Failure to Thrive

In the medical community, the term Failure to Thrive is defined as “decelerated or arrested growth or a downward trend in growth” and the cause for this medical condition is credited to inadequate nutrition.

I’ve been thinking about this term quite a bit during the past year as America heads into the quickly-approaching presidential election.  I’m on Facebook nearly every day so I’ve had a ringside seat to the mudslinging, the degradation of people’s characters, and the not-really-fact-but-close-enough reporting we Americans have come to expect from the media.  And, like you, I’m disappointed in the choice of presidential candidates (even more so than the past 30 years that I’ve been voting), but I’m even more disappointed in the voters than the candidates this time around (if that is even possible).  Somewhere, somehow, we have let the media take us off the discussion of issues and we have become consumed with the crap throwing, name calling, ridiculous statements, and possibly illegal actions of these two candidates.

The fact of the matter is one of these two people is going to be the next President of the United States.  Over the next four years, our country will be led by someone most of us wouldn’t want to find sitting across from us at the dinner table.  But where we Americans have really dropped the ball this time – where we have really missed the boat – is that we haven’t been discussing the important issues of the day but, instead, have spent all of our time watching funny GIF’s and reading slanderous posters on social media sites to show our agreement for the disdain of our two presidential candidates.

We have failed to thrive, America.  We have come to expect our politicians to be corrupt and immoral, and so they are.  We have come to expect that they will say and do anything for attention and for their own political gain, and so they have.  We have come to believe that nobody in Washington is in it for the common good and, so, very few are.  Then we are shocked and surprised when it comes down to Election Day and the best we can do as a nation is put up The Donald and Hillary.

I’ve spoken to quite a few friends these past six months about who they think they will be voting for and only two of them said there was a specific issue that was so near and dear to their hearts that it made the decision of who to vote for become clear.  Everyone else has simply regurgitated the same offensive character-bashing and then moved on.  Even the Presidential debates have been a debacle, with little time for the discussion of issues and a whole lot of time for embarrassing antics.  After the last debate I read post after post about Donald’s sniffling but not a word about where either of these candidates stand on the issues.  That, my friends, is on us.

Well, in my opinion, we deserve what we got and I’m sad to say I’m just as guilty as everyone else for the state we find ourselves in as a country.  We have become an angry mob with our fiery clubs held high, spouting off how terrible everyone in our government is – but we can’t be bothered to write them an email, send them a fax, or share our opinions of the issues with them.  We will stand in church one moment, then run to our Facebook page when we get home so we can gossip and misalign their characters, even though we’ve never spent a single moment in their presence or been close enough to their actual campaigns to know if what we just read is truth or not.  We can’t be bothered to show up and discuss the issues – hell, we can’t even be bothered to go and vote half the time.

No wonder we are where we are as a country.

Well, I have decided that this is my line in the sand.  I am tired of living my life saying, “I am only one person; I can’t do anything about this mess.”  It’s time I stopped dining off of the political junk food happy meal that these politicians are handing out and go get myself a good home cooked meal of facts instead.

I’ve decided to pick an issue at city level, one at state level, and one at the national level, and I’m going to start making my opinion known to my political representatives; I invite you to do the same.  Spend two hours a month doing a little research and sending an email, or get together with friends to discuss a particular issue and then share your thoughts with those you helped get elected.  Find out from people you respect how they are voting on upcoming issues and ask questions about what brought them to their decision.  Then sit down and decide for yourself where you stand and find out which candidates line up with your particular issues.  Let’s start showing our support for those we want to see rise to the top and start abandoning those who are only in it for the money and the power.

If we get involved and stay involved, the next time a presidential election comes around, we won’t have to hang our heads in shame as we make our way to our local polling place to cast our vote for someone we can only tolerate a little bit more than the other.


Sparrow or Goldfinch?

It’s late August.  For those of us with backyard bird feeders this is the “slow” time of the year.  There’s an abundance of food in the fields so most birds are out in the rural areas taking advantage of the summer bounty.  We won’t see most of the local species again until the first frost hits or the food supply is gobbled up – whichever comes first.  There’s nothing wrong with that – it gives us time to clean out the feeders and get ready for those cold, wintry days that are on the horizon when more birds than we can count will be back, scavenging for the nuts and seeds we’ve safely placed within their grasp.

