Beauty and the Beast

Anyone who knows me knows that I sometimes, every once in awhile, can maybe, occasionally, have a bit of a temper. Nowadays, I do a pretty good job of keeping it in check, but every so often the Beast emerges, especially when I perceive some injustice in the world…or some, usually insignificant, slight directed at me.

So, for several months I had a tire that kept losing air on my Acura MDX–aka Black Beauty. During the last couple of oil changes I kept telling my mechanic about it and he’s like: “It’s normal for tires to lose air.”

Of course, this tire would go flatter much quicker than any other tire.

Finally, it was time for the dreaded Virgina state vehicle inspection. Naturally, the tires were worn from being off balance all the time and I was informed I needed new tires on my 10 year old vehicle. This is our “extra” car that we pretty much only drive when we are taking the kayaks out, so we don’t drive it much anymore…and we didn’t want to invest a lot in maintenance.

To their credit our garage understood this and recommended some, relatively, inexpensive tires for us. The tires got changed, but it ended up being a week before I could pick up the car due to my travel/work schedule.

I go to pick up the car and…the battery is dead. The garage kindly jumped the car for us. I didn’t bother to make it an issue that the battery died while in their care.

I drove the car one time after returning home with the new tires. Again, we don’t drive the car much, and a few days later when I went to take the car out for a spin, one of my brand new tires was completely flat…and the battery was dead again. Urgh.

I was heading out of town for a trip so I asked my wife, who has a much more level head about things like this, to call the garage to send someone to rectify the situation.

Naturally, she didn’t “have a chance to call” so when I got back last weekend, I wasted my Saturday morning putting the ancient donut on the car, jumping the battery and driving my limping, old vehicle back to the garage.

Basically, so that I didn’t totally lose my cool, I simply said “make it right” and left my poor Black Beauty at the garage again.

They called and told me the tire was fine, but I had a bad tire valve. I said, “Okay. Fix it.”

Another week went by before I could get myself back to the garage. So, I went in on this rainy Saturday to pick up Beauty.

I walk in. They know me by name and said: “Mr. Webb, welcome back.” They really do offer good customer service. “It’s only $14 for the new valve.”

WHAT? I was livid! Yes, it’s only $14, but why on earth would I pay you $14 for your utter incompetence. Before I completely lost my mind, the clerk calmly explained that the valve is part of the car and not the tire so it wasn’t covered under the tire warranty. 

While not overly happy about it, I accepted it and paid my $14.

Then I went out to start the car. Battery dead again. 

Now, I hadn’t specifically said to change the battery. Although in my estimation, the battery worked fine when I dropped it off the first time. Now it keeps having issues. If I were to guess, it probably had issues while they drove it in and out of the garage to change the tire, but perhaps not. They never bothered to address this with me, and the battery is dead in their parking lot.

So, I ever so calmly went inside and proclaimed: “The battery is dead again.” I asked if I should go next door to the auto part store to buy a battery (something we have done before to avoid the up charge to buy the part from the garage).

The other clerk offered to jump it or install the new battery.

I trudged next door to buy a bloody battery. Naturally, they only had the expensive one in stock. Since I kept having issues with the cheap Costco batteries I have bought in the past, I decided to go ahead and pay for the “gold standard.”

Walked back to the garage, went inside and spoke to the same clerk. Asked if I could pay for the install (assuming he remembered that he offered to install it for me). “We don’t install customer parts,” came the response. 

I just stared at him.

“He quickly added, but we can find someone to do it for you,” as a favor was the implication, as he kindly directed a mechanic out to help Beauty.

So, now the Beast in me emerged. I could deal with the stupidity of not being able to correctly diagnose the problem with the original tire, with having to buy new crappy tires, with them somehow killing my battery, dealing with a fricking flat in my garage, having to pay for a new valve, and even buying a new battery; however, for you to offer and change my battery and then somehow act like I am putting you out and that you are doing me a favor!!!

As the young mechanic kindly changed my battery in the spitting rain making small talk, I managed to contain my rage. He even walked my spent battery back over to the auto part store so I could get a credit for the turn in, which I then gave the mechanic as a tip.

