Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

January 15, 2016

I Choose

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:32 am

I tried a couple different titles before I selected this one.  We are past the Midnight hour and I’m welcoming a new birthday.  I’m so excited to be here.  Excited for the day.

I’ve been thinking lately about how last year I was crowning a new decade.  Turning 50.  This year, as I slide into 51, I realize that I was tempted to think this one wasn’t as important.  Not as glittery.  Fewer trumpets.  Less confetti.

I was wrong.

It is deliciously true that, as we age, we are gifted the opportunity to paint our lives with more brilliant colors than, perhaps, we had in our palette twenty, thirty years ago.  We have access to more subtle hues and, hopefully, the willingness and daring to use every medium and to try funky things and color out of the lines and cast caution to the wind as we fill in the masterpieces that are our lives.

I’ve found that, even as I acquire a little savvy to go with the crow’s feet now dancing around my eyes, I’m reminded that, often, age doesn’t so much give us new lessons as it clarifies the old ones.

I may strain to see that young Kara now in the mirror.  At five, at seven, at ten….Sometimes the truths we were given so far behind us are as elusive as those bright eyes and white teeth and smooth skin are now.  We forget sometimes.   We forget amidst the drama and the drama-makers.  We forget amidst the chaos of the every day and the screaming headlines of the moment.

We forget that a happy life is simple.

Sometimes it seems that everyone has forgotten, too.

Share.  Play nice.  Tell the truth.  Give it your best.  Work hard.  Learn.  Continue to learn.  Forgive everyone, including yourself.  When you know what the right thing is, it’s hard not to do it.  Don’t hurt anyone.  If you hurt someone, apologize.  Pick up after yourself.   Don’t stay with someone who doesn’t treat you well.  Decide whether or not to have sex when you are standing up, sober, with the lights on.   Dream big.  Go for it.  Call your Mom.  Dance with your Dad at every chance.  Get up early enough, even once in a while, to appreciate a sun rise.  Aim for balance.  The only thing you can count on is change. Everything in moderation.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Actions speak louder than words.   Don’t assume.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.   Laugh every day.  Don’t go to bed angry.   Dare to love.

Too often, I think, we are waiting for answers we already have.  We forget that the truth is the truth, even if we don’t like it.

Because this is my brain injury blog, often I wait until the end of any January because that is the anniversary of my brain injury.   Now twenty years ago, I’m not waiting for that day any longer.  Not waiting for that milestone to tell me…..anything.

I have some favorites in that list of life lessons.   Because it’s my blog, I can add my own.  LOL.  That is, don’t be the same because nothing and nobody is the same.

Seems a lot of our drama and our angst and our disappointment and our anger is because something changed that we didn’t choose.  People in our lives evolve, make decisions, move, add other people, change the roles we preferred they play….

A lot of tears have been shed over sentences that begin with, “I used to….”, “You used to….”, “We used to…..”

“Used to” implies that something changed.

Something always does.

If you’ve seen me lately, you’ll know that my New Year’s resolutions haven’t been about dieting and working out in quite some time.  But I am thinning and trimming and moving, nonetheless.

My mind is in high gear and fine shape and running circles around my old one.

My goal is to really start gardening.  Gardening my life.  Pulling the weeds of missed opportunities and bad choices, regrets and failed moments…Removing all that continues to suck up the water and starve and strangle the healthy blossoms.  Blocking out the sun… I’m planting new seeds, new bulbs….

New ways to define me.

Are you?

We don’t have to be just one thing.  That’s how we get stuck in stale jobs and relationships.  Old habits may die hard but we don’t have to wait for them to die.  We can be off and on to a fabulous new adventure long before they go.  Not waiting for change to come.  Not waiting for life to happen.  Not waiting for someone to save us.

Now waiting at all.

Let’s not allow one thing to define us.  Not a person, not a relationship, not a job, not a title, not a skill, not a place.

All those things can go in a second and strip us our identity.

Let’s, instead, remind ourselves and each other that there are a hundred things on a menu.  There are hundreds of instruments to play.  Thousands of jobs to pick from.  A million places to call home.  Billions of people to choose from.

And countless paths to happy.

I’m in a great place in my life.  Twenty years after my injury.  Fifty-one years in to an amazing journey.  We can be a gazillion different things and live our lives that many ways and more.

It’s our choice.  That’s what I have learned.  It’s our choice, every day of it.

I choose happy.  I choose blessed.  I choose love. I choose recovered.  I choose peace.  I choose music.   I choose great people.  I choose dessert, sure.

It’s my birthday, after all.  ;)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 24, 2015

Christmas Was And Is, Still

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 12:26 am

The other day I heard the old refrain, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go….” My initial thought was, No, it’s not beginning to look a lot like Christmas. It’s sixty degrees and I’m sitting outside with no coat on!!!

Christmas was always my parents’ house. Piles of snow until there was nowhere to put them and my Mom pulling us around the block on a sled. You could hear the crunch of the snow and smell the beautiful Yule logs burning in the chimneys. Sparkle-lit trees in every window. Shovels leaned up against every house.

Christmas was my Mom in her flour-covered, poinsettia apron. The swirling smells of a natural tree and my Mom’s reindeer cookies fresh out of the oven. The hundred-year-old ornaments she gently placed near the top where the star never seemed to sit just right. The old phonograph that glowed and hummed and got too hot when she kept playing, The Little Drummer Boy. Mistletoe hung and stockings hung, too. School project Santas stuck to the fridge. Hundreds of Christmas cards she’d send with a pack of poinsettia seeds in them.

Christmas was the same lights each neighbor put up every year. All around us, those huge, multi-colored ones. Ours were always tiny and blue. The delicious smells of leather and furs and perfume as my dolled-up relatives came jollying in from the cold to sit around our tiny kitchen, fogging up the windows and ringing it to life. My Dad would always let us use the nutcracker and he would do a little dance when Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree came on. Always racing in late for church. Stopping by friends’ and neighbors’, loud with the very goodness of together again.

Like a lot of you now, the parents’ house is gone. The parents gone, too. The old church is a rec center. The old neighbors have gone from the old neighborhood. Most of the relatives have had to go, too. I can’t seem to find that box of ornaments and I never learned to make those reindeer cookies of hers.

