The Trip North…

Both Gary and I are from Northwest Indiana….the Region.  The area is called the Region because of its proximity to Chicago.  I lived about 30 minutes from the Windy City until I was eleven.  Gary lived further south, about an hour and a half from Chicago.  We both enjoy visiting that part of the state, the part where the land is flat, the dirt is black, and no one waves at you as you drive down the road (unless a middle finger is up).  I, being a city girl at heart, love spending time in Chicago and taking that journey back to my childhood.  This weekend we were presented with the opportunity for a long weekend visiting family and friends.  Since my brother was available to house and dog sit, it was a perfect plan.

It began when Gary and I received an invitation to a retirement party that will take place Sunday in Fort Wayne.  Gary’s friend and former coworker, whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years, is retiring, so the friend’s wife is having a surprise party.  As we looked at the calendar and saw that it fell on a long weekend, we decided to extend the trip.

We are currently on our way to our friends’ at Dewart Lake (after a little detour to the outlet mall).  The Rector family has been in my life since I was born.  They lived next door to us until I was seven, and since that time we have kept in touch.  Peggy and Clyde are like an aunt and uncle to my sister, brother, and me.  They have three daughters who are around our ages.  We will spend tonight at Peggy’s and Clyde’s home on the lake, and attend a party hosted by their daughter Suzie.  The last time I spent a night in this house, my father was with me.  Our family had joined theirs for a weekend on the lake.  I was really young, so I remember very little about that trip.  Still, it means a lot to me to be in the same place my father spent time.  Peggy always tells me stories about my dad, and I value those stories since I have so few memories of him.  One of the things I love about this family is that we can go years without seeing them, yet the conversations always pick up right where we left off.

Tomorrow we will go to the Hammond area.  Gary wants to go to Cabella’s, and since much of this trip is about me, I will concede to a visit to a hunting store.  Perhaps I will purchase some camo.  I bet Gary would find me especially hot!  I wonder what people in town would say if I suddenly took a liking to camo.  Anyway, I  digress.  After lunch at a yet-to-be-determined location (that’s kind of a lie because I want to go to Miner Dunn, which has the best burgers ever – and I went there as a kid –  so I can pretty much bet that’s where we will go.)

After our brief stop in Hammond, and possibly a drive-by of my old houses (I also lived in Munster), we will venture into the mad traffic of Chicago.  Thank the Lord Gary is driving, though Addison gets her license this month, and that would be some intense experience for her.  Since my car is new, I believe Gary  would be the best choice.   We will be spending Friday night at my niece’s new apartment in downtown Chicago.  She just moved in May, so I am excited to see her urban abode.  That evening we will be meeting my cousin Marcia and her husband David for some Chicago-style pizza.  Oh, yah!  Deep dish pizza oozing with cheese and cholesterol.  Marcia and I are only a year apart in age.  Until we moved south, we spent a great deal of time with her and her brother.  I have wonderful memories of riding bikes, building obstacle courses in their basement, and spending the night at their house.  Despite our complete opposite lifestyles, Marcia and I have remained close over the years.  She is a big city girl; I am verging on being a hick (a very classy hick).  She rides horses (not like horseman-club-riding horses, but dressage riding, which is very proper); I run.  She has an exotic beauty – short, black hair, dark skin, tall, and thin; I, well let’s just say  you’d never guess that we’re related.  She and her husband are worldly; I have never been out of the country, unless you count flying over Canada on our way to Alaska.  I embrace our differences, and always look forward to the times we get to be together.

Saturday will be filled with the excitement of the big city.  We plan to rise bright and early, and go for a run along the lake.  That’s my heaven.  Because of this knee issue, I will have to walk a lot, but that won’t take away from the experience:  Lake Michigan on my left, the skyline on my right, and the wind in my face (I will probably be cussing the wind).  After showers, we will head to the Field Museum of Natural History.  I will admit, when I went to this museum in my younger days, it bored me, but Addison loves history, so I think she’ll enjoy it.  And…since our next stop is the CUBS game, I can endure a bit of boredom.  In the afternoon, we will be cheering on the Cubs when they play the Pirates.  That’s what true Cubs fans do.  We all have our new Cubs shirts, so we will look very touristy.  Don’t worry – I will be posting pics along the way!

