Tag Archives: strong women

Flat Straightaways = Easy

Last weekend’s 26-mile ride taught me something that should already be innate knowledge. It’s easier to breathe in through one’s nose when it’s not full of mucus. Blowing snot rockets the week prior became less humorous when done out of necessity. I keep learning on this journey, albeit at a fear of not being able to make it 150 miles in September. The breaks every 10 mile lead me on a hopeful path, but the hills scare me to distraction.

I keep telling myself each small trip will keep building my strength and not to get overwhelmed with thoughts of, “Well, I might be tough but …” I’ll keep going until I can’t, bottom line.

One of the great pleasures of my life has been in meeting some wonderful friends. Just like the Beatles said, we get by with a little help from our friends. These are some brave, resilient, bad-ass women.

Joedie, for whose honor I chose to attempt the MS150 in the first place. She was forced into early retirement way too young because of the disease. Years ago she laughingly warned me how she’d wake up slowly in difficulty while moving first thing in the morning. She’s the same person who, regardless of any physical challenge, helped clean my house before my baby was born. She advised me to take it easy after a surgery, with her first-hand knowledge coming from cleaning her OUTSIDE house windows after having the same procedure done years prior. Family is everything to her, and I hope she has many years left to enjoy them. She is one of the toughest women I know.

My friend, Kezia, mom of a blended family, proves a woman CAN have it all. She juggles her family life with professional responsibilities while honing a balance of the two and grieving the lost her best friend/sister just over a year ago.

Not everyone has the good fortune to have sisters and a niece like mine, three super strong women. Jeanna, Christy and Audra inspire me on a daily basis in everything they’ve endured and overcome. Christy amazed me with her strength in triumphing over health problems the last several years. Days when I’ve felt like a physical wreck reminded me how much of a wuss I was for thinking anything was tough in comparison to Christy teaching exercise classes while going through chemo treatment. Jeanna’s a runner who sticks with her passion regardless of aging’s indiscriminate attempt to slow her down. Audra seeks her adventurous la vida loca with courage I wish I still possessed.

My tribe extends to a family I’ve developed along the way. Alexis and Amy helped care for their ailing parents, served as their caregivers, but have still shouldered the societal judgement of choosing a childless life, which is their right as human beings. These amazing women rise above that nosiness with a class I could never muster.

My oldest and dearest yayas include Dena, Karen and Lisa. The other Karen, left this earth in 2011. We miss her like crazy but carry on our antics as often as possible. These girls, and I can say “girls” because I’ve known these women since we were girls, are part of my foundation and especially important in that regard.

Rhonda and Shelli support their friends even when their own self-care may wane. They’ve nurtured both the physical and emotional wellbeing of many a friend and family member.

My friend, Kay, recently introduced me to her delightful daughter, Jess. This plucky pair has endured a bout Jess had with breast cancer after losing their beloved husband and father. They did so with a style and grace I can’t imagine ever being able to encompass, and I admire them both greatly.

Marci, Shannon, Tina, Amanda, Robin, Amy & Dianne all manage households with smiles on their faces, many of whom lost their parents entirely too young. And, as everyone surely knows, Boy Moms can totally take anything thrown at them.

Another Amy friend searches for a treatment to works for her congenital heart condition while an unsuspecting person would never know there’s anything the matter with her. She’s also a Boy Mom who takes on the mental health care and sustenance of hundreds of high school students in her job and claims to love every minute of it. Who can love their job that much? I’m so jealous of her satisfaction there and the grace and hope with which she accepts the health hand life has dealt her. 

Last but, much like Baby, never ever put in the corner or last in line, is Sandy who motivates me and cheers me on, regardless of my latest hair-brained scheme. She packed her car full of sound equipment and TDed my “Brace Up, Girl” spoken-word showcase in May. Even on her own birthday, she spent the day “working” and called it fun. Not many will do that shit for somebody else AND drive them to the airport at the drop of a hat! Y’all should be jealous of me if she’s not your friend.

These women help enrich my life on the daily. They keep me grounded and grateful with where I’m at in this world. Yet I must also acknowledge those who got me here in the first place.

My mom labored harder than any woman in my life. She literally worked herself to the bone. I heard evidence of it through that grinding in her back with each agonizing step she took in the last months of her life as she struggled to maintain even an inkling of mobility and independence.

sorghum

accidental sorghum patch

The toughest person I will probably ever know was my dad. Beyond working a full-time manual labor job, he broke horses to ride, plowed gardens for people, grew row crops, and raised some livestock from time to time. He took care of that livestock until his cancer-ridden body would no longer allow him his labor of love and wracked his slight frame and he died at the “ripe old age” of only 55 years. I often sense his presence, even if it’s simply seeing a cattle salt lick in a field I pass or an empty cigarette pack that just happened to be his brand, and the love he instilled in me of the outdoors through which I pedal my bike.