It’s sixty degrees here in Michigan and not even close to a white Christmas promised. The condo complex by-laws don’t allow us to put up lights outside, not even tiny blue ones. I pulled my tabletop tree out of the closet and plugged it in.

But in quiet moments when Faith remembers, Christmas comes again. I’ve realized that the true gift of Christmas is offered to all of us. Every year, shining bright as that star long-ago followed. Just in simple promise. Just in sweet hope.

It is under every tree each time this year, tabletop and plastic and all the rest.

The gift is to realize that Christmas is not a statue. It isn’t some cold, immovable stone. Christmas isn’t meant to lay wreaths at the feet of what was once, marking only what is missing and only what was better.

Christmas doesn’t stay in one place. In some far off place. Beyond our reach. In a past we no longer have access to. With people we’ve lost. With people we miss.

Christmas is alive. It is warm and well. It is moving and able. It springs to life and crackles, casting firelights into the blue-cold night. Restoring and healing, Christmas reminds us the very fortunes of our souls.

We get to take Christmas with us. We get to take Christmas wherever we go, wherever we land, wherever we choose to invite it.
And, thank God, it’s ours again this year.

Christmas is as much for the present and the future as it is for a treasured past. Why else would we get a new year to anticipate? And thank God, we have that, too.

The other day I got up and danced in my pajamas to, We Need A Little Christmas. I find that I don’t care to drive by our old house. I’m excited, instead, to go see my brothers’ new places. There are kids to buy for and people to call. Carols to sing and presents to wrap. Gorgeous cookies at every stop. Plans to see and enjoy those who make every year a dear one. Every returned embrace, a gift.

As I pulled in last night, The Little Drummer Boy came on and I sat watching the warm, Southern breeze twist and tickle the beautiful huge ornaments hanging from the trees near my condo. The moonlight made them flash and smile and I sang that song for my Mom. Laughing and crying in the carport.

I thought to myself then that, when so much seems to have left, Christmas hasn’t. Christmas has arrived. Christmas and all who defined it, fashioned it and scored it in the soundtrack of our lives.

And I remembered that Jesus never left, either. Even when it appeared so. He’s still here.
It’s His day, anyway. When we start every morning with that, there’s nothing left but joy. Joy.

Joyful Christmas and a Happy, Healthy, Peaceful New Year to you and to those you love.

Kara

November 26, 2015

If Just For The Choices

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 8:00 am

Apple pie or pumpkin?  Traditional cranberry sauce or out of a can?  White meat or dark?

Who are you?  This day?  As we pop the cork on another Thanksgiving, the answer to that question can be as easy as a perfect meal with family and friends and favorite side dishes and desserts.

Or it can affect your life, your family, your world…forever.

Who are you?  As you lift your head up to this day, all sleepy-eyed or bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, make no mistake.  You are being counted.  Another one up.  Another….

What?

If God is counting…If the Universe is tallying…If the cosmic forces are choosing their teams…

What are they saying when you get up?

When you get up today…?

Some will be counted in the darkness.   Some will be cheered in the light.  Some will raise their hands to be picked for good.  Some will slip out of bed in the morning chill and throw on their bad intentions.

Who will you be?

Today is our day of thanksgiving.  Although we can’t seem to agree on religion or politics or football teams or uncountable other things, we, amazingly, all decide to sit down on this day to share some version of the same dinner.

What do we bring to the table?   And, maybe more importantly, what do we leave with?

What are you bringing?  I mean, besides the green bean casserole or the extra pie?  What are you bringing to the table?

To these people you were born to…to these people you chose….to these people who will cross your path for whatever reason this day…

What are you giving them?  How will they count you?  You know they are counting…

We all try to have these Martha Stewart-like holidays, with glossy magazine-cover table spreads and picture-perfect dishes.  We find new ways on Pinterest to make our turkey moist, make our potatoes less lumpy, make our pie crust taste better.

And, too often, we just try to get through it.  The clatter and chatter drown out realities that just don’t match the beautiful table cloths.  Quiet problems screaming, unheard amidst the clambering for more stuffing and gravy.  The scramble to cook.  The rush to get back from the parade or to the game or off to shopping.

Let’s not miss the moment this year.  This day.  This time around.   That moment when we decide that “everyone’s here” and “the food’s ready.”  Let’s take this moment.  Let’s seize it and squeeze it and hold it dear.

And let’s each of us, be thankful… for the choices.  Among so many other things we may be blessed with, let’s count this near the top, near the best.

Our choices.  Our choices, each.

Because it is our great gift to choose that grants us to change how we will be counted tomorrow.   It is our choice to ask for help, to go get help, to move or to stay, to lower a fist or to raise one, to open our eyes or close them, to try a different way.

In a world that so many of us fear is growing darker, scarier and more dangerous….We can see this darkness as a doom.  As a scourge.  As a destiny.

Or we can decide that the darkness gives us the ability to better see the light.

What could that beautiful light cast upon you?

There are a lot of hidden things coming to dinner today.  Some will bring the screaming secrets of hopelessness, of depression, of anger, of pain.  Some will be at the end of the line, at the end of their ropes, at a crossroads, stirring their drink with a final straw….

Let’s remember to be thankful for the choices.  To voice them and share them, to give them and pass them around the table.  The sweet reminders that we don’t have to be counted the same each day.  That we can change.

That is our choice and, blessedly, ours alone.

We don’t have to be who we were back then, not even yesterday.  Life is not counted in Thanksgivings we get.  It’s counted in those we give.  In those we seek.  In those we choose.   As much as Thanksgiving tradition is about the past, Thanksgiving is about giving.  About giving forward, to a future just a moment away.

We can’t fix everything today.  Not about our meal.  Not about our lives.  Not about our loved ones.  Not about our world.

But let’s give great thanks for the choices because, with these, we have hope.  With these we have wings.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  May you wake up tomorrow and be counted as alive and grateful.  May you be tallied on the side of good, the team of light.  Maybe you raise your hand and offer to be part of the solution, part of the right.  May you use your choices to take the high road and find yourself there….

With a great piece of your favorite pie.

 

 

 

 

September 20, 2015

You Have Made Me Think and This Is What I Came Up With…

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:22 am

For all these years now, I have posted a blog entry almost-monthly, after which I receive personal accounts and questions and comments from people all over the world.  They share how their personal situations relate to what I’ve written and, often, I reply to them aside from this wide-open forum.

