Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Give the gift of life long after you are gone.

original run date April 17, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

My column is usually pretty laid back and meant to  beentertaining but this week I would like to take the opportunity to reach out to all the readers of CVNP and ask a big favor.
This week’s feature story is a topic that is near to my heart. As I did the interviews for the piece, the conversations certainly took a very personal turn. In June 2004, my family went through a deeply emotional loss. Our daughter (and sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and friend) Jeana, died from head trauma following a fall. We were able to hold onto her for a little while with assistance from modern medicine (machines) but brain trauma was more than her body could compensate for and we were forced to make the decision no family ever wants to make.
For reasons none of us know or understand, our family was not approached about Jeana being an organ donor. Later in the evening, we received a phone call asking for a tissue donation, which we quickly agreed to. Although the life saving donation of vital organs could no longer be made, we chose to make the life-enhancing donation of corneal and heart valve tissue. It is a decision we will never forget or regret.
Early in our marriage, Larry and I had discussed organ donation and how far we wanted life saving measures to be carried through in the case of a medical emergency. It was never a conversation we ever dreamed of having with or about our children. As we were faced with the decisions we had to make in the hours after Jeana’s accident, it was not a topic that crossed our minds. As I said before, we don’t know why we were not approached about the possibility of Jeana being an organ donor. She would have been a perfect candidate to save the lives of many.
As I was doing research earlier this year trying to find ideas for stories to write, I looked up all the “national month” designations online. The April designation of “Donate Life” screamed at me to do something in honor of my daughter’s 19th birthday on the 21st of this month. After the shock of her death wore off and we were left to accept our life without her, I vowed to do the best I could every year on her birthday to celebrate the gift of her life just as we always had. This year, that “celebration” is by getting as many people as I can to sit down with their families and talk about organ and tissue donation and become a registered donor.
It is not a topic most parents want to talk about with their children but the importance of the conversation is many fold. If something happened to you today, would your children know what your wishes are in regards to organ and tissue donation?  Would you as parents, if you were faced with that decision, think about reaching out to another family with this life saving gesture?
As your kids reach the age of taking that wonderful driver’s exam and test, please use it as an opportunity to talk to them about organ donation. Set an example by becoming an organ donor yourself. If you are not already a registered donor via the driver’s license renewal process – jump online and register. Make sure your family, closest friends and minister all know your wishes in case of death.
Pull that driver’s license out of your billfold and sign it!  If you need a permanent marker that won’t smear or fade, feel free to stop by the CVNP office. We have fine point sharpies ready to legalize a gift that money cannot buy. We will even be a witness if you need one. If you think you are registered but not sure, we’ll help you look it up.
Even if you think you are not eligible to be a donor because of current health or past illnesses, please sign it anyway. Tissue donations of skin, corneas, bone, and tendons could be possible. It may not save a life but think of the ways it can enhance the life of a burn victim or someone suffering from limited mobility. I often wonder about the recipient of Jeana’s corneas. If any of her outlook on life transferred – oh what an outlook they have now!  There is truly some solace for me in knowing her death was not completely without meaning. Someone, somewhere is able to live a better life because of the gift she was able to give.
My family all know my wishes to be an organ and tissue donor. As a matter of fact, my two kids serve as the witnesses on my driver’s license. Larry had the insignia put on his license at his last renewal date.  Should the time come for our registry to actually be used, it won’t make it any easier on the family to say good-bye but at least they won’t have to worry about making that decision in a time of stress, sorrow and hardship. Maybe someday, after I leave this world behind and join my daughter, someone will benefit from my heart, lungs, kidney, pancreas, intestine, and liver as well as all the tissue I have left to someone still living life to the fullest.
As Jeana’s birthday rolls around this year, we’ll find some way as a family to pull together and “celebrate” her life. As hard as we try every year to keep the tears from flowing, they will still fall. Because my eyes are still in good shape, I’ll still be able to see her image in pictures. I know somewhere someone can also now see their family and friends because of Jeana. Maybe that thought will help absorb a few of the tears. In the meantime, please “show me your heart” and join me on the Missouri registry for organ and tissue donation. Give the gift of life long after you are gone.   Please register with your state organ/tissue donor registry wherever you are from!!

