Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Soon

About a year ago I read online that a blogger was looking for an illustrator for her children's book. I happened to know her. Well, I "knew" her in the online sense. It was the beautiful Jessica Watson from Four Plus an Angel and I Just Want to Pee Alone. We're totally facebook friends and co-authors and stuff. I was excited!

I eloquently commented, "Hi. I illustrate."

The match was made. She obviously couldn't resist my charm.

Jessica told me the subject of her book: a preemie's journey into life in the form of a bedtime story. Subject matter that is common, yet highly unwritten about in a children's book format. I was intrigued, to say the least.

Jessica sent me the text of her book titled Soon. The moment I read it, I was absolutely blown away. Every so often we have the pleasure of encountering words that affect us so deeply. Words that give us chills. Words that matter in this world. That is what Jessica had written. I knew that this book needed special attention because it was going to be important to so many people. The pressure was on to bring her beautiful story to life in pictures.

She and I worked together discussing the overall 'feel' of the story and decided upon simple watercolors with a slightly dreamy quality. Now, a year after that fateful facebook thread, I feel like we achieved or goal. We are both very excited for the public to get to take this book into their homes and hearts.

The book, Soon, is now available for purchase on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format. If you have a preemie in your life, you will adore this book. If you know of someone who has a preemie, this book is the perfect gift for them. We encourage you to read, share and love this story!

xxoo,
Johi



"What happens when a baby is born weeks or months before their due date? "Soon" takes the reader on a hopeful journey, honoring the fighting spirit of a preemie along the way. When you have a preemie there has never before been a sweet book to read to your children about the story of their early birth and homecoming. "Soon" fills this void by telling the story of a premature baby from birth to NICU to childhood in words a child can understand. Beautiful, realistic illustrations give a glimpse into the NICU world without overwhelming young children with too many tubes and wires. Families will treasure time spent turning the pages of "Soon" together and smiling with pride at how far they have come." 


Friday, February 19, 2016

A Pork Sword, a Yam Bag and a Scalpel

When our oldest child was two, he discovered his boy parts. With a smile of glee plastered on his tiny face, he sat in the bathtub and played with his twig and berries. I sighed and told my husband, “This is your area. I’m out.”

My husband cocked his head to the side and replied, “It’s only the start of his life-long love affair.”

I said, “As long as he knows not to fondle himself in public. Make sure he knows that behavior is inappropriate.”

“Consider it handled.”

It’s true. A man’s package is his pride and joy. His tool box of treasure is often elevated to Greek God status, because everyone knows that Hercules had solid gold teste-cles. Men make a spectacle of their testicles. They are nuts about their… well, nuts. They name their schlongs things like “Mr. Winky” and “Russell the Love Muscle”.  In fact, men’s adoration of their semen nation is why slang descriptions like “the family jewels”, “wedding tackle”, and “master of ceremonies” run rampant in our society. This is also why I was not surprised that my husband was quite nervous the day he left for his vasectomy consultation. We had decided that two spawn was our limit. The time had come to debilitate the virility of The Sperminator.

He called me as soon as he exited the doctor’s office. I heard his disjointed voice on the other end of the phone. He said, “Well… that was… interesting.”

“How did it go?” I asked.

He answered, “I wasn’t expecting my doctor to bring an intern with him.” There was a long pause on the other end of the line, as if he was carefully considering his words, “She was in her 20’s and gorgeous… and wearing a very short skirt.”

“Oh my!” I said, “That must have been exciting for you!”

He continued, “That’s not all. After we talked about the procedure, I got up to leave. The Doc stopped me. Then he looked me straight in the eyes and said in a low voice, ‘We need to do an exam. Are you okay with that?’ I looked him square in the face, squinted my eyes like Clint Eastwood and said, ‘Yes.’”

Embarrassed for him, I asked, “Did the intern stay in the room?”

“She did.”

“How much of you did they examine?”

“All of it,” my husband said. “He fondled my balls while she watched and learned.”

I stifled a laugh and squeaked out, “I’m sorry.”

He said, “That’s okay. I didn’t think I was going to have to drop my pants in front of a 20 year old girl, but now that I’ve done it, I’ve learned something about myself.”