Jerilynn wrote to me and stated that she wished I would share those replies because there are many more out there facing the same situation and are looking for answers.

Something about the vibe in her short note stuck with me.  Touched me.  Got me thinking.  Thank you for that, Jerilynn.

For twenty years now I’ve walked a fine line on so many planes.  I want people in my life to understand the implications of my injury and yet I don’t want to be considered less or to be seen as not able to make it on my own.

I want to write blogs that share the like threads of surviving our injuries and yet I don’t ever want to lump us all into one basket when our injuries are distinct and discreet to each of us.

I want to work and play and live and love in the “real world” outside of brain injury and yet there really are considerations and limitations that make my “real world” one that includes the permanent effects of my TBI.

Let’s break for coffee.

What I’m certain of for Jerilynn and those like her who love survivors of brain injury…

And what I’m equally certain of for myself and for those like me who strive to overcome the lasting effects of our brain damage….

Is that…while there are considerations and circumstances which demand “different” and “unique” in the relationships of survivors with people who are not brain injured, there are also strict and unwavering levels of behavior and care which both sides of a relationship must demand and strive for and not settle for failing at.

I’ve often said that, if you don’t want to live a brain injury-consumed life, then you have to live your life not consumed with brain injury.  It is in our intimate relationships with spouses, partners, friends and family where we simply cannot fail to strive.  We cannot refuse to change.  We have to dare to get help.  We have to force ourselves to clear away the denial of what actually is now instead of what used to be and what we preferred once was.

If we are going to enjoy successful, happy relationships, then the rules are universal to everyone on both sides of the brain injury fence and they are ones which we have to identify and embrace, adhere to and demand of ourselves.

I’m not talking about simple brain injury success strategies like making lists or taking naps.  Those can be integrated seamlessly into any successful relationship.

I’m talking about the ingredients of happiness and togetherness and partnership which face every couple, brain injury or not.

Everyone who wants to be part of a successful relationship has to feel safe.  Whether you struggle with brain injury rage or lack of self-awareness, whether the “governor” inside your brain is not working or you are overly burdened or stressed at work or under intense financial hardship or you struggle with alcohol or drugs or denial or a lousy childhood….

Whatever the case, every person, on each side of the relationship, deserves to feel safe and deserves to demand safety.

If you are endangered, threatened, frightened….If you are being physically or emotionally abused, mistreated, unsupported, disrespected, alone…

You leave.

Survivor, supporter, either one.

It doesn’t matter if you vowed to stay.  It doesn’t matter if you feel guilt because your partner is injured, damaged or struggling or you are the survivor and you feel guilt because someone is taking care of you and stayed with you after you got hurt.

Life is too short and you are too important.

No one deserves to feel threatened or frightened in any relationship.  No one deserves to be physically or emotionally hurt.  No one deserves to be held hostage, manipulated, cheated, blackmailed.

If these are our most intimate, closest, most precious relationships, then we need to demand as much.  We need to aim higher and highest.  We need to gift ourselves that, at least.  That, for our most precious relationships.

If you are a high-functioning brain injury survivor, then the stakes are high and the demands are higher.  We don’t get to cut ourselves any slack if we are going to run with the big dogs.  If we are going to aim to have healthy, happy, loving relationships, then we don’t get to play any TBI cards when it comes to the basic facets of a shiny, nurturing, healthy relationship.

Survivors:  Don’t get bogged down with things like needing to nap or having to use lists or having to stay away from big crowds or having trouble multi-tasking.  Those things may be symptoms of your injury but they are not deal-breakers for a healthy, happy relationship.  If they are, then you are simply with the wrong person.

The things that ARE deal breakers for a healthy, happy relationship are the complaints I receive here all the time and ones that are valid and reasonable. No spouse or partner wants to be on the receiving end of your anger.  Your feelings of being cheated in life because you are injured.  No one wants to be the partner of someone who displays natural feelings of fear and sadness with acts of rage and violence.

Your partner will move on, eventually.  If you want to stay back there and just choose to remain angry and resentful and refuse to try and embrace what you have and move forward and find new happiness, your partner will go ahead without you.

Brain injury can damage our filters, our ability to make reasonable decisions, our safety switches, our social behavior mechanisms.  Partners have written to me to lament their TBI-damaged partner has gambled away the house, now drives 90 mph, has burned the house down, has taught the kids to smoke…

Learn your injury.  Learn what makes it worse and what makes it better.   Install strategies that make it better.  Listen to what those around you are saying.  Hear them.  Trust those with no reason to lie or hurt you.  Know that getting help does not make you weak.  It makes you better.  It makes you willing.  It makes you mature.  It makes you safe.  It makes you part of an evolving relationship.

Those of you who are “well” and in a relationship with a TBI survivor, you have to learn the injury as well.  Your life has been injured, too!  And it’s important to realize and accept that the survivor is not automatically the problem.

Just as they have changed, so must you.

Knowing how the brain works and how the injury has specifically damaged your partner’s brain will help you contribute new ideas and strategies which can maximize cognitive potential and efficiency.  If you used to run marathons with your partner and then they got their legs blown off in the war, you wouldn’t expect them to run marathons with you in a few months.

The same can be said for many of the activities you once shared with your now-injured brain survivor.

Is your household still chaotic and noisy and crazy with off-the-cuff activities and loud music and multiple TVs going and kids rushing in and out?  Is the survivor back to work and coming home cognitively wasted at the end of a day and you are trying to get him/her to make decisions, participate in activities and talk about feelings?  Are you giving him/her too many choices and then rolling your eyes when he/she cannot make a decision?

Are you blaming him or her because activities you once enjoyed, maybe together with other couples, are now unrealistic and you are feeling isolated and alone?  Cheated at what you are missing out on?

Are you simply waiting for them to return to normal and not actively involved in creating a new reality that has a chance of making you both happy again?

Do you resent them now?  For changing?  For taking the old relationship you preferred?  Are you having to make all the money now?  Do all the parenting?  Make all the adult decisions?

Are you getting help for any of that?

There are so many angles.  So many issues.  So many possibilities.  This is a bugger of an injury.  It’s not a broken leg where you just have to figure out how you are going to shower and maybe someone is going to have to shoulder the driving responsibilities and most of the errand running for six weeks.

This is a bastard.

Make no mistake about it.

