First Aid

I took a lot of first aid classes back in the day.

First Aid.

Advanced First Aid.

First Aid and CPR.

First Aid for lifeguards who work at camps in the middle of nowhere.

First Aid for ambulance dispatchers.

Okay, I may be making some of those up. But I WAS an ambulance dispatcher at one point in my life. And I worked as a lifeguard at more than one camp in the middle of nowhere. I think my title at one was lifeguard and the other was Aquatics Director, which sounded lofty and important, but I basically did the same job at both camps. Lifeguarded.

My grandmother came to visit me at one of the camps where I lifeguarded.

My one rescue in all my years of lifeguarding was at a camp. A little boy with Down Syndrome zipped past me while I unlocked the gate to the pool. He jumped right into the deep end. His eyes widened when he realized he couldn’t touch the bottom, and, as he floundered there, I reached in, grabbed his arm, and pulled him to the side. I actually didn’t need any lifeguarding classes to do what I did in that moment. It was all instinct. After that, his counselor made sure he had on his lifejacket before they headed to the pool.

Once, when I was coaching high school girls, I had a swimmer that had donated blood earlier in the day. Her puncture wound from donating opened while she was swimming and started bleeding. A lot.

“C’mon out,” I told her, and placed my hand firmly over the wound to apply pressure.

Meanwhile, another swimmer started feeling light-headed from the sight of the blood. “Stay at the wall,” I called over my shoulder to the woozy girl as I walked the bleeding swimmer to a bench. A couple of swimmers stayed with Woozy.

I wondered where the lifeguard was when I saw her hurrying toward me, pulling on latex gloves as she came. I looked at my hand on the girl’s arm. I was holding the arm up while she lay on the wooden bench. I had blood on my fingers. There was blood rivulets down her arm. A trail of blood drops led from the pool to the bench.

The lifeguard stopped. She blew her whistle and cleared the pool, helping Miss Light-Headed out and shepherded the girls away from all the blood.

My first First Aid classes had been pre-AIDS and pre-blood-borne-illness precautions. My instincts and early classes kicked in long before I thought about getting gloves on. Apply pressure and elevate.

I don’t know if that makes me a good responder or a bad one.

I guess I’m a gut responder.

Then I spend the next ten years second-guessing myself.

Back to Bleh — this morning I thought, I’m going to look at the Daily Prompt, and if I’m inspired, I’ll write. The prompt was “Puncture,” and I immediately thought of Sucking Chest Wounds — doesn’t everybody?

I had learned about them in First Aid a long time ago, and found them fascinating, although I always thought it a little silly to learn about them because they fell into the category of Probably-Information-I-Will-Never-Use.

The initial title for this post was “Sucking Chest Wounds,” but when I started writing, well, you see what came out. Nary a word about sucking chest wounds.


And no good conclusion.

Double bleh.


“Everything I write is stupid,” I told the girls the other night. “I need to just stop.”

Of course they gave the obligatory, “No, Mom. We like it.”

But I was all phooey-on-everything.

Laurel said, “What if you just didn’t write every day?”

Now there’s a novel idea.

Some things feel a little wrong to write about — like my father’s decline. As cathartic as it was to write about my mother, the catharsis isn’t there this time. It documents, I suppose, like this morning’s conversation —

Dad: I had the strangest phone call this morning. I answered the phone and nobody was there.

Me: What phone did you answer?

Dad: The phone in my bedroom. It rang at 7 AM.

Me: You don’t have a phone in your bedroom.

Dad: Well, nobody was on the other end.

It’s such a sad documentation.

A lot of other things fall into the does-anyone-really-care-about-this category.

Like the indigo bunting that flew into the window the other day. While it lay stunned on the deck, I took this picture, so I could look it up to identify it. When the cat came trotting up the ramp, I ran out the door to shoo her into the house so she wouldn’t bother the bird. Then I picked up the bird and moved him to a safer place. He perched on my finger after I scooped my hand beneath, and he weighed about as much as popped popcorn. I placed him where I could see him from inside. About an hour later, he flew away. A fascinating story — with no point at all.

Sometimes writing feels so bleh.

A hiatus is in order.

Or, at the least, a taper.



Dr. Purple

Last week Mary and I went to a “talk” at the library.

I had seen the sign posted at the grocery store and taken a picture of it so I would remember to mention it to Mary.

But on Tuesday, March 14, everything was shut down in honor of Snowstorm Stella. I didn’t leave the house except to shovel for two days. By Thursday, the travel restrictions had been lifted and I made a trip to the grocery to pick up essentials. Someone had crossed out the date and handwritten Thursday, March 16, above it.

It turns out that someone was the local librarian. He went to every poster and changed the date.

And I was fortunate enough to see it in time.

Mary and I drove in to town and parked in front of the library that night. The snow was piled high and very few people were out and about — still. Stella was a doozy.