I decided to simply drive away, because if I would’ve returned to the lobby to “thank” the clerk the irrational Beast would have taken over. Instead, my fellow drivers on the road home got to experience some passive-aggressive road rage. And Black Beauty got to hear some choice words and hate speech that no 10 year old should ever have to hear.

Naturally, I will never go to that garage again…at least until I need my next oil change.

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Sands of Time

The cool, constant Pacific breeze washes over my nearly naked skin giving me not unpleasant goosebumps. Grains of sand carried on the waves of air gently pelt my skin reminding me of recent days, and days long ago, while I roast under the glaring California sun.

I dig my fingers and toes into the protection of the cool, supple sand. I dig deeper hiding from the deep thoughts that consume my fragmented mind. The joyous shrieks of children playing nearby reach my ears. Buckets and shovels in hand take me back to memories of her.

We happily played in the sand next to our very own Ohio ocean. We built moats and castles under Grandma’s learned gaze. This was our paradise as we carried bucket after bucket of grizzly pond water upon our beach to fill the moats, which would tear at the walls then would quickly be absorbed by the sand then disappear.

Or playing in the dry creek bed at Sycamore Hollow, where heaven and earth became one. Our Army men would hide among the sand and stone for hours, living and dying and living again. A short distance away, Grandma would set fire to felled Sycamore branches in preparation for s’mores at dusk shortly after the last Army man falls in the sand.

A shadow momentarily blocks the sun from scorching my eyelids. I open to see a gull drifting on the breeze reminding me of life. He swoops down into a stinking pile of seaweed washed upon the sand by the tide. He munches on the unsuspecting bugs gathered on the alien vegetation reminding me of death.

A boy shouts with glee. He exults to his father that he has shot the gull, yet the stream of water from his gun was carried on the wind striking me along with the pelting sand. The sand and crashing waves remind me of another time, long ago, or was it yesterday. Einstein says “all time is relative.” It becomes difficult to distinguish then from now.

Grandma Gove

Grandma Gove

Droplets of water spray my face as the wave crashes against the side of the boat. Grandma, in an uncharacteristic cowboy hat, sits behind the three of us. She and we squeal with delight as her son, Jon, pilots the raft down the mighty Oregon Rogue passing along the sandy riverbanks and majestic mountains.

Later, she escorts her companion of nearly 70 years along the banks of the Potomac. His frail mind no longer grasps the present as she guides him along the historic sandy paths on the Mall. Monuments of men watch with quiet respect as her never-ending patience and unconditional love envelops him, them and us.

A wave crashes upon the sand snapping me back to the present and recent events. Another wave, and another as water streaks down my cheek cascading upon the sand then disappearing. I see her frail body lying on the cruel bed betraying the memory of the petite, yet strong, wonderful woman we all recall.

Her breathing is quick and deep. Her once immaculately permed hair is now cropped short. She lies in a fetal position, returning to the state from which she emerged 99 years before. Her atrophied hand rests in mine. I dig deeper in the sand, clinging, holding on. Her eyes open slightly. A look of recognition, then a furrowed brow of frustration.

Grandma Gove with Kids

Grandma Gove with Kids

Her breathing grows more shallow. The sand surrounds us, envelops us. I feel like I am drowning. We dig at the sand reaching toward the sunlight, towards each other. But she, and I, and we slip deeper and deeper into the sand. I bend over, water streaming down my cheeks, throat dry as sand.

With a cracked voice I say, “Grandma, we’re going to go now…we love you.” I look with pained realization as I clutch her cold fingers. The last grain of sand has tumbled through the chocked neck of her hourglass, leaving nothing but a cloud of dusty memories through which we wade.

The tears fall, evaporating into the sand. The pleasant and painful memories mix as the waves crash on the beach washing sand out to sea and back again for us to see. Sand carried in the air gently pelts my skin. Nearby a girl shovels sand from her bucket to build a castle. She, and I, and we squeal with delight. The hourglass has turned once more.

In the coming days the tide of sorrow will bring us together to honor her memory, celebrate her life. Then, we will once again scatter like so many grains of sand.

Dedicated to the memory of Eleaner Jane Rooney Gove, Sep. 22, 1915-Jun. 20, 2015.

Composed by Kevin R. Webb at Seal Beach, CA, June 23, 2015.

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The Urban Gardener 

On my way between meetings in DC today, I stopped to take a little break on a bench beside George Washington University’s community garden – an oasis in an always bustling city.