I can ramble on for endless hours but the bottom line is this:

Brain injury sucks.  It damages the brains of both partners in a relationship differently but in ways that can be equally-consequential to the partnership.  Both partners have a right to be happy and a right to be safe.  Both partners have a responsibility to change, to learn, to embrace a new direction.  To create better in any form they can enlist:  counseling, learning, medication, adjusting, accepting, adding new…

Nobody can walk in your shoes.  Your particular shoes.  Nobody can really know what intricacies are at play in any relationship.  Only you can answer to yourself and to your partner.  Only the two of you can vow to invest the best of you.  To commit to evolving into a new version of you.

Just know that different doesn’t always mean worse.  Brain injury is not strong enough to automatically doom a relationship.

I am in the most loving, healthy, nurturing, beautiful relationship of my life.  It happened after my injury.  It happens with my injury.  Together we have integrated the lingering symptoms of my injury into our normal.  The key, for us, is that we chose the right person.   We identified what was important and my symptoms and challenges ended up pretty low on the list.  Above that were safety and love and respect and attraction and unwavering support and fun and ease and friendship and the willingness to evolve.

Please don’t give brain injury the power to take more than it has already.   Do what you must, enlist all the weapons at your disposal to put up the good fight.  To battle for the relationships which once meant the world to you.  To battle for your happiness, for love, for someone special to live your life with.   Accept that sometimes the best thing you can do for a relationship is to let it go.  And, if you can live with all your efforts and know that you did try what you consider to be everything, then you wish each other well and hope they can find their happiness with someone else.   Sometimes that is the greatest gift we can give our partners.

I’m cheering for all of you.  Wishing you a happy, fulfilling, fun life full of love and someone to share it with.

August 23, 2015

Yes, I Admit, I’m A Hypocrite!

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:58 am

Boy, it’s hard being a U of M football fan.  No, not because we’ve been so awful the past seven years.   That’s hard enough, trust me.

It’s hard being such a football fan every college football Saturday when, for most of the rest of every week, I’m such a staunch cheerleader for the survivors of brain injury and for the prevention of it.

Damn.

Virtually even Saturday since 1974 I’ve watched my beloved Wolverines race through that banner at the Big House or take the field on the road.  As a kid, my Mom let me draw block M’s on Sociables crackers with canned cheese whiz.  She’d make her chili and we’d gather as a family and cheer on our Maize and Blue.

Those are some of my fondest family memories as a kid.

Today I don’t want my nephew to play football.

Hmmmmm…..

It’s hard to juggle this love/hate relationship when so much is on the line.

It used to be that head injuries acquired in football were seemingly rare.  Rare because we dumbed them down by saying a kid “got his bell rung” or was “seeing stars.”

Football players, by their very nature, are tough buggers.  Their coaches are tough.  Their fans’ expectations are tough, also.

Today we know so much more about concussion and head injury.  It has been proven that linemen repeatedly alter their brains IN PRACTICE.  We also know that people who sustain a concussion are both more likely to sustain another one and are extremely vulnerable to a worse second if they return to action before they have healed entirely.

And I can’t wait for the season to start.

ARRRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!

Beyond the University of Michigan football, the Detroit Lions are looking promising this season and I work part-time as a public address announcer for football at my old high school.

I love the sport.

So I tell myself things.  I tell myself that football has always been and will always be.  I tell myself that I acquired my brain injury driving and I haven’t given up driving or encouraged people to stop getting behind the wheel.  I pump myself up with reassurances that trainers are better aware and helmets are better equipped and laws are now scaling back on helmet-to-helmet hits.

And I pray a lot.

I pray that every person who is even remotely in charge of a young person’s future and cognitive health will take a moment before each practice and game to remind him or herself of just what’s at stake here.

Coaches, trainers, athletic directors, officials, parents….

The game we must win this season has nothing to do with the score on the scoreboard.  The winning numbers will be in the head injuries avoided and well-identified and cautiously-treated.  Those are the numbers we have to take aim at.  Those are the numbers which have to improve.

Football colors the landscapes of Autumn all across our country.  From Pee Wee to Pro, some would consider it a sacred tradition.  One that unites families, teammates, schools, fan bases and entire states.

As we buy tickets and new sweatshirts and grab a hot dog and file into the stands, let’s all prepare a little more.  Let’s take it one step further.

Parents and family members, let’s teach our kids the importance of fair play, safe hits, concussion awareness and self-reporting.  Talk to the coaches and trainers and athletic directors to find out what type of understanding and awareness and precaution and protocols are in place.   Rally for baseline tests and, if your school cannot afford them, design one at home.  Suffer the player’s shrugged shoulders and rolling eyes and drill it into him or her over and over until there is a new perspective and a new priority.

Let’s not worry so much about how fancy their socks and, instead, really take a good look at their gear.  Booster Clubs and parents’ football clubs…rally to raise money for the best brain-protective helmets on the market and standard, baseline testing for all football and soccer players.

These are our kids we’re talking about here.

The repercussions of concussions….

Make no mistake, the hits to the head of a fifteen-year-old kid could potentially affect everything about his life going forward.  Maybe not in glaring ways.  Maybe not as obvious as the cast and crutches of a player who blows out his ACL.

But in often subtle ways that may sneak in and steal milliseconds of reaction time, percentages on test scores, higher ranges of motor skills and cognitive processing speeds, fractions of abilities that govern judgment and behavior…

And that’s for the survivors who are fortunate.

This hypocrite is going to be the public address announcer when my high school’s football team takes the field Thursday.  I’m going to don my University of Michigan sweatshirt when my Wolverines kick off their season against Utah next week.

But before I call that first kick off, that first return, that first tackle, I will say a prayer for the safety of all those athletes.  Young and old, my team and yours.  I’ll pray that every parent who reads this will keep the conversation going and, when needed, have the guts to start it.

Taking care of our players.  Making their brain health a priority.  Changing a climate that has, for so long, belittled concussion….

That doesn’t make football any less than better.  It doesn’t take away the toughness that so many people love.  It doesn’t make a player soft or slight.

But it just might save more of these kids so that they have an experience they can actually remember fondly.  Or remember at all.

They are our future.  These deserve to have all their ammunition as they head out into their lives.

Let’s do what we can to help them.  It’s our responsibility when they bring so much joy.