After the game, it’s back in the car so we can head east.  We will be spending Saturday night in Fort Wayne, and will go to the retirement party Sunday – but not before we hit up the Dick’s in Fort Wayne.  Gary says we are trying to hit up every Dick’s in the country.  I haven’t yet met these friends of Gary’s, but am sure I will like them.  Since there will likely be a bunch of teachers there, surely I can find something to talk about.  If nothing else, I just share some funny Gary stories.  When he isn’t around.  Because he’d trump me with embarrassing Joyce stories.  And that would suck.

While my guess is that no one really cares what I am doing this weekend, you just read this whole blog entry.  I really write for my own enjoyment, and I did just pass a substantial amount of time in the car, but I hope you enjoy reading my random thoughts.  Actually, if you knew what really goes on in this mind, you might petition a judge to lock me up.  Want an example?  This morning as we were driving down a country road near our house, I saw a turtle crossing the road.  He (who really knows what sex a turtle is?) also saw us, and naturally shrunk into his shell.  I thought to myself (I probably shouldn’t admit this) that it would be really cool to be a turtle.  Then when I am afraid, or someone annoys me, or I just want to be alone, I could just pull myself into my shell and hideout.  And because I am a turtle, no one would even wonder what my problem is.  I think I will be a turtle in my next life.  Then I’d really be a hard-ass!

That’s it for now.  I have to rest up for shopping.  Have a fabulous 4th of July….Isn’t it great to be an American?!

Today’s Grandma

Having my one year old grandson, Layne, living with us, I have had lots of time to reflect upon ‘grandmotherhood’.  When I first learned that my daughter was expecting, and that I was to become a biological grandmother, I had mixed emotions.  I already had three amazing step-grandchildren whom I adore, but somehow my daughter having a child would automatically age me.  Was I really that old?  I felt much younger than I had imagined grandmothers to feel.  I run; I do Zumba; I bike; and I am basically cool (that last one might be a slight stretch, but I like to think I am a little cool).  However, Morgan was older than I was when I had her.  Little did I know when I became a mother at the age of 21, that would mean I could possibly reach grandmotherhood before most of my  peers.  Who thinks that far ahead?

Once Layne made his appearance, I embraced my new role.  His blue eyes, precious smile, and unconditional love won my heart immediately.  Suddenly, I was proud to announce that I was this little guy’s nana.  Okay, I did choose to be called ‘Nana’ rather than ‘Grandma’ because I thought it sounded younger.  Fast forward one year…Morgan and Layne have taken up residence in our home while Layne’s dad is in Afghanistan.  While going from a house of three to a house of five – and one of those five is quite the active little climber – has been challenging (and exhausting) at times, I treasure having this time with Layne.  I realize that because his dad is in the military, they will likely live away for several more years, and I am very blessed to have this time with Layne.  And he is quite entertaining!

I have also thought a lot about my own grandmothers, and other grandmothers of their generation, and how different today’s grandmothers are.  I loved my grandmas dearly.  Grandma Greenland was a heavy-set lady – the stereo-typical grandma who was an incredible cook.  She treated us to ham loaf, buttery (I am talking 2 sticks of real butter) mashed potatoes, and dessert that would rival any on the Food Network.  Her cookies were not only scrumptious, they were also beautiful.  And her pies?  Wow.  I have never tasted a butterscotch pie that was even close to hers.  She worked hard, raised three sons who all died before she, overcame some devastating times, was active in church, and played the piano.  And then there was my Grandma Allen, ‘Gram’.  I was really closer to her.  I spent many nights with her.  She made me grilled cheese, popcorn, and taught me this game where we connected dots and tried to get the most squares.  She was also a good cook.  Her specialties included fried chicken and eclairs (which I learned to make).   She never had much money, but we never noticed.  She had very few toys for us to play with, but instead saved her thread spools (she also made her own clothes) and greeting cards.  We grandkids could spend hours building with spools and cards.  I have wonderful memories of both of my grandmothers, and miss them tremendously.