A young woman with a book bag, presumably on her way to summer classes, sauntered from the sidewalk into the garden. I thought perhaps she was just taking an alternative path to get to class. Instead, she stopped at a plot, opened her bag and took out a pair of gloves and garden shears.

She did a little pruning, and then collected a few herbs and veggies, presumably for her dinner later this evening.

Many of my friends and family are horrified at the thought of an urban life, but the urban gardener is a lifestyle I would relish.

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No entiendo

As reported in Taking the Plunge, we became an approved Foster Family 10 days ago. That afternoon, the foster agency called us to see if we could foster our first child!

We have enjoyed welcoming her to our home this past week. To protect her privacy, I won’t say too much except that she is a beautiful, 15-year old girl whose first language is Spanish.

I have been dusting off the few Spanish phrases I know. Luckily for her, the rest of the family understands pretty well. Our son, in particular, speaks the best so she enjoys when he is around to talk to her. This experience will serve as a good excuse for me to actually invest the time to learn the language.

We have been getting to know her. Of course, the best way to the heart is through the stomach, so we have all been cooking together. 

She has introduced us to the art of tortilla making, and last night she made a speciality from her city “pasta con camerones al chipotle” – Delicisio! And SPICY! I love spicy food but DIOS MIO, this was HOT! And I loved it.

I’ve titled this post “No entiendo,” which obviously refers to my lack of understanding of the Spanish language; however, there are much deeper meanings as well.

First, regarding the need for fostering. I simply cannot understand why people do the things they do to children. The things kids must endure from people that are supposed to protect and love them makes me sad, frustrated, angry…it’s incomprehensible!

Secondly, the current state of political dialogue makes me truly afraid. A man killed three people recently stating: “You gotta go!”

Presumably he killed these people because they were from other countries, only guilty of the crime of not speaking English. Now that we have someone in our home who doesn’t speak much English, and certain people running for president who want to “build a wall” to keep people like her out, stories like this one hit way to close to home. But even without our foster child I am still fearful about the rhetoric. The rest of my family tends to speak French while we are out and about.

Does that mean that one of these days we are all gonna be gunned down simply because we chose not to speak English? Do we really want to live in a country where there is this much hate, mistrust and misunderstanding? 

I truly hope that we, as a society, are better than this. That we can open our hearts and minds and be more welcoming and seek to understand one another.

The girl that we are hosting came to the U.S. through circumstances beyond her control. She now resides here. If this is truly the land of opportunity, I hope that we, as a society, can rise above our own mis-guided and mis-placed fears, to ensure that she and others like her can grasp that opportunity, and she no longer needs to endure the things she has  already endured at her young age, and not fear living among us!

   
 

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To Write, or not to Write

After yesterday’s post on Taking the Plunge, I went back and read my old posts.

Not just some of them, but all of them.

Some brought back memories, some made me smile, some made me cry, while a few made me laugh out loud. It made me remember why I started this blog. While I am certainly happy to share my random thoughts and experiences with others, it serves as a wonderful journal of memories for myself. Especially now that I am forgetting things!!!

Then I started looking at the dates. I realized my last post, before yesterday’s, was over a year ago, and I was ashamed that I haven’t kept up with my writing. I realized that I was taking the easy approach of simply doing occasional Facebook posts, and not really capturing more than moments, but my thoughts, ideas and stories I’ve experienced.

Happily, one of the reasons I have not kept up with my writing is that we have been getting out in nature more. We purchased a new house in Lansdowne, Virginia in June 2014, and immediately bought a set of kayaks.

Our house sits about a mile from a put-in at Kephart Bridge Landing on Goose Creek, which drains into the Potomac River. We have managed to get out onto the water many a weekend since, and it has been wonderful.

When we aren’t on the river, we hike along the walking trails in Lansdowne or along the Goose Creek Canal, or at Red Rock Wilderness Overlook a few miles up the road, or Ball’s Bluff Battlefield a few miles beyond that. We even managed to do a day hike along the “roller coaster” section of the AT to Bear’s Den, which I threatened to hike in The Journey Begins with a Single Step. We are simply surrounded by nature, and we have finally been able to get out and enjoy it, after too long of sitting in front of the mind-numbing TV.IMG_2137

Over the past year, we even managed to travel further afield.