There’s no bigger win for any of them.  Or for any of us.

August 9, 2015

Batter Up!

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:03 am

Last week I was so looking forward to my niece’s tournament softball game.  I was so excited to see her enjoy one of the sweet gems of childhood.  Kids running around in wonderfully-colored uniforms, hearing the sing-song chants of terrifically-hopeful teammates, cheering each other on.  The smell of hotdogs in the air, warm sunshine on my face, the crack of the bat and the sound of the encouraging parents rooting on their youngsters.  8-year-olds being free and happy and learning wonderful lessons of sportsmanship and team work and feeling their budding potential shine in the afternoon sun.

Ahhhhhhhh……

Uh oh.

Crap.

I stood behind home plate and I was privy to a close-up look at how different two groups can shape this experience for their kids.  Thank God my niece’s coaches and parents were supportive and upbeat and letting those girls just play.

The other side, uh….not so much.

This poor kid gets into the batter’s box.  Mind you, she’s 8.

I counted five people yelling at her.  Three coaches and both parents.

MOVE UP!  MOVE BACK!  DROP YOUR SHOULDER!  LOOK READY!!  RAISE YOUR SHOULDER!  EYE ON THE BALL!  MOVE FORWARD!  BEND A LITTLE!  STAND UP THERE STRAIGHT!  STEP OUT!  STAY IN THERE AND HIT!   YOU DON’T LOOK READY!   LOOK LIKE YOU’RE READY!  TILT YOUR CHIN!  TURN YOUR HEAD!

The poor kid had eyes like ping-pong balls.  You could see them, darting back and forth, trying to listen and be a good kid and trying to do everything being screamed at her.

At one point the mother yelled, “Move up!” and the father, on the other side of me, shot back, “I just moved her back!”  The mother snarked, “Oh really!  Like that’s gonna help her!” and back and forth they picked and pinched.

The ball went by three times and she never swung.

Strike out.

She walked back to the bench and sat there with her head down, short little legs swinging on the too-high bench.

The coaches and parents were disappointed in her.  I wanted to scream at them, “Way to go, ASSHOLES!”

LOLOLOL

It surprised me like not at all that my niece’s team won handily and moved on to the tournament championship.  I felt so sad for those girls on the other team.  Not because they lost.  But because they didn’t know if they could win.

They didn’t know if they could win.

We can all stay in school forever.  We can go to high school and college and then get our Master’s and then on to another Master’s and maybe a Doctorate…

We can read all the books and articles on recovering from brain injury or whatever we have suffered.  We can go to support groups and imagine things better and think perhaps we can take a new step.

We can read books about relationships and take classes and go to therapy and talk about relationships to our friends and imagine them in our minds and listen to romantic songs and watch romantic movies.

We can stand in the batter’s box of life and listen to everyone tell us how we should be and how we should change and how we should stand and move and tilt and turn and get in and get out and get up and get ready.

But, at some point, we gotta swing the flippin’ bat.

At some point, we just gotta get out there.  We gotta risk getting our hearts broken, risk forgetting something in public, risk striking out…

Just for the delicious reward of doing.  Of daring.  Of listening to our own voice and really hearing it.

Batter up.

At some point, we have to dare ourselves to accept the responsibility that this is OUR time at bat.  The result of this time at bat, our life’s effort, is going to reflect on our scorecard.  The hits and misses will be ours alone.

We can listen to everyone’s advice.  We can try to please everyone.  We can jump through everyone’s hoops until our heads are spinning in circles.

Or we can listen to our inner voice.  We can develop our inner strength.  We can choose to believe that we are strong enough and smart enough to go forward and realize that failure in any of those efforts doesn’t make us anything but ready to try again.  To try a different way.

It’s time to swing the bat.  To trust in all that we’ve learned and all that we’ve researched and all that we’ve experienced.   Enough to dare to strike out.  Enough to dare get a hit.

You have an inner voice that gets drowned out by all the chaos and noise around us.  For all the advice that anyone gives you…for all the opinions and for all the dictates and mandates…

In the end, nobody really cares what you do and I say that as a good thing.  People just want to see you happy.   They want to see you take care of yourself.   They want to see you independent and strong and fun and engaging.

Just go swing the bat.  Let the cautions and fears be damned and go let the big dog run.

You won’t know if you need more knowledge, more savvy, more practice, more courage, more anything….unless you test it out.  Unless you measure your progress.

Striking out only means that the pitcher was better than you in that at-bat.  Not for a whole life.  Not for a whole season.  Not even for a whole game.

Getting your heart broken just means that you were with the wrong person and you still need to shape up your choosing and matching skills.  Failing at anything is just a signal that there is a turn coming up ahead in the road.  It’s just letting you know that the right person, the right job, the right anything you want is not on the road you are traveling.

There are a trillion roads.

And thank God we are the ones behind the wheel.

Let’s allow our kids to just play.  Teach them in practice and then let them swing.  Let them strike out and let them get hits and let them fail and succeed.   But let’s take our hands off and put it in theirs.

Summer is racing by.  Soon the diamonds will be silent.  The chalk lines all will fade.  The benches will clear for the last time.  Bats and gloves and cleats will give way to new school clothes and new sports and new equipment.

How far along are we?  Each?  How far along are we in the summer of our lives?

We may as well give it a go.

Swing and miss.  Foul it off our big toe.  Pop up to the catcher.  Dribble it in front of the plate.

Maybe we’ll just go up there and tug at our cap and dig into the dirt and set our jaw and knock it right out of the park.

Let’s knock it right out of the park.

Batter up!!!

July 4, 2015

We Make Them

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:25 am

As I’m enjoying some quiet morning time on this, the 4th of July, I’m aware of a certain theme that has been bubbling up for me lately.  I know by now that this usually means there is a blog installment coming.  It percolates for a while, seemingly sending hints for me over a period of days or weeks.

It popped up when my brother and sister-in-law and their kids were in the midst of moving these last days. I thought of it when a woman I know lost her long-beloved dog last week and then adopted a sweet new baby-dog a few days later.  It occurred to me when a woman who is grieving the recent loss of her Dad was out shopping for her new grand-son or another friend who has lost her mom was now babysitting her new grand-daughter.  It returned again last night when I was enjoying dinner with friends I’ve known since high school.  It came to mind when a friend packed her car and headed for another state to go see her kids.  When I realized that, in the last month, there were six houses in play in my group.  So many of “my people” moving and transitioning.

