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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Yesterday at our church service, we began the new church year by lighting the first Advent candle. The emphasis, as always during the season of Advent, is on waiting. Watching the candle burn, I found it hard not to be reminded of how much we were waiting upon hope last December—and how it took a lot longer than just the month of December to reach the light.

And, so we give thanksgiving that somehow we all survived that bitter month and those that followed, even if scars remain, some visible and some hidden beneath the surface. The world has rotated another year and we are back, much better prepared to believe in the light.

Yet, somewhere out there, there are others who walk a path into the darkness and question where the light went. Their journey is either just beginning or, perhaps, they have gotten lost in the shadows.

Last year, when our daughter ended up in Children’s Hospital the week before Christmas, we hadn’t had time for much of a hopeful mood, let alone for decorating or shopping for Christmas. Advent was as dark as it had ever been in our home. Our family was leading a one-day-at-a-time (or hour) existence.

Children's Hospital, (c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Once she was in the hospital, we were definitely in the proverbial “deer in the headlight” mode, just trying to figure out the hospital’s program for helping her get better, along with making twice daily trips to visit her. There wasn’t much time to contemplate the financial costs, but even though we thankfully had a maximum out-of-the-pocket expenditure, suffice it to say the healing was not going to be free.

Enter an invitation to visit the Snow Pile, Children’s annual event where families with hospitalized kids go to “shop” for those kids, as well as for siblings. Part of me thought we didn’t need such help, but that wasn’t really true. Getting healing for your child is priceless, but even middle class families with insurance are stretched when using high deductible health care plans. Besides, who has time to shop at such a time?

My daughter didn’t know about the event and my husband had to work, so I showed up early on my own to do my “shopping” before visiting hours. So far I haven’t been able to convey well enough the experience to my other family members—that “shopping” trip remains for me a glowing light in a time of deepest winter.

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

A volunteer escorted me through a large room piled with toys, stuffed animals, books, clothes, blankets, hats, games, etc.—but no snow! The volunteer worked from a checklist of the types of items each patient receives, as well as each sibling receives. When I told him my daughter really wanted a Slinky Dog (from Toy Story), he walked over to the mountain of toys for younger kids, searched, and found it. Before leaving, we stopped at another table for wrapping supplies. Last stop, being handed off to another volunteer who carted all the holiday goods off to my car in those little red wagons frequently used by the littlest patients at Children’s. Wow.

Then I went back to the hard tasks of visiting and meetings, but with a lighter feeling in my heart. I promised myself I wouldn’t forget. Somehow we had to help with the program in future years.

Fast forward a year (not really!) and I hadn’t really figured out how to help. When I called, I found out this year’s event is already filled with volunteers. But, what they need (frankly, what they need every week of the year, not just during the Snow Pile) is blankets for the patients.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Well, what my son needed to do was some service hours for his civics class at school. So, yesterday he did the excruciating work of standing in line at Joann Fabrics, waiting to buy polar fleece. Really, that may be the toughest part of the project, especially for any man in my family! The fabric was on deep discount, so we bought enough for eleven blankets—he’s got five done so far.

Sometimes when you’re stuck in darkness, it helps to know that someone who doesn’t even know you or your family is blanketing you with love. Charlie Brown’s friend Linus had it right—we all need something to hold onto that reminds us of hope—especially when we’re busy waiting for the light’s return.

Washington Park Sunset, (c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

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I am hosting the next book club and, for once, I have been stumped by what book to choose for the group. Some of the problem is that my mind feels like Swiss cheese after dealing with so many emotions/life changes in my own world. Everyone knows me as a voracious reader, but I haven’t had much of chance to be a very focused reader lately. I haven’t gotten to the library very often and I’ve been trying to buy fewer books since I don’t really have much space.

What I have been doing is picking up books around the house; however, that doesn’t mean I find those books good for discussion or for our particular group. It’s a rather diverse reading list to be sure—maybe even more eclectic than my usual choices. I re-read the whole Harry Potter series this fall. I also ended up with some of my mother’s books I haven’t read before. Christy. The Children of Henry the VIII by Alison Weir. Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days. And, because there’s a movie coming out, I re-read my own Love in the Time of Cholera.

