Aspens Aspens

It’s been a year. A year without your voice, a year without your laugh.

Those last months when your body was still with us but your mind was flitting between here and somewhere else were hard. The trip we made to Little Rock to see you was bittersweet. I’ll never forget the smile on your face when you saw Steve and me walk into your room. You instantly recognized us, which was such a relief. Then you started talking and I couldn’t follow. The next day you didn’t remember I had been there. In a way that was a relief, because I knew it was not causing you pain that I wasn’t there to see you every day. I still felt guilty, but not as much.
There were no more phone calls. You couldn’t figure out how to use the phone. If Michael or Tracey put the phone to your ear, all you were doing was parroting words. You couldn’t hear or understand me. That was so sad, but it prepared me for this year.

You may not physically be on this earth, but you are still with me.
Every time, and I mean every time, Steve and I walk through the house watching the sunset we talk of you. We remember your joy in the vibrant colors and huge scope of our Colorado sunsets. I remember you sitting on the couch in the sun room, watching the birds, nodding off to sleep in the sun.

We drove to Cripple Creek a few weeks ago. We remembered you looking out the window, riveted by the colors of the aspens in the fall. We laughed about your gambling “addiction” and how adamant you were that you needed to try out the casinos in Cripple Creek. I regret not taking you more often.

I sit in the living room and remember us painting it together. I was on the ladder, you were doing the lower part of the walls. I never told you about going behind you to get the parts that you missed. Remember all the houses we have painted together?

I’m not as directionally challenged as you were. Frankly I don’t think it’s possible to be worse than you were and still operate in society. But when I get turned around and a little lost, you are there with me giggling. And the first thing out of Steve’s mouth is “you are just like your mother”

I’ll always take that as a compliment.

We had friends over last night. They were sitting on your side of the counter while I cooked. We poured some wine for them and the memories flooded me yet again. I could see you sitting there, wine glass in hand, keeping me company while I cooked. I remember the laughter, the jokes, and the giggles. How fortunate I am to have had such a wacky mom.
So more people have heard about you Mom. More of your stories have been told. They don’t mean much to the people that hear them, I know that. But the telling is important to me. To Steve. To Keely. It’s the way that we continue to include you in our lives.

It hurt that you were not able to be with us when Steve and I got married. I know how important that was to you. But we felt your presence that day. We felt your joy and approval. I know that is just the first of many occasions that we will miss you.

I think I talk to you more now than I did that last year you were alive. On those long drives in the car going to Colorado Springs I tell you about what is going on in my life. I know you already know, but it helps to tell you. And of course I can carry on your part of the conversation because I know you so well. I can hear your voice “Well, Michelle….”

When I am alone in the house that is when I feel you close. I put on “your” music, Enya or Yanni, and as it floods through the air you are there. I cry. I miss my Mom. I want to hold your hand, hug you one more time.
I had the gift of time with you for many months while you stayed with us in Colorado. What a very precious gift that was. Steve got to know you and love you. Keely got to spend a lot of time with her beloved Grandma.

You knew that I loved you. I knew that you loved me. In the end, that was really all that mattered.

So Mom, this is your birthday. It is one year and a few days since you left us. So listen to me as I sing Happy Birthday to you, and know that I love you very much.

4th2009 001

A Skinny Kid Taught Me A Lot About Life

 I reconnected with some old friends today on Facebook.  While I had not talked to them in years, I’ve talked about them many many times. Many of the people that have gone through my Taekwondo school will remember the story, if not the names.  I’ve cried a lot because of Lee and Becky Coon and their son Michael.  I’ve cried every time I’ve told their story to a school gym filled with kids.  I’ve cried when I told the story to Steve, to Keely and her friends.  I’ve cried buckets of tears today as I wrote this blog.

 There are some people that make a huge impact on your life.  A skinny teenage boy with big ears changed my life forever. 

Michael Coon was very quiet, very polite.  He got that from his dad Lee and his mom Becky.  Well, Lee was pretty quiet, Becky kind of balanced the quiet with the gift of gab.  They all were students at my taekwondo school when I bought it.  Michael was in our instructor program for a while, and then he hit those teenage years when time gets so precious.  He was involved in activities at school and church, and the drive from Redfield to Little Rock in the evenings became too much.  But his dad Lee still worked out with us when he could during the day, and the family would stop by and say hi when they were in the area.  A great family.