“Oh yeah? What did you learn?” I inquired.

He answered, “Now that my dignity has been stripped away, I have no fear. My stage fright is gone. I could drop my pants anywhere. ”

“….No.”

Two months later, Cut and Cauterize Day had arrived. My husband was scheduled to be poked, prodded, pulled and yanked to permanent sterility. Yay! Now we could have all of the impromptu coupling that we are too tired to desire! He insisted upon driving himself to the office, telling me he would be fine to drive home. He would simply not take the drugs.

I said, “Get the drugs. Don’t be a hero.”

Yet his mind was made up, there would be no valium in our house. I called my girlfriend and together we lamented the loss of potential mind numbing bliss.

“Seriously. Call me if you need me to drive you home.” I added for emphasis, “Really, it’s not an inconvenience. I am just appreciative of the fact that I will not have to endure another pregnancy, C-section and the infant that accompanies all of that.”

“Noted,” he belched. “FYI, I’m not supposed to do any physical activity for five days.”

“Five WHOLE days? “ I quipped, “Pregnancy invaded my body for nine months, which jacked up my hormones and turned my butt into a barge. It was probably illegal for me to pass the weigh stations on the interstate without stopping. Then after being sawed in half, I sleeplessly nursed a shrieking, angry boob leech until my nipples cracked and bled. Twice. But I’ll try my best to be supportive.”

He said, “Don’t worry about being supportive. I’ll just buy a jockstrap.”

That was a sound decision. I nodded, “Good call.”

My brave warrior kissed me goodbye and drove away to meet his destiny- the scalpel. My husband explained how he walked into the chilly room and dropped his pants. He then stretched out on the table and the doctor attached a rubber band to his one-eyed soldier and clipped it up to his shirt, in a little game I like to call Hangman. My husband insisted that Mr. Johnson was clipped to his collar, but it was a cold room and I know better. For 20 minutes, my husband sat there, blanket-less, with his grenades exposed to the icy air. Lucky for him there were witnesses. Miss Long Legs Short Skirt was not only in attendance, but eager to learn more.

Two hours later, I heard the crunch of his truck tires in the driveway. I expected him to be hunched over and dragging a leg like Igor. Instead, he walked into the house as if nothing happened and settled in on the couch. In a remarkable turn of personality, I was ready to wait on him hand and foot. I held a bag of ice in preparation for the healing of Larry, Darrell and Darrell.

I asked, “Can I get you anything else? A pillow? Advil? Whiskey?”

 “I’m fine. It doesn’t even hurt,” he calmly explained.

“What?”

He repeated himself, “Seriously, it doesn’t hurt.”

I knew the man had some cojones when he chose to marry me, I just didn’t know they were actually made of steel. My man was starting to make Chuck Norris look a Caillou.

He spent a day on the couch with an icepack pressed against his undercarriage, but the sitting around was driving him nuts. The next day, to allow him alone time to rest and heal his assaulted kiwis, I removed the kids from the house for four hours. When I returned, he had repaired the fireplace. The following day, in a pathetic attempt to be admitted into heaven, we went to church. My husband still had not taken one thing for pain, unless you count the liquor.

After the service, we deposited the kids in Sunday school and took some seats in the church hall for an hour of child-free coffee. Forget all the free-trade business; the best coffee is free of whining, toy noises and demands for Popsicles. As we sat and chatted, I felt an unfamiliar feeling. It was urgent affection. But we were in church and he had four more days until he was back in the saddle, so I rewarded him instead with a refill of coffee. I’m an awesome wife like that.

When I returned with a steaming hot cup of Joe, he was sitting on a folding chair in the middle of the church hall with his knees spread wide apart and a blank look on his face. I looked down and noticed his manly hand, which he was using to cradle his huevos.

I couldn’t believe that I was going to have to remind my adult husband of the one thing that I put him in charge of with our sons. “Honey,” I said, “you can’t hold your balls like that in public. Especially in church.”


I shamefully dropped my head into my palms. Oh Jesus, help me. My boys are destined to be the dudes playing pocket pool at a birthday party. The beans and weenies have been officially reassigned to mom. I guess I’ll pick up that sword and run with it.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Angel of Two Mule Junction, Part 2

Read Part 1 here...