None of those books fits my criteria for book club. I want a book that pulls me into the story, where I can’t wait to find out what happens to the characters. On the other hand, it’s been a hard year or so—I don’t want something that is too hard on my heart. Over the last year our book club has read about war, genocide, repression of women, mental health and suicide, the pre-Civil Rights era, the Depression, you name it. Unlike my husband, I don’t mind stepping into difficult territory, as long as I can feel improvement by the end. But sometimes that improvement can be tempered by the “rest of the story,” as in knowing that the seemingly reasonable ending in The Bell Jar was followed by Sylvia Plath’s suicide soon after the book’s publication.

Then my practical side doesn’t want anyone to have to purchase a hardback book, myself included. I’d like my book to be available at the library, but most of the “it” list books are checked out, even if the libraries hold many copies.

And then, somehow, I just want the holiday season to reflect peace and goodwill. I don’t want to read something too dark in a year that has been dominated by negative headlines in the newspapers and personal turmoil in our own home. I crave something with the proverbial happy ending, but am too much of a literature major to accept a story where happiness is too easily won.

I always favor tales of redemption, but this year I personally need something in which to believe. I need to believe that problems can be resolved and perhaps I need to be reminded of people’s ability to choose good when faced with adversity.

Book club doesn’t meet until just after the new year—but before Epiphany. At least in my house we will still be celebrating Christmas. I decided I’d choose an official book, but give another option for those who want to read both.

My Christmas book of choice is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I recite lines from it no matter the season, trying to “honour Christmas in my heart and keep it all the year long,” just as Ebenezer Scrooge pledged. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I still need to treat you with that Christmas in my heart.

I had posted on Facebook that I didn’t want any Oprah-style books where we read of an awful life and then at the end, life seems no better. My friend Dawn asked why that view is so common in modern literature.

I submit that it is because so many don’t believe in redemption and, instead, choose edginess while focusing on hopelessness. Charles Dickens didn’t shy away from hopelessness, yet he still could find redemption when redemption seemed hopeless. OK, I don’t think I’m going to choose Bleak House, Great Expectations, or anything that dark, but . . . it’s OK to be reminded of people who need help.

For that reason, in addition to A Christmas Carol, I chose Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. I haven’t read it, but my FB friend Cynthia was far from the first to recommend it to me. You can’t necessarily change the world, but you can work on changing outcomes for one person, one family, or one village at a time.

That gives me hope—and renews my spirit.

(c), 2009, Christiana Lambert

I just want to write about a few lighter topics right now. Thanks, Todd (a real life friend I reconnected with on Facebook) for reminding me about our jobs in the summers between our college years.

Tacky Tourist Party


We worked together for four summers after high school graduation at a souvenir shop. The crew consisted of the father and son owners Royce and Chuck Henline, a few more “real” adults, and several young people. It was one of the few jobs in town where kids could work almost full-time hours and really make some money for college expenses.

Fort Cody Trading Post is a mock fort set in one of Buffalo Bill Cody’s real-life stops, North Platte, Nebraska. The store provides a great mix of tacky tourist gifts, quality western products, genuine antiques, and a miniaturized moving replica of Cody’s Wild West Show. It has everything you’d expect in a souvenir shop, including tourists without a clue to go along with all those perfectly reasonable and pleasant customers. I’m sure that hasn’t changed that much, even though I last worked there twenty-five years ago! Check it out if you’re traveling I-80—it’s pretty much halfway between Denver and Lincoln anyway.

Tourist Chuck

We often heard, “Are we still in Colorado?” Um, you crossed the border over an hour and a half ago. And no matter how long I worked there, I never could tell a Jackalope tale whenever someone, usually from the East, asked where we got the mounted Jackalope heads, but one girl could tell such a straight story that I would have to leave before I burst into laughter.

Then there were the bored people from places “much, much better” than Nebraska who couldn’t wait to tell us how little they thought of our location. Nebraska has really incredible sunsets that spread across the prairie, unfettered by too many buildings or geographic formations. I can tell you those sunsets last much longer than they do here in Colorado where the mountains provide a nice backdrop, but shut down the show way too soon. Once when we pointed out one of those awe-inspiring Nebraska sunsets, the twenty-something customers snickered and said, “The sun sets everywhere, you know.”

