Friday, May 23, 2014

It Freakin' Means Something

So the worst thing that has happened to my blog is Google Reader going away.  I am putting my Syrian Dart Hex on you, Google!  I am feeling an urge to write and since for the first time in 2 years I am not drowning in school work, I am going to write something.

First of all, I gotta address the age of this is nearly 8 years old!  I started it when we moved to Stephenville in August 2006.  Darcy was 11 months old.

From the Way Back Machine, Fall 2006:

And for comparison:  Easter 2014:

Here's my very first post ever.  I wasn't even 30 yet.  We did not have a Reagan  Roux-Roux or a Bubba Gump, but here is some evidence that at least one was on their way...

See Reagan?  She's on the inside...July 2007.

All that to say, this blog has been around longer than some of my children.  Speaking for my blog, it feels neglected. I'm sure I have things to say.  I've talked about a lot of things here.  Homeschooling, quilting, blah, blah, blah.  Check the sidebar for a list.

On to today's freakin' means something.

So what I've been doing lately is school.  I'm 37 years old.  Gah!  But I just completed my Associate's degree.  I'm a college graduate.  I graduated from Tarrant County College.  I was one of hundreds of graduates about 2 weeks ago, and that may be a conservative estimate.

See me?

This is Brian's very best guess.  At first, I thought, "I'm not going to walk.  That's stupid."  Actually, further back than that, I wasn't even going to finish the associate's degree.  I was just going to transfer to Big School.  I didn't think earning the associate's was important or that it meant anything. But it freakin' means something!


Because my first semester, I took a music class, The History of Rock & Roll, that literally made me cry.  One semester, I took a Biology class that met every Saturday.  It was taught by a real MD who didn't realize this was Biology for Non-Science majors.  I took Biology, Part II, online during Christmas Break.  Whose idea was that?  That same Christmas, I took an English class where I had to write a 10 page annotated bibliography over Walt Whitman.  I hope I never see that guy again or read another word about "Leaves of Grass".  Which is pretty much impossible since Apple is now using his work to hustle theirs.  Ugh.

Brian was so insistent that I earn the degree, I took a PE class not required by Big School just so I could earn it.  I carried a full load every semester since August 2012.  And I did it while I was a wife to Brian, who travels 40-60% of the time.  I did it while I was a mother to Lily, Darcy, Reagan and Joshua.  One solid year of this, I had 2 kids at home.  Not in preschool or at Mother's Day Out.  At home.  While I did school online.  I did it while we were building a house.

Brian and I earned that degree.  It freakin' means something.

He picked up the slack he gave me.  I could have never finished it if he hadn't been there urging me on.

In January, I knew it was time to apply to graduate, but I had not planned to walk.  Even though I had worked hard for 2 years, I didn't think it meant anything to walk.  My advisor urged me to walk.  I thought it was stupid.  Except...not really.  I wanted to do it, but thought, "it's junior college, who cares about that?"  Turns out, I do.  I thought people would think going through all the Pomp & Circumstance for an associate's degree was...silly.  And maybe it is.  But it can't be that silly.  There were hundreds and hundreds of graduates and the venue was COMPLETELY FULL of people cheering.

I cried when I walked out to take my seat.  I was trying not to which is probably why I wasn't a huge, sobbing mess.  But it had finally settled on me.  What I  had done had meaning to me.  I have 3 years left to complete my program.  Big School starts in the fall.  But for a moment in time, I took the opportunity to celebrate the completion of 2 years' worth of blood, sweat and tears.  And it meant something.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

An Equal Number of Blueberries

My response to an email I received from a woman who lost her brother last spring to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  It was a little painful to go back there, but very helpful, too.  


