Thursday, May 30, 2013

Response to Okla.tornado shows how people are awesome

Published on KSL.com - HERE's the link
Published for Cross Timber's Gazette - HERE's the link



“Please tell me you guys are OK.”
“We’re fine. But our house is gone.”
That was the text exchange between Dale Brannon, my brother-in-law, and his friends Chuck and Marie White last Monday, May 20, after a tornado tore through the White’s neighborhood in Moore, Okla.
The Whites, along with Marie’s elderly mother, were at home when they heard on the news that a fierce tornado was heading in their direction. They were advised to drive away or get below ground. If they stayed above ground, they were told, they wouldn't survive.
So the Whites grabbed their cellphones, jumped into their car and proceeded to drive out, around and behind the tornado. After it had passed, they returned to a house and neighborhood that had been reduced to rubble; they couldn’t tell where one house ended and another began.
After receiving Chuck’s text, Dale and my sister Debbie called, offered to house them in their Oklahoma City home that had been untouched by the tornado, and asked, “What can we do for you right now?”
“We could really use a change of clothes.”
At the time of that phone call, the Whites were shifting through the rubble that had once been their home, trying to salvage anything of value. When they arrived at the Brannon’s later that night, they were cold, muddy, hungry, dazed — and homeless.
Variations of this same story played out for hundreds of families living in Moore and surrounding communities. For many families, losing homes and belongings absolutely paled in the face of losing loved ones.
One of those families lived next door to the Whites. The only exception to the endless rubble that had once been their neighborhood was a section of three connecting interior walls in their neighbor’s house. Their neighbor had taken refuge within those walls and miraculously survived. But tragically, her 9-year-old daughter was one of the students who had taken refuge within the walls of the neighborhood school and died.
The loss and devastation has been heartbreaking.
In response, however, something equally heartwarming immediately began to happen — and continues to happen. This can be summed up in three words: People are awesome.
Over Memorial Day weekend, the Brannons worked at the White’s house and in their neighborhood, sorting through the rubble one brick at a time, carefully placing any personal items in driveways. Dale used his truck to haul the junk away.
Debbie and Dale personally saw and experienced dozens of examples of humanity at its best over the weekend. Here are just a few:
  • A man from Monterey, Calif., jumped over the fence and said, “I’ve got to do something. How can I help?”
  • A pickup truck driven by a young couple from northeast Arkansas drove through the neighborhood handing out hot dogs, food, Gatorade, water and sunscreen.
  • Hospital carts were set up to give people tetanus shots. A nearby church set up a store stocked with immediate needs where victims could shop for free. Several church organizations provided meals and supplies to first responders, volunteers and each other.
  • A family handed out chicken sandwiches and ice chests with drinks. Two college-age girls from Kansas approached my sister, asking how they could help.
  • Dozens of restaurants, including one from Arkansas, provided hot meals for all the volunteers.
  • A large SUV drove down the street passing out hoodies and supply kits. Painted on its windows were the messages “Oklahoma Bound!” and “Louisiana is Oklahoma Proud!”
  • There are times when I get discouraged by the moral decay plaguing our society and lose hope in humanity. But not today! I'm thankful for this reaffirmation of the incredible goodness of people.
    –Debbie Brannon, Okla. resident
  • Flat tires are a huge problem for volunteers’ vehicles due to debris on the roads. A trailer set up shop on the side of the road and hung a sign that said, “We fix flats for free.”
  • A gentleman from California was in town to watch his daughter play for the University of Oklahoma in a national softball tournament. Between games, he came to help.
  • The Whites have personally been given generous amounts of clothing, cash, gift cards, furniture and services.
And those are just a few of the stories.
Overwhelmed by her experiences, my sister commented, “There are times when I get discouraged by the moral decay plaguing our society and lose hope in humanity. But not today! I’m thankful for this reaffirmation of the incredible goodness of people. It’s kind of sad, but sometimes you have to wait for something like this to happen to realize how good so many people are.”
Those who responded to this tragedy with such unselfishness and compassion make me want to grab my family and do more. I guess that’s what’s so awesome about awesomeness — it inspires us all to be just a little better.