I’m going to tell you the story, but I’ll tell you up front I’m kind of fuzzy on some of the details. 

It’s been ten years, and I can’t remember who called me.  I’m pretty sure it was Lee.  He told me that Michael had been shot and was on the way to the hospital.  Becky was on the way.  They got there, and he was gone. 

He was fourteen. 

Michael and a couple of friends were going to go hunting.  Somehow, Michael was shot.  By one of his friends. 

I can’t imagine the shock to Lee and Becky.  They left for work that morning, a normal routine.   That evening when they came home their world had been turned upside down.  This story is one of the reasons that my kids always hear me tell them “I love you” before we go in our different directions.  Every single time.

Lee asked that Charles and I come to the house.  It was overflowing with people, there to support Becky and Lee.

Lee pulled us aside, and told us that the police had arrested Michael’s friend, the one who shot him.  This was a boy that had grown up with their son, someone that they loved and had welcomed into their family.  Lee was heartbroken. 

He took us into Michael’s room and showed us something very special.  Michael was one of the youth leaders at their church, and he had been keeping a journal.  One of the last things he had written was:

“If Christ died for my sins, who am I to not forgive others?”

He told us that he and Becky felt that Michael was telling them a very important truth. 

During the grieving process of losing their son, Lee and Becky comforted the other boys’ family.  They visited him in jail and told him that they loved him.  They stood by him.  No hate.  No anger.  Just love and forgiveness. 

I went to the memorial service for Michael.  His black belt certificate was next to the casket.  The church was overflowing, full of teenagers that had gone to school with Michael, full of adults that had been touched by the Coon family.

The pastor invited people to talk about their memories of Michael.

In a sea of white faces, an African American young man stood in line to speak:

“I moved here from New Orleans after Katrina.  I don’t know if you guys noticed, but there are not a lot of black faces around here.  I was really scared about starting a new school.  Really scared.  I had heard a lot of stories.

The first day I walked up to the school, there was a group of guys standing around.  One of them saw me and started heading over.   I thought to myself, I’m going to get beat up right now.   Well, that is not what happened.  Michael Coon reached out his hand to me, introduced himself, and took me over to meet his friends.  He invited me to sit with him at his table at lunch.  He invited me into his home.  Mr. Lee and Mrs. Becky invited me into their family.  

I’ll never forget him.”

The young man broke down and went to his seat.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in that church.  I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much.

We hear a lot of talk about leadership.   Martial Arts schools have programs saying that they teach it.   Corporations bring in consultants to teach it. 

But that skinny fourteen year old boy could teach a lot of people about leadership. 

I’ve told Michael’s story to thousands of people.  I’ve been in schools where the teachers couldn’t get the students to calm down, and after I’ve told Michaels story there was a hushed gym full of teenagers.  I’ve talked to my students during class, and cried for the loss of this very special boy.  I’ve given out the Michael Coon Leadership Award to some very special people at our annual awards ceremony. 

Michael Coon touched a lot of people in the short time he was here.  His legacy is one of friendship, inclusion, leadership and love. 

I know that Lee and Becky think of Michael every day. But I wanted them to know that they, and their son, forever changed me. I hope they are proud of his legacy, and the impact that he, and they, have had on so many people.  


Hip chronicles day 7: Crying over Banana Pudding

banana puddingHip Replacement was a week ago. I’m getting around really well, off of pain meds, no depression.

And last night I had a total meltdown over banana pudding.

While I had cooked and frozen a lot of healthy food, these first few days out of the hospital I didn’nt even feel like finding something and warming it up,

Steve said on Monday “Look I can’t cook for you, and you wouldn’t want to try to eat it if I did. But I can pick stuff up. So you order it, and I’ll pick up dinner for us on my way home.”

Good deal.

Now if you want to see Steve Cox’s face light up, suggest going to eat at The Black Eyed Pea. Since I didn’t have much appetite, I thought The Pea would be a good place to get some decent food that everybody would enjoy. I spent a while looking at the menu, and even looked at the desert menu. I NEVER look at the desert menu. Ever. I do not believe in using food for comfort. Been there done that and had the fat to prove it.

But the cobbler and the banana pudding sounded really good. Comfort food. And there was a little voice in the back of me head saying I deserved some banana pudding. My mom was a really awful cook. But one of the few things she made that we could actually eat was banana pudding. And as I have been hobbling around this week I’ve seen my mom in the ways I am moving. She had such problems with her legs and hips those last few years, finally going from a cane to a walker. So when I reach for the counter to walk my way through the counter I’m seeing mom do the same.