Completing a 150-mile ride over two days this autumn is a lofty goal, but I’ll keep going until I just can’t any longer. That’s all I can try to do. The words in my head, “I might be tough, but …” need to stop. I can only try to keep getting tougher, similar to the people I admire.

I just look forward to the point when I can find some riding Zen and enjoy the process. In the meantime, my path makes me smile in rare fleeting moments.

Chicory growing along the shoulder of the road reminds me of my mentor, Bill, who served as a surrogate father for me at a time in life when I needed one. I spy other glimpses in the woods that make me think of my parents and them reassuring me how I can do this.

chicory

Those fleeting times may get me through when the other times suck and I can’t get out of my head. Much like life, this “bike-athon” (what we’d call it back in grade school) will be full of ass-kicking hills instead of the flat straightaways I enjoy so much. Kathy tells me each person’s ride is her own. Coach Cass says she turns on her favorite song and enjoys the day. Maybe one day I can, too.

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Fresh Wounds

IMG_0923.JPGAn azure sky promised a blistering hot day as the first canoe broke the water’s surface that morning. The women knew the temperature and humidity would be soothed by the icy-cold river and rushed to get their float underway – 15 miles being the goal for the day.

“Let’s take this show on the road, ladies. I’ve got a cooler full of beer to drink,” Casey belted out, always ready to pop that first tab. “I lost my watch, but it’s happy hour somewhere,” she said. Used to her brand of merriment, the others laughed and joined in her toast with drinks raised in the air.

They got together for such adventures as often as possible, maybe from some strongly-held friendships over the years since high school, or perhaps simply from a collective longing to rekindle the nostalgia of their shared past. Whatever the impetus, they enjoyed escaping the responsibilities of everyday life, and for a few short days other adult commitments be damned.

All fairly adept at navigating either a canoe or a kayak, the group went at the oars with great vigor and followed the current between deep green deciduous forest lining both banks. Most had some background in outdoor expeditions from growing up in the Midwest region. The beauty of such a place sometimes still got taken for granted, but plush reminders surrounded them on either side of the waterway. Rushing rivulets beneath their boats replaced the concrete confines of work and traffic, drudgery of lawn-mowing and trips to the grocery store, and the monotony of laundry and checking kids’ homework. Laughter became an elixir for any lingering worries about life.

“There’s no way you girls are gonna finish off that mess,” the van driver from the outfitter company warned them at drop-off. Their unanimous laughter scoffed his prediction, as drinking on the river practically became an art in their youth, and their big jug of Kansas City Iced Water already  began to diminish by lunchtime. Denise commented how much lighter the container already felt when she lugged it onto a sandbar where they pulled off to eat.

Smaller coolers of sandwiches sat on rocky nest of the riverbank — a tapestry of gray, tan, some darker brown, and even pink quartzite among the riprap there keeping the shores from eroding away. Schools of tiny minnows nibbled at toes left dangling in the water as the women ate potato chips crushed in the dry bags stowed aboard. Kay threw the small fish some crumbs to keep them from nipping at her feet.

She tossed a few fragments downstream hoping to draw them away when an airborne scuffle there caught her eye. “Whoa .. you guys look at that,” she exclaimed, pointing to the opposite bank.

Their attention shifted to two birds that swooped at each other in a swift but embittered battle, with a long-necked heron getting a beating along the way. A smaller bird resembling a hawk yanked at the other’s wing with its sharp beak, tearing away feathers in the process. The larger one’s long neck stretched away in a desperate attempt to escape the slighter but mighty predator.

Their flying fight ended with the more aggressive bird, an osprey, taking to the air after when the rowdy group of women whooped in shock with varying shrieks loud enough to scare off any animal. The heron’s right wing flapped clumsily to flee them as well, although it only scuffed the water’s surface, fresh wounds impairing the ability to flee any other potential danger.

Its injuries kept the majestic bird from escaping the group of boaters, or perhaps the animal instinctively sensed no humans there meant it harm. Marie clambered toward the bird, thinking something could be done for it, practically capsizing her canoe. The woman then realized her own helplessness. She lost a whole beer in the process, and the half-submerged can sailed past the heron’s resting place beside a water-logged walnut bough. What did she know about helping an injured wild bird?

A bale of turtles sat sunning themselves on the downed tree limb but scattered off in different directions when the heron settled near them. Kay said, “What a unique-looking bird. It’s beautiful in it own way, huh?” The women sat ruminating on the notion until she commented, “Surely there’s something we can do for it.”

“You better leave that thing alone,” Casey warned. “It’s hurt and scared … and might hurt you, too.” The others either sat atop beverage coolers or rested on their own rocky nests by the water’s edge, the bunch studying the heron, a sudden pall cast over their otherwise exuberant day.