Fixing government woes with chickens

original run date April 10, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

I don’t follow a lot of politics, but the recent laws wanting to restrict farm kids from being able to work on the family farm really baffles me. Some of the most important lessons I ever learned were as a farm kid. I would think since the government is looking to hire the next generation at some point, they would want employees that have learned the lessons farm kids learn by working on the family farm.
Doing chores everyday instilled work ethic into my young mind. I didn’t mind most chores except for those stupid chickens. I hated the laying hens with a passion. I couldn’t leave eggs lying under the roost just because I didn’t want to crawl through the droppings. Not to mention, if you left to many eggs behind, other critters would come eat both the eggs and chickens. I didn’t mind so much when chickens became dinner for other creatures but it tended to upset Mom.
I despised having to get the “sitting” hens off the nest of eggs they were so closely guarding. They were determined to turn that egg into a baby - I was determined to turn it into either breakfast or noodles. I had a special stick that I kept at the door of the chicken coop that was tailor made for those feathered beasts. I’d poke at them and they would peck at me everyday.
I always won the initial battle. They usually won the war though since they would attack me as I was leaving. I did get the last laugh though. Since we never kept roosters around, they were never going to get that baby anyway.
My family will vouch for the fact that I loved all animals except for those stupid chickens. I got in trouble more than once for finding the barn cats new litter of kittens and taming them down. I was notorious for picking either a fat hog or a calf out of the lot as a pet. Then I would bawl hysterically when they were hauled off to the packing plant. But when it came to the chickens, I could care less. That attitude led me to one of the worst butt whippings of my life. The physical pain was no big deal. The pain of knowing who administered it left a lasting impression.
After one particularly brutal attack, I decided the chickens had to go. I devised a brilliant plan to get rid of all of them so I would never again have to collect another egg from a psychopathic chicken. I was going to kill them. I was probably about eight years old and in my mind, my plan was brilliant.
I decided if the chickens didn’t eat, they would die. That should fix the problem. Yes, looking back, I realize this was a cruel way to end my misery but don’t panic - it didn’t take long for my plan to backfire.
 Apparently, the day I decided to put my plan into action, I was a little to enthusiastic. My oldest brother, John Darold, noticed my enthusiasm as I grabbed the feed bucket and headed out to do chores. Since the whole family knew how much I hated those chickens, he decided to stalk me to find out why I was uncharacteristically happy about gathering eggs.
I made my way to the bin  for the mandatory bucket of corn. I thought I was putting on an Oscar worthy performance. I ran my hands through the corn as if filling the bucket to the rim. I failed to factor in the lack of sound effects confirming the corn actually going into the bucket. Add to that my trip to the coop with the bucking swinging like an Easter basket full of fake grass and my Oscar performance took a nosedive.
I picked up my chicken poking, get even stick as I opened the door and made my way in. I thought I was home free. A few days of no food and those chickens would be coyote bait and I would never again feel the pain of a beak in my hand.
John Darold caught me coming out the door of the coop, singing a happy song. He turned me around and pointed out the lack of corn in the feeders. Let’s just say, my tall tale that followed convinced him not to waste his time delivering me to Mom. He took care of the situation himself. The pain I felt had nothing to do with his hand connecting with my butt cheeks. It did break my heart that my best friend in the world decided it was something he had to do.
The lessons I learned that day still carry with me both in my personal life and at work. First, most of the time it is faster and less painful to just do those daily chores whether at home or on the job and get them over with quickly. It takes a lot more time and effort to concoct plans to get out of something than it does to just do it.
Second, starving the enemy never works. Interacting with the people you live and work with everyday is critical to good relationships. Administering the silent treatment just comes back to haunt you in the end. Maintaining good relationships takes effort but the rewards are great.
The most important lesson I learned that day was to not do things that will disappoint those you “live” with on a daily basis. Respect is a powerful emotion, even if it is for nothing more than a chicken. I didn’t have to like the chickens to respect them and the power their beaks carried. I didn’t want to respect John Darold for doing what he did but as I grew up and entered the world of work and had kids of my own, I knew he did me a favor that day.
 Maybe our current government officials looking to restrict farm kids from working on the family farm need a chicken coop in their backyard. Instilling a little work ethic in their daily grind and getting holes pecked in their hands as they gather breakfast might just put some common sense back into the laws they make. If that doesn’t work, I vote we send John Darold to Washington to straighten them out!