I don’t really know of mom had anything to do with it but I was really looking forward to banana pudding.

So I called in the order. Cobb Salad (for me to eat the next day) Chicken tender dinners for Keely and Steve, Pot Roast with sweet potato fries for me. And Peach Cobbler and Banana Pudding.

Well guess what? We got the wrong order. Chicken Fried steak, pot roast, lots of mashed potatoess. No sweet potato fries, and NO BANANA PUDDING! I was disappointed. I was pissed. But since we live 30 minutes away from the restaurant, there was not a lot that could be done.

Tuesday night we had take out Thai.

Wednesday, one week anniversary of my surgery, we decided on The Black Eyed Pea again. Keely was going to church with a friend so it would be just me and Steve. . Intermittently during the day I would look at the menu. I knew what Steve would have…Chicken Tenders, okra, black eyed peas. I knew I was going to order peach cobbler and banana pudding. I still didn’t have much of an appetities, so finding something that sounded good to me was more difficult. I finally decided on a plain hamburger steak with sweet potato fries and spinanch. Healthy, and I was going to indulge in a bite of cobbler and some banana pudding.

Now there are some things you have to understand about my first week after surgery.

I have not had any of my vitamins and supplements for two weeks. Including the stuff that keeps my hormones in check.
I’m sleeping in a recliner next to our bed. I’m not getting a lot of sleep and the sleep I’m getting is not what I call quality sleep.
I really miss sleeping in bed my husband
I am trapped in this house, unable to drive (yet) and have not been out since we came home on Friday.
I have to think about every move I make. I can’t pick up something from the ground if I drop it. I have to walk with a crutch. I have to be careful about my leg. yada yada yada.

So understand that I was looking forward to this meal. I got to control it, choose what I wanted, and have it delivered to me with no effort on my part. Sheer bliss.

This time, when I called in the order, I told the very nice lady to put the full name “Steve Cox” on the order, because Monday we got someone else’s order. She was very apologetic and said she would make sure this order was right. She just didn’t understand how they could have messed it up that bad.

Steve got home and I took one look at that bag and I knew we had a problem. There was not enough food in that bag. In fact, there were several small round containers but only one entree sized container. And nothing that could possibly be cobbler or banana pudding.

“Is there another bag?”

“No, this is all they gave me.’

My stomach dropped and I could feel the emotions welling up.


Steve did not say a word as I dialed my phone. I am ashamed to say that my voice was actually shaking when I told the woman that we had the wrong order again. She calmed me down. We went back and forth, I questioned Steve “There is only one Black Eyed Pea in Pueblo, right?”

Voice on the phone “Pueblo? You picked up in Pueblo?”
Me: “Yes”
Voice: We are at Garden of the Gods in the Springs”
Me: “Oh shit”

So apparently I called the wrong restaurant, in the wrong city to place an order. Twice. And what is interesting is twice they gave Steve food. Someone else’s order obviously.

I hung up the phone, told Steve that I had called the wrong restaurant twice, and promptly started tearing up. Steve said “I think you need a hug” and started around the counter. He hugged me, I sniffled a little bit feeling like a total wuss baby. So I took a couple of deep breaths and said ok let’s eat.

Steve innocently asked what it was we were going to be eating. “Fucking chicken fried steak” I growled.

In a really chipper voice he said “Well I really like chicken fried steak! ”

Bless his heart, the poor man had no idea what he just got himself in for with that one sentence.

“I don’t care if you like chicken fried steak. I don’t like chicken fried steak. This is not about what you like, this is about me not getting once single thing I wanted last time or this time and I WANTED BANANA PUDDING AND THERE IS NO BANANA PUDDING!” And I burst into tears again.

He came back around the corner, held me while I cried. He did not utter a word. Not a sound. Smart man.

“OK” I sniffed. “You divide it up and I’ll get the silverware.”

Later, Steve looked at me. “You OK?”

“That wasn’t like you”
“You’ve had major surgery, you don’t have any control over a lot of stuff, and you were really looking forward to that meal and that’s why you reacted that way”
I’ll get you some banana pudding tomorrow.

Today, I wont get any banana pudding. Steve will be home late and I’m warming up a zucchini lasagna that I froze a couple of weeks ago.