Thank you for writing me.  The death of my brother has been very difficult, but it would have been so much more difficult had I not had the Lord's protection over me.  My mother passed away in September 2009, and just 6 weeks before my brother died,  my dad moved to Granbury after selling his house that he and my mother lived in for over 30 years.  You could have knocked me over with a feather the day he called and said he was planning to sell his house and move into an apartment in my town.  A strained relationship with an acquaintance was restored and that person was a source of encouragement and great comfort when many of my friends deserted me.  Our Sunday school class paid for a babysitter to come and watch my children for the weekend and provided meals as well so that I would have one less thing to worry about.  This kind of death will always have questions and mystery surrounding it.  Reading police and autopsy reports was like a punch to the gut for me, and yet, I couldn't stop reading it.  Just this weekend, I went to the cemetery and saw my brother's gravestone.  Because I never saw his body, I don't know if I'll ever come to terms with it.  

On Christmas morning, I got a poignant reminder of him as I was making blueberry muffins for my family.  He and I used to watch the movie Casino with Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci.  In one scene, Robert DeNiro's character is having a meeting with someone and he is having coffee and a blueberry muffin.  So is the other man.  The muffins are cut open and Robert DeNiro's muffin has about 3 blueberries and the other muffin has about 25.  He gets upset and goes into the kitchen where he tells the man making the muffins that he wants, "an equal number of blueberries in each muffin."

"Do you know how long that's going to take?"

"I don't care how long it takes.  I want an equal number of blueberries in each muffin."  And he leaves.

It would have been funny to us that I was making muffins and they weren't going to have an equal number of blueberries.  He would have probably used another quote from that movie said by Joe Pesci, in response to my muffins, "I'll leave you wherever I find you."

I hope you have people you can talk to and can pray for you.  I went to a counselor for a while until I could process things.  I will be thinking of you as you heal from this tragedy.  Please feel free to write me again.  I'm so sorry for your loss.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

My Brother Died

*This post is written from a raw, gut-level, visceral place. It isn't for everyone.*

On July 16, 2011, my baby brother, Paul Hickenbottom, Jr., known as Sam to most everyone, passed away. He was 25.

Except passed away implies something peaceful, with soft music in the background, family gathered around, and then your loved one just drifts off into the afterlife. As if your family member had actually expired at the funeral home.

The phrase passed away does not convey a death in which professionals must be called to clean up the aftermath. Or a death in which the family is at the complete mercy of two law enforcement agencies, a coroner and an autopsy. Passed away doesn't communicate the gut punch or the nausea as details come.

Or the anger.

People have said some ridiculous things. (Why would a stranger tell the family who has violently lost a loved one that there is a "Season For Everything"? True, yes. I get that. But not at all comforting or helpful. Just stupid.) People have asked me how I'm doing. But no one has really asked me how I feel. Maybe because everyone assumed I am sad. And I am sad.

I am sad thinking about my baby brother, who blew his own head off with an authentic WWII Russian rifle. I am sad thinking about him laying around the morgue with his head gone for a week before the pathologist deigned to complete his autopsy. I am sad that the death notice posted in his local paper said there were no services planned. I am sad they took what was left of his body, and placed it in a cardboard box, and put it in an oven and burnt him up. I am sad the "receiving" funeral home tried to convince us to bury him in the shipping box. I am sad that my brother felt like there was no one to turn to and yet, the chapel was full of people there to pay their respects. A folder in my inbox has over 140 messages from people extending their sympathies.

But I am angry.

I know it's natural. Understandable. Expected.


I am angry that my brother blew his head off when his son was in the next room. I am angry that law enforcement stonewalled us and continue to do so. I am angry that we could get no answer as to why his autopsy was delayed nor do we officially know the results. I am angry that the secretary at the Coroner's Office didn't see fit to treat me with compassion or at the very least, a minimal amount common courtesy. I am angry that in the funeral industry, anything that can fit a whole body in it, is called a casket, whether it's solid bronze or a cardboard box. I don't like that anything that you put ashes in is an urn, whether it's a plastic shipping container or a marble box.

I am angry that I had to completely rewrite the obituary because it was just plain wrong. I am angry that I had to go to funeral home here in town to pick an urn suitable for burial because the receiving funeral home insisted that we could just bury my brother, a person, in the shipping box he arrived in. People treat their pets better than this.