I can sit out on the deck for an entire afternoon this time of year and only see sparrows: House Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, or Field Sparrows, it really doesn’t matter – one brown bird looks pretty much like every other brown bird.  Whether there is a trace of rust or a stripe of white really doesn’t matter when all you can see is a plethora of ordinary brown birds at your feeders and in your birdbath.

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I have a rather large flock of mixed sparrows living in the brush pile on the other side of my neighbor’s fence.  They make the migration between the chain links several times a day, eating everything they can get their little bird beaks on and clamoring for space in the birdbath.  So, when I look up and there is a bright yellow male goldfinch swooping down to take his turn at the feeder – well, my heart starts to skip a beat.  To see that bright yellow bird with his black top hat sitting among those ordinary brown birds in my backyard when there is so much food for them available in the fields (and away from the neighborhood cats) I consider it a special treat.  As I watched one come to my feeders yesterday I began to think about the fact that their evolutionary path has taken them to a place where every female goldfinch can easily spot them – but so can all their predators.  They have a bounty on their heads and I’m pretty sure they know it as they are more easily spooked than most of the other birds that frequent my backyard.  But you know what?  Seeing that bright yellow male goldfinch sing his heart out among all those ordinary dime-a-dozen sparrows made me realize how backwards we have it in our society.

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From school age on, we clamor towards those people who mirror ourselves back to us.  (Heck, even as infants we are born looking like our parents and siblings.)  We make friends with people that are our height, weight, and skin color.  Later, we will migrate towards people who share our same religious, political, and world views.  We spend our entire lives trying to fit in – to be like everyone else – and what does it get us?  We become another plain brown sparrow, happy to be part of the flock and thrilled that we no longer draw too much attention to ourselves.

I can’t help but wonder: is that really who we were created to be?

Every single human who has ever lived has had their own unique set of DNA (with the exception of identical twins that start from a single fertilized egg).  Funny thing, though, even twins don’t have the same set of fingerprints – even at birth.  So we come into this world different from everyone else and then we spend a lifetime trying our best to become like everyone else – to fit in among the other sparrows.  Why?  Why would we do that?  Why would we try so hard to be a sparrow when we were built to be a goldfinch – a masterpiece of form and color?

Of course, the answer is easy: we do it for acceptance.

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But think about what happens when someone new and different comes on the scene – an artist that creates something in a way that nobody has ever done it before – or a singer who makes their entrance onto the stage with a voice like no one else’s.  What happens then?

Then we turn and run towards them – and we leave our own special identities behind again, now taking on bits and pieces of their identities.  We want to sing like them, dress like them, drive the car they drive, eat the food they eat, and live where they live.  I’ve seen it a thousand times in the photography world, too.  One person thinks outside the box and creates a new type of photograph.  Next thing you know, we all want to know how they did it and how we can do it, too.  A year later, there we all are, doing the same photo in the same way as that first person until it gets to the point where that style of photograph (or that creative process) has become the latest sparrow at the birdbath.  It’s now brown and ordinary and nobody gives it a second thought.

So be who you really are and make art that’s only yours.  Seek out those who are different in the same way you are different (if you have to), all the while maintaining your own identity.  Stop lusting after who someone else is or how someone else makes you feel about yourself and just. be. you.

And for those of us that are sure we’d be famous, too, if only we could learn to sing like them/live like them/do “art” like them…think again.

You’ll never be a goldfinch if you keep flying with the sparrows.

Two Steps Forward; Five Steps Back

The medical center I work for has been going through some changes the past couple of weeks. My boss resigned and then, a week later, her boss resigned. Three of our nurses moved on to other jobs and two of our doctors were let go. Other staff throughout the clinic was also trimmed back. As the face of health care changes so, too, does the medical center I work at. I am grateful to still have a job but we are all a bit on edge and feeling the loss of those people that are now gone.

I’m telling you this because one of the other Practice Managers has stepped up to oversee things while we are going through this transitional time. Last week she brought over one of her new Patient Care Representatives to be cross-trained on our front desk procedures so he can help out when we are short-handed. I worked with him a bit each day helping him set up his desk and printers, showing him where our break room was – little things like that. I found that every time I was around him for a few minutes I’d feel a lighter sense of peace inside and I’d walk away from him smiling and feeling better than I had in months. As he left for the day on Friday he came to say goodbye and to thank me for helping him and I found myself wanting to reach out and give him a hug – and that’s when it hit me like a big, wet towel: His mannerisms and pattern of speech were identical to my brother’s. For the first time in nearly two years, I felt like I did when Johnny and I were together.