Yes, I learned that when some people work hard all year, they figure they are entitled to a great vacation, even if all that means is they get to harass the tourist shop workers by demanding to buy the display copies of $1.98 charms—of New Jersey! (Thanks, Chuck, for the glue story that sent that customer packing!)

More Tacky Tourists (in cognito!)

We spent so much time together those summers we became like family—for better or worse. In June everything seemed fresh and new, but by August, if one more person turned over the mooing cow canisters, we swore we were going to break out a cap gun and shoot. If another person came in at 10:25 at night, ready to browse, just to break up the monotony of the road, who knows what would happen?

That’s why we put together a few “tacky tourist” parties, even though we couldn’t start the parties until after we closed at 10:30—if we were lucky to get the looky-lou’s out of the store! Boy, did we know how to dress. Dark socks and shorts. Curlers in the hair. Too-short shorts. Seed corn hats. Mismatched plaids and stripes. Every woman wanted to come as a pregnant woman, but without the real belly, no one could really “let it all hang out” like some of the customers did, long before Demi Moore posed with her exposed belly.

Tourist Royce

Those were the days. I know there were more exciting jobs in the world, but you couldn’t ask much more from the quintessential summer job experience. We had reasonable hours, co-workers our own age, and very decent bosses who we enjoyed—in fact, one of my shocks as I moved out into the working world was that you couldn’t always rely on having bosses who treated you with respect.

Beyond the souvenirs I retain from the job—the silver bracelet, the marble cutting board, the wooden Christmas ornaments, and the tacky cowboy salt and pepper shakers—I also keep the souvenir of working in a politic-free environment where it was OK to be young and learning. The tangible and the intangible–as well as a few crazy pictures!

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Sherman and I didn’t fire ourselves from the snow removal business after all. Turns out, everyone else is much more expensive than we were. Instead, the business bought a new snow blower and Sherman is fixing the other snow blowers—plus we got a raise. OK, just a few dollars more, but we hadn’t realized how much the market had changed since we last paid someone else.

Unfortunately, the snow that’s fallen lately is still wet and heavy. Great for making snowmen, not so great for removal with snow blowers. I hate to say it, but it’s time to wish for colder weather and the drier snow that comes with it.

The new snow blower is bigger—and green. Yes, it’s a John Deere. Jackson thinks we need to get a John Deere hat to go along with it—I think that’s a better idea when you buy a tractor! In winter, I’m sticking to my Polartec or wool head gear. Still, this machine’s not fond of heavy snow either. Today, Sherman’s back is paying the price for pushing slushy snow with a heavier machine. My neck isn’t too happy either.

Oh, well, that’s why we get paid the big bucks, right?

The better way to look at it is we’re just getting used to being out in the snow and cold, so we’ll be ready to break out the skis and really have fun in the white stuff. And with the quantities of snow that have fallen so far in the mountains, this should be a really good year for skiing.

I’m not afraid of a little snow—just large quantities of slush!

Copper Mountain, (c) 2009, SAL

stairsdown

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Am I the only person who has such a hard time picking up the phone to make appointments or talk about problems on an account? I’m not afraid to talk to the people—I think I just hate having to decide when to squeeze in one more appointment or having to take more time to resolve a problem that I think should have a simple resolution. It doesn’t help when I’ve recently spent too much time on hold before I ever get to talk to a person or have to punch too many buttons to get to that person.

Monday I made the mistake of calling the doctors’ office before I’d blow-dried my hair. I wanted to get an appointment as soon as possible so I could plan my day, but then I spent over twenty minutes on hold. I was afraid to do anything noisy, such as dry my hair, even though I had the speaker phone on, because I didn’t want to miss my opportunity to talk to a real live person—and have to start over again. In all seventeen plus years with this doctors’ practice, this was the first time I had encountered an automated system—which must be really new since I hadn’t dealt with it just last week when I needed to get my son an appointment.