I am incensed that people in California knew he was on the edge. And they called no one. Alerted no one. They knew he was not taking his medication. They didn't want Sam to be mad at them. Well, now he's dead. He's not going to be mad at anyone. But I am. I am angry. I don't care if it's a little selfish and aside from my dad, I don't care how hard it is for anyone else. I don't care about who loved him and who didn't. People who loved him would have tried to get him help. Like my dad and my mother and I did. For years.

I am angry with friends and family that have ignored this tragedy.

I am angry with California. For all the phone calls I had to make, people I had to talk to, and arrangements I had to make. I am angry because before I could make one phone call, I had to make sure it wasn't 7am in California. Of course, there were people who didn't bother to extend me the same courtesy. I am angry because a tragedy in my life was another day at the office for police, sheriffs and doctors. I am angry because 2 women who couldn't get along in California, made that my problem. I am angry because hours after my brother's death, I had to decide who is going to get my brother's dirty clothes and old shoes.

I am angry because this is the only place I can be angry. I have spent so much time comforting everyone else and being strong, I am empty. I'm not the parent. Only the sister. I'm tired of being there for everyone else and saying, "It's such a tragedy for everyone." "He was sick." "This kind of behavior is a hallmark of that disease." "He was troubled."

And even after all that, it doesn't seem real.

Monday, August 08, 2011

My Dance Card... filling up.

I'm not going back to school. And I don't know if I ever will. I just don't want it bad enough.

Two girls in school. Another girl and a boy going to their "school" 3 days per week.

One girl dancing. Two girls soccering.

I've signed on to lead not one, but two Girl Scout troops.

BSF begins in mid-September.

My scrapbooking clubs still like to scrapbook from time to time.

I still volunteer with my nursing home residents and participate in our networking meetings.

I have an accountability partner that I meet with once a week.

I plan to volunteer with both the Soccer Association and the Women's Ministry group at our church.

Oh, and the Quilting Ministry as well. (I am so pleased that such a fabulous thing exists!)

I'd like to finish (or even start) some of my own quilting work.

I know I don't have time to go to school. But is there time to sleep? I just feel certain I can do it all, if I plan and get organized. This time last year, I was She Who Must Be Obeyed.

I. Can. Do. It.

If no one gets sick.

I am working on it all, full steam ahead. I have calendars printed out with notes. I have scoured the internet looking for old Girl Scout songs that I used to sing. It is going to be great.

I am now accepting great ideas for my Fall Party to be held if the temperature ever drops below 95 degrees.

Friday, July 08, 2011

July 8, 2011

Everyone is in bed, asleep, except for me. I'm wasting time online when I see so many other things to be done. There's laundry piled on the couch, as usual. The kitchen needs to be cleaned, as usual. Junk piled on my desk I could sort. But I'm wasting time. Lots of folks like to give me a pass when I waste time. They say having 4 kids keeps me very busy and any time I find to read Dear Abby online is well earned. For the last 6 weeks, Brian has been gone at least 4 days a week, for business. I find I get even less done when he is gone because there is no backshift relief. So I find even more time to read Dear Abby and catch up on my Facebook soaps.

Today was my oldest daughter's 7th birthday. Lillian Kaye Welch turned 7 years old today. I actually just used my calculator to figure out that I was 27 when she was born. She was born Thursday, July 8, 2004, at 9:40am, in Beaumont, TX via C-section. She was 3 weeks early. And she had a few problems that premature newborn babies have. Except the one where she was huge. Nine pounds, 11 ounces, to be exact. And kind of short for as fat as she was: 19.5" long. To be honest, I was afraid she was going to be born ugly. I knew she had a lot of hair, and I was worried that a baby with a lot of hair would be ugly. I didn't get to see her until the next afternoon, Friday. Brian was a proud papa taking all the visitors to the nursery, but because of the surgery, I was stuck in bed. Brian took pictures of the baby and sent them to my parents, and I remember begging my mother on the phone to tell me the truth about the baby: Was she ugly or not? Because it looked from the pictures that she might be okay, but I didn't really trust my own judgment.