And of course, it’s not like banana pudding is all that important. It’s really not even my favorite desert. It’s just seem to symbolize comfort to me this week, maybe because it is one of the few deserts my mom ever made.

I don’t need banana pudding for comfort. I have a wonderful man that loves me and takes care of me. A daughter that is happy to help me with my compression socks, put my boots on me, and load the dishwasher and clean the house. Friends that cook me good food, bring me flowers and their company. Phone calls and cards from those that are not close. That is what is real. That is what is truly comforting,.

But I’ll certainly enjoy me some banana pudding this weekend.

Hip Replacement chronicles 2: day after surgery

As expected, yesterday pretty much sucked. It took two
hours to make the drive to Denver from Penrose. The night before we
had a good a good meal and finished up packing. I hugged Maestro
and Patches, breathing deeply of that comforting horse smell.

Pepper, my new fuzzy Shih Tzu knew that something was going on and
was dodging my every step. All four dogs were concerned. It was
hard saying goodbye to their worried little faces.

I have to say the staff at Porter Adventist Hospital have been awesome. Once we
started the admission process at 9:30 everything moved very
rapidly. They let Steve hang out with me after they got me all
punctured and hooked up. He watched everything very carefully. At one point as the nurse was running the IV line I looked at him and said “you think this is cool don’t you?” Big grin. ”
Yeah I do”

Dr. Haas was running early so my surgery was at 11:00am instead of noon. Spinal injection and meds injected
into my IV, and the next thing I remember is looking at a clock and
it was 1:30. I was fuzzy. Sometime later they moved me to the room.
I saw Steve in the hallway as we moved to the elevator so he
walked with us. It was so comforting seeing his smile from across the hallway.

Gorgeous room. It’s newly remodeled and large. A couch for Steve to sleep on. I haven’t been out of bed to check out
the bathroom. I still have a catheter. This hospital has a room service menu, free for me the patient, minimal charge for Steve. I don’t have much appetite so I just eat a few bites.

I can wriggle my toes on my right leg, but that is about it . If I want to move my leg, I have to reach down and lift from above the knee. One if he hardest prohibitions for me is to not bend past 90 degrees. That means I cant reach down and put on my shoes and socks. I cant pick anything up from the floor. For EIGHT weeks.

My first night was tough. My right quad, my nemisis, started spasming. The room was dark, Steve was getting some well deserved rest and I was miserable. I couldn’t even feel my hip, the quad hurt so much. It was a claustrophobic feeling, trapped in the bed, unable to roll over or stretch my leg. I couldn’t get away from the pain. I finally called the nurse, woke Steve up. She suggested a muscle relazer. OMG what a difference that little pill made.

Physical Therapy the first day consisted of walking through the halls, first with a walker, then with crutches. Occupational Therapy came by after, and I was instructed on the no bending past 90 degrees again. They are really serious about that.

Early afternoon my PT guy came by again and we strolled over to the gym. I went up and down stairs and got in and out of a car. Piece of cake. We spent much more time talking about karate and his two kids than we did PT stuff.

So one more night, Jen the OT comes by in the morning and I get to take a shower. A shower! A shower!
Then home.