 

I wonder, now, what my grandchildren will remember about me.  I can cook.  Well, no one would starve anyway.  I can bake some, but not to the degree my grandmas baked.  I run races; I teach Zumba; I love to travel and attend sporting events.  My Grandma Allen always, and I mean always, wore dresses.  I can’t imagine her wearing Nike running shorts and t-back tanks like I wear to work out.  If my grandmothers heard the music and saw the choreography for Zumba, I imagine they’d be shocked (but secretly jealous).  Saturday I ran a 5k dressed as Super Woman, which meant I wore a short sequined skirt, royal blue tights, and a sparkly blue headband.  If Layne were older, would he think his nana was nuts?  Just the thought of my grandmothers in a Super Woman costume is hysterical.  They never stepped out of their comfort zones.  They both had a sense of humor, but they stayed with in society’s norms.  I, on the other hand, choose not to dress a certain way just because I am middle-aged.  I want to remain active until I can no longer move.  I hope to run races well into old age.  I want to get my Zumba on into those so-called twilight years, and encourage others to do the same.  Sure, I can crochet, which a rather grandmotherly thing to do, but I will crochet only after I have gotten a run in or gone to the gym.

When I look around, I see that my friends who are also grandparents no longer fit the molds our grandparents so eagerly set either.  They are also working out at the gym, running, walking, going to Zumba, taking classes, or somehow continuing to grow.  I think we are setting an incredible example for our grandchildren.  We are teaching them that one is never too old to set new goals, that we must remain physically active, and that learning is a life-long process.  We are active grandparents who, rather than spoil our grandkids with cookies and pies, spoil them with our time and energy.  Because we are active, we are able to really play with them.  Because we are tech-savvy, we can also post all those adorable pictures (like this one from Layne’s first birthday where he has cake smeared all over his face) on Facebook!  See, we are cool!

As I typed this, Layne walked in wearing his shirt that says ‘My nana runs faster than your nana!’  That pretty much sums it up!

In Memory of Stephen

One year ago this week, my young nephew, Stephen, died.  As we journey through this week, our thoughts go back to this last year, when amidst back-to-school preparations and our town’s annual Schweizer Fest, our family was planning a funeral for a 26 year old young man.  The following is a story I wrote about Stephen’s death with the goal of informing other young people about the dangers that lurk at parties. 

In Memory of

Stephen Paul Fordyce

I can’t erase her voice from my mind.  Sometimes her words come back to me at random times.  As I am walking up the stairs with a load of laundry it comes to me, “Stephen died.”    I remember how weak my sister’s voice sounded on the phone as she, still in shock, told me of my nephew’s death.   She sounded like a lost child, a wounded soul.

That morning was August 8.  It was the week before school was to begin, and I was in my third grade classroom preparing for opening day.   At nine o’clock my cell phone rang.  It was one of those calls I will never forget.  At first I couldn’t comprehend what my sister, Bobbi, was saying.  How could he possibly be gone?  Stephen was 26 and had just begun to live life.  He was healthy; actually he was more healthy than had had been in previous years after starting a workout routine and improving his eating habits.

I dropped what I was doing and stopped in the office to let them know what had happened, and that I wouldn’t be in for several days.  As the words came, so did the tears.  I couldn’t believe what was coming from my mouth.  My nephew was dead.   I have lost many family members, including my father when I was seven, but this?  This was incomprehensible.  What happened?  On the drive to my sister’s house, I just kept wondering what to do.  I don’t know what I am supposed to do.  What do I do?  Whom do I call?