The steady footfalls coming softly but always coming.  The feeling that becomes true, over time.

The United States of America, on this 4th of July, didn’t just happen.  The people I had dinner with last night who I’ve considered family now for more than thirty years….that didn’t just happen.  My brother’s family with their two fantabulous kids from Russia didn’t just happen.  All the houses in play this month didn’t just happen.

We make them.

We recognize the needs and the things that are lacking.  We realize the holes and measure the missing.  We don’t just let our lives happen.

We make them.

In all our lives, we suffer changes and losses that are difficult and uncomfortable.  The losses are about people who leave in so many ways, pets who die, jobs that end, health that fails, dreams that fall, expectations that go quiet…

For so many, that’s it.  Game over.  The one ideal didn’t work out and so that’s the end.  They go on, but only in calendar days.  Months.  Years.

For those I celebrate today, they go on, yes.  But in different directions, with blank slates and fresh new sticks of chalk.  Throw out the blueprints.

Your country doesn’t serve its people?   You move to a place where you can live as you dream.   You have trouble starting a family?  Go find your kids waiting for you in Russia.   Your dog daughter died?  There’s another one waiting anxiously to be rescued.  You live in a place that has winter 8  months out of the year and you suffer from SAD?  Sell your home and move South.  Your kids have left the nest and have moved all over the country?  Pack the trunk and off you go.

Our lives don’t just happen to us.  We make them.

And when they burn down and flame out…when they scuff knees and break hearts….when they find dead-ends and come up lacking….

That doesn’t make us victims of anything except living and life.

There isn’t just one way to make a living.  There isn’t just one house to call home.  There isn’t just one way to have children or to create a family.  Our dreams and our dream lives all look different.  My family doesn’t just consist of the people who grew up in my childhood home.  Our kids came from a different mom, from a different country, from a different relationship, from an animal shelter…

There isn’t just one life.  There isn’t just one version of happiness.  Not just one job, one love, one path.

You don’t get extra points for staying miserable.  For refusing options.  For just surviving and bearing and suffering.

Life isn’t supposed to be about another glum turn in the hopeless parade.

Today is the Fourth of July.  Independence Day.

And today I cheer and celebrate all the people I know, all of you out there, who are making lives and making families and making happiness and making success.  All of you who are filling holes and making decisions.  Rolling up their sleeves and making better.

Enjoy those fireworks tonight and see, in them, the roots of a young country so many years ago.  Glance over your shoulder as you pull out of that home one last time and then look forward to a new adventure.  See a new definition of family in all the people and pets who, over time, you have brought into your lives to make them more whole, more fun, warmer and with more love.

Happy, fun, successful lives don’t just happen.

We make them.

Light a sparkler for that.  For all that is bright and right.  You did that.  And you did that.

May 9, 2015

Parents of Hope

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:36 am

My Mom was the fifteenth of fifteen children, growing up in a teeny town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  She was born in the late 20’s, arriving just in time for the Depression.  My Mom ate lard sandwiches for her school lunch.  She looked forward to Christmas morning when she and her siblings might receive a new pencil or a fresh orange.  That was it.  When they sat down to dinner, often each would get a meatball.  One.

My Dad was born in Detroit in the early 20’s.  He lost his Father when he was seven. His mother gave him and his brother to a foster family for a time and he was forced to sell papers for a nickel that his foster family took.  He spent much of his formative time being ostracized in the attic, eating scraps and keeping up his little brother’s hopes.

Though my Father was a very talented artist, he didn’t make a fortune.  Still, he and my Mom built a home in Warren and raised three kids there.

When I was 11, I decided I was going to play quarterback for the University of Michigan.  I would take the Nerf football out into the backyard on Saturday afternoons in November.  I’m almost embarrassed to recall now, jumping and rolling on the ground, creating game situations in my head.

My parents didn’t tell me I couldn’t be the quarterback at the University of Michigan.  They signed me up for flag football in a boys’ league where I was the only girl and, yes, a quarterback.

When Magic Johnson made Sports Illustrated as one of the up-and-coming stars, I told my Dad I was going to score 2000 points in high school just like Magic.  He didn’t tell me I couldn’t.  He didn’t tell me there was no hope.  He grabbed a ball and went outside with me and rebounded as I shot.

I told my Mom I wanted to be a sportswriter like Mitch Albom.  She told me she would look forward to every article I wrote.

My Mom made sure we left the house every morning after a hot breakfast.  Even when money was tight and rice was cheap and plenty, we ate rice for breakfast and went to school with a fully belly.

Even with such meager income, my parents sent all three of us to the University of Michigan.  I didn’t get to play quarterback but now, as I look back, I realize something that quietly whispers through today’s screaming headlines.

In the last year, there have been so many social uprisings and disturbing accounts of young people throwing bricks and stones at police.  Stories of young people leaving the U.S. to fill up their holes as members of groups determined just to kill.  Stories of young people with such a non-existent respect for life.  Such an absence of coping skills.  Using guns instead of words, killing their parents and loved ones and total strangers out of anger and frustration.

From many of the newscasts, there returns an echo that these young people “don’t have hope” and they feel such a deep-seeded anger that they are willing to harm, destroy and kill.

Many many news guests have repeated that these “kids” are angry because they haven’t been given opportunities.  Their neighborhoods are poor and their education is lacking and there are too few jobs.

It breaks my heart that these kids haven’t been given hope.  A hope that has nothing to do with money.  A hope that springs, not from what is lacking outside but from what is bubbling up inside.  A hope that relies, not on waiting to be saved but knowing they can save themselves.  A hope for tomorrow’s vision strong enough to defy today’s picture.  A hope that looks like an 11-year-old girl who thinks she’s going to play quarterback one day for the University of Michigan.

I’m not buying anger as a justification for throwing rocks at anybody.  While I do agree that non-white and often poor people have endured a long, painful relationship with some police mindsets, there are far too many groups of the angry who aren’t throwing rocks.

They are building them.

I’m just saying that I don’t buy it.  I believe in every one of those young people who are lighting fires and destroying neighborhoods and heading overseas to pick up AK47s.  I believe in everyone struggling at the bottom of a bottle and at the end of a pipe.  Everyone looking at their lousy credit file or those walking out of jail.  Again.  Those struggling with brain injuries and lousy diagnosis and every color of bad luck, bad genes and bad hair styles.