Man's best friend lends a helping hand.

original run date April 3, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press

Memories come flooding back to me at some of the weirdest times.
 I can’t seem to get any of my “city” friends to come walking with me of an evening at my house. They all seem to have an aversion to walking on gravel. The other night in my quest to get some kind of workout in, I resorted to taking the bird dog walking with me. It turned out to be a good move.
Not only did I turn the mile and a half trip into closer to two miles, I got some resistance training in as well.  Mattie was convinced that the road ditches were full of quail and was enthusiastically going from side to side to check every inch for birds.  My normal trek was easily extended and she unknowingly powered it up even more.
Mattie spent at least at least 25 minutes of the 30 pulling me down the road. I had the brakes on most of the trip so I had built in resistance training. I’m sure I looked like a carton character at more than one point as I was bracing myself at the end of the leash to hold on. The brakes were applied and my heels were dug in for traction. Our gravel road has a couple of pretty big washboards in it. There is probably a start for two or three more to form from the divots I left as Mattie continued her mission of finding every bird in the county in that short section of road.
As we reached the stop sign at the highway I tried to turn around to head back home. Mattie in her excitement made the turn and headed back to the house via the tunnel created by my legs bracing for her to hit the end of the leash. The leash formed a firm grasp on my ankles and I realized things were about to get really ugly. I managed to catch myself on her back and maintain my upright position – barely. I’m pretty sure the trucker that passed by about that time is still laughing.
I stopped for a minute to catch my breath and calm Mattie. As I was looking around, a memory hit. I’m not sure why this particular event came flooding back but it made me chuckle all the way home.
There used to be a mobile home across the highway from where we turn onto Hwy 24. I never really knew a lot of the people that lived there since it was a rental.  I don’t even remember the name of the last people that lived there but I do remember doing them a big favor when they were preparing to move.
These particular renters had a lot of “critters” around. Dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, geese, and emus come to mind. Mainly because we received a phone call one evening from them asking if we could help them move to their new place at Excello. They had lots of critters and no way to move them, especially the emus.  They knew we had a stock trailer for our horses and wondered if we could haul the emus for them.
Larry was a little reluctant to take on this venture but being the neighborly sort of guy he is, he agreed to help out the following Saturday afternoon. All three of the kids jumped in the truck with enthusiasm. They had seen the big, ugly birds from the highway and were excited to get to meet them up close.
Getting the birds into the trailer was nothing short of challenging. I won’t lie – the kids and I were hiding behind the trailer at one point so Larry couldn’t see us laugh at him. The birds would not voluntarily step into the trailer. They wouldn’t even volunteer to look at it. When Larry brought out the lariat from behind the seat of his truck to lasso them, we hid our enjoyment.
He was not impressed with the job he was about to undertake. He managed to catch one of the birds and ran his end of the lasso through the side slats and coaxed/pulled the first bird in and closed the middle gate. One bird loaded - one to go.
Long story short, emu number two escaped its confinement and the last time we saw it, she was headed over the hill and through the woods. I don’t think they ever did catch it. There is either a very old emu still roaming the countryside or the coyotes had a very large chicken dinner one evening.
The ride to Excello was no less exciting. This was before Hwy 63 went to four lanes all the way into Macon. We were cruising down 63 on the two-lane portion following the couple to their new farm when Larry audibly gasped. The image in his rear view mirror and the vision of the oncoming traffic created a terrifying vision.
Apparently our friendly passenger decided it needed to see where it was going. The openings on the sides of the livestock trailer were just wide enough for it to stick its head through and enjoy the rush of air much like a dog with his head out an open car window.
This probably wouldn’t have been to bad if the emu had chosen the passenger side versus the driver’s side. The oncoming semi and that birds head stuck out what looked like about 15 feet spelled disaster in our minds.
Thank goodness the shoulder of the road was paved enough Larry could move over and save our passenger from a very ugly beheading. The girls didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Jake didn’t hesitate. He was still laughing so hard when we got to the farm he couldn’t even tell the emu owners what was so funny.
Larry did manage to hold it together until the bird was unloaded and we were back on the road towards home. At that point, he vowed to never again put any kind of animal other than a horse in any trailer he owned. He has stuck to that vow.
The trailer is filled every year with camping equipment for the family float trip/fishing adventure; it has been filled with furniture and belongings from family and friends when they moved; and it has carried building material for home improvement projects but it has never carried any critter besides our horses.
The older I get, the harder it is to remember all the funny things that have happened through the years. I wish many times I had started a journal when my kids were young and kept track of all the memorable things they said and did. Maybe I just need to take the dog walking with me of an evening more often. Who knows what memory she may jar out of me the next time.