Shortly after arriving at my sister’s house, I watched as her co-workers walked her in from the car.  What could I possibly say to her?  All of my life I have wanted to fix others’ problems.   I could not fix this.  As she began to explain what she knew, the story only became more difficult to swallow.  First of all, it was Monday, and Stephen had died on Sunday.  Stephen lived in a city about an hour from us, and the coroner’s office had failed to notify my sister that her son had died.  How is that even possible?  His friends knew of his death before his own mother.  There are no words to describe the pain that caused.

When the coroner first informed Bobbi, the only explanation for Stephen’s death he gave was that there had been a party at his house the night before, and that one of Stephen’s friends said there might have been prescription drugs involved.   As you may or may not know, grief comes with a wide array of emotions, including anger.  While I was extremely sad about the loss of my nephew, as I pondered his own responsibility in his death, the anger occasionally seeped in.  How could this intelligent young man make such a stupid – and ultimately deadly – decision?

While we awaited the final autopsy report, there we arrangements to be made, and phone calls to make.  Every step we took was wrought with devastation.  Watching a mother make funeral arrangements for her child is heartbreaking.  Because that mother was also my sister, it was nearly unbearable, yet I needed to be there to help carry her through.  As we spoke with the funeral directors, they tried to gently give us more troubling news.  While Stephen was passed out at his party, his friends (please remember these weren’t teenagers; they were all in their twenties) thought it would be funny to write on his face with a permanent marker.  The funeral directors knew we wanted an open casket, but were not certain they could remove the black marks.  Fortunately, a couple of days later, they called to report that they were able to clean the marker off; my sister would be able to see her son’s beautiful face one last time.

Any time a young person dies, there is a large turn-out at the visitation in our small town.  Stephen’s day was no different.  It was comforting to our family to see how many friends Stephen had, and how many lives he had touched.  At the same time I wanted to scream at his friends to remember their friend lying in that casket the next time they thought it would be cool to try drugs.  Though they were clearly upset by the loss of their friend, did they really understand the implications of his choices?  Would they remember that day the next time they were at a party?

We made it through the first week, but this was by no means the end of our grief.  We had a house to clean out, financial arrangements to be made, and visits to a lawyer to make sure the legalities were handled correctly.

After a few weeks, we received the autopsy report.  Stephen’s death was caused by mixing Xanax and Oxycontin.  There was no alcohol in his system.  According to the coroner, this is becoming a common practice at parties.  Supposedly, mixing the two gives quite the euphoric feeling.  Or it kills you.  As I began to research the effects of mixing these two prescription drugs, I found that it slows one’s heart rate and blood pressure.  If it slows them too much, death is inevitable.  While a party-goer might be able to mix the two one time with no ill-effects, the next time could end in death.

According to his friends, Stephen was intoxicated at the party, but they noticed nothing out of the ordinary.  He even woke up the next morning to see his girlfriend off to work.  After she left, he returned to bed to ‘sleep it off’, and that was the end.  His life was over.  He had a great job as a heating and air conditioning technician; he owned his own home; and he had a wonderful girlfriend who cared about him very much.  In an instant, none of that mattered.

My nephew was not a drug addict.  The coroner stated that the results of the autopsy showed that he did not make of habit of taking these drugs.  He was having a good time with his friends, and he made a mistake.  That mistake cost him his life.  That mistake left a mother without her son, an aunt and uncle without their nephew, his sisters without their brother, grandparents without their grandson, and cousins missing one of their own.

Life is about making decisions, and every single decision we make has a consequence.  We all make poor choices at some point in our lives.  When I was young I took unnecessary risks, partied when I shouldn’t have, and made my share of mistakes.  By the grace of God, I was never arrested and I lived to tell about it.  Teenagers and twenty-somethings:  You are on the brink of living life as an adult.  You can be whoever you choose to be.  You have countless opportunities before you.  Take advantage of all the great adventures this life has to offer.  Enjoy life, but make smart choices.