Hip Chronicles Part 1 The Day Before Surgery

I’m bitching and whining, either to myself or to anyone that I can get to listen. I dread this surgery. I dread going in to the hospital. I dread the waking up and my leg not working. I dread coming home and not being able to sleep in my bed. I dread crutches and cane.
Lilly is coming over to stay with Keely for the two nights we will be in Denver. I’m getting the house cleaned up so that I do not come home to a dirty house. I hate housework in principal anyway, and cleaning house so it will be clean when I get back from the hospital really pisses me off. I’ve got food cooked and frozen so that none of us starve after I get home and don’t feel like cooking.
Per doctor instructions I quit taking all vitamins and supplements several days ago. Which means I’m having hormone swings and hot flashes and I am using every bit of self-control not to be a major bitch. Probably cracked my teeth gritting them the last few days.
I have no patience. I’ve had headaches and I can’t take anything for pain. I’m sneezing my head off and I can’t take allergy meds.
I’m rubbing an anti-bacterial solution on my hip and putting antibiotic ointment up my nose twice a day to lessen the chances of getting that flesh eating disease that is rampant in hospitals.
I am not happy.
There is almost a sense of mourning as I go about my last few days. I was in the garden yesterday and realized it would be my last time. Someone else is going to harvest the rest of the year because I won’t be able to. It pisses me off.
Saturday was my last day to go riding with Lilly and Ann. It was a gorgeous day, we went to Beaver Creek and met up with other horse people. There was actually water in the creek and we got to splash through it. Some of the horses had never been in water. We ended up riding for about five hours. That ride also reinforced that I needed to get my hip fixed because I thought I was going to die on the ride home, and for the rest of the day for that matter. I was very aware as I put Maestro up that I wouldn’t be seeing him for the next few weeks. No way do I want to get accidently bumped by a horse.
Speaking of being bumped by a horse…I’ll have to be really careful around Brandi. Our sweet, gentle English Mastiff weighs 180 pounds and she is clumsy. She also likes to lean on her humans. So I’ll have to stay away from her for a while.
We will bring my little recliner upstairs today. I learned with the other surgeries that trying to sleep in bed after a major surgery is not a great idea. I toss and turn a lot under the best of circumstances. Waking up in screaming pain every few minutes because I tried to roll over in my sleep is not a fun way to spend the night. I can’t roll over in the recliner, therefore I don’t toss and turn, and therefore I sleep better. I’ll sleep in the recliner for as long as it takes to get comfortable in a bed again. I don’t remember how long that took before but I’m thinking it will be a week or two. That makes me sad. I love getting in bed with my husband and snuggling, touching throughout the night. Steve has already said that he will sleep in a chair or on a couch to be close to me. So neither of us will be getting great sleep.
I’m going to have another big scar. Guess now the hip scars will match. I wonder if I can ask Dr. Haas to make his incision about the same length as my other one so that I won’t look lopsided.
It’s my right leg so I don’t know how long it will take before I can drive.
Yes, I’m just wallowing is self-pity right now. And I’ll wallow a lot during the next few days. Then I’ll get tired of that feeling and wallow less. That’s the process. Unfortunately I’m getting experienced at this process. Woe is me woe is me.
OK, enough of all of this. I’ve got stuff to do.

Counting my blessings…it’s just a hip

I had my left hip replaced in 2007. I’m not going to say it was a pleasant experience, it was not. But it was necessary if I wanted to continue in my profession as a martial arts instructor. I still had the Taekwondo school and was very aware that I needed to set a good example for my students. Working within the perimeters set by my surgeon, I was back teaching at two weeks, performed patterns and self-defense for my 4th Dan confirmation test three months after surgery, and even snagged a silver medal (in sparring) at the International Championships in Las Vegas six months after surgery.
I remember the pain, the frustration of not being able to put my clothes and shoes on. I remember hating seeing my shadow, because it looked like an old crippled lady hobbling along with a cane. I remember calling my friend/instructor Danny Dring, who had hip replacement the previous year, and asking if he got depressed. “Hell yeah I got depressed. You go from being able to work out and do things for yourself to being helpless and being in pain. “
Lifting my leg with my hands to get in and out of a chair or a car. The incision, and then the scar. Crutches. Cane. Being afraid, really afraid, of uneven surfaces because I knew if I fell it would hurt like hell, and I literally would not be able to get up by myself.
I couldn’t sleep in my bed. I spent the first few weeks in a recliner, because rolling over in my sleep was not a pleasant way to wake up. Apparently I roll over a lot in my sleep.
So now, the Formerly Known as The Good Hip is going under the knife on Wednesday. And I will admit to whining about it quite a bit. Steve is taking off work and will stay with me in the hospital room in Denver. This surgeon says I need to use crutches for four weeks and a cane for another four.
I liked two weeks with a cane better.
But different surgeon, different philosophy and I will do what he says.
I’m sure I’ll whine about it, and get frustrated, and get a little depressed. With all that being said, let me also say that I am counting my blessings big time right now.
• This is an elective surgery, and it will make my quality of life better.
• We have insurance to pay for it.
• I don’t have to scramble to try to get back to work
• Steve Cox is a wonderful caregiver
• Keely is old enough to not be a worry and to actually be a great help
• I have a community of friends that I know I can call on.
In the last few weeks, while dreading the surgery and the aftermath, I’ve been slapped upside the head with how lucky I am.
Last week my friend Alisa McCoy found out she had colon cancer. She is in her early 40’s, mother of Emily, a high school senior, and Ben, who is nine years old. I talked to her the other day and she was very matter of fact about the whole process. She understands the worse that can happen, is prepared for it, and optimistic that everything will work out ok. I can’t begin to tell you how much I admire this lady. As we were hanging up, I told her I was going to quit whining about my hip replacement, because I realized that in comparison to what she was going through I really should just shut up.
I have to be realistic though. I will whine and bitch. Even though I know what I am going through is nothing compared to what Alisa is going through.
Surgery was a few days ago and we are getting updates on Facebook. She is in good spirits and I know she is going to get through this.
Ryan McCormack is a friend and former Taekwondo employee. He was always my rock; smart, calm, an amazing martial artist, and he just quietly got things done. He moved to Dallas after getting his degree, and has been working as an actuarial. He is also a gifted musician who writes as well as performs. Ryan had a stroke a few days ago, the day after his 38th birthday. All I could do was stare in shock when I got the news.
Ryan will be going to Little Rock for up to three months rehabilitation. I don’t know the extent of the stroke, but I assume he will be learning to move, and perhaps think, again.
So between Alisa and Ryan, it has really been brought home to me that I should really be counting my blessings.
It’s very easy to focus on the negatives in our lives. Sometimes we have tunnel vision on all the stuff we don’t like, and don’t want to do, and we fail to acknowledge the good. So during the next few weeks, when it is going to suck to be me, I’m going to complain and bitch. But I vow to be thankful for all the blessings I have and the people in my life that love me.
Every time I’m feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to offer a prayer for Alisa and Ryan. They will be getting lots of prayers.