When I was finally able to get out of bed and go to the NICU, I looked at my fat baby and said, "She's so beautiful!" And my daughter, who looked a little like Alfred Hitchcock in profile, whose daddy had been visiting and talking to her around the clock, turned for the first time, at the sound of my voice, opened her eyes and looked at me.

This is the first time I ever held her, just moments after pronouncing her "beautiful".

Friends came and visited us, bringing a sweet toile outfit from Gymboree with matching socks, sized 9 months. I remember thinking, "She'll never be big enough to wear that!" But she was. And so were the sisters that followed.

After 5 days in the NICU, we finally got to bring her home. I never intended to nurse any of my children, but when I left that hospital with that baby, I was a nursing mother, complete with Lanolin and milk bags. As we were leaving, being wheeled out to the car, I was holding that baby. And the fire alarm went off. My daughter never moved. I thought she died. Apparently, they're much hardier than you realize. The whole 10 minute ride home, I was concerned that the carseat was not correctly installed, nor were the straps correctly implemented. But they were.

We brought Lily home from the hospital in the same dress that I came home from the hospital in. Same bonnet, too. No, wait, that's a new bonnet, but we saved it.

Lily survived even though she was my first baby. Despite the screaming matches at 3am about whose fault it was we hadn't stayed on the schedule that day and therefore, whose fault it was we were up at 3am. She survived even though we didn't realize we should have all the bath stuff together before we took a naked newborn and put her in a tub. She survived my eating jalapenos while nursing. She's actually survived quite well.

She's now the oldest of 4 who wanted a special Spa Day for her birthday today. Including cucumbers on the eyes. (My girls just have this idea that when you go to the "spa" [which means any nail joint in town] you get cucumbers on your eyes.) So I obliged her. She had a bubble bath where I washed her hair with my lavender shampoo, exfoliated her skin, used my special foot scrub made out of walnut shells. I washed her face with my facial soap. While I cut and painted her nails and gave her a massage with some lavender and vanilla lotion, she lay there with cucumbers on her eyes.

Happy birthday, Lily Puss Kaye Welch. Your mama loves the schedule-making, bossy, helpful, emotional, bright, articulate girl that is you. Today you wrote me a note. You always are writing notes to people or drawing them pictures. Today's note said: Dear Mom I love you Thank you for letting me have a spa. I can't wiat to have my nails and toenails panted! Love Lily

Later in life, we two, may have trouble and issues and shouting matches. But let it be said now, when at 7 years old, you think looking exactly like me is the best thing in the world, flaws and all: We, my darling, oldest daughter, are cut from the same cloth. That makes the 2 of us, unstoppable! Auntie Jo calls it "works matters to completion" and it's a good thing. ;)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's School Time Again

It was 1985. Third grade. I was working on 2-digit multipliers. You know, 32 X 46. And I wasn't any good at it. For some reason, I just didn't get it. Could not understand the concept. At some point, I must have figured it out because I did successfully graduate from high school over 15 years ago. But the die was cast. From that point on, I believed I was bad at math.

Until I got a job working with money.

Not just counting it, but balancing tills, balancing thousands of dollars worth of utility payments and checks. And I was good at it. Very good. I could find a penny when no one else could. And I enjoyed it. And I was very surprised. I didn't know this about myself until after my first foray into college. Who knew?

But I still liked working with nursing home residents and have thought I would be good in a top spot as an administrator.

So I have been torn.

I was scheduled to go back to school this past January, but I was not able to do that. Brian's promotion-related work demands meant I wouldn't have anyone to watch the kids for the Wednesday night and Friday morning class I was scheduled to take. I missed starting another semester. I know I could take online courses, but I need someone to teach me. I want to go to class and take notes.