Many young people seem to be under the misconception that since drugs such as Xanax and Oxycontin are prescription medications, they are safer than street drugs or alcohol.  They are safe only if taken by the person for whom they are prescribed, not mixed with other medications, and taken as directed.  Otherwise, you are literally risking your life.  One night of partying is not worth the chances you take.  The wrong mix of drugs and/or alcohol can cause irreversible damage, not just to you, but to your family.  Our entire family has been affected by Stephen’s decision.  His mother lives every day with the knowledge that her son’s death could have been avoided so easily.  Let his death not be in vain.  Learn from his mistake, and share that knowledge with your friends.  Consider the consequences before making a decision.  If it would help, buddy up with a friend, let him or her know your intentions before you attend a party, and ask her to make sure that under no circumstances do you go off path.  You have to look out for one another, even when it’s difficult.

Please share this story with everyone.  Share it through your own blog, email, or your Facebook page.  If by sharing our story we save one young life, perhaps we can begin to make sense of our loss.

Reflections Of My Past

This will not be one of my typical blogs about running, although it will certainly be mentioned.  Occasionally I have something else on my mind that I have to get in writing.  Today happens to be one of those days.  I am in Northwest Indiana with my friend Kim.  She is presenting professional development at Merrillville High School, and since I am from this area, I came along to show her the area, and to keep her son company while she teaches during the day.  What an adventure Spencer and I have had!

Yesterday I took Spencer to Notre Dame to see the campus.  I know my way around Lake County WEST of 65; east of 65, not so much.  It looked relatively easy – take the 80/90 east.  I did that.  Or so I thought.  Spencer was snoozing in the back seat, oblivious to our surroundings.  I was cruising along, happy as can be to be back in my hometown area.  Suddenly, a large sign appears before me:  Welcome to Michigan.  Notre Dame is in Indiana.  How the hell did I get in Michigan?  My chest began to constrict; my head began to pound.  Fortunately, there was a Welcome Center just across the state line, so I zipped in to consult my map (and pee because when I am nervous I have to pee a lot).  Spencer awakened briefly, but never noticed all the Michigan signs in the parking lot.  I didn’t want to alarm the young lad, so I just made like it was a potty break, figured out how to get back to Indiana, and ventured on.  We eventually made it to Notre Dame, and enjoyed touring the picturesque campus.

We made it back to our hotel, but not after accidentally going through a rather rough section of Gary.  If you have never been to Gary, let’s just say when I was a kid, my parents would tell us to lock the doors as soon as we hit the city limits of Gary.  It’s scary.  And Spencer and I were driving through.  I instructed him to avoid staring at people, though there are some interesting people to stare at.  Seriously, you do not look at anyone.  Ever.

So, after explaining to Kim about my errors in judgment, and telling Spencer he had been to Michigan, it was time for dinner.  I had plans to meet two of my childhood friends at Joe’s Crab Shack.  The three of us had not been together since I moved when I was eleven!  I was excited, but nervous that it might be awkward.  Let me give you some background that might make the rest of this blog make sense (or not).

When we lived in this part of the state, we were members of Southside Christian Church.  That was our family.  My parents belonged as teenagers; all of their friends were from church; and we spent much of our time at church.  When my father died suddenly, the members were there immediately.  And they never left.  The men and women of the church cared for all of the children of the church, and we respected all of them.  I have never belonged to another church like it.  It really is hard to describe how important our church family was.  Karin, Nancy, and I talked about how we were at church Sunday morning for Sunday School and church, Sunday evening for recreation, Christian Endeavors (youth group), and Sunday evening service, and Wednesday evening for services.  Many weeks there were also skating parties or youth events.  I did not keep in touch with school friends from elementary school; I kept in touch or reconnected with church friends.  So meeting up with Nancy and Karin last night was just wonderful.  We picked up where we left off 34 years ago.  With the miracle of Facebook, we knew some things about one another, so the conversation flowed easily – for three hours!