This was one of those twitchy systems where the voice constantly repeats the information so that you never get a break from the message—as if you don’t already know you’re on hold. I started to wonder if the system were new as of this very Monday morning and, maybe, it didn’t really work yet. Just to be sure, I called to leave a message using my cell phone—but as far as I can tell, the system did work and I was just on hold for that long.

I was a nervous wreck the few months I spent as a receptionist back in the “dark ages” just after I graduated from college. I never wanted to leave anyone on hold—and some of the high-powered business-types who called didn’t really believe anyone else was as important as they were. Never mind that, yes, our employees often talked on the phone with other people and that our system didn’t have the capability for leaving electronic messages or for letting people know they had another call waiting if they were on another line.

Well, from my recent experiences, I think most companies have decided there is no reason to feel guilty about keeping customers waiting. The theory is it costs too much to have people answer the phone. Maybe, although I’m not convinced. Ask me, the customer, if my goodwill increases while I wait on hold—or have to wade through some maze constructed by someone who apparently did not anticipate why someone like me would call since none of the options seems to work for me. For example, our insurance company uses birth dates to identify individual family members to “speed along” the process—yet the program has no idea how to handle the concept that since my kids are twins, they do not have unique birth dates.

wires

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Before I could finish the diatribe I was writing in order to get myself to make my calls, the FedEx delivery arrived that I had expected to receive the day before. Sadly, it’s necessary to begin cashing in my mother’s investments in order for her to pay for her increased living costs. I have Power of Attorney, but doing these transactions sometimes gets tricky whenever I encounter an electronic system, though the transactions can be hard enough even when I get to talk to humans—who can only talk to me once I’ve faxed the POA forms. Although I had to answer the right questions (and have access to the right documents), I could cash in the stocks on the phone, sight unseen, voice unheard, without ever connecting with a single human. Not only did that seem a little dicey, but it also meant I couldn’t ask any questions.

Once at my local bank, the real people there weren’t sure I had authorization to make the next transaction, so I had to run home for more paperwork. But, thank goodness I got to talk with them versus just receiving some impersonal notification that they had disallowed access to the funds.

It seems to me that transactions involving personal matters should actually be, well, personal.

Anyway, I spend too much time jumping through hoops for too many activities and it’s left me both extremely reluctant to start any of these hoop-jumping activities, while at the same time painfully aware of how often the systems convenient to others are wasting time for the rest of us. I think I could handle the unavoidable annoyances in life, such as scheduling doctor’s appointments, if I didn’t spend so much time trying to complete other simple tasks that have become complicated solely because of how customer-unfriendly they are.

Or not. But even so, I still had to call to make the appointments, which I did—although now I’m waiting for calls responding to my messages in order to record appointments on my calendar. Kind of doesn’t inspire me to move on to my next tasks: calling the insurance company again to find out what they discovered about inaccuracies on our account and then going on to call the respective providers.

Please hold: your call is important to us.

Right.

Eliashand0609

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
Kahlil Gibran

What parents don’t project themselves on their children? Their values, dreams, goals. But at some point many parents realize they aren’t “us” and that we must let them be who they were destined to be. Or not.

As hard as I have tried to do that, I still have fallen short.

Sometimes we simply have a mismatch in our families between what makes us happy. Jackson loves to play long, complicated, competitive games, something that is very difficult for me to do—I know I have not played enough with him, but have tried to convey he is OK for liking to do so. The problem is mine, not his.

Earlier this year Christiana thought her father was saying she wasn’t good enough to be an artist. What he was trying to convey was that she needed to enter the field with her eyes wide open, being prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to make a living in such a difficult profession. After she gained some distance, she could see that in addition to working on her craft, she did need to look at viability issues. She’s begun studying business subjects—to take care of her own art business—and believes that by studying at a four-year college, versus an art college, she can emerge better prepared to meet the non-art challenges of such a profession.

However, my heart breaks when I hear of parents who refuse to validate that children have a right—even an obligation—to pursue their own paths.

heart

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert


Last night I went to the Women and ADD support group led by Linda Lewis. Most of us are older, with many women not diagnosed until menopause-related hormone changes brought them to a crisis point over their lifelong undiagnosed ADD. The tears mostly remain below the surface, perhaps with the wisdom of age, perhaps from too many years of suppressing them.

