Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

May 14, 2017

When Is Your Spring?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 8:31 am

Here in Michigan, Spring is an oft-elusive flirtatious gal.  Stunning in her beauty but arriving in fits and starts.  We will see temps in the seventies, like we did in February, followed by snowstorms in April for Opening Day of baseball.  Spring will taunt us with her jaw-dropping pinks and purples and yellows and then clobber us with her frozen white.

I like to think of brain injury recovery as our Spring.  Our life’s Spring.  It is a warming…a recovering….a return.

No doubt our brain injuries are the cold, dark winters of our lives.  For so many of us, our brain injuries are like those sleeting, sideways blizzards of cold.  In the darkness of those painful nights, these lovely Spring days are hard to hang onto.  Hard to even recall or to dare hope for.

Just as Spring comes in fits and starts, from seventies back to snow, so do our recoveries fly and fall.  We hope, we are encouraged…We falter, we are discouraged.

If we can take any hope out of our reliable weather patterns, we know that spring DOES come.  We can’t always tell when and we won’t always know how she will look and for how long she’ll stay.  But she comes.

In the darkest of winter in places like Michigan where winter might last until nearly June, we remind ourselves she comes.

I have, admittedly, a tough time in February.  It’s getting to the end of winter then.  The magic of Christmas is gone and so is my January birthday.  The snow hangs on, brown and frozen in the corners of parking lots.  By February I am desperate for Spring.

But, as it is with our injuries, we must invite Spring.  Bring her to us.  Entice her.

By March I have my patio chairs ready and my windows open.  I’m doing what I can to hurry the end of winter then.

When is your Spring?

How do you and how can you invite Spring into your own TBI recovery?  How can you hurry the end of the darkest and coldest of wintry nights in order to enjoy your own warming, recovering and returning?

When we successfully recover from brain injury, it is not, in most instances, because we all healed up and returned all the pieces back to their previous places.

It’s because we put the patio chairs out.

It’s because we opened up those windows even when it was only fifty degrees outside.

Bring Spring.

Successful TBI recovery is waiting on you.  It’s not just something that comes along all by itself.  It’s not something that just happens all alone.  It needs your help.

Just like Spring announces her arrival with the tiny buds and sprouting Crocus, so, too, do our TBI recoveries.  We see them emerge from the frozen ground when we begin to realize that the tools we need to use are ones we have always utilized.

When we decide to go on vacation, we look at how much money we have and that determines how far we can go.  When we want to buy new golf clubs or go to the grocery store, we check how much money we have and that determines how fancy the clubs and whether or not we can buy steak or ground beef.

Successful TBI recovery begins when we look at how much we have now, at this point.  How far do we get to go?   It is a “now” moment.  We might only have enough money to go on vacation for a single day, three hours away.  But that sure doesn’t mean that we won’t be able to go to Aruba and lay on sandy beaches for two weeks this time next year.  And it doesn’t mean that that day trip three hours away won’t end up being one of the best days of our lives.

Bring Spring.  Start.  Start somewhere.  Hurry the end of your winter.  Open up those windows and put out the patio chairs.  When we start, we start moving and when we start moving, we start moving away from the winter of our injuries.

She is a beautiful, flirtatious gal.  Worth every sweet morning of warm sunshine on the windows and the smell of freshly-cut lawns.  Each gorgeous new flower and glorious color.  She is worth every chilly moment when you have the windows open and it’s only fifty degrees.  She is worth every push, every transitional stop and start.

She is worth it.  And so are you.



April 30, 2017

Thank You, Healthline!

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:27 am

You may have noticed the fancy red badge at the top right of the blog page.  I’m so excited to share this:

Hi Kara,

Healthline would like to congratulate you on making our list of the Best TBI Blogs of 2017!

Our editors carefully selected the most up-to-date, informative, and inspiring blogs that aim to uplift their readers through education and personal stories. We’re glad to have you on the list!