Speaking of being awesome: According to a recent article by Sean Murphy of The Associated Press, donations have been pouring in from all over the country. For those who don’t live close enough to help with the clean-up effort, cash donations are preferable because they can be used with the most flexibility. These displaced families, for example, currently have nowhere to store extra clothes and household items. But once they move into permanent dwellings, their needs will change.



Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review - Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I recently bought a slew of books that have garnered excellent reviews for my kids.  Since they have been devouring them, I figured I should too.  This is my first of a handful of these reviews.

Goodreads Summary:

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.




My Take:

This book is funny, real, heartwarming, and it tackles issues all kids deal with at school -- even though most kids' "deformities" aren't as visible as Auggie's.

The reader's first insight into the extent of Auggie's deformities is this:

"I won't describe what I look like.  Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."

My 12-year-old son enjoyed and was moved by it.  I'm confident that it will "speak" to my 10-year-old daughter on her level as well.

I loved it.  Highly recommend.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

'Nap, interrupted' makes for perfectly imperfect Mother's Day

Published on KSL.com - HERE's the link




Mother’s Day is fantastic in theory but tricky in practice.
First, there’s the problem of glowing tributes to awesome moms everywhere. The tributes aren’t the problem — it’s the discrepancy between those tributes and me.
This year on Mother’s Day, my kids heard about moms who make lunches every day for their kids, show love continuously, wake their kids up in the mornings so they won’t be late, are never impatient, understand their kids even when no one else does, never yell, and always stand on the curb waving goodbye.
Since I do exactly zero of those things and display exactly zero of those traits on a consistent basis, my guess is that my kids felt a little cheated, and maybe even thought about shopping around a little. I wouldn’t blame them.
Next, largely thanks to the mommy media blitz during the first two weeks of May, there was pressure on my kids to come up with gifts that make me cry (ideally, these would be happy tears).
Here’s how the Mother’s Day gift-giving went down at my house this year:
My younger kids gave me hand-written coupon booklets that contained, among other fabulous freebies, vouchers for "a big kiss" and a "floor moping," which I’m trying to swap out for a "floor mopping" on the grounds that I’ve heard enough moping for two lifetimes. But hey, a coupon’s a coupon.
I even shed some tears (the happy kind) when I read, “You are a true friend who dances with me in the sunlight and walks with me in the shadows.”
Enlarge image
Susie's Mother's Day nap, interrupted. (Photo: Susie Boyce)
My older kids — well, let’s just say that not everyone caves under media pressure. So I got a verbal “Happy Mother’s Day,” a grunt that translated into roughly the same message, and an extremely thoughtful gift that I will always treasure. Again, I shed some tears (the mixed emotion kind).
And then there’s my poor husband. Talk about pressure. I’m far from the demanding sort, but he loves me and wants to make the day great. As always, he came through with flying colors: flowers, food that I didn’t have to prepare and a hammock for the backyard.
But as much as he tried, he couldn’t control everything. While trying to relax and enjoy my time off, I heard a few whispered threats along the lines of, “Be nice to Mom — it’s Mother’s Day!” and, “I don’t care if it isn't your dinner job today — it’s Mother’s Day!”
Above all, my husband really wanted me to be able to take an uninterrupted nap on my new hammock. I’m still symptomatic from a concussion I received a few months ago in an accident, and I need significantly more sleep than normal. So this nap — in theory — was an excellent idea.
But in reality, the weather was gorgeous and the hammock was both large and brand-new. So it only stands to reason that my 7-year-old would join me on the hammock ... and then, a few minutes later, my 10-year-old. And so on, until all five of my kids were vying for the most comfortable spots on the hammock with me.
When my husband saw his plans for my nap being foiled, I knew he wanted to say, “Get off the hammock — it’s Mother’s Day!” But instead, he recognized the moment for what it was, took out his phone and snapped a picture. He’s a keeper.
We hung out in the hammock together, my kids and I. Since my nap lasted all of five minutes, it wasn’t ideal; and yet, just like my Mother’s Day that hadn't been perfect, it was perfect.
Way too soon there will come a Mother’s Day when I’ll be able to take a completely uninterrupted nap on my hammock. I’m guessing that when I wake up from that nap, I’ll shed a few tears (the melancholy kind).
So for now, bring on the interruptions. I’ll be happy to embrace each one of them for as long as I can.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Cancer: 'May the odds be ever in your favor'

