that is terrible for a high-strung individual as myself. I’ve said numerous times that I would take diabetes over this disease any day. I would kick ass as a diabetic. Regular self-testing; inexpensive, plentiful medications; tons of knowledgeable doctors available everywhere … sign me up.
If I don’t have enough oral steroid coursing through my body, I can go into crisis quicker than I’d like to think about. So why don’t we just take more steroid that we think we’ll need in a day? Wouldn’t that be nice?
If I take too much steroid, I can bring on Cushing’s disease which is another jerk disease that is characterized by impressive weight gain resulting in a hump on one’s back. Along with that, Cushing’s folks have a characteristic moon face. I’m not sure if you’ve seen my face, it’s pretty moon-like to begin with.
Basically, too much cortisol or steroid means fat among other things. I’ve been known to gain as much as three pounds in a day when I was on too much steroid. Trying to lose that weight is incredibly difficult and can be very disheartening.
Recently I worked very hard, ate very little and exercised tons to lose five of the 15 pounds I’ve gained since diagnosis. One weekend of too much steroid put it all back on. All those weeks of work, gone.
One of my resolutions this year was to come to terms with my disease. I want to leave the bitterness behind. Most hours of most days, I’m OK with my disease. But then there are those times (especially when I’m looking in the mirror at my gelatinous thighs or standing on the scale) when I long for the BAD (before Addison’s disease) old days and it all seems too overwhelming.
But then I look myself in the eye and remind myself that it could be much worse.
Yes, I’ve gained some weight, but I’m still 15 pounds lighter than I was when I graduated high school. I can do the job I love with relative ease. I can take care of my family and myself. I’m luckier than most.
Yes, I have to deal with this amorphous, jerk of a disease. But then I remember how close I was to dying last June, how I would have left my daughter and husband and mother … and I realize living with a jerk disease is far better than dying from it.
By Randee Bergen
Monday, March 3, 2014
I sat alone, toward the back, one pocket stuffed with jelly beans, the other with a wad of tissues I pulled from my console at the last minute before entering the auditorium. I had a pretty good cold going and didn’t want my sniffing and sneezing to irritate others. The jelly beans? Well, I had no appetite, really, but was craving sugar. Some weird symptom of the cold.
I had come out on this chilly, rainy night to hear Ruth Ozeki, the author of A Tale for the Time Being, this year’s book for the One Book, One Mesa County series. It was the tenth anniversary of One Book, which encourages the community to get involved in the one chosen title and the various educational and social activities that are planned around it, the culminating event always being the author coming to town.
I felt like I knew the author, somewhat, because she had written herself into the novel as one of the main characters. As she said, “A failed memoir can always be turned into a great work of fiction.”
Just before she started speaking, I glanced at the inside of the program and saw that all ten One Book, One Mesa County titles were listed there. There were a couple that I hadn’t read–too busy that year or they just hadn’t captured my attention–and only one that I hadn’t particularly enjoyed. One title, however, really caught my eye and brought back a flood of memories. Memories so strong that, together with my stuffed up head, I had trouble focusing on the presentation. Instead, I was reliving the reading of Kira, Kira (by Cynthia Kadohata) and what was going on in my life at that time.
It was late spring. Spring 2006. The girls–8 and 9 then–and I were reading the book together. Looking back now, I realize it was the last of several novels that we read together over the years. The years when they were tickled to crawl into bed with mom, thrilled to stay up past their bedtime to read a few more pages. I miss those days. In fact, reading to and with my children is one of the things I’ll always treasure the most as a parent.
Kira, Kira is the tale of two Japanese sisters who move from Iowa to the deep south in the 1950s, where their parents work in a non-unionized poultry plant. The sisters dream of growing up and making a better life for themselves and their family. Then the older sister becomes desperately ill and eventually dies.
We read the majority of the book but then things got crazy in May–finishing out the school year at the girls’ school, finishing the school year at my school, violin recitals, dance recitals, plays, all that closure kind of stuff that tends to happen all at once. Anyway, the book got put aside for a few weeks. During that time, Amy, who was a voracious reader, took the book into her room and finished reading it on her own. She couldn’t wait; she was too involved in the story.