Huge thank you to Ms. Maegan Jones, Content Coordinator, and all the good folks at Healthline for choosing our blog for their list.  I say “our” because, make no mistake, your comments and responses over the years have helped to bring hope to countless TBI survivors and their loved ones literally all over the globe.

I feel honored and humbled and just plain excited to proudly display the new badge.  I hope everyone will check out Healthline.  They have a clean site.  Easy to maneuver.  Comprehensive coverage of all of life’s health and wellness topics.  Healthline.com

April 15, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:59 am

Good Friday is never good for me.  I am a Christian and, on Good Friday, I am overcome with remorse for what we did to Jesus that day.   Whether Easter for you is about the bunny or The Lamb, it is, to me, a time to reflect on a flickering light in this world.

I don’t know about you but, these last few years, I find myself saying more and more, “WTF is wrong with people?” when I hear or read of the seemingly-endless accounts of cruelty, assault and murder.   It is not rare to count the first five stories on the local news or to read the first seven stories on-line filled with meanies, knuckleheads and far, far worse than that.

Maybe because the Internet allows us to see more, we believe that there is more.  Maybe there is.  But it is true that people have been wretched and rotten and inhumane to each other for centuries.

Whether you believe that Jesus was the Son of God is a step beyond a truth that there was, indeed, a man named Jesus who was put to death in his time.  That crucifixion should have been the most extraordinary story of that time just for the inhumane details of it.  Unfortunately, that is not nearly the case.

We have, as mankind, hung people from trees and walked them off of planks into the ocean with their hands and feet tied.  We have disemboweled them alive and burned them alive, too.  We have crucified them, even upside down.  Beheaded and gutted and shot and stabbed them.

Over and over I ask again…why have we not taught and why have they not learned?

A murder, a torture, an assault, a rape, a robbery or a bullying should be so rare and so over-the-top that we rail against the enormous wrongness of that single act.  In that case, we could stand aside and rationalize how that one went wrong whether it was bad parenting or trauma or mental illness or drugs or whatever.   The event would be the talk of the town and the commitment of the community.  It would headline and enrage-just that one event.

But to imagine the literally uncountable, over the centuries, who have suffered and died at the hands of like others….I weep for this.  We can’t even remember each instance for a week when so many follow.

How does anyone grow up to believe that if someone has worked hard for something, it is OK to steal it from them.  Take it for themselves….If someone desires a person, they are to be conquered, with or without their consent.  If someone has this color of this or that size of that, it is OK to belittle, bully and humiliate them for it.  If someone has thought or imagined or wronged or erred or even glanced in a way, then it is OK to murder them.  To take them out. To remove them from an offended sight.

This Easter I wish everyone someone to love.  Someone they don’t want to lose so maybe they won’t be so quick to do something that might find them in prison the rest of their life for.  Someone they don’t want to lose because of retaliation for something horrific they might do.  Someone they don’t want to have to stand before having brought shame upon.  Someone they would rather just enjoy life with and make good of it with.

I wish everyone someone to love.  A kid that looks up to them.  A dog or a cat who waits and depends upon them.  A friend.  A partner.  A spouse.  Someone.  Someone who inspires their best and someone who puts a face to the fear of loss.

Perhaps if we do a better job of filling people’s hearts with a love that cannot imagine hating, then we will spend less time filling up our prisons and our cemeteries.

Seems we do a better job of being aware of the colds we spread.  We pay attention.  We tell people to stay away with their germs.  We don’t want to catch that!!!

Maybe we need to do a better job of realizing that, indeed, we are spreading something every day.   The common cold is the least of our problems.

Let’s spread good germs.  See if those around us will “catch” a positive attitude, a forgiving culture, a pleasant manner, a helpful way, a healthy respect, a foundation of love.

Happy Easter, Happy Spring, Happy Every Little Thing.

January 31, 2017

THAT’S when my brain was messed up…

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 4:10 pm

Today is the 21st anniversary of my brain injury and, as the years have gathered and clustered and bumped into one another, I have gained so much insight into what I’m celebrating and what the reality of my life was and is.