As I walked past the jungle gym that was glinting in the hot sun, I ran over possible solutions in my mind. I honestly couldn't find one viable answer to our problem.

However, we could try and get more transmission fluid and drive the truck until it blew up- leaving us stranded God knows where on the side of the road with horses and kids. Or we could sit tight at Two Mule Junction, which consisted of a parking lot, a rest area and a scorching hot playground, and wait for my parents to figure out that they had 10 missed calls from me and that something might be amiss. But they were still two hours away and the day was quickly turning into night, and my cell phone reception was sketchy at best. Or we could quit on the spot and throw a hissy fit, cussing everything and everyone, a potentially break a toe while kicking the truck. This was tempting. Or we could pull up our britches and try to limp our way to Edgemont, South Dakota- a little town with limited services which was 22 miles away, and pray that we found a better answer there.

As I was mulling over these things, I walked by my new friend- I discovered her name was Ruth- who had taken her place by the cooler full of ice water. She stood by an older man in a three-wheeled motorized scooter and he offered me a cool drink. I responded with, "Thanks, but I have plenty of water... you don't happen to have any transmission fluid in there, do you?"

Taken aback, Ruth asked if we were having truck trouble and I briefly explained our situation. She said, "Give me a minute and I'll see what I can do."

I used the facilities and walked back to the truck and trailer, where I found Brock sitting behind the wheel, staring absently at the transmission gauge. The gravity of the situation had taken hold of both of us. There was no denying it. We were screwed.

We looked at each other in silence for a moment, which was broken by Ruth rapping on Brock's window.

He rolled it down and she said, "No one had any transmission fluid but my husband, John, said he would drive to Edgemont to buy some. It's only 22 miles from here."

Brock and I were both stunned. We sat for a moment, mouths agape.

"Your husband would drive all the way to Edgemont for us?" I finally asked.

"Yes! He said he didn't mind. It's only 22 miles."

"Only 22 miles" that seemed impossible to us at the moment. I didn't even know how we had made it to Two Mule Junction. I think my mouth was still hanging open when Brock answered, "Tell him thank you so much but I think we can get there."

Ruth said concretely, "Well, then he'll just follow you in case you have a problem."

I shut my gaping pie hole and exclaimed, "Oh my God, he doesn't have to do that!"

Ruth insisted, "He wants to help! He doesn't mind!"

Two minutes later we were slowly crawling back onto the highway in our roadkill scented truck, pulling four heavy horses at a minimum speed with our flashers blinking methodically. John, apparently the nicest man on the planet, was right behind us in his silver SUV. The knowledge that we had a solution to a potential breakdown was the most comforting thing I have ever experienced. This stranger- this man married to the woman I casually met at a rest stop in the middle of freaking nowhere- just solved our potential no-cell-service-stuck-on-the-side-of-the-road problem. Simply with his presence. I was not only overwhelmed with gratitude, I was floored by his over the top act of good humanity and kindness.

After a slow, careful drive, we made it to the tiny town of Edgemont. We pulled over at the first gas station we saw to search for transmission fluid. The biggest pulls of the trip were still ahead of us and the hills were the hardest on the truck. It would take a miracle to make it to horse camp pulling the trailer. There was no way I was banking on that. We needed to find a solution in Edgemont.

Brock put up the hood and walked into the station, John and I sat in the parking lot and made idol chat as we waited for him. When Brock came out empty handed, I wasn't surprised. The three of us talked a bit more as the truck cooled down in the quickly approaching evening air. Just then, a man who introduced himself as Steve pulled up in a little red truck and asked about our situation. We briefly described our problem and he said, "That transmission is shot. Put anything in there to lubricate it. It's not coming back." Then he said, "The fairground is right next door and my sister is on the committee. We are just cleaning up after the local fair- it was over today- and I'm pretty sure you could keep the horses there for the night."

Then Steve said he would go talk to his sister and John followed him. I stayed with the truck and Brock walked to the next door gas station with the boys to search for more transmission fluid. They came back with power steering fluid and popsicles.