I woke up this morning and couldn’t stop the tears from falling. I missed Father’s Day brunch with my family this morning because I can’t stop crying. I feel every bit as bad as I did the week Johnny died – the wound, fresh, raw, and gaping again. Saying goodbye to so many people at work and then being around this young man seems to have triggered something at an unconscious level until the pain could no longer be suppressed: the losses weren’t just at work – they were here, too, in my immediate family.

So, today, after months of moving forward in my grief for my mother and brother and feeling like I was going to be okay, I find myself in the pit again. And I know this too shall pass.

I know that we have to grieve in order to let go.

I know there is a purpose and a plan in place.

I know. I know…

But today I am grieving for all the men I’ve lost instead of celebrating the men who are still in my life. To my “Gramps”, John Kenward, my “other” dad, Rich Mahoney, my friends who would have made great dads, Jack & Tim, and especially to my brother, Johnny: I thank you for all of your love.

You are so deeply, deeply missed.

The Kitchen Sink

Something happened over the holiday weekend – something that took me by surprise. Instead of spending the four days away from work lounging on the deck, sipping margaritas with a good book in hand, I found myself motivated for the first time in months to deep clean my home. It started off innocently enough: I would get up from the computer to go make a cup of tea and I’d find myself putting things away while the water came to a boil. When I got up to let the dogs out, I’d stop and sweep the kitchen floor. The next thing I knew I’d be on my hands and knees next to a soapy bucket of water, ready to tackle the grungy corners that seem to always get missed when wet mopping the floor.

About halfway through the weekend I realizing just how much I had been avoiding caring for my home these past months. I’d been doing enough cleaning to be able to stand living there but I had let other things take a back seat to sleeping and playing mindless rounds of Internet card games.

As the weekend drew to a close, I found myself becoming a little bit weepy. Emotions began to well up inside me and erupt in small, quiet corners of the house. A tear would run down my cheek here and there at the oddest moments. A sadness would rise and fall inside me as I lifted things and moved them about. I even noticed I was dreaming more vividly at night, waking up wanting to be comforted but not really knowing why.

By Monday afternoon, knee deep in shampooing the dining room carpet, I stopped to take a short nap. I quickly fell asleep and began to dream of my old dog, Emma Woo. She was running across a field, full speed ahead, hurrying to run into my arms with the full weight of her enormous Sheepdog body. We collided in my dream, her knocking me to the ground, licking my face, pawing my shoulders, prancing like a 100-lb. puppy at the sheer sight of me. When I awoke from the dream, I had such a mingling of emotion surface all at once.  It was a cross between deep joy from getting to see her again and an even deeper sadness that came from knowing how much I had been missing her these past fifteen years.

I rose from my nap and dug back into the process of cleaning, rearranging, and reorganizing my home again. I walked over to the living room to put a candle on one of the shelves when I came face to face with the last portrait my parents had taken together before my mother had died. Suddenly, the weekend all made sense. After six months without my mother, I was finally coming up for air – ready to start putting my house back in order – literally and figuratively. It was time to stop standing still in the midst of my grief and begin, instead, to move forward into the path of my life again.

This afternoon I continued on that journey, sorting through all the junk that had accumulated in the hallway bookcase and then reassembling my dining room now that the newly shampooed carpet had dried. I let the dogs outside this evening right before the sun went down and made the rounds filling up all the bird feeders while they were enjoying the great outdoors. When I came inside, I went to wash my hands at the kitchen sink and, taking a quick look around, realized this was the cleanest my kitchen had been in a very long time. I flipped the bottle of Dawn detergent over and squirted a little soap onto my hands, washing away not only the dirt of the day but also letting a little more of the grief I have been carrying around go down the drain as well.


The Father, Son & Holy Ghost…

I’m 56 now and have been for the past four months.  Seems like it was just the other day that I turned 55 and crossed the threshold into Senior Citizen Discounts and free coffee at McDonald’s.  These past couple of years I’ve noticed my memory slipping here and there and I will pause when it happens and remind myself that it’s not Alzheimer’s if I can’t find my keys – it’s when I don’t know what the keys do that I really have to worry.  That will appease me for a few moments and then I’ll go back to being pissed off because I still can’t find my damn car keys.