first time

I remember the first time Robin mentioned the phrase “we are going to work on our inversion practice.” I started trying to retrieve the meaning of “inversion” and kept mentally throwing away the definition I came up with because it just could not be right. Inversion meant upside down didn’t it? Maybe she meant submersion practice? But how would we submerge in a yoga studio?

She did a demonstration. Yep, she meant upside down. Like stand on your head upside down.

Holy cow was this girl crazy?

Robin and Justin had been fellow students in yoga classes that I took in Canon City. Our instructor, Marie Bailey, wanted to fully immerse herself in yoga so she moved to Florida to live at an ashram. I tried some classes in Pueblo after Marie left, but it was a long drive and it just didn’t seem worth it.

Then I heard about Robin and Justin. They had started River Lotus Yoga in Canon City and they had classes during the day. I remembered them as being young, and very “bendy” which is a good thing in yoga. The bendy part. The young can be good or bad. Ok, it was worth a try and the first class was free.

They were operating out of a martial arts dojo in those early days last year. Many times Robin and I were the only ones there for class. I liked the variety of poses, I liked that I was challenged, I liked that we didn’t hold the poses for so long that I started doing my shopping list in my head.

Then came the day of the “inversion practice”.

Robin gave me several alternatives to standing on my head. I think she saw the look of incredulous mutiny on my face. So the first few times I’d lay on my back with my feet on the wall. Then that started feeling too lazy and like a cop out, and I graduated to my hands on the floor and my feet on the wall at a 90 degree angle. That was certainly more challenging, and I was “inverted” but I wasn’t standing on my head.

I did not want an inversion practice thank you very much. I didn’t care if the wall was there or not, I did not want to be upside down. I didn’t like it and I was not going to do it. The toxins that were in my body had been there a very long time, and I was ok with them hanging around indefinitely.

After a few weeks it started to sink in that this was not a phase she was going through, and she was not going to give up on this idea of an inversion practice.

So I did a tripod. You put your head down, place your hands at the base of the triangle formed between your head and hands, and stick your knees on your arms.

I was happy there. I was upside down and I felt pretty stable. I did that for a few weeks.

Then the classes started to grow. We moved into our own really cool yoga studio. And the classes got bigger and bigger.
The inversion practice did not go away. I started to get pissed off because IT DID NOT GO AWAY.

Driving home from class one day, I thought of something one of my instructors used to tell me all the time.

“That which is hard is your test”

Somehow, me getting upside down had become my test.

There was not anything physically keeping me from standing on my head. Fear was holding me back. Once I used that word “fear” in my conversation with myself instead of “I don’t like it” I realized that this was something I absolutely had to do. No way was I going to not do something like stand on my head because I was afraid of it. Especially since other people in the class were standing on their heads and some were working on hand stands. And that really bendy Gumby clone Justin (Robin’s husband) was practicing a one-handed hand stand for Pete’s sake!