It turns out that Mary and I were two of six people, one of them the speaker, who ventured out that night.

We met at a rectangular table. One of the men quipped, “We need to change our name.”

The rest of the attendees were men. All over the age of 50.

Mary felt a little awkward, I could tell. They all knew each other. They talked about this and that, things familiar to them. Mary and I spoke in low voices to each other.

“You okay?” I asked her.

“Yep,” she said.

We’re both the kind of people who like to sit in the back unnoticed, but that was not going to happen at the Nights at the Round Rectangular Table.

The speaker spoke about different types of local histories, using books pulled from the library shelves for examples. A memoir. A book of old photographs. His own scholarly work about the history of a local township.

At the very end, he asked the librarian about checking out his book.

“You’re checking out your own book?” I asked.

He reddened slightly. “I’m in the middle of a move and all my books are boxed up.”

Before that, when he had finished his prepared words and taken a few questions, he asked, “Now I’d like to know why you came to this.” He turned to the man at his left who gave some answer that indicated that he was a regular at these affairs.

Mary was next. She looked like she was feeling more than a little awkward. She had already been put on the spot a few times during the discussion because she was so obviously the youngest person in the room. I tried to help her out.

“She loves history,” I said. “I saw the sign at the store and asked her if she was interested.”

They wanted to know what kind of history, what era, what she wanted to study. I think the whole reason the question had been asked in the first place was to find out what would bring a 17-year-old girl out on a snowy winter night to a talk about history.

“She brought me,” Mary said, pointing at me.

“And I came because of her,” I said, pointing back at Mary.

We both laughed. The men around the table chuckled. “I guess they each blame the other,” one of them said.

“Tell them about Dr. Purple,” Mary said.

Few topics are as interesting to me as Dr. Purple, a physician in Greene, NY, in the 1800s. When I first learned that Greene had a physician named Dr. Purple, I thought it would make a great children’s book. I started researching him.

One of the men at the table said, “Dr. Purple from Greene? That sounds like a children’s book.”

“That’s what I thought,” I told him, and I launched into telling them some of the interesting things I had learned about the man.

His life was messy, imperfect, but ultimately good. He was much loved by the townspeople.

Telling the men that night about Dr. Purple — and seeing their interest in his story — fanned the little flame of interest I keep burning for him.

The speaker gave me some suggestions on how to write such a book.

Maybe I’ll pull out my notes again and start organizing them.


The Grandmother’s New Pants

A friend who is helping care for an elderly relative told me about one evening when she went to visit her aunt and she found her wearing no pants.  It reminded me of a poem I had written when my mother did something similar.

Here’s my poem:


My mother had no pants on
When she came down the stairs.
The funny thing about it was
It seemed she didn’t care.

The Emperor’s New Clothes became
The Grandmother’s New Pants –
Invisible clothes or missing –
I took another glance.

My children both politely
Turned their backs to her.
Modesty would dictate
Their behavior be demure.

“Mom, you need some pants on!”
“I know,” was all she said.
She settled in the kitchen,
Looking to be fed.

“Go put some pants on now,”
I commanded best I could.
“I will,” she said, but sat there,
So I didn’t think she would.

My father finally got her
To get up and find some pants.
I thought (but didn’t do)
A little happy dance.

Sometimes I let my toddlers
Run around with legs quite bare.
A child in only diapers
Would never get a stare.

But a grannie wearing panties,
Well, that’s a different sight.
Embarrassing for all involved —
It simply isn’t right.

So, help me, Lord, to understand
What is it I should do
When my mother comes down pantless
And doesn’t seem to have a clue.

It took some work for me to find the poem for my friend. I’ve started and stopped a number of blogs under various names.

Once I went through and started systematically deleting everything I had ever written — a self-inflicted devastation.

A lot of my writing is lost forever.


Honestly, who cares? They’re just words.

I console myself with that fact that far more important words — words written by Jesus Himself in the dirt (John 8)  — are forever gone.

Yesterday, on a forum, someone asked this question: “…what are the favorite blog posts you have written? Perhaps not the ones that have generated the most traffic, though it could be that, but the ones that reveal you.”

Believe it or not, I thought of this little poem. Actually, I thought of a few little poems I’ve written. I still can’t find one of them.

But when words and life are hard, poetry — dumb little rhyming poems — give a structure and a lightness to my thoughts.

Does that happen to anyone else?


The other day a friend posted on Facebook a rejection she had received for poetry submitted for publication.

She is a wonderful poet and writer, and I ached because a rejection feels like, well, a rejection — a failure — and she is not a failure.

How do we measure success? I asked myself — and, in a flash, I saw the scene that I wrote out below. It’s a totally made up story, kind of like a nightmare — but here it is for what it’s worth.

“Thank you for filling out the questionnaire,” the doctor said, studying the paper in front of him. He was checking off my answers with a pencil. I felt like it was more a quiz, than a get-to-know-you form for the first visit.