We visited my folks in Colorado for my sister’s beautiful wedding, squeezing in a day trip to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, and a hike around Boulder, Colorado. We traveled to Puerta Vallarta, Mexico and tried our hand at paddle boarding in the ocean. We traveled to Seattle, Washington, visiting Snoqualmie Falls and hiking Tiger Mountain.

It has been a great year for getting out and about, but I have still felt like something’s been missing.

Over an evening conversation several months ago with my wise cousin, Dan, I was sharing this with him. This sense that something is missing in my otherwise very full life.

He told me that he was feeling the same way, and that his music, which serves as his wonderfully creative outlet, helped him get out of a rut and help the “Sun to Rise.”.

 

He encouraged me to find my creative outlet…writing for example.

So, six months later, I am taking up my pen (or at least my keyboard) to jot down my thoughts, and perhaps turn a few old journal writings from pen to pixels. Hopefully, I’ll be able to manage to post a little more frequently than once a year.

Hey, whadyaknow? I’ve already doubled last year’s postings!

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Taking the Plunge

Our family recently decided to take the plunge.

When my wife and I were married some 18 years ago, we decided that we would only have two children. We did and we now have two remarkable, intelligent, mature children. We thought it best to only make our replacements and not contribute to an already overpopulated world. But we both like the idea of having a big family, so we often talked about, if we ever had the means, of becoming foster or adoptive parents.

So, faced the the prospect that our two children are now getting ready to go off to college, and since we now are in a place where we feel like we can begin to “give back” to society, we decided a few months ago to take the plunge. We began the process of becoming a foster family!

And what a process!

My wife began researching agencies and we landed on one we thought would be good for us–For Children’s Sake of Virginia— which is a therapeutic foster care agency.

We began to fill out mountains of paperwork, and began to take classes. The paperwork alone was enough to give one pause, but I am convinced the classes are designed to talk families out of fostering. They walk you though scenarios that would most certainly scare off the faint of heart. However, I believe this is a necessary process in order to prepare families for what could happen.

Having survived the training, and answering all of our “what if…” questions, we have decided that it would be an exciting adventure to open up our home to kids in need.

We found out today that we have successfully passed the background check (a special thanks to our friends who served as references for us), and are eagerly awaiting our first placement!

In the coming months, I anticipate reporting more on our trials, tribulations and triumphs of being a foster family. Wish us well as we dive into the deep end!

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Sycamore Hollow

The smell of sawdust mixed with oily gasoline fills my nostrils as the sound of the chainsaw pierces through the wax plugs in my ears. My cousin Steve and I watch from a safe distance as Grandpa cuts a wedge into the stubborn old hickory tree that clings precariously to the sloping hillside.

The three of us once again rose at the crack of dawn and made the 90 minute journey from Columbus, Ohio to this “little piece of heaven” as my Grandpa calls it. We made the requisite stop at Jolly Pirates in Lancaster to pick up a baker’s dozen of donuts that would sustain us on the balance of the drive down and as we work throughout the day. Grandpa always included devil’s food donuts for me…my favorite.

Excitement built as we made the turn from Route 56 in New Plymouth onto Route 328, then onto Two Mile Road, which is barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. We crossed the rickety one lane bridge, and wound a half-mile or so through the hills. As the truck rolled to a stop I jumped out to remove the barrier to the property. Grandpa turned the truck into the lane, tree branches gently caressing the side. I jogged along behind soaking up the smells of pine and bark and running water…and car exhaust. We had arrived at Sycamore Hollow—or as we more commonly referred to it The Cabin—shortly before eight in the morning.

Flowing Creek in the Woods

The Creek at Sycamore Hollow

Back in ’54 Grandpa purchased these 40 acres nestled alongside the glacier-formed rolling hills of Zaleski State Forest in Vinton County. There in a peaceful meadow he built a small cabin in ’56, which has been a nice refuge for our family ever since.

By now, on this cool, crisp November morning of ’82, all the leaves in their brilliant autumn colors had fallen to the ground, crunching underfoot as we unloaded the car. Upon entering the cabin, we heard the mice that inhabit the space between the ceiling and roof scurry to safety. A thin layer of dust covered every surface as it had been several weeks since the last visit. We could see our breath in the cabin as it is 10 degrees cooler than outside.

