Wednesday, August 31, 2011

“It could be nothing.”

PHOTO: Gary and I have been in the ring working out. We're ready for the next fight.


So, the day didn’t turn out like we’d planned. We were just running to Mayo for a 24-hour period to get Gary’s three-month PET scan and hear that all is well and then back home to get ready for a Memorial Day celebration with our kids and grandkids. However, how does that line in the old John Lennon song go: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Or something like that.

I could tell by the way Dr. Quevado was squinting at the PET scan on his computer that things weren’t right. He’s a nice guy, an excellent doctor and has treated us extremely well. “It could be nothing,” he said.

I hate those words. I’ve heard them too many times in the last year and a half, and the IT has always turned out to be something. The first time I heard those words, IT turned out to be a rare form of melanoma. The next time, the IT was cancer in the lymph nodes. The next time, IT was a raging infection where the cancerous lymph nodes had been. And, now? The IT is a small black dot on a PET scan on the back of Gary’s leg. So, forgive me if those words give me no comfort.

I’ll tell you what does give me comfort though… the twenty or so emails and Facebook messages we’ve received in the last four or five hours that are filled with encouraging words, prayers, and promise of prayers; the squadron of folks back home who are standing at the ready with anything we need, whether it be a casserole, a hug or just a hand clasped in mine.

You know what else gives me comfort? I’m writing this in our little room at the House of Compassion only a few blocks from Mayo. Gary and I are lying on our bed. Every once in a while, we’ll take the other’s hand for a moment or two. He’s got his earphones on and listening to a TED Talk on his ipad. It’s a nice distraction for him. I’m writing to you, it’s a nice distraction for me. But that isn’t the what else I mean The what else is that in this little room amidst our individual distraction ploys sits our Father, God. He’s at the foot of our bed. His presence is as real as to me as Gary’s. I’m pretty sure the angel, Gabrielle, is over in the chair on my left. And, the mighty warrior angel, Michael, is across the room guarding the door. Dear ones, that gives me peace that passes understanding. I don’t know what the biopsy will show in a couple of days, but it doesn’t matter, not really. Because whatever that “it could be nothing” turns out to be, a whole crowd will walk with us down the path. Some will be just ordinary, but precious humans, and some will be the Holy of Holies. We’re in good hands anyway you look at it.



Tuesday, August 30, 2011


PHOTO: See that big, honking bike seat? I conquered it! Fifteen miles, baby!


Sorry, I’m a little late posting the blog. I have a good excuse though. Gary and I are heading off to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for his three-month PET scan this morning. As many of you know, my husband was diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma last year. However, the good news is that since his surgery, he’s been cancer-free for a year now. We just have to take a little jaunt to Mayo every few months so they can keep an eye on him.

Now, on to the exciting news. I did it! Yesterday morning LuLu and I took our first fifteen-mile bike ride! After four months, I was finally able to overcome the cold, wind, heat, weird furry animals and a whiny cowgirl and reach my goal of riding LuLu for fifteen straight miles. By the time we pedaled our way back up the driveway, two hours later, the cowgirl was giving me the silent treatment (which was fine with me), however, the Fake Knee and the Good Knee were griping out the wahzoo. Nonetheless, I did it! Fifteen Miles and I’ve lived to tell about it.

Yeah, I know, a fifteen-mile bike ride is no big deal, but for a middle-aged gal (remember, I plan on living until I’m 120 years old) it is a real feeling of accomplishment.

I’ve had more important goals, more fun goals, and more creative goals in my life. But, this one was a real challenge. I had to overcome some health issues such as a Fake Knee and a whiny cowgirl, and some mind-over-matter issues like laziness and I’d/rather/be/doing/anything/else/but/this kind of trash talk. It feels great to have met my goal, and except for that twinge in my knee and the need to carry a pillow for the cowgirl to sit on for the next couple of days, I feel wildly good.

So, tell me, have you made any goals lately? Have you reached them? Are you still working on them? What have been your roadblocks and how have your overcome them? Another question I’d like to hear your answer to— why make goals in the first place? Are they a great motivator or do they just set you up for failure? Let me hear from you.

I’ll be in touch when we’re back from Mayo,


Thursday, August 25, 2011



LuLu-sim #26: Quitting is for sissies and we all know what happens to sissies. They grow into lazy, scary little people who live under bridges and grow warts on their noses and... no, wait that's trolls, whatever...

This morning while riding LuLu I found myself looking forward to the end of the ride. It wasn’t a particularly hard ride. I was riding against the wind in parts and that always harder, but the morning sun was out, there was an autumn crispness in the air, I was feeling good, yet, my enthusiasm was waning. I mean I’ve been at this bike-riding thing since April. LuLu isn’t as shiny as she used to be. The cowgirl hated that bike seat as much this morning as she did that very first morning, and well, I’m waning.

What is it about us humans that we can’t sustain our excitement for whatever project we’ve taken on? Why, when the newness wears off, or it gets a little hard, or we get a tad bored, or whatever, we find ourselves wanting to pull away… stop … sit on the couch and eat huge, honking bon bons with gooey caramel centers?

If it’s one think I truly do not like about us frail humans, it is our lack of stick-to-it-tiveness. Is that a word? Our, oh so honed talent of walking away from something when something newer and shiner distracts us, or even more pitiful than that, when we just get lazy and want to quit.

We do that with diets, exercise programs, friendships, marriages, church or commitments of any kind, weeding, or house painting projects where walls are painted but we’ve lost interest before we can get the trim painted (okay, I’m telling on myself on that one). You know what I mean? What do we do about it?

Well, what I want to do is curl up on the couch with a bowl of Moose Tracks ice cream, but what should I do about it? Fight it, that’s what.

I love LuLu. I love the way I feel when I pull into my driveway after a twelve-mile bike ride knowing I did it. I absolutely am in awe of how much better and more functional the Fake Knee is since I started riding LuLu. I love leaving that pesky rooster in the dust when he starts his funny business. I love everything about getting on my bike in the mornings and riding… so why would I give that up? I’m not! I’m gonna fight, friends. I’m going to fight through the desire to skip a day, then two days. I’m going to fight against my lazy nature. I’m going to look for ways to keep it fresh and fun… and I’m going to remember the promise I made to myself to get healthier.

Whatever it is that you’re struggling with to stay on task, to fulfill your commitment to, whether it be some sort of exercise, or a project or even the most important, a precious relationship, fight through it, dear ones. Fight for it. Don’t let it get away from you. Because you’ll lose more than just a healthy habit or a finished project or a relationship, bit by bit, you will lose yourself.

Hang in there… pedal through it.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011


PHOTO: Me, LuLu and our corn.


LuLu-ism #26: Vegetables should not be scary.

LuLu and I were tooling down a nice shady lane the other day enjoying ourselves when I realized there wasn’t a tree in sight or a cloud or anything, so where was all the shade coming from? It’s the end of summer and in Wisconsin our corn crop is at it’s peak; and out in the country where I live, corn rules and apparently, provides shade. No fooling. The corn was so tall all around me that I started to get spooked. Ever thought about how many movies have corn as the theme? Children of the Corn, Field of Dreams, whatever that Mel Gibson movie was a few years ago where aliens did their artwork in the cornfields with that long deadly toenail? Seriously, what is it about a field of corn that brings out the Carrie in us?

I remember once when I was about seven or eight visiting my aunt and uncle in Tennessee. They lived miles out into nowhere. As the grown ups visited, I started wandering around. For whatever reason, they had a pen of turkeys out back that drew my attention. Ever see that bird up close? Ug-gu-lee, folks. They also had a bunch of free roaming chickens. I don’t know what it is about me, but even at a young age, chickens sensed something in me that riled their feathers. The rooster took offense at my seven-year-old self and decided to impress the ladies by pecking at my shoelaces. Of course that scared the bajeebies out of me and I took off running—straight into a cornfield. When the rooster finally gave up chase, I had no idea which way was up. I could see nothing but cornstalks. After about what seemed like seventy-two hours, I emerged from the cornfield sweaty, tear stained and minus my shoelaces. I ran to my mother knowing she must be sick with worry because I had been missing for days, right? Nope. She didn’t even know I was gone, but she did want to know what had happened to my shoelaces.

Corn. It gives us fodder for some pretty awful movies. But in late summer it also can be manna from heaven roasted on the grill and dipped in an old coffee can of melted butter… and it makes great shade.

Who made the corn? God did. Nice idea don’t you think?



Thursday, August 18, 2011


The LuLu Chronicles

LuLu-ism #25: When you don’t know what to do or where to turn, I always find chocolate helps.

Yesterday I was riding LuLu and trying to decide which route to take. I have several routes ‘clocked’ out on the car so I know how far I’ve ridden. If I just want a quick ride, I pedal around our three-mile block. If my legs are feeling good and I want to add a couple more miles, then I might decide to keep riding on past the graveyard and round by the softball field.

Well, yesterday I was trying to decide which way to go. Left toward the lake or straight ahead toward town, when I looked down and saw a spray-painted arrow in the middle of the road that pointed straight ahead. So I did. I went straight. A mile later, I came across another painted arrow that pointed left, so I turned left. I figured someone was trying to tell me something. I ended up riding in an eight-mile big circle.

Don’t you wish it were that simple? You need to make a decision, do I go here or there, do I say yes or no; and then suddenly a sign appears and tells you what to do. How cool is that?

In my life, I’ve begged for signs. When trying to decide whether to move here some thirty-five years ago, my husband and I lamented about what to do. How I longed for a sign from God with a hint. I would have settled for a white fleece to be thrown in my front yard like He did for Joshua back in the old Biblical days telling him ‘yah or nay’. When we had to decide if we should make an offer on that old red house on Cedar Street, we stewed and drove past it a hundred times trying to get a read on our hearts, our finances, our dreams. A sign spray-painted on the front sidewalk assuring us this was the deal of a century would have been nice.

Decision making opportunities present themselves daily and for the most part there’s not a sign nailed up anywhere telling us what to do… except… I am a great believer in prayer. More than once after some conversation spent with The Big Guy I have felt a nudge to lean one way or the other. A sign? Well, I’d much rather have a big, flashing, red billboard plop down in my driveway with the answer scribbled on it, but a nudge will do.

Tomorrow on LuLu maybe I’ll ride until I run across a Stop sign…wouldn’t the cowgirl love that?


Monday, August 15, 2011

Back in the Saddle again...

Photo: Me and the hubs at the Alamo this spring. Cute guy, huh?

The LuLu Chronicles

LuLu-ism # 24: A husband who still flirts with his wife after forty years of marriage is all right by me.

LuLu and I have been reunited! I know some of you were beginning to think that I had abandoned my little pink bike for good. It has been a busy, busy summer month, but alas I am home and will be here for a while.

This morning I was awake early, saddled up and took a six and a half bike ride. LuLu was like a filly out of the stall, raring to go. Picture in your mind’s eye, a frisky Tennessee Walking horse prancing around the ring at the county fair. That was my LuLu. I was surprised how easy it was for the Fake Knee to get back into the rhythm of pedaling. A quick spin on Rusty, my trusty stationary bike sitting up in the loft, and the knee was good to go.

And then there was the cowgirl.

About mile two my behind (the cowgirl) started whining like a thirteen-year-old who’d just found out she’d have to wear braces for another year. You’d think LuLu’s bike seat was made of pure thorns. But I didn’t heed all the fuss. I kept on pushing through and got back home and waddled into the house like a true trail rustler.

I’ve also been reunited with the hubs, Gary Cleveland. The sweet man toughed it out while I was out of town for two weeks. Not sure what he fed himself, but I do happen to know that one of his favorite snacks is Oreos smeared with mayo. We took a bike ride together on Sunday, just a quick spin around our three-mile block. And wouldn’t you know, the man tried to impress me with his bike tricks. The minute we got in our driveway, he gets off his bike, which he’s dubbed ‘Garth’, and sits backwards on the handlebars and starts pedaling towards me in the driveway. Murphy is jumping and barking at him like a circus dog. I’m clapping and cheering him on as my heart does this little pitter-patter thing.

I don’t know about you folks, but I think the hubs missed me. It’s good to be home.



Wednesday, August 10, 2011


PHOTO: Here I am as a cutie putie in Oak Ridge, TN.

The LuLu Chronicles

Some of you may remember the blockbuster mini-series that aired on television in the middle 70s, Roots. It was author, Alex Hailey’s account of his ancestry beginning with the capture of his great-great-great grandfather, Kunta Kinte, in Africa. It was a fascinating story that had us all running to discover our own roots and family trees.

For the last few days, I’ve been seeped up to my hairline in my own story. I was born six years after the Japanese surrendered to President Truman—an act that was precipitated by our country dropping atomic bombs on two of their cities. The uranium and plutonium that made those bombs so devastating were mixed and made in the city of my birth, Oak Ridge—a city that was built for that purpose and that purpose only.

As I explored Oak Ridge this past week, all sorts of memories flooded over me: the backyard I captured fire flies in with a mason jar; the house where I made mud pies and cooked them on my little metal toy stove; my first grade classroom where my first boyfriend, Bobby, sent me a note asking me if I would be his girlfriend, check ‘yes’ or ‘no’. (With my mother’s approval I checked ‘yes’.) The memories kept washing over me. Everywhere I looked I felt my fingerprints could visibly be seen, left by a child who once romped in this place.

While my childhood was filled with mostly happy memories, there are some dark ones that loom just to the side—memories that once tried to hold me captive. Fortunately, I broke free of those many years ago, but coming back to Oak Ridge made those old scars tingle a bit.

The mix of happiness and sorrow is a strange one. Most of our histories are made up of both. The good news is that we get to choose which one will reign and form us. By the grace of God, and I mean that literally, I chose happiness and used it to beat down the sorrow with a big stick.

Next week, I’m back home in Wisconsin and finally LuLu and I will be reunited. I’ve got some catching up to do, much to the chagrin of the Fake Knee and cowgirl. See ya’ll back at home.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Secret City

PHOTO: Some of the first housing in Oak Ridge were trailors... lot and lots of trailors.


I’ve been in Oak Ridge, Tennessee for the past two days. It’s the city of my birth. Yep, 60 years ago, little Debbie Doughty made her debut and joined her big brother and parents in our country’s Secret City. I was born in 1951, but a few years earlier in 1943, these gorgeous green hills felt a disturbance in the force as bulldozers and atomic reactors shoved their way onto the peaceful landscape. By August 6, 1945, the proud, but clueless citizen’s of Oak Ridge woke up to the news that they had help build the first atomic bomb that had wiped Hiroshima from the world map.

So, why am I here and not out riding LuLu across the Wisconsin countryside with abandon and flourish? Research. My next novel has the 1943 Oak Ridge as a backdrop and I needed to come ‘home’ to get my bearings. I haven’t lived here since first grade, but it has been amazing how I’ve been able to sniff out schools and houses and other landmarks I can only vaguely recall. Of course, my mom is along and has been sniffing right along with me. Yesterday she showed me the very first little house I ever lived in. She’s also shown herself to be a pretty good research assistant as I had her in the local library and up to her eyeballs in copies of old photographs she needed to catalog for me.

Our work here is nearly finished and tomorrow we’ll head back to Memphis, and then by weeks end, I’ll head home to Wisconsin and my sweet hubby… oh, and LuLu.

I’ve been blessed this week two-fold: I’ve had a homecoming of sorts and have been able to reconnect to a part of me that has been almost lost, at the same time, had the fun of digging in old, dusty files and discovering long forgotten photos (one of my most favorite things to do); AND I’ve gotten to spend some special time with my mom. I’m one blessed giddy gal.

Say, have you had anything good come your way lately? Anything? If so, smile and thank our Creator for such loving attention to detail—I hear it’s one of His specialties.



Wednesday, August 3, 2011


PHOTO: The Fab Four who gave my teeny-bopper life its music...


LuLu-ism # 23: If you think paisley bell bottoms were to die for, paired with ‘Beatle boots’ and a guru shirt no head was left un-turned.

The reunion with my childhood friends has gone great. Last night we sat on the couch and went through all of our childhood/teen photo albums together. It just doesn’t get any better than paisley, madras, surfer shirts, white jeans and ‘Beatle hats’. If nothing else the three of us were certainly trendy in our fashions. We laughed at the times we ironed our hair on an ironing board with a real iron and taped our bangs to our foreheads. Another beauty aid was to sit in the sun with real lemon juice on our hair to lighten it. I don’t think it ever made us ‘blond’, however, we did smell a tad like a fruit bowl at the end of the afternoon. What a bunch of goobers we were.

Then we started all of the “remember when’s”. Good thing there’s three of us, because what I couldn’t remember someone else could. We probably had one complete memory between us. We have chattered non-stop for about 24-hours now and my sides hurt from laughing at my goofy friends. They, of course, have absolutely no reason to be laughing at me because I was the picture of decorum and sophistication during my teen years. Those blue pointy glasses did too make me look so mature and wise beyond my age!

Then we got serious and today, we got out all of the pictures of the husbands, the grown children, the grandchildren, and anything that would bring us up to date on each of our lives. After all, we haven’t all been together in the same room since 1970. I, of course, showed off pictures of LuLu as if she was my most favored child. My friends are pretty impressed with her sleek frame and shiny basket. But what they’re most impressed with it how good I am getting around. They knew about the Fake Knee ordeal and half expected me not to be able to get out of the car when I drove up into the driveway. I’ve given all the credit of my new found mobility to LuLu and our 12-mile bike rides.

We discovered a black and white photo of the three of us at about age 15 standing together wearing our madras Beatle hats, hip hugger jeans and laughing—laughing only the way fifteen-year-olds can— nothing held back, future all out in front of us, and with a look in our eyes that oozed dreams and hopes and adventure. What a gift to once again see myself through those young eyes.

I thank God for today and my sister/friends, for the way He has protected us and brought us to this moment of reunion and restoration. How He must love us.



Monday, August 1, 2011


PHOTO: A little yard-trinket I have in one of my flower beds that reminds
me of a promise I made once... a promise I'm still trying to keep.


LuLu-ism #22: If at first you don’t succeed, quit your whining and get over it; then start again— only be better at it this time around.

LuLu was looking good when I got home on Saturday. Her chain well oiled; Her spokes shiny; Her pedals mud free. She looked perfect. Untouched. A vision of loveliness. We both hated it. She should be more scuffed up if you ask me, not looking new and un-ridden. She thinks so too. If she could talk, she wouldn’t be talking to me. Unfortunately, I’ve neglected her in favor of my stint at camp. I came home for a day and a half and now, I’m sitting in a motel room in Elizabethtown, Kentucky on my way to 1) a reunion with a couple of my childhood friends, 2) a research trip for my next book, and 3) and a road trip with my mom. Those are all good things, but my bike is getting the short end of the deal… so is my Fake Knee and my health in general. How long does it take for your body to revert back to its general unhealthiness after you’ve interrupted you regular exercise routine? I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m afraid I’m about to find out.

I’ve worked hard since April to build up my stamina, my flexibility around the Fake Knee, and the tolerance level of my cowgirl only to undermine everything with my absence. I really must get myself a bike rack. I’m thinking LuLu would love a road trip, don’t you? I’ll have to make plans for that.

Anyway, I’m gone again. But, I’m writing to promise you and LuLu I will try and get some kind of exercise while I’m gone, even if it’s just stretching and flexibility stuff for the Fake Knee. Of course, I’m traveling south. When I pulled into the motel parking lot tonight at 8 p.m. the temp was 94 degrees. I’m going to get in touch with my southern sweaty roots right quickly I do believe. Anyway, that’s my promise: exercise of some kind.

Have you made any promises lately that you’re having trouble keeping? Whether it’s developing a healthy exercise routine, or a new diet, or praying more, or promising to be more encouraging to those around you—whatever it is that you want to do but are failing to do, I want to encourage you to keep trying. If you fail at it one day, forgive yourself, wipe yourself off, lay your head down on your pillow and wake up the next morning determined to try again. Promises are sacred and are meant to be kept.

A happy more successful tomorrow, ya’ll,