And it’s not only the car keys I struggle with.  Yes, over the past few years I’ve found the butter hidden discretely in the freezer, the aluminum foil tucked neatly in the vegetable bin, and the dog food in the bird food tote.  I call breakfast dinner and dinner lunch and I can’t seem to say the day of the week out loud without it sounding like a word mashup game.  The red hairs that once graced my head are too tired to keep producing color; now they just come in white and say the hell with it.  I don’t blame them.  I tried to walk around the block last week and almost had to take a nap half way around.

But I digress…

Wait, what was I talking about?

Oh yeah, my memory loss.

But just when I think things are starting to get out of control and perhaps I should go talk to a doctor about the fact that I couldn’t remember where I parked my car at the mall last week after two hours of hapless shopping, I hear a song come on the radio from 35 years ago and, before I know it, I am singing my heart out – every word easily rolling off the tip of my tongue and every note perfectly remembered.  Yes, I might not recall whether I wore my black pants to work yet this week but let me here Don McClean singing “American Pie” and not only can I recite every syllable to perfection but I can name the bar I danced on with my three best friends while that song played on the jukebox and I can even tell you who had to drive us home that same night because none of us were fit to be on the road.

God, I miss those days…

But, if I had to choose (and, apparently, I do) then I’ll take being able to remember all those wonderful, fun, laugh-out-loud moments of my youth – along with 40 years of music, concerts and wanting my MTV over whether or not I can find the butter when I need it.  The Father, Son & Holy Ghost might have caught the last train for the coast but I’m still here in the house I grew up in, rocking it out on a Wednesday night.  At least for a little while longer.  Got to get to bed by 9 or there will be hell to pay in the morning!

The Long Goodbye

Four months after my mother’s passing, we finally held her memorial service.

Yesterday was a very long and hard day but we all made it through to the end. It had some highs such as seeing the friends of my parents from when I had been a child – many of whom I haven’t seen in a good 30 years but I still knew them when I saw them. The funniest thing to me was how I was now taller than all of them – even the ones I remembered as being such tall men and women.  (I guess I grew a few inches and they shrank a few?)  The day also had some lows such as hearing my father eulogize my mother’s life, his voice shaky and cracking at times.  I found if I looked down at my purse instead of directly at my dad I could listen to his words instead of his heart and that helped me make it through without totally falling apart.

My father will soon be traveling to David, California to have yet another service for my mom where the friends who knew her for the past 30 years can say their goodbyes. I am glad I cannot make that trip; it was hard enough to hear him eulogize my mom the first time around.

The bonus to my weekend was that I got to see my nephew – so much like my brother, Johnny, that it was like getting to spend time with him again. He has my brother’s mannerisms and most of his personality, although he is his own distinct and wonderful person.  My heart lifted and lit up from the inside every time I saw his face.  It went a long way to easing the grief over my mom and brother.

Thank you to all of you for the strength and prayers yesterday. Several of us went down to the Kauffman Garden after the service and spent an hour walking among the flowers – my mom loved it there. Hundreds of tulips were open and dancing in the breeze and it left us all feeling renewed.

Last night we celebrated her life at 54th Street Grill and Bar – something that has become a new family tradition. I thank those who contributed to the gift certificate that helped pay for our meal – it was a beautiful and thoughtful thing to do.  Our friends and family took up most of their tables but we did our best to run up a decent tab to make up for it.

Today, we woke early to have breakfast together before putting my Uncle back on a plane and sending my sister back to St. Louis.  My nephew and sister-in-law took off very early to drive back to their home in Houston as well.  I came home and went back to bed, will do a little laundry this afternoon, and then plan to take it easy the rest of the day. Monday, I will put my best foot forward and “keep on keepin’ on” – just as my mom did every day of her life.

If there is one thing I have learned from all these years of photographing nature, it is that no matter what (or who) dies away, evidence of their being here on earth is always present in the new life that continues to flourish. I will do my best to represent my mother’s life on this world in the days, weeks, and years to come.

We will remember her often and miss her deeply.


Kansas City’s Own Garden of Eden

I first found the garden in the fall of 2012.  I had been photographing the same old places for five years and was looking to add some new destinations that were close to home to my rotation of places to photograph.  I happened to come across a write up about the garden online one day and decided to go looking for it that next weekend.