A few hours later, Steve and I find ourselves here, a hundred yards up the winding creek, watching Grandpa as he makes the second wedge, trying to coax the tree to fall in the desired direction. Sometimes, others would join us, Steve’s father or a family friend or our cousins John and Bryan from Oregon when they came for their semi-annual visit. Soon it will become just Grandpa and me when Steve goes off to college, but for a few years, it was like this day; the three of us performing the ancient ritual—albeit with a chainsaw—of felling a tree to bring warmth to our homes in the form of a burning fireplace.

Slowly, from our perches on a previously felled tree a safe distance away, Steve and I could see today’s victim begin to give way. The distinctive crack is heard as the tree finally gives up her ghost and begins to fall.

Steve yells, “Timber!” And Grandpa scrambles backwards up the slope, chainsaw in hand, trying to avoid the crush of the thorny hickory. As many times as I’ve seen Grandpa do this, I am always amazed that he manages to move in time and avoid cutting off his own leg.

Naturally, as seems to happen with all of our trees, the top of our hickory is hung up in the canopy of her neighbors.

Once Grandpa has determined that she won’t budge he says his customary, “Aw nuts,” and we know it’s safe to approach.

I never heard Grandpa curse. Once I asked him why he said “nuts” when something didn’t go quite right and he said, “Would you rather I swear?” Now at eight years old, I actually thought the word swear was itself a swear word, so I was totally shocked and embarrassed that I made Grandpa say such a horrible thing. I said, “No, no, no, just say nuts, please!”

“Aw nuts!” Our tree is hung up so Steve and I go to work. We take turns casting the rope up into the tree’s lofty branches. It is a heavy rope for a twelve year old, but Steve humor’s me. Eventually, tiring of my lame attempts, he expertly throws the rope up through the branches and down the other side. We maneuver things around and at one point or another, with the help of various axes, saws, leverage bars, climbing, pushing, and saying “aw nuts” and other choice phrases under our breaths…we manage to pull her down like a roped calf.

Then we begin dissecting her. Grandpa and Steve take turns with the chainsaw, limbing the branches, while I hack away with a hand axe. Grandpa calls me over, and for the first time allows me to wield the 16 inch saw…I’m in heaven. We make a big brush pile of the limbed branches to give the forest critters a home for the winter. Bigger branches, three inches in diameter or more, are cut into four foot lengths. Then we go about cutting the trunk into 18 inch stumps, give or take. Finally, we pile the once majestic tree’s parts against an unsuspecting cousin where we will let her season for the coming year.

As heroes following a battle hard fought and won, we traipse the hundred or so yards back to the cabin for our noon feast. Grandma has packed ham and cheese sandwiches, Tab, Pringles, and Chips Ahoy cookies for us to dine upon—and of course we devour whatever donuts remain. The cabin is still as cold as an icebox as the little space heaters don’t make much of a difference in the cool damp space of the cabin. Eventually we migrate outside to finish our feast at the slowly rotting picnic table.

Following our meal, we make our way back out to the woods for our next, more laborious chore. Hauling in last year’s fell.

We search for a while to find where she is hidden, then we begin the death march back and forth, ferrying the too heavy logs back to the open meadow around the cabin. We’ve tried various contraptions for transporting wood over the years—wheel barrow, stretcher, ropes—and again today we try these gadgets expecting a different outcome, but as always we just start carrying the horrible branches. As we trudge back and forth we ask ourselves why we didn’t cut down one of the perfectly good trees around the cabin, but eventually the mind goes numb as we simply will our legs forward. Soon, I am carrying the awful logs alone as Steve begins the chore of splitting the wood, and Grandpa cleans up the equipment for the voyage home.

After loading the split wood into the old, rusty, tan suburban, outfitted with plywood to “protect” the beat-up interior, we load our own weary limbs into the vehicle.

As always, Grandpa pulls into the gas station/general store in South Bloomingville—the outpost in New Plymouth having closed years before. Our labor is rewarded with a Velvet ice cream bar and a crisp $20 bill for each of us.