Most of us, I imagine, come from a place where we measure when we were well against that date we were hurt.  That date when our brains got messed up…

But I look back now and I was 31 and so successful and Society smiled upon me and told me I was thriving and climbing and I had this and that to hold up as evidence.   Nice house, nice car, nice suits, good money…

But, as I sit here today and look out upon that January snow coming down and I recall that day so many years ago now, I am more convinced than ever…

I don’t lament that time.  I don’t covet it.  I don’t long for it.  I realize now that-

THAT’S when my brain was messed up!

Oh my.

I was told when I was young that working those 80 to a hundred hours a week meant I was driven and successful and accomplished and goal-oriented.  Executing on four hours a sleep so many nights and changing in my car so I could go from catering director to coach and then back again.

I didn’t have time to even look at life.  To look at myself.  To realize how unbalanced and dysfunctional I was.   Here I was in a town I had moved to where I didn’t know anyone, far away from friends because I had left an abusive relationship.   I worked so much that I barely even decorated that new house.  When my mom started having her strokes, I didn’t take time off.  Instead I got up and went to the hospital at 6 in the morning, off to work at seven, sneak to the hospital after lunch events were done, back for dinner events, off to the hospital once more before heading back to set up for the next day’s events.  Walking in at three in the morning…

Everyone told me I was such a success when really I was just living a life of pretty chaos.

It didn’t take this brain injury to make my life fall apart.  It took this brain injury to get my head on straight and to start putting together a real life that I took the time to actually want.

Please don’t waste this opportunity!  Brain injury comes at us like the Boogey Man and it throws all sorts of horrific distractions in our way.  It makes us feel like it is the worst thing that could ever have happened to us.

In reality, these injuries of ours are crossroads.  Intersections.  Pivot points.  Yes, I get that, for so many, the devastation is beyond repair….But, for so many of us, it is our opportunity to walk away from what almost killed us and to actually, finally, start living.

I pray you are as fortunate as I am this day.  To know that it was that damned injury I have to thank for now 21 years of real success in things that actually matter to me.   Something of lasting value.  Something worth living for.  Love, peace, joy, doing things I love, being with people I love, appreciating life…

Happy Birthday to me.  To all of us.  To be born is to be given the gift of life and we have each received this now twice.  What are you going to do with yours?

January 28, 2017

They Just Play The Music

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:48 am

My friend Linda has been teaching piano for over forty years now.  Over all those decades, with literally hundreds of students, she has developed many tools to reach and teach people of every age and learning ability.  To give them the robust gift of music.

I had always wanted to play but, even before my brain injury, I had never learned to read music.  To me it was like Statistics in college….like some foreign, frustrating language that everyone seemed to be able to speak except me.

I had taught myself to play some over the years.  With a handful of guitar chords that I practiced over and over and with some easy chord books and song selections that included just the few chords I knew, I was able to strum a little guitar here and there.  Never anything great but enough to enjoy it and actually recognize the few songs I was trying to play.

Linda knew I had always wanted to play piano and the idea kept returning to me when I was recovering.  I kept coming across evidence and testimony of music as a useful tool to help unlock cognitive potential in recovery.

I think she, too, was curious about the challenges a TBI survivor might face when trying to encourage the brain to execute the many simultaneous demands in order to play.  You have to be able to read the notes, process them and apply them to fingers which are attempting to find corresponding keys.  You have to read two sets of notes in order to play the right hand and the left hand and have all of those things happen together, over and over, throughout a song and within the confines of time measurements.

For someone like me who cannot, some days, manage to pair two simple things together and execute them at the same time for even a moment, the idea of stringing those skills together over the course of an entire song felt almost impossible, really.  I didn’t imagine it would be much fun if I couldn’t keep up with the processing speeds and one simple song would take ten minutes to play.

Didn’t sound like too much fun.