As long as there is the clean canvass of tomorrow, their is hope in today just waiting to be unleashed.

The only fires it’s time to light is in each of them.

The mighty, moving fires of hope.

Anybody can be angry.  Groups in the fist-fulls have known awful, unfair fates.  Unfair is everywhere and yet, so is hope.  So is determination.  So is choice.

Young, disadvantaged black kids come out of terrible neighborhoods each day and go on to excel at top-drawer universities.  Former inmates put their pasts behind them and build new, better, successful lives.  Stable, healthy gay people create loving homes and raise fabulous children.  People with their legs blown off run marathons.  High school and college drop-outs end up finding their niche and making millions of dollars.   People who are addicted end up earning years of sobriety and turning their lives around.  People with brain injuries create new successful lives and positively impact their families, work places and communities.

And it all begins with Moms and Dads.  It begins with the seeds they plant and how they sell life.  How they instill coping mechanisms and a respect for people.  How they doggedly chase any hints of meanness, cruelty, aggression.  How they show what it’s like to overcome.  How they set examples of picking up again, trying again, standing up to fight again tomorrow.

On this Mother’s Day weekend, thank you to all the Moms out there who realized that hope had nothing to do with money.  That hope is free if you are willing.  That, even when life is hard and unfair and wrong, there is a light that doesn’t have to burn in the streets and neighborhoods.  It has to burn inside us.  And inside our children.

Nobody can use lousy schools as an excuse when there are millions of empty libraries begging for people to read their books.  We teach ourselves.  How to speak well.   How to read.  We find how to do things.  We search and we learn.  We ask questions.  We watch.

We can pass on a lot of things to our children.  A hatred for government.  A hatred for blacks or gays or rich or whatever group is unlike us.  We can pass on meanness and how the odds are stacked against “people like us.”

Or we can give them wings.  We can demand that they emerge above every obstacle.   We can create environments where they believe they are better, more capable, smarter and deserving of great lives.  Lives they are resolute in creating.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for coming from where you did and giving me so much more.  Thank you to all the Moms and Dads out there who realize the most important things you can give your kids have nothing to do with what you earn.

There are countless people out there who overcame tough odds.  They are white and black and gay and straight and Democrats and Republicans.  They are Midwesterners and Easterners.  The spring up from the South and soar from the West.

They are not throwing bricks.  They are building them.  They are not lighting fires in their streets.  They are lighting them in their hearts and in the hearts of all they meet.

Rock on, Mothers and Fathers.  Rock on, you parents of Hope.

March 22, 2015

Just Past Midfield

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:33 am

I am back after a couple of months of no blogging.  I’m sure you’re not surprised that this is a long one.  LOL.  I turned fifty in January and I’ve been enjoying this huge milestone and taking time to measure what it means and where I am at this point in my life. I’ve enjoyed amazing teachers along the way, some with specific gifts of wisdom they were lovely enough to share and some good lessons I stole from witnessing behavior on the sides furthest from the sun. Some of it, unfortunately, my own.

It’s so great to be alive! Life continues to offer growth and wisdom and greater understanding, if we seek it. I realize there are lessons I struggle to learn and to keep. I respect and admire and cheer those who seek, on their own paths, to continue to evolve in positive ways.

I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately. Some of the things I’ve been gifted.  Some of the things I’m working on in my own path:

I’m not sure what the original quote was or by whom but it is entirely true: The facts don’t change, even if we choose to deny them, ignore them, twist them, drink them down or pretty them up.

I’ve realized that, just as sure as great, compassionate people will be there for us in all our life’s crises, they will move on, eventually. It is not a fault of theirs. It is healthy. It is the natural current of life. We can go on with them, battered, beaten, wounded and together, with hope of making a better tomorrow, or we can stay alone with our crisis. Only we can decide.

Kids get cancer, newlyweds die in car crashes on the way to their honeymoons, wonderfully-raised children grow up to be murderers, old people get raped, animals get abused.  Injuries happen, death surprises….Eat the cake.

Make your own money.  Buy your own place.  Learn how to fix the furnace.   Gather your courage to kill the icky spiders.  Only when you can leave a relationship will you truly know if you want to stay.

I’ve realized that we all ended up being things we didn’t intend. Starting each day with that precious little nugget creates the possibility that we might be more compassionate and less judgmental.

Study other religions.  Watch other political news shows on other stations.  Ask people about what they believe in.  Invite different from your own.  Read new perspectives.  Only when we research and seek can we actually be of our own informed choices and not just the result of someone’s influence.  If we take in all voices and all choices and all options, what becomes our own beliefs becomes more real and true and personal.

I learned this one the hard way and I wish every young person could learn this and save themselves heartache: Every bad relationship served up red flags that were either ignored, denied or mistakenly believed would change. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a relationship is to choose to end it.  Bad and broken relationships are, most importantly, lessons to be learned and taken on our way to the love of our lives.

This is one of my favorites: Question all that you were taught and all that you believed. We change. Our perspectives change. We mature. We allow more gray. At least we hope we do. Often the things we were taught or picked up as younger people simply aren’t the case, aren’t valid any longer, or weren’t accurate to begin with.

If you are going to choose to hate, realize the enormity of that word and all it implies. Hate makes our souls and our hearts and the sparkle in our eyes a little darker so choose wisely that which you would give up so much for. Learn everything there is to know about that which you will choose to hate and see, then, if there isn’t something within it to understand, to forgive, to recognize as your own.

When you have someone to love and when someone loves you with good, true, healthy love, every good is that much better and every bad has a little less sting. There is a beautiful gift in the every day and all around you that are not pains and problems and sores. But instead you see the promise and the possibility and the treasures.

People fail in human decency, in relationships, in sports rivalries and in politics when they lose sight of the vital element of balance. When anyone believes their side, their color, their religion, their philosophies, their opinions…are all right and are all that matter-that’s when everything starts to swirl the drain.

So many people are disappointed and wounded by family. To me, it is unfair to place so much pressure on people often so different that, were it not for the same name, you would likely never have met. Nobody can live up to all of that. Family can be many fabulous things but it is spouses and partners and friends where we fill natural holes left and where we get specific and critical needs met.