As we hit the road again to make our way back to the family farm to complete the chore of unloading the wood, the fragrant sweet smell of the tree inhabiting the truck mixes with the odor of oil, gasoline and our chilled sweat. Steve and I know this as the loveliest smell in the world…a joyous smell of a good day’s work…and a day spent with our Grandpa at Sycamore Hollow.

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Deeper Levels of Stigma

A great post about the attitudinal shift we need to make about mental illness and disability.

Unstrange Mind

Robin Williams and Michael J. FoxSince you’re on the internet, you’ve already heard the latest news — Robin Williams’ wife announced that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He hadn’t wanted to announce it publically yet. He had not returned to drug or alcohol use. He was deeply depressed because of the Parkinson’s diagnosis.

The responses I saw, just in the first hour after learning this new information, revealed to me that there is a deeper level of stigma than mental illness. When all we knew was that Robin Williams had succeeded at suicide and that he had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and that he had spoken openly about depression and mania, there was an outpouring of compassion about the pain of depression. A few people aside, people were talking with compassion about depression. People were sharing phone numbers of hotlines. People were telling one another to be there for their…

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The Spider Waits Upon Its Web

We dare to live our lives in the cloud bravely navigating through the electric fibers that entice us, envelop us.

But we would be wise to beware. One day soon, the Web will come down upon us, binding and constricting our movements.

Wrapped up in our own anguish, no longer able to identify ourselves, we shall be consumed by chaos, and civilization shall find its end.

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Run, jump and fly – may you never know the horror of Tuesday the 13th!

Today is the last day of school for my kids. They are “graduating” to 11th grade and 9th grade. Hard to believe I am the father of two high school students.

They, of course, are filled with joy at the prospect of being out of school for the summer. I am certainly happy for them and am excited to think about what life holds for their future…so much potential. However, days like this fill me with melancholy. Especially this day, Friday the 13th of June 2014.

You see, twenty-five years ago today I received the news that my mother died. It was Tuesday the 13th of June 1989.

I am always filled with sadness this time of year because I know that my mom will never have a chance to be there and celebrate the achievements of her grandchildren.

This year, I am also particularly freaked out because I realized recently that I am the same age as she was when she died–44 years old. Far to young to die.

You might be shocked with the straightforward way I am saying “died” rather then the euphemistic “passed away.” Passed away always has a peaceful sound to it–makes the listener more comfortable–but there was nothing peaceful or comfortable about this. The following is not for the faint of heart.

My mom was on her honeymoon with her new husband in the Bahamas. She had a brain aneurism. Their was a trace of arsenic in her system. No one knows how arsenic got in her system or why she had an aneurism. To this day the cause of her death remains a mystery.

My grandfather, her father, was a medical doctor and he was beside himself tying to find a rational answer, some explanation, as to why his daughter never came home. There was none.

I mentioned I was freaked out because of the age thing…well I’m even more freaked out due to a recent episode I experienced.

One month ago, I had this searing pain in my back. It felt like someone had taken a spear and inserted it in my back just below my rib cage. They were twisting the spear, moving it side to side, and back and forth until it popped out if my chest and I couldn’t breathe.

While I was trying to be macho and just press on through the pain like it was nothing, I eventually found myself doubled over in my kitchen and informed the wife I needed to go to the hospital.

So glad I did. Ends up I had a pulmonary embolism (blood clots in my lungs). Apparently these clots can break loose and travel to the heart or the brain causing a heat attack or stroke. YIKES!

After two days in the hospital, I was released with medication to take care of this issue. Now of course, I wanted to know how I got them. Apparently the are two primary ways one can get this: 1. Blood clots in your legs can form during long airplane travel. The clot can break free and move to the lungs. 2. One might have a family history of clots.

While I travel frequently for work, I didn’t have any recent long travel. But now I know to get up and walk around on airplanes!

Having ruled out travel as the cause, I asked the family if anyone was aware of any clots, but no one had any recollection. Now of course, recalling how my mom died, I’m wondering if I have found the cause of her death. While grueling to think about, it does provide some sense of closure. However, it is scary to think it may be hereditary.

Now, as my kids end their school year, I will hug them even tighter, for my mom and for me.

My advice for my kids and everyone brave enough to read this story: Life is short…seize the moment, take chances, and live life to the fullest. Dance, sing, run, jump and fly!

May you never know the horror of Tuesday the 13th!

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