Linda knew, too, that, when I used to play guitar, I would come across a tough chord that I hadn’t mastered and just play a G.  I told her, “Yep, just play a G anytime you don’t know a chord….”  For an award-winning, classically-trained professional, I’m sure she was aghast.  Laughing here.

We decided to give it a try and just see.

Linda searched the myriad strategies that had served her so well in helping the countless students she had taught.  She realized that, when we hit roadblocks that TBI had made so frustratingly distinct to my potential, she threw out the playbook and literally rewrote the language of music in a way that my brain could actually recognize, organize and process quickly enough to stay in a song.  We stuck to songs I knew so that the familiarity might add to the processing speeds.  We drew pictures in the margins of the sheet music and found ways around the demands that I simply could not execute.

And I played the piano.

The other day Linda was telling me about her new piano students.  Two of them are just six and seven and she reported how well they are doing and how quickly they are picking it up.  I told her I was a little embarrassed by how hard it was for me, even before my brain injury, and she said something interesting that made a light go on for me.

She said, “Kids just play the music.  Adults have a lot going on in their heads.  They bring a lot of baggage.  Kids don’t ask why.  They don’t second-guess the music.  They trust the music and they just play.”

As soon as I heard that, I thanked her for my new blog subject.

In any life I think we all get caught up tripping over the baggage.  In our own heads, we complicate the simplest of notions, of gestures, of evidence.  We deplete ample.  We muddy. We can take a beautiful ice sculpture of an eagle and keep chipping at it and finding flaws and seeking perfection until all we’re left with is one big honkin’ ice cube.

Admittedly, with a brain injury, we may have to rewrite the music a little.  There might be drawings in the margins and notes and skips and end-arounds in order to allow ourselves the gift.  But the gift is the music.

We gotta just play it.  We just gotta hold tight to the simple truth that it is a good thing to play it.

Giving ourselves the most extraordinary gifts of life:  love, music, compassion, forgiveness, wellness, inclusion, support, peace….is worth every note in the margin.   For those of us with TBI in our lives, those gifts are worth every strategy, counsel, learning, medication, and compensatory tool to get us there.

I cried that first time I played Silent Night with two hands, chords and all.  I cried.  It was a little slow and admittedly a simple version, but it was Silent Night, nonetheless.

Thank you, Linda.  Thank you to all of you out there willing to help us enjoy life’s most beautiful gifts.

I played Silent Night.  And into that Silent Night, I poured music.  Into the dark still where sometimes hope flickers and falters, I poured hope.   And flames of tomorrow’s possibilities sparked tall and bright, crazy into the night.

Just play the music.

January 1, 2017

The Pine Needles Hurt

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:22 am

Growing up, my family adhered to ages-old traditions of celebrating Swedish Christmas from December 13th through January 13th.  I never questioned it.  That’s who we were and that’s how it was.  We celebrated life and love and loved ones around those trees.  My Mom carefully placed the hundred-year-old ornaments from Sweden near the top where the kids and enthusiastic cats “hunting in the wild” of our tree branches couldn’t reach.  There were more than a few birthdays of mine on the 15th of January that included a Christmas tree.

As you can imagine, though, by that second week in January, our poor tree was dropping its needles and long-suffering after a month of standing tall and strong in a house with the furnace on and a fire going.

By the time we managed to drag that poor tree out each year, it was so painful to touch those branches and, oh, how they scratched!  The needles fell like rain and we were still getting poked by the occasional rogue needle, stubborn in the carpet, long into Spring.

My parents are gone now and, when I moved into my condo, friends gifted me a lovely lit tree that I pull out each Christmas and plug in and enjoy just the same.

It doesn’t hurt.

I still honor my parents and our heritage in personal ways, in my heart, from the beginning of Swedish Christmas until the last but it is so apparent to me that…

When we drag the past on for too long and into a future it was not meant for, it hides and it waits and it pokes and it hurts.

This New Year’s morning is mild.  Right smack dab in the middle of winter, we here in Michigan are enjoying beautiful sunshine and are looking forward to temps near 50 tomorrow.