Published for KSL -- HERE's the link
Published in The Deseret News -- May 9th, 2013




Last November, my dad’s recently diagnosed lung cancer metastasized into his bones, making it officially stage 4 and incurable. He was given nine months, give or take. The oncologist explained that the chances of more chemotherapy making even a slight difference to his life expectancy were “in the single digits.”
The news was heartbreaking. It was as if Dad had been chosen as one of the tributes in “The Hunger Games” and was being sent into the arena to fight, knowing that his chances of making it out alive were negligible. And his only encouragement was the empty phrase, “May the odds be ever in your favor!”
We all understood the odds, and they weren’t even close to being in Dad’s favor.
So what next?
First off, critical medical decisions had to be made. In this case, my dad chose to continue treatments. His decision was difficult for me to swallow initially. I wanted him to discontinue the treatments, thereby giving him at least a short reprieve from suffering. Plus, it would show that he was accepting his new reality.
Instead, Dad went forward with more chemotherapy. Reality was what it was, he figured, but he wasn’t going down without a fight. I could hardly blame him.
Then there are the daily decisions about how to live the rest of your life. As it turns out, these are equally as critical as the medical ones — if not more so. Mom and Dad shined in this department.

For example, we were surprised and delighted when my parents, who still buy gifts at garage sales, booked a Caribbean cruise for the family. They wanted us to have one last awesome, unprecedented memory with Dad.
When Dad’s health fluctuated, we prayed that he would be able to go on the cruise. For us, it became much more than just a cruise — it became a goal.
As a family, we tried to take our cues from our parents’ optimism and traveled from near and far to celebrate Dad’s last Thanksgiving and Christmas in epic style. We made some great memories.
Reality was what it was, though, so other memories aren’t so great. Despair and sadness and wondering why and what if and what’s next inevitably come with such a difficult package.
In the final analysis, though, the laughter managed to outweigh the tears.
In February, Dad’s health was holding up and he was given the green light to go on the cruise. But then four days before we were to board, the very cruise ship we had booked caught fire in the Caribbean. Our once-in-a-lifetime cruise — our last great memory with Dad — was canceled.
Talk about odds.
It was about this time that I felt justified in sending a few strong objections heavenward. Of course, when I read about the unpleasantries the poor passengers on that cruise were subjected to, I quickly retracted my objections. There’s always a bright side — at least we hadn’t boarded one week earlier.
Mom rallied almost immediately and re-booked the cruise (eventually having to re-book two additional times because of repair delays). Barring another catastrophe, our cruise is now set for June. Mom would have been completely justified in yelling at her booking agent and giving up. Most would have.
Instead, Mom persisted. Reality was what it was, she figured, but she wasn’t going to let this cruise go down without a fight. I could hardly blame her.

Three weeks ago, we received news that Dad's cancer is officially in 100 percent remission. His oncologist calls it a miracle.

Time passed. Dad soldiered on. And then came the twist of all twists.
Three weeks ago, we received news that Dad’s cancer is officially in 100 percent remission. His oncologist calls it a miracle. Having never dared hope for that outcome, we are overwhelmed with gratitude for this incredible gift of more time — a gift that most families in our situation don’t receive.
But what if the ending had been as predicted? What if we were attending a funeral for my dad instead of going on a cruise with him? Obviously, it would be terribly sad. We would mourn and we would miss him. And someday — since we know that cancer will eventually claim his life — we will.
Here’s what’s significant, though: Regardless of outcome, I will always be grateful for my parents’ approach to such difficult circumstances. They chose to laugh more than they cried. They chose optimism and faith. They chose not to go down without a fight. They chose hope.
For our family, those choices made — and still make — all the difference. We experienced first-hand that choosing hope is truly the only choice worth making — no matter the odds.
By way of tribute to the millions of families who are battling cancer and other unfavorable odds: Here’s to hope.
Epilogue:
One week after learning of Dad’s remission, Mom received a call from her booking agent at the cruise line informing her that our entire party of 16 will be going on the cruise — for free. It seems that not cussing out your booking agent is another choice worth making.