Steve and John returned with the good news that we could use the fairgrounds to accommodate the horses for the night. We thanked Steve as he pulled away and John turned to us and said, "I'll take your wife to her parents at horse camp. Then she can ride back with them in their truck to get the trailer and the horses."

Again, this man's generous nature absolutely floored me.

I said, "Oh my gosh! I can't ask you to do that!"

He said, "You didn't, but I want to help."

Brock and I talked briefly and decided that we would take the trailer to the fairgrounds (it was one block away). We would park there and unload the horses and unhitch the trailer, then Brock would try and drive our truck to camp, where he would get my parent's truck. We thought our truck could probably make the trip without the heavy load. We hoped.

When we explained this plan to John, he said, "Then I will follow him in case he has a problem."

At this point, horse camp was about an hour away by car.

Again, we protested John's kindness but he insisted. I truly felt in that moment that John was GOd's answer to our desperate prayer in the truck. He was our guardian angel. I do not know what would have happened without his presence in the situation. Probably a hell of a lot more tension and an argument, to start. Most likely a broken toe.

The boys and I hung out at the fairgrounds, where there was not only a pen to put the horses, but also hay that needed to be cleaned up and a water tank. I went against all my better judgement when I let my horses eat unfamiliar cow hay and drink from a stock tank during a summer when Vesicular Stomatitis was rampant, but I was so tapped, both mentally and physically, that I said a Hail Mary and let that shit go.

Brock and John headed toward The Black Hills. I made the boys sandwiches from the cooler and they pedalled their bikes around the empty fairgrounds. It was a beautiful, cool summer night. A bit later, we rode the horses bareback in the rodeo arena and watched the sun set. I'm pretty sure the boys just thought we were camping and all was fine. In fact, I truly felt that in a situation that had so many opportunities to be terrifying, we were more than fine. We were lucky.

Soon Brock called at the last area of service to tell me he made it and that he was headed the last three miles to horse camp to get the truck. He said that John was driving back and would be stopping by on his way to check on us.

About an hour later, I had the kids tucked into bed in the trailer and John knocked at the door. I stepped outside to greet this kind stranger and tried to express my gratitude for his help.

He shook it off.

I told him how we held hands and prayed for safety and a solution. I told him how we don't usually roll like that. I informed him that I thought that He was listening; I thought that God sent John as our guardian angel.

He said he just wanted to help out a family in need- especially one with young kids.

I thanked him again and asked if he had kids. He told me that he did. Three of them lived all the way in Missouri.  He didn't see them much. He seemed regretful.

We talked about his new family- his wife Ruth and her father, who was in the motorized scooter. He was a minister to the bikers. THE minister to the bikers. He talked about how their view of the world changed him.

We chatted a bit about more- life and being a parent and he said, "I've made some real bad choices in my life that have hurt a lot of people. I'm trying to do my best to make up for that now."

His words hit me in the gut. I wiped a tear from my eye and replied, "I'm pretty sure we could all say that. And I think you earned some major points today."

I thanked him again, then John went on his way from our life, as quickly and quietly as he entered it.

I found myself wondering about his story and his people. I pondered how much a chance meeting with a stranger can so profoundly affect someone. I felt my heart lifted as I thought about all of the people that came to our assistance: Ruth, John, Steve and the people of the Edgemont fairgrounds. I could not imagine our potentially horrible and dangerous situation turning out any better. Our kids were safe, secure and fed. Our horses were safe, secure and fed. I had beer on ice and a place to sleep for the night. Brock was on his way to get us a truck that could pull our trailer to our destination- which was vacation at a camp full of people that we know and love. Lots of familiar help was there, waiting for us in the Black Hills. A magical place that I love like no other.

The sound of a diesel truck pulled me out of my thoughts and into reality. I looked through the window and saw my husband climb out and make his way to our lone horse trailer parked at an empty fairground in the middle of the rolling plains of the west. A place where we both rediscovered our faith in God and humanity. A place where we realized that sometimes the broken parts of life can bring the biggest gifts. A place where we once again found gratitude and the blessing of each other. A good place with good people and cold beer on ice.

The end.




Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Angel of Two Mule Junction

It was a hot day in August when we shoved the last of the camping essentials into the trailer and caught the horses to load them for the trip. The summer had been a bit off kilter. Good times were certainly had, but the stronger theme of the last few months had been ' Crap, it's broken.'

The day after our house went on the market, the refrigerator broke. The sewage line backed up two weeks later. Our youngest child was rushed to the ER, for fear that his appendix was inflamed. The dog was obviously dying. The trailer blew a tire on the interstate, blowing apart the entire wheel well and sounding like a canon (which happened a week after some sick jackhole was randomly shooting people along said interstate). The truck was struggling with overheating and we had recently replaced many expensive parts, including both batteries and the alternator. My shoulder had been out all summer and in an effort to make my oldest child's pony listen, I rode him and whacked out my hip, causing constant pain. That is just a small example of what had been happening. To add insult to injury, our finances proved that we were literally "broke". But we were going on vacation, dammit. This was my kids' opportunity to be in the great outdoors on horseback with their grandma and grandpa. You have to grab those experiences before they flit away.

Right on schedule to hit the road at 10 a.m.,  I pulled up my big buckskin, Gus. He'd been trying hard to be too lame to ride, but I refused to see the beautiful horse go to waste, so I had been working tirelessly with our farriers and veterinarian to find a lasting solution to his laminitis. It turned out the trick was all in the shoeing; full pads with wedge bar shoes every 8 weeks, to be exact. He could not go barefoot on those front feet, that's for certain. When I walked Gus toward the trailer, I noticed he was missing something on his right front. He had thrown a shoe in the 40 acre pasture. A very important and expensive shoe. The location of said shoe remains a mystery to this day. Gus was unrideable in this condition, particularly in the rugged South Dakota terrain where we were headed.

Of course this hot day in August was also a Sunday.

I crossed my fingers and dialed the farrier. My guardian angel hovered over me and I sighed a great sigh as I heard her say that she would head right over to fix my horse's feet. This woman and her partner have not only been reliable and skilled, they have also prolonged my horse's riding career. It certainly pays to be choosey about the people you invite into your life, and I definitely chose well with these two.

Only an hour and a half behind schedule, with four shod horses in the trailer and my heart full of gratitude, we pulled out of the driveway. We were heading to South Dakota by the way of Wyoming! Only six hours to the cool breezes, starry night skies and friendly faces at horse camp! I could almost taste that first ice cold beer from our cooler.

Did we remember to pack the coolers? Check.

It was about an hour north of Cheyenne when we heard the trailer tire blow.

Brock was able to maneuver the rig over to the side of the interstate and we firmly instructed the boys to stay put and not get out of the cab for any reason. The speed limit on I-25 in Wyoming is 80 mph and everyone seemed to be using that as a minimum speed guideline. Brock and I got out of the truck and cautiously walked to the trailer, bracing ourselves to see a repeat of the ripped off wheel well that we experienced in April. It was a great relief to see everything but one shredded tire in tact.

Donning a red shirt and cream-colored topped boots tucked into blue jeans, I stood at the back of the trailer like a patriotic human traffic cone. Using the glowing white flesh of my inner arms, I instructed he speed racer drivers to move into the outer lane while my brave husband worked no more than three feet from the traffic. He used our only spare and replaced the tire in under 15 minutes. There are so many times when I am grateful that I married a 'real man' and this was one of them.

A bit shaken, we pulled back onto the interstate to continue our journey. We were worried about the hot asphalt on the other tires- the two that hadn't yet blown since we acquired the trailer- and set out to buy a new spare for the remainder of our trip.

But we were travelling on a Sunday. In Wyoming. So we had about as much luck finding on open tire shop as we did a pot full of gold next to a unicorn with a rainbow mane and glitter hooves.

I dialed my parent's "travel phone" and informed them of our situation. They were headed to horse camp from the east and were scheduled to arrive a little before us. I asked them to keep their phone near them in case of emergency, then hung up and realized that there is no cell service at camp; which is as it should be, but not at all helpful in our situation.