It is a new year.  A new year!!!

I am giddy with this extraordinary gift given again-a new empty slate upon which I will create the next year of my life.

As we get older, it becomes so glaringly clear how precious time is.  Time.  Sweet time.

Some, I imagine, like George Michael and Carrie Fisher, thought there was so much more of it left.  Others, stricken with illness or dire prognoses, understand how it is now counted with a different perspective or in smaller measures of years, or in months, or even in breaths.


We are so often careless with this treasure.  We waste time.  We lose time.  We kill time.  We fill it with people we don’t love and in jobs we can’t stand and we note that years fly by unremarkably.  Sometimes without an earmark.  Without a difference.

Without extraordinary.

My wish for everyone this new year is always the same:  good health.  With good health, we are free and able to mold and shape and fill and celebrate our time.  Our particular time.

This go around, maybe we can figure out the parts of our lives that are like those poking pine needles and stop dragging them into a new year again and again when they are best left to the past:  relationships that worked better back then, traditions that fit better then, perspectives and beliefs and opinions that thrived in a world we don’t see outside our windows now.

Maybe it’s time to plug in and light up better solutions and better strategies so that we actually enjoy this gift we’ve given.  Our time.

It’s a new year.  It’s a clean calendar.  It’s a blank slate.  Most of us will return again a year from now and we will know if we chose to spend more of our precious time with people, in jobs and doing things we simply don’t like, love or want anymore.  If we chose to simply keep slogging, keep complaining, keep hating, keep dreading, keep dragging dead trees behind us…

Or did we choose, finally, to really hold that time up precious and close this year?  Did we choose, at every turn, to share it with people we love and enjoy?  Did we give parts of it to fun-seeking adventures, new learning opportunities, great relationship and neighborhood and planet and people-saving projects, and sweet moments of love and of healing and of grace?

Did we make time and find time and give time so that we actually enjoy our lives?

Let’s choose that.  :)))))

November 11, 2016

It’s Been a Tough Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:37 pm

It is Election Week.  It may as well have been Election Month or Election Year.   The last three days have felt like one unending news cycle.  We are exhausted.

Never before, in my lifetime, has a Presidential Election swept our country up into such an overwhelming, frenzied storm.  All of our best traits that come with living in a free society that gifts hope through each election cycle.  And, too, all of our worst traits when both sides allow competition, fear, anxiety and disappointment to show their darker symptoms.

For those of us with brain injury, it was likely a difficult stretch.  I know it was for me.  Long nights watching from pre to post-election coverage.  Lots of stress.  Lots of opinions and information and crowds and noise.   I know that Wednesday, after so little sleep and all the cognitive wasting, I was twirling around in the parking lot with no bra on and different colored socks.

With each election, the United States is basically split down the middle.  Each cycle, one half of our country is euphoric while the other is wrought with dismay.  It has always been.

I thought about my fellow survivors a lot these last couple of weeks.  Too often, when we are disabled, there seems to be a shadow upon us and we are often cast into the back of the picture.  But the country could learn from us.  These past few weeks, especially, I’ve seen you all just shine.

Like the people who lost the election eight years ago and like the people who lost Tuesday night, each side has gone on and felt left behind by the opposition party.  Too many lament and blame their way through an entire administration, content to cast their disappointments upon whatever party they didn’t vote for.  They don’t change to improve.  They just bitch.

For us, we don’t get to see our fortunes rise and fall with each election cycle when it comes to our injuries.  They survive through each party and each change in power.

But so do we.

We have long-learned how important it is to adapt.  To look at the situation and what has been lost and to start figuring out ways around and over it.  In order to be successful, we have to go on with less than we had every single day and we can’t just wait it out for another election to bring us justice or relief or promise or good fortune.

If we are to enjoy those things, we know we have to make them for ourselves.  Regardless of politicians.  Regardless of policy.  Regardless of fair or unjust.