Undiagnosed ADD has not broken me in the ways many of these women have felt broken—but perhaps that’s because my family never treated me as if I were defective and let me know I could be who I was, even if we didn’t know ADD was part of that who.

As a society, many question the validity of how many more mental health conditions are treated in children these days. At least those of us in the group know that such treatment is necessary for many kids—and something that was sorely absent in prior generations. Still, there are those skeptics who refuse to see mental health conditions in their own families, despite fairly obvious signs. Such attitudes can be deadly, especially when combined with beliefs that parents can control who their children are.

Last night’s group was exceptionally large, with a few women in their 30s and 40s, but more in their 50s and 60s. Our usual custom allows us to tell our stories, moving around the table, in as orderly a fashion as you can expect from a group of women with ADD! As Linda states, many people with ADD have suffered the shame of being told they were talking out of turn (“I will not talk in Mr. So & So’s classroom”—oh yes, I’ve written that one over and over!) so she wants to make the group a safe place for being a little windy, if that’s what someone needs on particular night.

A beautiful, young woman patiently waited until her turn came at the end of the night, all the while making supportive suggestions to others. But soon after she began telling her story, validation from a sixty-something woman led her to burst into tears. At just twenty, she suffers from her family and friends’ refusal to see the bipolar symptoms. If only she could stop being so flaky and get down to the business of getting educated for taking over the family business.

If only she were supported for the artist she is and the help she needs for her condition. How is it strangers can see this, but those who love her cannot?

shattered

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Do people like this ignore the lessons from movies like Dead Poets Society, where a son can be considered so rebellious for wanting to act in a play and study literature?

You may give them (children) your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.

Years ago I worked at a financial services firm with Rick, a business major who was envious of my “worthless” English degree, yet really wanted to pursue a master’s in literature. Once he asked me if my parents thought I had wasted a good education to work where we worked. I was stunned—my parents just wanted me to be happy. When his father called him at work, he became Richard and his voice took on a more business-like tone. Yet after I left the company, one morning he didn’t come in to work, seemingly due to a burgeoning drinking problem. That’s when they discovered he had been hiding unfinished work for weeks.

A year ago, just after Suicide Prevention Week at the kids’ school, a girl we knew tried to kill herself, but, thankfully, did not succeed. A multi-talented girl who earned good grades, she composed music, sang like an angel, and could design and sew clothes, as well as do so many other artistic things. But she wasn’t one of the top students like her cousin. Like the boy in Dead Poets Society, she too joined a drama production against her parents’ will. She didn’t expect them to attend, although they grudgingly let her continue. What I saw was a joyful, talented stage presence. Still, I guess she got tired of acting in her own home—and then set out to prove she was not who they wanted—by destroying herself. This formerly active honors student has left home and seemingly disappeared. It didn’t have to be. She was more than enough.

Perhaps having strong-willed kids from the beginning taught me early that control is an illusion. As much as I’d like a less complicated life with my kids, I am proud they do know who they are. I ask for their forgiveness for those times when I unintentionally made them feel they were not enough, just because they weren’t easy to parent or didn’t do things my way.

My own treatment for ADD has made it easier for me to be able to raise kids with ADD. Each family member in our home is difficult in his or her own way, but the more we understand our own biology and the condition, the more we are able to have tolerance for each other and make changes that allow us to live together with less stress.

It just makes my heart hurt that there are parents out there who don’t even believe their kids have the right to be themselves—and who will ignore biological mental health conditions just as easily as they ignore who their kids really are.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

Not all bows bend in the archer’s hand quite the way Kahlil Gibran stated. Not all bows are stable. May that beautiful young woman find the support outside her family, even if the family cannot accept what she needs and who she is.

dandlion

(c) Christiana Lambert, 2009

This is a follow-up to the blog entry titled “Influenza B” from March. Yes, Jackson tested positive for Influenza A on Tuesday—and, most likely it is the Swine Flu strain, but typically, only those hospitalized get tested for Swine Flu these days.