Marie made her way back to the others on the shore and joined them to reverently study the silently suffering bird. They watched as it hid behind the big limb, wings ruffling, almost trying to shake off its wounds. Kay broke the silence. “My husband hates those things. He says herons always bug him when he goes fishing. They try to steal all the fish,” she said.

Casey shook her head and countered, “Well, that’s just them doing what they do. You know — eat. Everything’s gotta eat. That’s natural.” She usually made a lot of sense even though she might drink too much on occasion.

“It’s beautiful,” said Marie. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen something act so graceful under the circumstances. Can’t imagine how much pain it’s in.”

A distant shriek echoed off a cliff bank further down the river, perhaps even from that same osprey that caused the damage. Maybe it meant to remind them of its power. At the sound, the heron stretched its wings and launched itself from the water. A few of the women gasped at the sight.

“No way,” remarked Denise as a wistful smile crossed her face. “I wondered if maybe it might give up … but look!” They watched it soar off into the air, graceful regardless of the harmed appendage.

Casey popped open another beer and held it aloft. “Here’s to you, bird. Keep flyin’.”

A few jaws still agape, the group lifted their drinks in salute. A tear slid down Kay’s cheek, her being the softest-hearted of the bunch, and she swiped at it with her empty hand. “Some wild things are just too much for this world,” she whispered.

Casey grasped her around the shoulder and motioned toward the canoes. “Come on, now, girl. We’ve got beers left to drink.”

___

Studio 30+ writing prompt – aggressive Studio30

Thank you, Mary, for always reading and commenting on my writing. You will be forever missed.

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Life Lessons

sink

Her classmate’s shriek and frightened reaction surprised Kelsey, and she wrinkled up her forehead in feigned disgust. “You oughtn’t to be afraid of a little spider. You think you’re gonna be a nurse, and that scares you?”

The other student exaggerated, “It’s not little … that thing’s huge!” She’d plastered herself against the opposite wall, hands splayed against it as if the bricks could provide protection, and obvious fear showed in her expression. Kelsey asked the girl, “You remember that old song about spiders and snakes from the 70s? My aunt used to sing it when she’d chop a snake in half with a hoe out in the tall grass.”

She continued mockingly, “You’re going to have to renounce your womanhood if you can’t even squash a bug.” She shook her head. “It’s just a garden spider. Hell, they eat the rest of the bugs, the ones that actually bite. You should say ‘thanks’ instead of running from it.” Kelsey had the benefit of growing up on her Aunt Augstine and Uncle Albert’s farm. Something this innocuous didn’t bother her much.

She witnessed much more graphic incidences, especially at slaughter time. Cattle going to their final demise to put food on the table ranked higher on a scale of gruesome acts than killing a spider. Kelsey took off her sandal and smacked it against the porcelain, eyeing her classmate all the while, and missed seeing the brown and yellow mess she made. ”You’ll find out when you have to help remove one from a patient’s bum someday,” she laughed condescendingly.

Both took Anatomy I and dissected a sheep’s brain in class only that week prior. Several of the girls reluctantly watched as a braver number of them sliced into the small organs, with some complexions turning as gray as their specimens. Kelsey loved the experiment and delved into it with no qualms.

Helping with geldings and breech calf deliveries hardly bothered Kelsey. She learned to overcome a squeamish stomach during such procedures over time, as she followed Augustine’s courageous example. The woman served as her mentor, and Kelsey looked up to her more than anyone she knew. Maybe even more than Uncle Albert. Taking care of livestock was a necessity and meant survival on the farm. “Brace up, girl,” Augustine admonished. “You ain’t gonna get very far in life if you let everything bother you.”

Kelsey overcame a miasma of sights, sounds and smells few other girls could withstand at such a young age. A small spider in a sink at school felt relatively miniscule in comparison to her. She may not make a 4.0 this semester but grew more confident when she tackled each new academic feat that came along.

Glancing down at the mushy arachnid remnants, some of which mixed with water pouring from the faucet to swirl it down the drain. Kelsey stared at the circling water, lost in reverie, and thought of all the fluids she saw on her aunt and uncle’s farm. She thought of how Augustine could saddle break a horse or dehorn a cow right alongside Albert or any other man. She remembered watching her aunt perform rectal palpations on many a heifer to check for pregnancy.

Augustine had to think of the “bottom line” (no pun intended) and did what needed to be done, especially after her husband died of a heart attack one planting season. She learned from experience, not at a college, and kept the farm going years after he was gone. Her aunt was paying for Kelsey’s tuition, and she owed her everything. She hoped to live up to Augustine’s expectations. “I think that was a Jim Stafford song about spiders and snakes she used to sing,” she said musingly.