We have to go get them.  Us.  We.

I have listened to countless healthy, blessed people bitch and moan and complain for most of my adult life time now.  Both sides and both parties.

Makes me respect you guys even more.  Makes me admire you and salute you.

There is no waiting to seek happiness.  There is no waiting to seek success.  Not for another election.  Not for another candidate.  Not for another day.

Life is short.  Let’s promise ourselves to keep pressing on through the haze of today and hold fast to the truth that happiness cannot be dependent on any politician or policy.  It is closer than that.  It is with people we can actually touch.

We do have the power to make our lives and our homes and our families and our relationships better and more loving and more peaceful.  When we all succeed there, we don’t bring near as much hate out into our world each morning.

PS  Hey, thanks to so many of you who wrote to me about my new book, “I’ll Carry the Fork!  The 20th Anniversary Chapter”.   So many of you told me that it is a tool to initiate awkward and difficult conversations between those with TBI and those we live with and love.  I cannot tell you how much that moves me and inspires me.  Thank you so much.  If we can just start those conversations about intimacy and recovery and new goals and new challenges…start them without blame or shame….then we are all headed in a direction that looks more like better and I so wish all of you that.  Many many times over.  xo  Kara

October 10, 2016

Exciting News To Share

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 7:53 am

I haven’t written a new blog entry in a couple of months.  I couldn’t wait to share the news of what I’ve been doing lately…

Over all these years, people have continued to write to me to ask that I have Fork reprinted and to release new material.  After my publisher sold her business, I never seemed to have the money to reprint Fork and I was content with my blog interactions with all of you and with how I was moving my life away from my injury.

This year is the twentieth anniversary of the car crash that caused my brain injury.  With congratulations came another new round of requests that I re-release Fork and, for the first time in many years, I decided to take a peek.

I thought it might be cool to re-release it with a new chapter celebrating these last twenty years.  I’ve learned so much from my own journey and from what you have shared from yours.

I started to type a little and was moved at how warm it felt to return and how excited I felt to share it all with you.

You and me.  Me and you.  We have been on this journey together, many for a long time.  For all the blog comments stating that they were so grateful to have found this place, I was always just as grateful to welcome another person who, more often times than not, taught me just as much.

Because I cannot seem to stop writing once I get going, that anniversary chapter ended up being almost book-length and we decided to allow it to stand on its own.

Fork has had a baby.  :))))

I wrote it, not just with you in mind, but with you in it.  Every page is inspired by, not just my journey but all of ours.  Our struggles and triumphs and all the issues we have raised and shared and vented about here.

I hope you’ll check it out.  I didn’t write it because I am extraordinary.  I wrote it because you are.  Because I have found such remarkable people in this community who continue to brave odds and beat odds and soar every day.

I’m going to try and paste the link below.  If it doesn’t connect, you can find it on Amazon.  We made the font large and the borders big enough for notes (people asked for that).  We took out all the frills so we could keep the price modest and deliver a clean read.  I’m really excited to share it with you and I hope you will find your wonderful place inside.

This is not just to you from me.  This is to us from us.  This is twenty years of all of us and how we battle this injury every day.

I love you guys and I have appreciated your voices, your sharing courage and your stories of every success and adversity.  I’m excited to introduce Fork’s new baby.  :)))))))))

I thought you might be interested in this page from Amazon.
I’ll Carry the Fork! The 20th Anniversary Chapter
by Kara L. Swanson
  Learn more  

July 11, 2016

Getting Back To The Basics

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:01 pm

I’ve realized that, even twenty years into this brain injury, some of the things I first recognized as helpful still apply.  None more so, maybe, than creating a good routine.

I always thought routine was boring.  I thought it made a person kind of nerdy or some old curmudgeon stuck in their ways.  We all know of or have heard tell of those who have to do things a certain way each time.  They have to go to certain places on certain days and they have to eat this or that.

That might be bordering on an issue best left for another blog.  LOL.