I’m not going to bore you with the process I went through of learning how to stand on my head. At times it was definitely not pretty. I will tell you that knowing how to tuck and roll is very important. But I will show you a couple of pictures, taken this Saturday at a Yoga in the Park class that Robin taught.

Yes, that is me doing a handstand in the park
Yes, that is me doing a handstand in the park

Notice there was no wall to catch me.

Yes, this is me playing around with my leg position while in a headstand.
Yes, this is me playing around with my leg position while in a headstand.

Notice there was no wall to catch me. Notice I am actually smiling.

And just to show you some total awesomeness, this is Justin, yoga instructor and river raft guide, doing a handstand on a boat in the Whitewater Festival this weekend in Canon City.

Justin Englerth  handstand in the Whitewater Festival 2013
Justin Englerth handstand in the Whitewater Festival 2013

I’ll be 56 years old this year. I feel grateful that I was given the gift of the opportunity to do something I had never done by a very gently persistent yoga instructor named Robin Beals.


first time

She Is Gone

She’s gone.

Those two words keep popping into my head, and with them this sense of heaviness that won’t go away.

Those two words are what Michael said when he called me two nights ago. Words I had been waiting to hear. Dreading them, but needing to hear them also.

It’s been such an emotional roller coaster this last year. She would go into the hospital and we would think “this is it”. Then that tenacious fighting spirit of hers would kick in and she would surprise everyone and bounce back

But each bounce brought less of her back.

That 87 year old body got more and more frail.

That witty brain became dull and foggy.

Each time I’d think about how I would miss her. What a special person she was. I’d cry. I’d grieve.

In between I told myself I was getting used to this. No more phone calls, she couldn’t hold the phone. No more visits and hugs, we are in separate states.

I thought I would get this all out of my system so that when it finally happened I’d be calm and controlled.

Michael called. I was calm. Shock I think. A sense of finality.

The calm didn’t last as long as I hoped.

She’s gone.

Words I’d expected to hear and now I was saying them. First to Steve, then Charles, Kat, David. Keely the next morning when we told her we were leaving in a few hours for Little Rock.

Each time I told someone the reality would hit and I would tear up.

I was in a fog trying to get three people packed up, perishables in the fridge packaged for a friend to pick up. Steve had to go get hay, I needed to wash my dress to wear to the funeral. Phone calls…

We drove in a blizzard for the first few hours. I was writing the obituary as we drove.

Which is when I realized I’d left my dress in the dryer. Oh well.

I’m overwhelmed by the love and prayers being sent our way by friends. Don’t ever think that a phone call, email, text or Facebook post isn’t important. It’s hard to explain the amount of comfort I get knowing that people are praying for us.

One of my friends, Marc MacYoung, asked me to tell a story about her. I already had several pages of stories written on this trip. It was like I needed to hurry and capture them so they wouldn’t go away. As if now that she is gone her story would be gone too.

But in the end, that really is what our life is. A story. Some of it we write ourselves and narrate in first person. Some chapters are through the eyes and experiences of those around us.

There will be a lot of “Marty Stories” during the next few days. I’ll be writing as many of them down as I can.

Moms story was a long and complete one. It was full of adventure, comedy, tragedy. It was rich in love and friendship.

It was a great story.

Her Voice

DSC_1067A few weeks ago, my brother Michael called me while he was visiting mom in the nursing home. He said she was pretty chipper, and asked if I wanted to talk to her.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to talk to her.
The last few times he has put the phone to her ear, she either didn’t hear, or more likely, didn’t understand that I was on the phone. He told her who it was, urged her to say “hello”. She would finally mumble a little bit and he would take the phone away. All the time, I would be frantically saying
“hi mom! I love you, how are you?”
I’m really just throwing words out hoping something will sink in that she will respond to.
So this time, I really didn’t want to hear the mumbling that didn’t sound like my mom. But I told him to go ahead and put the phone to her ear. She seemed to know it was me. She said “Hello, Michelle”. It was the first time I heard her say my name since I saw her in November. I asked her how she was, and she went off into nonsense sentences.
But she said my name.
After we hung up, I cried. And I realized how much I was going to miss my mom’s voice. How much I would miss her saying my name.
So I sent a text to Michael and asked him to video her saying “I love you Michelle.” I know she was only parroting the words he told her, but I hope that she knew what they meant. Michael sent me that video, and I cried some more.
Really, I figured that would be the last time I heard mom’s voice.
Patty, Michael’s wife, called me Sunday. She was following the ambulance to the hospital, Michael was riding in it with mom. Internal bleeding, low blood pressure, bad bruising and swelling were all mentioned. Michael sent me text’s filling it all in.
So she is in the hospital now. Scared when she is coherent. But most of the time resting and almost comatose.
Michael called me yesterday and asked if I wanted to talk to her. I said no. Then I changed my mind. He told her I was on the phone, and asked if she wanted to talk to me. In a really strong, just like my mom voice she said “Oh ya, I love Michelle”. Once he got the phone to her ear, she really didn’t say anything. I sobbed out “I love you mom” and that was about all I could do.
Each time I talk to her or hear her voice I assume it’s the last time. This is killing me.
The logical, rational part of me is ready for her to be at peace.
Then there is the girl that loves her mom and doesn’t want her to leave.