Today was another day to visit my past.  I don’t know why, but it has always been so important to me to keep those connections to my early years.  The experiences I had – good and bad – and the people who have been part of my journey made me who I am today.  The men and women of Southside taught me and loved me and nurtured me for eleven years.  I so appreciate that part of my life.  I began the day by visiting the cemetery where Dad is buried.  It is a large cemetery, and is divided into gardens.  In this part of the state, they do not use upright headstones like we have in Tell City.  They have brass plates that are flat on the ground.  This makes it very difficult to locate a grave if one doesn’t know exactly where she is going.  I knew Dad was in the Garden of the Last Supper, but had forgotten where.  I was wandering, and beginning to panic (I don’t know why.  It wasn’t as if he were lost!).  The very kind workers asked if they could help, and the began looking, and then called the office to have them look up the location.  They stood and talked with me as we waited, and were just so kind and compassionate.  I was blessed.  They took me to Dad’s grave, and then I was able to locate my grandparents.  Even after all these years, it is still tough to visit the cemetery.  I feel as if I revert back to that seven year old when I stand there.

Enough sadness…I had a great day, and I want to share it!  My next stop was Southside to pay for some books I had ordered and to wander around.  As luck (which I normally do not have) had it, two of my mother’s best friends were there!  I was so excited to see them, and they were happy that I had come in.  They were preparing a meal for the Senior Saints, and asked if I would come back to visit some more.  I didn’t know how the day would progress, but told them I would try.  I then dragged Spencer back to the car, drove by my old house in Munster, and proceeded to Hammond.  I drove by my old house on Van Buren, and then went to another of my mother’s friend’s houses to surprise her.  She wasnt’ home, but I found out she was going to the Senior Saints luncheon.  Then I went by my grandma’s little house and checked it out.  Afterward, it was time to meet my friend Kim for lunch at my absolute favorite burger joint, Miner Dunn.  It is an old, old diner, and looks pretty much the same as it did when we lived there.  The burgers and fries are awesome, and when one orders a deluxe platter, she also gets a cup of orange sherbet.  Yup, I got the platter just like I always did as a kid, and I dipped my fries in the sherbet.  Why grow up?  After a wonderful visit with Kim, Spencer and I struck a deal (this kid was a trooper).  He wanted to go to a fireworks store we had seen, and I wanted to go to Senior Saints (gosh, I never thought I’d type those words!).  We hit the fireworks store where, I might add, the saleskid gave Spencer a bunch of free firecrackers that had come out of boxes.  Spencer was all smiles the rest of the day!

We were then off to Senior Saints.  I have to admit, it was a blast to visit with the Southsiders of my youth.  Mrs. Meisner always brings up that when I was about four, I would call her and ask her to go to lunch.  This lady is 87 years old!  She helps her daughter care for her 16 year old twins who have Aspergers.  Mrs. Meisner told me all about their diagnosis and what they have been through.  It made me tired and I am half her age.  I spent time talking with Mom’s friends, Josie, Bonnie, and Bernie.  They were so much fun.  Bonnie knew my whole family, even all of my uncles and my grandparents.  What a blessing to hear about them.

To be back in my church, where my heart will always be, and to spend time with the ladies who helped raise me, was truly a magical experience.  I love those people, and won’t wait so long to go back.  I have spoken with my sister a couple times today, and we decided we are going to bring our mother up for a visit.  My brother even said he would consider coming with us.

I know this is exceptionally long, and might not be of interest to anyone, but in order for me to ‘process’ my days, I wanted to get it all down.  I have run the last couple of days.  Our hotel has a great workout facility, so I have run on the treadmill.  I was emotionally drained after today, so I cranked up my Jesus music (contemporary Christian) and ran like a gazelle.  Not really.  But it felt really good and helped relieve some of my anxiety.

Who in your past would you like to connect with?  What’s stopping you?  Take the time to start a conversation –  or play bingo at the Senior Saints!  It is so worth it!

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