Routine, for those of us who are brain injured, often ends up a dear friend.  A loyal, consistent ally.

A dependable good.

I have long relied on routine to reign in the more troublesome of my challenges.  Here and there, the failure to filter, the distractibility, the getting stuck on one thing…

When routine is thoughtfully crafted, it provides us a great sense of peace and confidence.  Even when our memories fail us, we can often feel sure that our routines kept the ship sailing in the right direction.

For many of us with TBI, summer creates a huge change in our routines.  Those of us with kids have to deal with a change in morning schedules.  Those of us taking vacation have to handle packing and travel plans and booking hotels and rental cars.

It can really throw us off our game.

I know that, for me, just the fact that the 4th of July holiday ended up on a Monday really sent me sideways.  Monday felt like Sunday.  Monday also felt like the 1st of the month so some bills didn’t get paid.  Tuesday was Monday.  I took off Thursday so Friday was Monday, too.

My co-workers were amused to see me show up for work with my clothes on backwards…


Stressed out and frustrated partners and caregivers write to me all the time about how their TBI survivor does nothing all day.  They often find them where they left them and nothing seems to have changed after nine hours of the day.

That doesn’t surprise me.

Many of us have a hard time figuring out what the heck to do first or next.  Some of us have a problem with initiating and some with a problem of having to pick from the thousands of options of what we could possibly do.

An established routine based on, mostly, when we are at our cognitive best each day helps everyone on both sides of the coin.  Everyone can ease down and feel a little more relaxed when we all have an idea of what to expect next.

Routine doesn’t have to be a prison sentence.  It is not some anchor we should be forced to lug around.  It is a tool and a good one.  It’s a way to help us be efficient and productive during the best parts of our days.

As summer passes the midway point and soon kids will take the turn toward heading back to school, many parents will begin to re-establish routines to ease their kids back into school mode.  Maybe they’ll start to get them out of bed earlier and into bed sooner.  Maybe they’ll begin to get them thinking again during the day and engaging their brains so they can start off the year on a good note.

Because we are a funny lot, we often stop our diets when we lose a few pounds or quit our antibiotics after a few days because we start feeling better.  But it doesn’t matter how long we have been injured, it never hurts to get back to the basics when we feel things spinning a little out of control.

We don’t have to quit what works.  It doesn’t make us “still worse”.  And we don’t have to feel badly about returning to our tried and true help when we find ourselves bumped somewhere off the beaten path.

Routine is a good thing.  It’s a nice tool in the box.  It helps us to feel accomplished and peaceful that will always be the goal of any good day.

Happy Summer, everyone!!!!



May 21, 2016

May I Please Speak With Mr. Swanson?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:00 am

I can remember it near and close, still, not like it was forty+ years ago.  Our kitchen phone, the only one in the house, wasn’t on the wall.  It didn’t have that long, long cord like so many homes did.

Ours was an awful color.  Some pinkish tank color.  It had an oval base and sat close to the plug.  You could sit at the kitchen table and speak on it, but that was about it.

My Dad was a very talented commercial artist at a small firm.  When they decided it was time for me to learn proper phone etiquette, I was given instructions on what to say and how to say it.  Several afternoons that summer I called my Dad at work:

“May I please speak with Mr. Swanson?”

I still do that today.

I can remember when I was barely driving and I thought it a good idea to bring home an entire litter of kittens.  They squirmed out of the box and they were jumping all over the car.  Soon underfoot and collecting near the gas pedal, I could not brake in time before bumping into the car in front of me.  Unfortunately, it was an older gentleman driving his prized, lifelong dream car.  Egad.

My parents took me to the Police Station and, as I was answering questions by the officer, my Dad was very sharp with me in a way I hadn’t experienced before.  I answered, “Yeah” and my Dad shot me a glare, “Yes, sir!”

“Yes, sir.”

My parents were adamant about please and thank-you.  They were diligent and relentless about impeccable manners and they installed and instilled kind waves and nice nods and gentlemanly ways of conduct.