Dr. Mary Richards
Dr. Mary Richards

My friend and partner in the Taekwondo school is dying. Dr. Mary
Richards was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital on November 17. She is
a tough lady, a fighter for sure. But it looks like she is not going to win this

She may already be gone as I write this.

I don’t know how old she was when she started TKD, in her 50’s perhaps? She had no flexibility and was not very graceful. But she had a single minded determination and I’m telling you she would flatten your butt and run over you
if you got in her way. I learned the hard way that I couldn’t trade blows with her. I’d throw a kick, she would step in on it, and I would get knocked on my ass.

I used to call her the Tank. The name fit her physically and it also described her personality, especially if you were trying to spar her. She’d grin really big when I called her that.

One of the greatest things I ever saw happened in class one night. It was before I bought the school, and Marcus Turley was the instructor. We were practicing board breaking for testing, the required technique was a jump front kick. I’m the first to admit that I really really suck at jumping. But Mary would be the first to tell you that
she sucked more at jumping than I did. So I was standing there watching to see how she did. Remember her nickname was Tank.

Anyway, I was standing behind her as she set up to do the technique, Turley holding the boards. She got into position, hopped a little and hit the boards with the ball of her foot. Well she kinda hit the
boards, and kinda slid right up them. And her foot just kept going up and the rest of her followed.

The next thing I knew she had tucked herself into a tight ball and done a backwards roll. She rolled on over, stood up, standing and facing those boards in a fighting stance.

Turley’s mouth dropped open and his eyes were bugging out of his head.

I was speechless and I’m sure my eyes were bugging too.

After a shocked silence Turley said “Doc, are you all right?”

“Sure” she replied “let me try that again”

Age and injuries kept her away from Taekwondo and her beloved white water rafting. She used to tell me about rafting the Grand Canyon. Before we moved to Colorado I went by her office to visit. She had rafted the Royal Gorge, which is right by our house. I always hoped she would make it out here to raft with us.

Mary was Charles’ cardiologist. She was the first person I called when I took him to the hospital and they told me it was a heart attack. She was the first person I called many times after that. I’d like to say that she took special care of him because we were friends and partners. But that wasn’t the case. She took special care of all of her patients. I have heard from quite a few of them about their affection for the gruff lady.

Every few months I’d get a call. She had found someone who she felt needed Taekwondo. I was to call them, tell them there was no charge, and get them enrolled. We had some pretty special people at our school because
Mary sent them our way.

Her work as a doctor touched many in a very direct way. She literally saved hundreds if not thousands of lives during her long career. She didn’t have a lot of charisma or charm, she could be cranky and impatient. But she was smart, caring, steadfast and loyal. And you knew without a doubt that she was on your side.

If the measure of a life is by how many people are touched, Mary Richards had a giant life. Little Rock Taekwondo would not have survived without her financial backing and support. She never received any financial reward from her investment. Many people whose lives were changed never knew that Mary Richards was in the background. But I know the stories of the lives we touched meant the world to her.

I’d see her wipe a tear as I told her about the grandfather struggling to stay alive a few more years so he could
raise his grandson. The mother who was raising her son alone and had a diagnosis of breast, then bone cancer. We cried together over the death of Michael Coon, who was accidentally shot by one of his friends. So many stories, so much caring on her part that no one ever saw.

Mary Richards led a quiet life. She didn’t care about houses and cars, jewelry and sparkle. She cared about people. And in her unique way, she led a giant life.