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Many of the people I know who have lived in Kansas City most (or all) of their lives don’t even know it exists. When I mention that it is only two blocks south of the Nelson-Atkins Museum and directly across from the Kauffman Conference Center they look at me with a puzzled expression.  “It’s on Rockhill Road, you say?  Between the Nelson and UMKC?  But I’ve driven by there a hundred times and I’ve never seen a garden there.”

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If you were in a hurry, you could probably walk through the entire place in 10 minutes – but I’ve never managed to get out of the garden in under three hours.  Everywhere you turn, there’s something new growing for you to look at, study (and photograph).  It’s not nearly as large as it’s counterpart, Powell Gardens, but then it’s not a 45 minute drive to get there, either.  I can be out of my home in the Northland area and be pulling into the garden’s driveway in 15 minutes.


And, although I love walking through the garden at any time of year, spring is THE time to visit.  Between the thousands of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and pansies stand two rows of flowering Crabapple trees that will literally take your breath away when you first see/smell them.  It is an intoxicating place to sit and just “be” for a while.


Once you’ve seen the garden in the spring, you’ll be back to see what the other seasons hold as well – everything from lilacs, hydrangeas, roses, clematis, magnolias, flowering quince and dahlias…it is an endless parade of what grows well in Kansas City.


And every time I make the trip there I walk out feeling renewed, refreshed and at peace.  To some, it is just a garden, but to me – it’s become a sanctuary.

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When life deals the hard blows or work becomes overwhelming, I know its time to pull out the camera bag and head south to the Kauffman Garden on an early Saturday morning.

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If I get there early enough, I’ll have the whole place to myself (well, except for the feline protector of the garden – she’s always there to greet me when I come.)


If you live in the greater Kansas City area, stop in for a peek sometime.  There’s never a bad time to be there. If you go in the next week or so you’ll get the added bonus of seeing the Crabapple trees in bloom beneath the clear blue Kansas City sky.

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(Now don’t you feel better already?)

The Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden is located at 4800 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, MO 64110 and is open every morning at 8 am year round.  Although professional photo sessions are no longer allowed, you are always welcome to photograph the beauty of the garden.


Whether you take your camera or not, you’re sure to walk away with a special place in your heart for this wonderful attraction that lies in the heart of Kansas City.


The Tipping Point

We are right in the middle of a soft, spring rain.  There’s no thunder, no lightning; only a soft sprinkling of water drops pinging off the still-bare branches and the glass windows of my home.  It’s been raining since late last night and the ground is now dark and moist, giving way to the push of the heel as my shoes try to gingerly walk atop it.  I hurry the dogs to take care of their business, worried that my hair will turn to frizz if they take too long.

Despite the gentle rain, the birds are flocking to the feeders this morning.  (Apparently, there’s no sleeping in when free food is at hand.)  Tonight we will set our clocks ahead an hour for Daylight Savings Time even though nobody can ever remember why it is we still do this.  It’s so silly, really, that it should take an act of congress to end this ridiculous tradition.  The birds have never reset their clocks and they seem to be getting along just fine.

The first of the blossoming trees began to show their stuff this week.  I noticed a Saucer Magnolia tree and an overgrown Pussy Willow bush both making their initial push to explode in the prolonged and deepening sunshine this week.  Temperatures rose into the 60’s and 70’s and stayed there; a sure sign that everything on this portion of our planet will be awakening to spring’s call for an incredible floor show and the participants will be all too happy to show us what they’ve got.  The Forsythia and Quince bushes, Bradford Pear and Flowering Crabapple trees, daffodils and crocuses will get things rolling.  Then the lilac bushes, Dogwood trees, and tulips will crowd them out, taking first place in the second act of spring.  In my mind, I imagine heaven being spring and autumn all at once: everything in bloom, everything showing its best and brightest colors, every day starting and finishing at the perfect temperature.  And then, as we lay our heads down to rest, it will rain exactly like it’s raining this morning – gently, leisurely, without force or fear.

It won’t be long and the grass will need to be mowed, the garden soil turned, the lawn furniture returned to the shady side of the deck.  There are many afternoons ahead where I will sit outside, cold drink in hand, spying on my avian friends as they come down from the surrounding trees for a nut-based treat.

We all make choices in life; these choices are mine: to breath in every moment, to see it for what it is, to experience it and remember it and let it soak into who I am.  Spring’s tipping point happened last night while I was sleeping and today I wait for the rain to stop and the show to begin.

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