Our neighbors were part of a vast conspiracy which collectively held all of us kids to a common ideal when it came to telling the truth and sharing food and toys and clothes.  I can remember an uncle teaching me how a young, classy lady should demurely shake a hand.  I can remember my basketball coach, Jan Sander, teaching me how a strong, confident woman does it.

I can remember being in New York with my friends in the 80s and, at every turn, saying “Please” and “Thank you” to food servers and taxi drivers.  Slow, Midwestern Kara there in the Big Apple with the millions rushing and bumping by me as I barely made my way.  “Excuse me.”  “Pardon me.”

My friends laughed and rolled their eyes.

Yesterday, when I was coming home, I sat waiting to turn on three separate occasions as young people sauntered across busy roads, bringing the afternoon progress to a screeching halt.  They didn’t hustle to cross when the cars started backing up.  They didn’t offer a wave of appreciation.  Nothing.

I was in line at a drive-thru window and there was someone blasting their horn behind me.  As I slowly passed the car in front of me, I leaned out to tell her it wasn’t me blasting.  She just looked at me and flipped me off.

I can remember fondly, decades ago, when it was commonplace to connect with the driver coming towards you.  The two of you would help each other get through whatever crowded sidestreet or obstacle you were commonly facing.  Helpful waves.  Smiles.  Nods.

We used to help each other.

I can’t remember the last time someone waved back when I cast them out a friendly hello.  A smile and a nod.  Letting them go first.  Helping them get by.

When I announce sporting events at my old high school, I’m constantly observing young people who refuse to remove their caps during the National Anthem.  I’ve seen kids talking and laughing all during our Anthem, even with their parents who are standing right there with them.  There I am after the anthem, stumbling over bleachers to remind these kids what it means to stand with respect for the National Anthem.  They look at me like I’m an alien.

As I approach each young person through the course of an event, I’ll look them in the eye and smile and offer up a greeting.  Some days I am lucky if, out of ten, I may get one hello and two inaudible grunts.  When a young person looks me back in the eye and actually smiles and returns a true greeting, I just want to grab up that kid and give them a hug.  LOL.

Standing in line near any store counter or seated in earshot in most restaurants, I overhear, “Gimme this, gimme that….”   I don’t hear, “May I please” much of anything.

A little after Mother’s Day.  A few weekends before Father’s Day.  I’m heading out today to go see my parents’ grave site.   I’m sure the gold foil on their name plate continues to fade.  I’ll bring scissors to trim the grass growing all willy nilly around the edges.  I’ll wash off the plate and leave my Mom some flowers.  Bring my Dad a small American flag to honor his WW2 service in the Navy.

I’ll tell them about their grandkids, Charlie and Samantha.  I’ll tell them how my brother, Craig and his wife, Sue, have taught them an etiquette that they would be proud of.  When I see the kids, they say “Please” and “thank you.”

They have no idea what a positive difference they make.  A light in this world.  I look in those young faces with their bright eyes and brilliant teeth and healthy skin and bodies running all over playgrounds and ball fields and I feel…

Hope.  Gratitude.

I pray that, one day, they will look back at these seemingly small lessons with grateful hearts.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.  Thank you, Craig and Sue.  Thank you, Charlie and Samantha.  People say, all the time, how this next generation is doomed to snarky, selfish, even criminal behavior.

I’m not going to buy it.   Not with the wonderful hope seeds growing all around me.

Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Father’s Day to all the great people out there working so hard to bring up responsible, peaceful, polite young people.   If nice or polite make me hopelessly passe, I’ll live with that.

Hang in there.  You rock!  You keep doing what you’re doing, great parents.  We need more and more light to chase away a growing darkness.  I’m not convinced that the answer is simply teaching “please” and “thank you” and a respectful decorum during the National Anthem but I will always believe that’s a road sign on a positive path.

Cheering and saluting all the terrific parents out there.  Happy Spring, Happy Every Little Thing.





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