Everyone has their own path to walk, their own lessons to learn, their own truths to determine. It’s not up to us to judge and point out and lambaste, even when it’s so damned hard not to, sometimes.

I feel sad for a generation coming behind me that, by and large, will lose the treasures of holding love letters hand written, wrinkled and yellowed…Who won’t leave behind boxes of personal pictures…Technology is the most amazing inventions of our lifetimes and yet we cannot allow them to replace our most intimate, human interactions.

If you take a few moments every morning to appreciate the fact that you have warmth and a roof over your head, clean water to wash in and put in your coffee, food to pack in your lunch, a vehicle of some sort to get to any job that pays you money….then how can any day be anything but filled with complete gratitude for how fortunate we are?

When you truly realize this is the life you have and how fast the years are flying by and how real an ending is always approaching, then it’s a clear and easy choice to refuse to participate in drama and nonsense, to decide to shed the toxic people in your life, to gather the courage to dream bigger than you have long dared and to simply terminate the relationship/s that hurt, dishonor, belittle and endanger any precious part of you.

(This one I have to continue to learn…) People don’t want our opinions. By and large, they simply want to be heard. They crave our compassion. Our friendship. They have their own lessons to learn and they are at their own pace. Always giving opinions might make us think we are the smartest person in the room when, actually, it just makes us boorish people who should concentrate more on our own shortcomings.

At some point, it is our life. Ours alone. We can forever blame our parents and rotten exes and lousy bosses and upbringings and injuries and perceived wrongs and a host of other things. But we are the result of our choices. We have this life and it is a reflection of OUR moves, decisions and priorities. If we give power to anything wanting or willing to defeat us, beat us or make us less than our best, that is our choice too.

If you surround yourself with people who possess true and good intentions which you completely trust, you will never have a screaming match. You will never have to feel wickedly wounded or betrayed. If you don’t want to always have to look over your shoulder and protect your back, get rid of the people in your life with the knives…

What is the point if you never open the Christmas presents? What if everyone got up Christmas morning and just looked at the presents but never opened them? Never ate the birthday cake?

We are given a lifetime on an Earth that has such miraculous beauty. In large part and small measure, we are each surrounded by and invited to absolutely fill our hearts and souls with grace and joy and beauty. These gifts have no limit, no end.  They are all around us, available to each of us in every moment we choose to capture.

I don’t want to die and meet my Maker and have Him say, “Geez, Kara, you never made it to the Grand Canyon? How ‘bout those roses your neighbor grew every year? Did you ever stop to smell them?”

We don’t have a lot of time, any of us. Not when you imagine the countless wonders to visit, to enjoy, to relish, to invite. We need to push back at the anger and hatred and darkness and regret and envy which seeks to swallow us entirely. We need to run out early in the morning in our pajamas to see the glorious colors of sunrise. To stand in awe at the sandy shores of the greatest lakes and oceans. We need to wiggle our tickle-toes in the soft, cool grasses. To dance as long as we can move, to laugh as long as we can muster, to sing and to gift love with each last breath.

We can all put a little more living into our lives, if we make it our priority. To stay anchored in life’s precious moments, whatever they are, and not always rush, in mind and body, to the next thing on the to-do list. Everyone is wounded. Everyone is humbled and has stumbled. But it is our choice to be more loving and giving and compassionate and kind. To seek more good in people. To have more fun. To leave less space in our lives and our hearts to hold grudges, to be judgmental, mean, cruel and ruthless.

They will tell the truth about us. Maybe not in the obituary and maybe not out loud. But there is a truth we are making every day in the hearts of those we touch and there will be a truth in how warm and sweet that touch was. How true and real and lasting. Let’s invite good in every sip, every delicious bite, every scene, every encounter so that we have no room in our hearts for hatred, bitterness, envy, regret, violence, and darkness.

December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 7:14 am

We’ve all heard the saying, “Christmas is for kids” a thousand times and I guess I always assumed it referred to fortunate kids who get to anticipate a Christmas morning full of packages under the tree, a new outfit and days of school activities, concerts, plays and all things innocent and wonderful. I also assumed it referred to Christmas as being for kids because their parents were basically all stressed out trying to hunt down must-have toys and pay for those must-have toys, send the cards, do the cleaning and shopping and cooking and planning, knowing those credit card bills will arrive complete with a fire extinguisher come January.

And then I saw a turtle. Not just any turtle. I saw a turtle who had been so disabled that he could no longer move his little turtle leg. And someone, God bless ‘em, made him a turtle crutch wagon out of Legos and the turtle took to it and today is motoring on, rocking it, heading home to his turtle family on his Legos wagon.

Christmas is for kids, yes. But Christmas is for kids because kids grow up to become adults who might just use that aged-old love of Legos to make a turtle walk again.

We all spend our lives seeking those Christmas ideals we forged as kids. Through the rekindling of faith, the excitement of gifts, the smells of favorite foods, the putting up of trees and ornaments and grandmother’s passed-down decorations, we return again and again to try and replicate that which made us believe in…miracles.

We are all yesterday’s kids inside. We are all those kids trying to replicate the best of what we took from our childhoods. How fortunate are we that the gifts we were given, those of tradition and giving and faith, now are ours to hand down again and again.

Sure, yesterday’s kids have made today’s murderers, today’s war mongers, today’s thieves, today’s rapists….But yesterday’s kids have also made the most extraordinary, talented, funny, generous, do-gooding people this world needs and craves. People I know.

You.

Thank you for taking the best of your childhood memories and keeping them, reshaping them and sharing them all around. It never mattered much if we were off key, if the cookies burned a little bit on the bottom, if the packages looked as if they had been wrapped by a turtle…

I’ve heard you sing and you’ve filled my heart with all of your voices, the things you do, the ways you impact and imprint our young people, your gifts of kindness and food and generosity and spirit and companionship. Your sweet, sweet love.
You are yesterday’s kids and, too, tomorrow’s hope…That light is right and that good really does beat back evil. In a world that sometimes begs to differ, you are an army of fabulous. A tremendous and treasured reminder that every morning is, indeed, a gift.

My Christmas wish is that you simply hear my warm prayers that you and yours will enjoy a peaceful holiday season and go skipping into a New Year with renewed good health, enthusiasm and with hearts all full of love.

Merry Christmas with love,
From Kara
And turtles

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