We crossed our fingers and traded the interstate travel for a slower two-lane road. All was fine for another hour until Brock noticed the temperature gauge for the transmission sneaking up into dangerous territory. Soon after that we stopped in the tiny town of Lusk, Wyoming. We attempted to pull into a fuel station but it was jam-packed full of chrome, tattoos and leather. The bikers were blocking the entire parking lot and all access to the fuel pumps, particularly for 30+ feet of truck and trailer. The 75th annual Sturgis Rally was in full swing and motorcycles were crawling everywhere.

We pulled around the corner, onto a side street, and parked. I opened the truck door and was greeted by the strong stench of rotting carcass. I wondered how people could live in a town that smelled like decomposing meat. Then I realized that the smell was not of the animal variety. It was our truck.

Brock checked our transmission fluid (that he had refilled the day before) and discovered that it was used up- so broken down that it wasn't registering on the stick. He poured in more from his stash in the truck bed, then said that he used everything he brought. We still had three hours to go and some big hills to pull. I felt an inkling of panic in my chest as I limped with my bad hip around the corner to the gas station, weaving through the Harleys and red, chapped faces with my kids in tow. As I stood in front of the rack of fluids, I read every label five times, searching for transmission fluid. It wasn't there. Of course, the automotive store across the street probably had plenty, but it's window was prominently displaying the CLOSED sign. Because Sunday. In Wyoming.

Brock and I stood slack-jawed for a moment, then decided to drive. We made it about 30 minutes north of Lusk before the temperature gauge started creeping up again. Brock slowed down to save the transmission, but his speed was causing bikers to take risks in passing us. We were highly stressed. I looked around for a place to stop with the horses but only saw rolling hills of grassland and not a drop of water or shade.  It was hot, windy and we had two kids and four horses, one of which was 31 years old. Naturally, there was no cell service, nor any towns with services nearby. Plus, it was a Sunday. In Wyoming. All of it was too much. I felt my blood pressure pounding in my ears. I tried to think of something to do and came up with nothing. So we had a Jesus Take the Wheel moment. I instructed everyone to hold hands. Then I said a prayer for our safe arrival to horse camp and for protection for us, our animals and our truck and trailer. Because when all else fails, you can only pray and have faith.





A few agonizing miles later, we pulled into a spot on the map called Two Mule Junction. It was a rest stop at a fork in the road, surrounded by prairie grasses and barbed wire fences. It was full of bikers and had a metal playset reflecting the harsh sun. I had been driving to South Dakota on this route since I was 12 and remember when Two Mule Junction was a gravel parking lot with an outhouse, so the current vault toilets and running water was a vast improvement.

My blood was boiling with stress and rage when we stopped. I called my parent's cell phone for help, but it went straight to voice mail. I left a message, knowing it was futile. I was mad that we were having so many problems. I was mad that we were too poor to properly fix the truck before the trip. I was mad at Brock because somehow it was his fault for not being 'a man'. I was frustrated with my life in general and it was quickly surfacing as barely contained fire hot, rage. The kids asked to play on the metal playset that was glistening in the sun- a beacon of hope for fun. I barked NO. Then immediately apologized and said of course they could play. They ran over to the playset, only to be immediately scorched by the heat of the unforgiving sun on the metal.

So Brock took them to the restroom instead.

I tried to give the horses buckets of water, but they had no interest in drinking. The task soothed me nonetheless. I patted their long noses and looked into their soft brown eyes. For the millionth time in my life, I found some much needed solace in my horses.

While trying to find my complete Zen on the hot, windy prairie in the middle of an impending crisis, a lady appeared and asked if she could pet the horses. I said of course and we fell into an easy conversation. She had rescued a pony from the big flood in 2013. She lived in Cheyenne. She liked dogs. Her husband trains horses that no one else wants. She and her family come to Two Mule Junction- a pit stop literally in the middle of nowhere- every year just to hand out free ice water to the bikers riding to the Sturgis Rally. That blew my mind. Every year for a week, these people volunteer their time to stand on a windy knoll outside of a restroom and give out water? All I could think was, "Wow. There are so many people so much nicer than me in this world".

My new friend walked away and I closed up the bars on the stall windows and decided to hit the restrooms before we attempted any more travel. As I walked toward the door of the women's side, I still didn't know what in the hell we were going to do.

....to be continued