Here we are again, with another semester is drawing near. But I think I've come to a decision and it's not nursing home administration. It's a hard field in which your license can be on the line for the mishaps of your predecessor. Most facilities are owned by corporations whose number one concern is the bottom line. Low census? Goodbye! The average tenure of an administrator is 18 months. Not long enough to do anything. It's a revolving door industry and I doubt much is going to change in the next 10 years. My number one concern in dealing with nursing home residents are the residents and as an ombudsman, I don't have to worry about the bottom line or any of the administrative problems.

In 3 years, all of my children will be in school. I never thought that day would come. But in the meantime, I'll be plodding along working toward my accounting degree. I recently read an article about 2 San Jose State University classmates who were gunned down in a parking garage by the husband of one of the students, who then killed himself. How sad. Both of those students had recently graduated with degrees in accounting and were slated to start jobs at PricewaterhouseCoopers. I began to think how much I would love to have a job lined up at one of the Big Four.

Every industry, every field needs accountants and financial analysts. I don't want to hang a shingle. I want to work in in a huge accounting firm and just be a cog in a wheel for a while. There is something appealing about going to work in an office and just counting beans. UTA has a 5-year Professional Program in Accounting where I can earn my BS in Accounting and my Master's in Accounting or Taxation at the same time in 5 years, and be ready to sit for the CPA exam.

And later, I can go to school for another semester and get licensed as a nursing home administrator, if I still feel compelled. But I won't be locked into anything. I'll have the freedom to do whatever I want. And I can live with that.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's A Morbid Day In The Neighborhood

You wouldn't believe this, but I am extremely tenderhearted. My parents used to say I wore my feelings "on my coat's sleeve". I find myself to be moved by the plight of others. Never is this more evident than when I am at a funeral. I always cry, no matter whose funeral it is. I cry for the what-might-have-beens, and because the family is experiencing such loss. I can easily put myself in their position and think about how I would feel.

Which is why putting our wills together the last few days and discussing our final arrangements has been, well, such a downer. Planning who will take care of my children (and asking those people!), planning who will manage the inheritance those children would get (and asking those people!) has put a cloud over my head. Putting together Health Care Directives about end of life issues has left me feeling gloomy. Artificial nutrition and hydration? Or not? Autopsy or not? Who will make sure my wishes are carried out if Brian is not here?

Did you know you can have a cremation service? Where your loved ones can gather round a window and watch "the placement of the person's casket in the cremation chamber"? In industry-speak, it's called a "committal ceremony" and it replaces the graveside service for someone who wishes it to be cremated. Of course, unlike a burial, in a few days, your loved one is back in your possession, weighing about 4-6 pounds.

I do have a morbid streak, a fascination with the ins and outs of the funeral industry, and have for years, but the committal ceremony, witnessing your loved one being placed in an oven is too much, even for me. When my mother died, I remember how weird and creeped out I felt being at the funeral home, making her arrangements, knowing she was behind a closed door having God knows what done to her. I know she would have died all over again knowing Doug Martin had seen her naked. I guess it's a good thing these indignities happen when we can no longer protest.

When my mother's body was finally ready to be viewed, my father, brother and I stepped up to the casket, made out of Texas pecan wood, and looked at her. It was true: she looked years younger and always fabulous in red, her favorite color. In the stillness and silence of that moment, we heard a beeping. Standing by the casket, in the silence, it could be heard plainly. It was the pain pump that had been inserted into her body years before in order to handle the constant pain she had from an old on-the-job injury. It seemed comical at that point in time that while her body had given up, there was her morphine pump, dependably pumping morphine. It gave us a private laugh at a time one was needed.

I am going home next weekend and while I am there, I will go to the funeral home and do some pre-planning. I will visit the cemetery where I plan to be buried and pick out a plot. I am hoping to do this now, and never have to think about it again. Because all of the hard stuff will be done and arranged and my heirs, whoever they may be, will know what I want. And if any of you are still around after I am gone, please make sure one of my final wishes is carried out, as described here, over 2 years ago.