“You prefer to be called Sally?” he asked, looking up at me.

“Yes, I do,” I replied. I smiled at him, but he was already looking back down at the paper.

“Height, okay… Weight,” he looked up at me again. “You might want to lose a few pounds.”

“I know,” I said, “but things have been stressful lately, and I stress-eat…” My voice trailed off. I was hoping for a bye, but he just kept going down the list.

“You noted that you’re a writer,” he said, looking up again.

“I did?!” I said, questioningly because I didn’t remember putting that down.

He picked the paper up and turned it toward me, his finger pointing at a fill-in-the-blank mid-page. In my handwriting, next to the word “employment,” was the word “writer.”

“Oh,” I stammered, “I’m not really a writer. I don’t know why I wrote that.”

“Do you write?” he asked.

“I guess,” I said.

“Have you submitted pieces for publication?” he asked.

“A few, I guess, a long time ago.”

“How many times have you been rejected?” he asked. It was more of a demand.

I squirmed uncomfortably. What was this all about? I wondered.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t understand. Why do you need to know this?”

He glared at me.

“Can I change my answer?” I asked.

“Real writers have a pile of rejections,” he said. “I think changing your answer would be wise.”

He picked up a pen and neatly crossed out my response, then sat with pen poised waiting for my new answer. “Employment?” he asked.

“Umm.. I’m mostly a mom,” I said.

“How many children do you have?” he asked.

“Eight,” I told him.  I found myself sitting a little straighter in the chair now. Surely this would impress the man.

“How many times have they broken your heart?” he asked.

“What?!” I asked.

“You know, how many times have they fallen, made bad choices, or failed?” he said.

“I thought you would want to hear about their successes. They’re doing pretty well,” I said.

“Real mothers have their hearts broken on a regular basis. They start off putting bandaids on skinned knees and move on to bruised egos and hurt feelings. They ache with their children. I’m trying to determine if you are a real mother,” he said, and then he repeated his question. “How many times have they broken your heart?”

I thought of the many emergency room visits, the hospitalizations, the times I stood outside a bedroom door and prayed for the child inside. I thought the listening and the insufficient advice I tried to give. I thought of skinned knees, skinned hands, stitches in the head, broken bones, tears, tears, tears, and more tears. I thought of driving when called for help and crying all the way, dropping kids off for college and crying all the way home, and watching them get married and crying for joy.

“How many times have they broken your heart?” he asked for the third time.

“None,” I said.


Leaning In

“What’s your theme for 2017 going to be?” my friend asked.

I could barely remember what my theme for 2016 was. If 2015 was hard with the death my mother, 2016 was … um… I don’t even know. Rich? Full? Exhausting?

And where did 2016 even go? A snap of the fingers, and — poof! Good thing this isn’t a 2016 recap because I can’t remember.

My life is rich and full, mostly because of these people —


Christmas 2016
Starting on the top step — Amanda and Philip
Owen and Emily
Sam and Donna
Me and Bud
Jacob, Helen, and Laurel
Karl, Henry, and Mary

But my 2017 theme is coming from the exhausting part of my life.

My theme is “Leaning In” — the idea of embracing my challenges.

On Christmas Day,  I was standing in the laundry room, seeking solitude and a brief escape from an irritating situation, Helen asked if she could help.

“What can I do about this?” I asked her and told her what was bothering me.

Among her suggestions — write it out.

Write it out.

That’s why I had started this blog in the first place — to make sense of the difficult, to find good in the bad, to untangle the knot — all by writing it out.

So — leaning in. In 2017 I am going to lean in — and part of my embrace will be to write again here.

I thought of three general concepts that relate to leaning in —

  1. Leaning in, as a horse leans into a harness to pull a heavy load. Head down, not high and haughty. Muscles straining– it is hard work. Moving forward, little by little, not giving ground, but gaining and pressing on.
  2. Leaning in, as in a team huddle. Sharing strategies. And concerns. Supporting others — and they supporting me. I can’t do it alone.
  3. Leaning in, as one paying attention to detail. I can’t gloss over things, nor do I want to. Little things are sometimes so much more important than big — and I need to remember that.

Specific goals for 2017 —

  1. Postaday — I’ll write again (or try to), but I may also dust off old posts that I have taken down. My daily posts will be a mix of old and new.
  2. People — I need to cultivate relationships with people who can be part of my team huddle. Again, I see this as a mix of old and new. Friendships needs attention and time. I need to reach out to others on a regular basis — get together with other people, share joys and sorrows, pray, laugh, eat, walk, send cards, write letters, talk on the phone.
  3. Pursue beauty — I toured the Lackawanna Coal Mine once. It was dark and scary, but men found something of value there. Same with my life. I need to look for those places of beauty and goodness. They’re there. I know they are.

So forgive me if my writing muscles are a little rusty. It may take me some time to get my groove back —

But 2017 — here I come.