So many reasons to be proud of the boys!!

original run date March 27
Chariton Valley News Press

I think I am suffering from withdrawal.  I checked my calendar this week and there were no basketball games to attend or take pictures at.  I wasn’t sure what to do with my time.  I did manage to keep myself from shaking and crying too much by working on cleaning up some of the mess in my house but that wasn’t near as exciting as games.
I have to say I’m proud of the Salisbury boys basketball team for many reasons this year.  Of course, I’m especially proud of the second place state finish.  WOW!  District tournament began the last week of February and fielded 122 Class 2 boys teams.  What an amazing accomplishment to play through the season and finish as one of the four premiere teams in the state.
With that being said, there is a much more important reason to be proud of this group of young men other than their state finish.  I have been a part of the excitement surrounding this group of junior guys since Jake joined their class as a seventh grader.  I have watched some of the juniors and seniors since they were in the second and third grade when they started playing football.  Needless to say, I have a case of bleacher behind from all the hours spent watching them in various sports over the course of the years.
This entire group of young men has always been a great example of sportsmanship and composure both on and off the field.  Yes, they have been “boys” at times, that’s what makes them all loveable and fun to be around.  But as they have entered high school and the spectrum of people watching them have expanded, they have always tried to set an example of what high school sports is all about.  As some of the younger boys meld into the team, it isn’t hard to see they are following the example set by the older guys.
They have won with grace and humility.  They have lost with poise and dignity.  Their composure on the court when down by what seemed like insurmountable odds could teach some adults a few things.  The boys on the bench are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of the guys on the floor.  They win as a “family” and lose as a “family” and I couldn’t be prouder of them if they won a world title.
I was honored to be at the t-shirt signing at the high school a few days before their final four games.  As the elementary students poured through the high school cafeteria, it was hard to tell who was the most excited – the little kids or the team members.  The elementary kids were ecstatic to meet some of the guys they had been watching on the court all year.  The team members were amazed at how many of the younger kids knew them by name.
I found myself chuckling at some of the reactions of both age groups.  Some of the young ladies coming through the line seemed a little awestruck.  The boys were equally impressed with meeting the guys they emulate during pickup games.  Some of the team members recalled the Panther final four appearance in 2005 and being on the t-shirt side of the autograph session.  What a testament to the positive influence high school sports can have on kids these days. 
I know some people think we put to much emphasis on high school sports but this past season highlights why they are so important to small communities.  Even before the state run, the town united in support of both the boys’ and girls’ teams.  That excitement carried to the district tournament in Sturgeon and beyond.  I was so impressed with the sea of purple in Sturgeon when Salisbury brought more fans than the hometown team did. 
The support never faltered as the boys team traveled to Sedalia, back to Moberly and finally to Columbia.  One of the security officers at Mizzou Arena was overheard talking about the show of support for the team on Thursday evening.  He commented that if burglars wanted an easy hit, Salisbury would be the place to be because he was certain most homes were empty.
I was so happy to be the primary photographer for Salisbury teams this season.  Because I have a son on the team, it seemed logical for me to photograph their games.  Man was it fun.  I found myself taking way more pictures than really necessary.  It is hard to put the camera down when four boys on the team can dunk with ease.  I might miss that perfect shot if I wasn’t ready.  I certainly hope to follow both teams from behind a camera in years to come.
Jake has given us a break from sports for a few months.  I won’t lie, as much as I enjoy watching him play sports, I’m happy for the break.  Our house project could use a few evenings of attention to finally wrap things up. 
As this school year rolls to an end, I have to brace myself for the inevitable.  I have to face my youngest becoming a senior and my last year of organized high school sports.  I’m already excited about football season come fall and basketball next year could prove to be just as exciting as this year. 
In the end, I’m grateful for the coaches and supporters that have been a part of Joni and Jake’s lives through the years.  The lessons they have learned, both good and bad, will serve them well throughout life.  They have learned to deal with the heartache of loss, enjoy the ecstasy of winning, how to deal with people and learned the importance of integrity and honesty. 
If you happen to meet up with me around town and I’m shaking a little bit, don’t fear.  The withdrawal symptoms have been easing through the week.  By the time summer basketball rolls around, my backside will be ready for my last year of bleacher residence.  The sports mom in me will be pumped and ready by football season to support our team as I’m sure the community will be also.
Congratulations Salisbury boys basketball, Coach Wyatt, and Coach Green.  It was a thrilling ride.  The community was proud of you every step of the way.