A voice behind her questioned, “Are you going to turn off the water?” Kelsey came back from her daydream and pushed down on the tap. The last little spindly leg washed down the drain, and Kelsey turned to face her classmate. She said, “I got this one. You help me study for the next exam, okay?”

***

Studio 30+ writing prompt – renounce Studio30

Image: Jana on Flickr

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
Maya Angelou

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By Herself

Studio 30+ writing prompt:  that was awkward Image

The weather wasn’t nice enough to be sitting out in the elements that day in the park.  A higher temperature and less humidity would have made for an environment more conducive to creativity.  No one else was about – the sidewalks were bare, the gazebo was empty, and a path leading to the pier was an endless arrow aimed at the water with nothing and no one obstructing the way.  Claire asked herself what was the point in choosing here to write.  The silence was pleasant, if not lulling her into a drowsy daze.

She sat on the bench in a position that was awkward enough to keep her alert in a second attempt with the pen and paper.  A double layer of clothes meant to keep out the cold didn’t add enough warmth under her coat to make the experience any more pleasant.  Maybe she was trying to pay a penance by sitting out there chilled and uncomfortable.  She had already mentally berated herself enough for that morning’s conversation with Max.  Now she was adding a physical aspect to her punishment, and it was reaching a maximum sentence.

Claire had wanted to spare his feelings but needed to tell him her sentiments weren’t the same as what he’d confessed the prior evening.  The conversation was inevitable.  She thought an ostensibly budding relationship was futile.  His growing affection simply outweighed her apathy.

How could Max help but be hurt?  It wasn’t easy being on the receiving end of a breakup. A mutual friend had introduced them as friends, not taking a chance at matchmaking.  The friend knew Claire planned to take a job offer that would move her to another city soon.  A chance meeting at happy hour was not the “hook-up” Max assumed it to be.  Claire needed a clear mind to make her transition, not a messy goodbye scene before her departure.  Her actions were no less hurtful, though.

She’d been rejected before.  It can come as a blow to anyone’s confidence, which she knew much too personally herself.  However, this was a first for Claire, being the dumper instead of the dumpee.  It didn’t feel any better.

This brisk afternoon she sat facing a lone pigeon who pecked the ground for any morsel it could find.  The bird was intent, its head bobbing back in forth as if admonishing her bad deeds.  Paranoid guilt made her imagine the bird was mocking her with each point of its bullet-eyed head – a finger jabbing in shame.  Almost as if her mother was saying … again, “YouShouldNot.  HaveDoneThat!”

The weather mirrored her melancholy.  Claire sat reading a sad poem to inspire her own writing.  Sometimes she’d practice free verse, word association if nothing else, get the creative juices flowing.  On good days it was happy thoughts in more cheerful times.

That’s what it should be today, vibrant sunshine illuminating her journey into the new life awaiting her.  Not the gloom of this overcast outing to further dampen her spirits.  But did she actually owe him an apology letter?

Claire felt she deserved a good future.  She’d earned the new work assignment after so many years of dutiful service and sacrifices to put in overtime.  It was her time to make good in the world.  She asked herself why she felt guilty for spurning Max’s affections.  She owed him nothing.  Her mother’s voice in the back of her head was a heavy enough weight without his words echoing similar sentiments of “how could you do this to me?”  That old recording was still playing in her mind.

Claire glanced up to spy a slight break in the clouds, just one glimmer of light trying to show through.  She squinted in the haze to make sure she wasn’t imagining it.  No – surely enough, the sky might clear.  It just might turn for the better.  Maybe she could get up and walk out of here.  The path wasn’t blocked, and it didn’t matter if she was alone.

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You wanna talk about whaaat?

My long-time friend, Lanea, is kicking off her new internet radio show this Sunday, July 15.  She is the co-author of Recipe Records, a cookbook that celebrates the love of rock-n-roll AND food!  Lanea and her friend, Maggie, culminated their mutual passion de la’ melody into 170 music-themed recipes for the book.  

She made the announcement over the weekend of her upcoming first show and its guest line up on her blog Rockblocks.  Lanea will be interviewing an Evansville, Indiana band called The Phoenix Down.  This woman knows her stuff when it comes to popular music and its history, so it should be a fun feature.

I am also happy to announce that Lanea has asked me to be a guest interviewee.  She greatly encourages my writing aspirations, especially my personal penchant for stories with strong female main characters.  Lanea can appreciate a good narrative, either in song or prose, so it will great fun to be on the program.  I can’t wait to talk to her about her own plans for a second edition of Recipe Records either.

Here’s to women supporting each other and their respective labors of love.  I wish Lanea much luck in her newest media project.  So join us Sunday at 2:00 pm on blogtalkradio.com!

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