However, I can say, we did learn something from the Influenza B incident of last spring: that early treatment can make a difference—there’s a forty-eight hour window for beginning flu medication after the onset of symptoms. This time around, I didn’t plan to be twelve hours late for being able to get him Tamiflu, if he did test positive. While I don’t play a doctor on TV or anywhere else, this year of too many appointments with doctors seems to be honing my instincts.

A little over two months ago, he developed a high fever. I called to talk with one of the pediatric practice nurses. After our discussion, I decided a visit didn’t seem to be necessary. The very next day Christiana got sick, but with totally different symptoms. Her neck felt especially bumpy, even though she didn’t even have a fever. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it might be strep—and we were about to head into the long Labor Day weekend. Against her protests (“they never find anything wrong with me”), I took her in. The doctor didn’t think it was strep, but tested anyway. She came back admitting that I’d made a good call—it was strep. So Christiana took the antibiotic round, but we still didn’t think Jackson had the same thing. He followed the extra fluids, sleep, etc. treatment plan to get well.

In the metro Denver area, the schools this year are major Petri dishes. Kids have influenzas, strep throat infections, viruses with no names, bronchitis—you name it. A parent tries not to give in to all the hysteria about Swine Flu, while maintaining respect for the school’s policies on when to keep kids home and watching for signs of danger. It’s tough because I do know people whose teens and young adult children have been hospitalized. Still, as I said when I first heard the health agencies suggesting that people really needed to stay home this year when ill, I don’t think bosses, coaches, teachers, and other leaders in organizations are that supportive of people taking too much time away from obligations.

In fact, it’s partly because of that response from others that I am more likely to take my kids in right away this year, even though we still have that “lovely” high deductible health insurance plan. Yes, that means we’ll spend about $70 for exams and tests before we buy the medications. Shoot, we don’t even know how much it’s going to cost us for Christiana’s visit to urgent care a few weeks ago—still, you don’t mess with high respiration rates.

We pay so the kids don’t get sicker and so they can go to their classes and practices.

Monday night Jackson began complaining about being cold, very odd since Christiana and I were very comfortable—and we’re usually the cold ones. Chills soon developed, but no fever. By morning he was on fire. Before I knew about Tamiflu and the time limit, I would have waited it out with the fluids, rest, and fever reducer routine. I called the pediatric office again and asked for symptoms that meant he should come in. The nurse suggested we see what would happen with Ibuprofen since I still wasn’t convinced they could help. Well, not much happened.

In addition to thinking about that asthma connection again, I was thinking about play practice and missed schoolwork. So we went. He was unimpressed that he had to wear a mask in the office—but when I pointed out at least three very young babies there, he understood their increased need for his precautions. It didn’t take long for the positive flu result.

It took a bit of time to get the prescription and get home, but then he took his first dose and went back to sleep. Most of the evening, he kept to the couch, still needing to be forced to drink. I asked him to sleep on the couch closest to our bedroom, just in case he got worse. Sometime in the night I got up, touched him, and realized his skin no longer burned.

I have no idea if his fever would have broken anyway—how can one dose have that power? The next day he never once had a fever, so he got to return to school yesterday. Sure, his energy level isn’t as high as usual, but he’s doing extremely well, all things considered. Everyone I know who has had this bug without the medication says it takes two weeks to regain any energy. Of course, he still needs to drink fluids, rest, and take his medication, but I am so glad I took him in when I did . . .

especially since the world doesn’t stop spinning just because you’re sick. I know we 21st century people need to be careful not to think somehow our modern technology can control every problem perfectly. In fact, it’s really likely the nausea he’s experiencing is a side effect since that wasn’t a big symptom for him before. When I was studying in Spain, my señora used to say, “El cobrador cobra.” The bill collector collects. If it turns out that Jackson’s body still says “no,” that’s just how it will have to be—whether or not others understand that point.

Modern medicine and scientific knowledge are very helpful, but we are still only human, after all—it’s sheer hubris to think we can always sweep away all the physical afflictions that have plagued our kind since the beginning of time.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert