Big Red Shoes and Tiny Little Hats

Can you imagine having a baby small enough to wear this hat? 
Three of my very slender fingers fit in this tiny little hat

My son weighed 7 pounds and 8 ounces when he was born 2 weeks shy of his due date.  I was terrified I would hurt him, and he seemed so small.  He weighed nearly 4 times what some of the super premie babies born or transferred to the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center do.  I can’t imagine having a baby that small and having to watch them fight for survival.  It would heartbreaking.  Thankfully Ronald McDonald Houses across the country provide a warm shower, cozy bed, and a hot meal to families of children who are hospitalized due to prematurity, illness, or injury.  They help make the day a little brighter and easier, for so many families who are clinging to hope.  



Today Bluegrass Junior Woman’s Club was recognized by the Ronald McDonald House of the Bluegrass for our support to their organization and the room that we sponsor.  It was heartwarming to see the clubs name on the door and hear all of the success stories.  They had a county map which listed the number of families from each county, along with the number of nights they stayed cumulatively.  My home county Knox, was one of their top five counties serviced.  Last year 19 families from Knox had stayed at the house for a total of 200+ nights.  I couldn’t help but be curious if anyone from my hometown had stayed in the BJWC sponsored room.  I am from a very close knit community, everyone  either knows everyone else or they are related.  The county is nearly 2 hours away from the hospital, so staying at the house would be a necessity for anyone with a hospitalized premie.  I love knowing that the Ronald McDonald house is there for those families.  In the south, “we take care of our own,” as they say.  

Some of the women from our organization, Bluegrass Junior Womans Club and the only clown I would ever be around
The club took a tour of the house and we snapped a few photos.  Most of us have cooked dinner there multiple times but I had never been given a tour.  Along with our premie caps, the house gave each of us a pin and an umbrella (mine is going to D.C. with me next week).  Our time at the house reminded me to be thankful for so many simple things in my life, especially a healthy child.  It was nice to see the dedication of our club pay off, and know that so many families were helped in a time of need.  

A candid of me chopping veggies for soup, I diced nearly an entire bag of onions

We cooked dinner for the residents of the house.  It always great when you can watch a large group of woman work successfully together.  The club chose Rachel Ray’s Chicken Orzo Soup 


Here is the recipe for anyone interested:

  • cup orzo pasta

  • tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • pound chicken cutlets, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • ounces sliced white mushrooms
  • ribs celery, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 15 ounce can  cannellini beans, rinsed
  • cups chicken broth
  • tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

  1. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the orzo until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes; drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and celery and cook until the chicken is golden-brown, about 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in the cooked orzo, the beans, chicken broth and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat to medium and simmer until heated through. Stir in the parsley. 

When we were done cooking, I sat at the table with my friends and watched as the residents ate.  I couldn’t image what they were dealing with, I just hoped they were enjoying a peaceful, delicious meal.  I came home to a happy, healthy little boy and a heart full of gratitude.  
There are so many ways to help your local Ronald McDonald House.
1. Donate money
2. Plan a dinner with a group of friends
3. Volunteer at the house or at the family room in the hospital
4.  Collect soda pop tabs
5.  Host a fundraiser
6. Collect items for their “wish list”
You could easily help make a difference in the life of one child and their family.  Please visit Ronald McDonald House of Lexington to find out how you can help or volunteer!  

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa



XOXO ~Jess 

Salt on a birds tail…

asouthernmother
February 7, 2013

When I was younger my Paw (maternal grandfather, for those know don’t know me) would tease me about random things.  I guess he never realized that telling a very curious and independent six year old tall tales might interrupt their evening and summer.

I grew up in rural southeastern Kentucky.  I ran barefoot in the field, played in the “creek”, and I caught “craw dads” with my brother.  I played with cousins and I was always the “boss”.  I was the oldest of 7 grandchildren and 4 siblings.  My curly blonde hair made it easy for me to convince my great grandmother and grandparents to be at my beckon call.  I was rotten, and they made me that way.  Apparently, I once called my grandparents without my parents knowledge (or permission) and had them drive 2+ hours to pick me up in Virginia.  I wish I could remember the look on my parents and grandparents face when they pulled in the driveway to pick me up.  I loved my childhood and growing up in a small town.

My grandparents live on the side of a mountain that overlooks the main road.  We spent most of our summer afternoons outside under the shade trees watching the cars pass.  My mom had taken my great grandmother shopping, and I stayed behind with my Maw and Paw.  It was a hot and humid, July 3rd.  Paw use to tease us.  He would tell me that if you put salt on a birds tail, they couldn’t fly away.  I must have been obsessed with trying to catch a bird (or any other animal). I couldn’t convince Paw to get me the salt or maybe I didn’t ask, I can’t recall.  I’m not sure what exactly goes through the mind of a 6 year old.  I do know, I went into the house alone to get salt.  It wasn’t a good idea.  

Maw kept the salt and pepper shakers in the upper cabinet next to the stove.  I must have been too lazy to pull a chair over (or I wanted the opportunity to climb), so I opened a lower cabinet door and managed to stand on the countertop.  Okay, so we all know this story isn’t going to end well.  I don’t recall exactly what happened to make me fall.  They assumed I tried to catch myself, which isn’t a good combo when falling from 3+ feet onto a hardwood floor with skinny little arms.  I do remember looking at my mangled arm and thinking “boy am I gonna be in trouble”.  

I know everyone is thinking, that had to hurt.  I’m not sure that I should be thankful but luckily (or unluckily) the severity of my fracture had cut off circulation to my arm.  I couldn’t feel anything.  I guess that might be why, I thought I was having a bad dream.  I was scared to death.  I ran through the house, crawled into my grandparents bed, and covered up to hide.  Luckily, Maw had heard a thump inside the house and came to look for me.  She found me, crying and terrified in her bed.

Paw heard a scream from inside the house and came running.  Maw was hysterical and my arm was a mess.  They wrapped me in a blanket and we were about to start a very long series of emergency room stops on our way to the University of Kentucky hospital.  I was scared and hurting, but I was also about to experience my first random act of kindness by a stranger.  It was a monumental experience in my life and you will have to stay tuned for the rest of the story…

In the Mirror

asouthernmother
February 6, 2013

Two monks were on a pilgrimage. One day, they came to a deep river. At the edge of the river, a young woman sat weeping because she was afraid to cross the river without help. She begged the two monks to help her. The younger monk turned his back. The members of their order were forbidden to touch a woman.

But the older monk picked up the woman without a word and carried her across the river. He put her down on the far side and continued his journey. The younger monk came after him, scolding him and berating him for breaking his vows. He went on this way for a long time.

Finally, at the end of the day the older monk turned to the younger one. “I only carried her across the river. You have been carrying her all day.”
                                                                                     ~Zen 

How often do we carry things with us?  Things we should have let go of a long time ago.  We can carry people and feelings long beyond necessity.  Why is it so easy to hold on to the bad feelings and people, while often letting go of the right people and memories?  Pain can be a very tricky emotion and we often carry it for years.  If you aren’t careful pain can poison your soul, just as the influence of the wrong person can.  

The younger monk carried his anger about the older monk helping the woman all day.  What do you carry around that you should let go?  I carried distrust, hurt, and anger for too long following my brothers murder.  One day I looked in the mirror and I saw a scared, angry, and hopeless woman instead of the carefree, happy, and joyful person who stood there before his death.  

Someone once told me that you can’t let other peoples actions change who you are.  I did exactly that.  I was afraid to walk alone outside at night for fear that my stepfather (or anyone else) was waiting to get me.  I became distrustful of nearly everyone in my life.  I had trusted my stepfather.  We had developed a good stepfather, stepdaughter relationship.  We would watch the history channel, run errands, and I had helped at his market.  We shared holidays and chats about life.  How could I ever trust anyone else?  He took my brother from us in a very cruel and calculated way.  He sabotaged so many of my relationships with people he had never even met.  

The worst emotion was anger.  I was angry at him for taking Brandon, and I was angry at God for letting him.  I still can’t drive through the town where he lives because I honestly fear of what I might do if I saw him.  Anyone who knows me, knows I am incredibly protective, almost to a fault.  I will do anything to protect the people I care about, even if it means hurting myself in the long run.  I can still laugh over Brandon’s supposed “bar fight.”  We got into an argument over my niece and I punched him.  He had been making some poor decisions that I felt would negatively affect Alyssa.  We were arguing about her, and he said he didn’t give a damn.  Alyssa was my first niece and my first baby, those were “fighting words.”  I can shamefully say I punched my brother in the face and I can say he thankfully didn’t punch me back.  When everyone asked about the mark/bruise, he said he got into a bar fight.  I guess technically he was telling the truth, we had gotten into an argument outside of a bar.  

It took a long time for me to realize that I was continually letting my stepfather take things away from me.  He took Brandon, my trust, along with many other people and opportunities.  We should be careful of the baggage that we carry with us.  We can let experiences change you but you need to make sure they change you for better, not worse.  

He who stops being better, stops being good.
                                          ~Oliver Cromwell 

Tomorrow I can save the world, today I’ll just be a silly girl..

asouthernmother
February 2, 2013

So after the initial excitement of being chosen as one of the GFWC ambassadors for the Shot@Life program began to wear off (well…. enough so that I could focus on something else), I started to plan (and panic) about what to wear.  I know it is totally vain and silly, but there is a fine line between professional and frumpy.  We all know a “belle” should never be frumpy and always abide by
this rule.

Never leave the house in sweats.  A girl must be prepared to meet a dashing stranger or an old enemy

And I know my luck, the one time my hair is in a ponytail with no makeup, I’ll bump into the one person I didn’t want to see me (but that is for another rant).  It isn’t being ridiculous, it is an ugly fact about society.  We highly value appearances.  One of my college organic chemistry professors didn’t shave and rarely cleaned under her finger nails (this was a problem because she was an avid gardener).  I refused to ever take her seriously because of her lack of personal hygiene.  I will also never forget her either (and that isn’t a good thing because I can’t remember anything she taught me).  I also work better and feel better, when I am “put together” as they say.  I can put on my Burberry scarf, along with a coat of lipstick and mascara, and I am ready to take on the world!

My Southern roots go much deeper than my accent (or my haircolor).  I like dresses, heels, and pearls of course!  I reluctantly asked about the dress code for Summit, thankfully she reassured me I wasn’t the first to ask.  She told me business casual, which stirred a new debate about what exactly business casual meant among some of the girls.  It didn’t matter to me, I knew I would wear dresses, heels, and hosiery. I will publicly admit I have a new obsession with patterned hosiery (that my husband feels looks trashy no matter the brand or pattern).  I think patterned hose are trendy and stylish, but I wasn’t sure if they were appropriate for Capitol Hill.  I am also guilty of being one of those people that if they don’t know the answer, they google it.  Yes, I googled if patterned hosiery was appropriate business wear… please don’t judge me 😉  I stumbled across a new wonderful blog in the process.

Capitol Hill Style (She has some wonderful fashion advice for all budgets and nice tips on hosiery!)

So I’m more than a week out from leaving for Washington D.C., and my suitcase is packed (it was actually packed yesterday but I was waiting on UPS to deliver my Cole Haan Nike Air heels today).  My jewelry is packed in baggies by outfit/day.  I will need to put my makeup and hair tools into my bag that morning, but I am prepared (at least physically).

Mentally, I am fussing at myself for being neurotic about my clothes instead of focusing on the task at hand.  The next week I am going to devote to brainstorming so I have thoughts and ideas to share during training.  I am also trying to meet all my new “teammates” because over the next year we have to work as a team to help advocate for Shot@Life.  I am guilty of browsing everyone’s facebook page, so I can get a feel for who they are (feel free to browse mine back) .  I also also interested in finding out about how everyone got involved in advocacy.  We all seem to have a story to share.  A special shout out to Myrdin for putting up with all my questions and pestering.. Also if you don’t like cameras or having your picture taken, I’m probably not the person to hang out with but I am sure if you browsed my facebook page you will realize that.

5 Facts you should probably know about me:
1. I have a THICK southern accent, if you don’t understand something I said, just ask me to repeat it I      won’t be offended.

2.  My brother was murdered a few years ago.   I don’t mind talking about it, but it seems to startle others when I first tell them.

3.  I don’t mind voicing my opinion but I also pride myself in respecting the opinions of others.

4.  My son just turned 3 and we have never slept in separate rooms, and certainly never spent the night apart.  My first time away will be in D.C., I might be a tad neurotic.

5. Always smile around me, you never know when I might be snapping a photo and you might end up in the frame!

I am so excited about meeting everyone!  Congrats again and Good luck!  See all of you in D.C.

XOXO
~Jess

#MyLifeIn5Words

asouthernmother
January 30, 2013

It seems like many of my blog posts seem to be inspired by things I read on Twitter.  I saw the hashtag MyLifeIn5Words.  

Happy…. Grateful… Loved… Excited…. Hopeful 

At the moment, those five words seem to sum me up best.  I don’t know that I would have used those same five words a year ago and maybe not a few months ago.  I am finally starting to learn to cope with my brothers murder.  I know I will never truly get over it, but I have found ways to manage the anxiety and loss.  I think I am finally seeing my life with direction and purpose.  I feel that is largely in part to all of wonderful people I am surrounded by.  There are those I have known a lifetime and others barely a moment, but all have had a positive impact.  

Happy:
Adjective
  1. Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.
  2. Having a sense of confidence in or satisfaction with (a person, arrangement, or situation).
Synonyms
glad – fortunate – joyful – lucky – merry – cheerful
I am happy that I have a feeling of purpose, and that I am no longer consumed with anger and hate.  
Grateful:

Adjective
Feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful.
Synonyms
thankful – appreciative – beholden
I am so very grateful to my family and friends so standing by me the last few years.  I know it hasn’t been easy and I was exhausting to deal with.  You are loved and appreciated more than you may ever know.  
Love:

Noun
An intense feeling of deep affection: “their love for their country”.

Synonyms

noun.   affection – fondness – darling – passion

I finally feel loved and I have built deep trust in several relationships.  I lost the feeling of being loved and my security in relationships following Brandon’s murder.  I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to truly trust anyone, and trust is paramount in any relationship.  


Excited:

Adjective

Very enthusiastic and eager.  

Synonyms
elicit, enkindle, evoke

I have so many exciting things happening in my life.  I finished a Tough Mudder in the fall (and holy cow was it tough, mentally and physically).  I have a few big races coming up and I want to run a full marathon by fall.  I love to watch my son grow and develop day by day into an independent, kind, and well-manner “little man.”  Bluegrass Junior Woman’s Club is always doing incredible things in our local community and I am excited to see what the future holds for our group.  My new friends at Shot@Life have inspired me already and I am looking forward to working with all of them.  

Hopeful:

Adjective
Feeling or inspiring optimism about a future event.


Synonyms

promising – sanguine – up-and-coming
I feel like there are so many promising projects and opportunities just on the horizon.  I have both a mission and a purpose, I am not sure I had previously.  I am hopeful that the coming months and year bring more inspiration and healing.  
Happy Tuesday!  
XOXO
~Jess   



Vaccination: More than JUST a shot

asouthernmother
January 27, 2013

As a mother, I can remember all the important milestones in my sons life.  The first time he said, “Mama,” we were driving through Boise, Idaho.  His first steps were in our living room.  He stole my heart for the first time, the very moment I laid eyes on him.  I am hopeful I will get to see many more milestones in his life.  His college graduation, marriage, and eventually the birth of his own child, are  just a few I would be overjoyed to see.  There are millions of children and parents who won’t get a chance to see just one of those milestones, because they do not have access to vital vaccines.  Measles, polio, rotavirus, and pneumonia are just a few of the diseases which could be prevented with very simple vaccines.


I believe that vaccines are a personal choice for each parent.  I never second guessed my choice to vaccinate my son Gabriel.  I just hope that if a parent chooses to not vaccinate, they would make an educated decision with their healthcare provider and without the aid of anti-vaccination propaganda.  We lived outside of the United States in Bogota, Colombia.  Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, measles,  yellow fever, and malaria are all prevalent in that country.  Malaria is the only disease which cannot be prevented with a vaccine.  We went to Bogota completely prepared.  Parents in other nations would be willing to walk miles for a chance at getting vaccines, while people here often take those opportunities for granted.  I was saddened recently to hear the story of a father in the U.S. who had denied his daughter access to the flu vaccine, and she died shortly after from complications of the flu.  It is heartbreaking to believe that her life could have possibly been saved with the use of the flu vaccine.  Last year 26 children died of flu complications in the U.S. alone.  That could have been 26 chances at high school proms or drivers licenses that were lost to something as simple as the flu.  There was 1.5 million children who died in developing nations of diseases which could have been prevented through vaccines.  

Gabe and I will the Presidential Palace guards in front of the Colombia Presidential Palace in Bogota
The United Nations Foundation developed the Shot@Life program as a grassroots movement to advocate for and provide vaccinations to children around the world.  They work in conjunction with the GAVI Alliance. They provide vaccination opportunities through various other programs and organizations such as the World Health Organization, World Bank, and United Nations Children’s Fund.  There are so many ways to help through both donation and advocacy.  Did you realize that $20 would cover the cost of vaccination for measles, polio, pneumonia, and rotavirus in one child?  


It has taken me 30 years to discover my true passion in life which is advocacy.  I would love to give a child at shot figuring out their passion too!  What would you give a child a shot at?  Please read more about Shot@Life at their website www.shotatlife.org  

Leaving Harlan Alive

asouthernmother
January 25, 2013

 

You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive is one of my favorite songs performed by Brad Paisley (and I am still ticked he did not perform it the last time I saw him at Rupp Arena).  It has special meaning to me.  It is about the long and hard road that many coal miners in Harlan, Kentucky (and across this region) face.  I am proud to be a coal miners daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter (and niece, better not forget my uncle Mike).  I was born because my grandfather left Harlan alive.  

Most of the nation became familiar with Harlan, Kentucky not from a Brad Paisley song but from the television show Justified.  Who doesn’t love a little US Marshall Raylan Givens?  Although Harlan and its residents aren’t portrayed in the most flattering light, it brought attention to an area I hold dear to my heart.  Nearly 13% of the employed population in Harlan works for the Coal industry.  They are plagued with the same problems that much of southeastern Kentucky is ridden with.  A lack of jobs, poverty, and drugs are just a few of the socioeconomic disadvantage which trouble a beautiful mountainous landscape.
 

I have the utmost respect for coal miners, especially those who work in some of the harshest conditions possible just to provide a basic existence for their families.  They often struggle day in and day out just to “make ends meet” and they never give up.  Mining isn’t a safe profession either.  I have heard the gossip down in the mining camps following an accident, and seen the worry consume them, hoping it wasn’t one of their own.  It was a realistic fear for many mining families, which often had grandfathers, fathers, brothers, siblings, cousins, etc. working in the same mine.  

Coal Miners memorial Harlan Kentucky


I can’t and won’t take sides in the great debate about the coal industry in Kentucky.  My grandfather suffers from Black Lung and melanoma, a lifetime in the mines is hard on the body.  Mining kept my family in existence.  Mining still helps sustain many families across the region.  Why would you take away the job openings of those willing to work?  Especially in counties such as Harlan where according to the US census bureau 31% of residents live below poverty level , which is double the poverty average for the entire state.  It is even more heartbreaking that half of those residents live on much, much less than poverty level income.  

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”  

             Nelson Mandela 


I can remember as a child traveling the winding road up KY highway 119 once a month to visit my family in Harlan.  It was a long and often car sick ridden trip for a young child.  My great grandparents George Sr and Lucy Peace, and I believe their parents too are buried on a hillside in rural Harlan Kentucky.  They never left Harlan alive.  I have been back very few times since their death.  My grandfather left for another mining camp in Kay Jay, Kentucky, where he lives to this day.  I think the only time he left was for his tour in the Korean War.  His body weakened and damaged from years in the coal mines, but forever grateful that he provided a home for his family.  My dad worked very briefly in the mines, and we lived in rural southwest Virginia while he did.  He is now a successful barber in Knox County, Kentucky.  

My grandparents, George Jr. and Norma Logan Peace


I’m proud to be a coal miner’s daughter.  It isn’t often highly regarded a profession, but how many people sacrifice their health and safety to provide a very meager existence?  My grandfather isn’t a rich man by worldly means, but he worked hard, loves God, taught me to harm no other living creature (unless you plan to eat it) and is genuinely kind to all that he meets.  It isn’t be hard to be proud to be a coal miners (grand) daughter when you have a grandfather like him, and especially since he left Harlan alive!