In June, when school was out, I took the girls and several of their friends on a full moon hike up Serpent’s Trail. We began around 10:00 p.m. when the moon was full in the sky. Addy was a good hiker, but Amy was a bit of a bellyacher. Exertion was not her forte. Serpent’s Trail, as the name implies, is a series of switchbacks up the side of the Colorado National Monument, just out of town. At the top, you can see clear across the valley, which is, of course, all lit up at night.
“Come on, Amy, ” I recall saying several times on the way up. “Catch up. Mountain lions are always on the lookout for small children who are lagging behind.”
But Amy did her usual bellyaching. “I’m tired.” “Can we stop and rest?” “My stomach hurts.” “Can’t we stop and have a snack?” “Do we have to go all the way to the top?” “Mom, you’re not listening; I said my stomach hurts.”
After the hike, I took all the kids to Dairy Queen. Amy didn’t have anything, which was surprising. Instead, she hugged her body, still complaining of not feeling right.
The next morning, she was clearly in distress. Her dad–a doctor–and I powwowed and figured she was probably constipated. He went to work and I stayed home to comfort and care for her. By mid-afternoon she had a raging fever. Constipation does not cause fever, so in no time we had her in to Docs on Call and in no time they had her over to the emergency room for an ultrasound.
As it was, all that bellyaching on Serpent’s Trail was warranted. Her appendix had burst.
She was in and out of surgery by midnight and after that, for six days, she lay, deflated, in a hospital bed, recovering not only from the surgery but from the toll the leaking toxins had taken on her small body. On day two she took a few steps, and each day after that, a few steps more. Friends stopped by with games and crafts and books and treats, but she hardly had the energy to do anything with them.
The rest of us stayed in the hospital for six days, too. Mom, dad, and sister. An appendectomy is pretty routine and the doctors were quite sure Amy would make it, but we didn’t take any chances. We didn’t want to leave our child’s side. Not when she was in a gown. Not when she was strapped to an IV that was feeding her major antibiotics. Not when all she could do was lie there. Not when it took all of her energy to muster a small smile.
But six days is a long time for a sibling to stand by and watch her sister get so much attention. Some friends came and took Addy away from the hospital for a while, a couple of hours here, an afternoon there. On the fifth night, when Amy was feeling better and was visibly stronger, I took Addy for some special one-on-one time. We bought crafts to do and went out to dinner. That night, we slept at home, together, in my bed. We actually went to bed early, looking forward to the opportunity to finish Kira, Kira.
We were toward the end of the book and all that was left was the part where the older sister dies. As I read aloud, tears streamed down my face, down my neck, soaking my pajama top. Addy listened, watched, then finally said, “Geez, mom, get a grip! Are you okay?” I laughed at the get-a-grip part, spraying tears and snot and saliva all over the book. Of course Addy couldn’t see the severity of the situation. I had hardly understood it myself. Not until I was home. Home with just one daughter, not two. Finishing the book with just Addy curled up next to me, instead of the both of them, the way we had read most of it. Not until I got to the end of the book where one sister dies and the other one is left. Left to wonder how she’s supposed to carry on. What she’s supposed to do next.
“No, Ads, I guess I’m not okay.” I hadn’t realized it until my daughter had flat-out asked me. “I guess I’ve been really scared about Amy. Scared about what it would be like if she wasn’t in our family. What it would be like if you didn’t have her for a sister.”
“Geez, mom, it’s okay. The doctor said she’s going to be okay. She’s coming home soon, isn’t she?”
“Yes, yes she is,” I answered, wiping my messy face with the back of my hand. I looked toward the doorway, half expecting Amy to come bounding in just then, to hop into bed with us, to say something like, “So what part are you guys at?”
Soon. She would be home soon.
I turned my attention back to her sister. “Hey, Ads, will you please run and get me a wad of tissues? I need to wipe all this up so we can finish the book.”