Wednesday July 31, 2013

The weather has been much better the last couple of days and that's allowed us some more lake time, soaking up a little sun, remembering why we love this place.  Peaceful and private.  Yes, on some level it will always be a bit painful, and certainly poignant to be here, but we must take the good with the bad as we carry on.

Yesterday was an eventful day - Erin got her first taste of a "big" golf course playing nine holes with me and Dan at The Preserve.  It's so fun for us to have golf as a family activity.  Erin hit some good shots and made bogeys on the last two holes to finish strong.

The best way to refuel after a taxing nine holes is to stop in Nisswa for pizza at Rafferty's (we have been here 5 days and been to Rafferty's three times...)  Then, of course, dessert involves ice cream at the Chocolate Ox.  (5 days, three times...)

But, the biggest event of the day happened on the ride home.  My trusty minivan rolled over to 200,000 miles.  Ol' Bessie is still running, and that's a good thing.  I'm not a car geek - I just want one that runs - but making it to 200K is an accomplishment.  Every month without a car payment from here on out is a bonus.  I'm a lot like Ol' Bessie - past my prime, needing minor repairs, but still kickin'...

Today Dan had to shower up, dress up, and head out on some sales calls.  After burning much of his vacation on our European adventure, he needed to mix business with pleasure this week.  Not the "ideal" week at the lake, but it's the best he can do.

As Erin and I were hanging out today, she brought up the "B" word:  back-to-school shopping.  Tomorrow the calendar will hit August.  Still a month of summer left, but her brain is starting to churn.

Eighth grade is looming larger every day...

But, we've got two more nights here at the cabin, so I shouldn't get ahead of myself.  It's sweatshirt weather tonight.  Maybe even a bonfire later...

July 29

This day will still come every year, and every year we will have to find a way to deal with it, to honor Shannon, and to carry on.  Damn.  This one hit us harder than the last, yet another reminder that grief doesn't necessarily get better with time.  Perspectives change, time moves on, but the pain can still hit you harder than you anticipate, and sometimes you have to work just to get through the day.

15...I think that's why this year is so hard.  We can all remember being 15.  We can all remember our sophomore year of high school, who are friends were, how we filled our time.  It has been hard to reconcile that Shannon didn't get to be 15.

But, our plan for this birthday of Shannon's was to spend it at Lake Hubert and invite my family for the weekend.  Grandma & Papa Harkins and Eric, Jen Laurynn & Jack arrived Saturday, weathered 36 hours of howling north winds and October like temperatures, and finally today we were rewarded with sunshine and warmer temps.

We enjoyed coffee by the Shannon rock and shared stories of the day Shannon was born.  We've all got great Shannon stories and memories of times together with the cousins.  Those can bring a smile to our faces, albeit short lived.

Today brought  the Lake-a-Thon:  the Shannon invention that involves Olympic type events such as the crab walk, the flip flop distance kick, and, of course, tricks off the dock.  Laurynn and Erin keep the tradition alive, and Jack throws his whole heart into the competition.

Jack was the big winner this year (again :) but the highlight of the day might have been Erin pulling out a front flip off the dock.  This, of course, was enough to make me nervous, which was a part of Erin's master plan, no doubt.  The Lake-a-Thon was a success, and it lives on for another year.  Shannon's spirit in another form.

Our company has all left now, and it's just the three of us.  We enjoyed a quiet evening and dinner out, and we've got a few more days here.  We will golf and shop and read and sleep and swim.  Just the three of us.  Damn.  I don't know exactly why it feels more poignant this year, but it does.  Three feels lonelier this time around. 

Happy Birthday, Shannon.

Thursday July 25, 2013

It has been a stretch of days here - so busy that I've barely had time to pee, much less write a blog!  Too busy, too scattered to gather my thoughts and share them with you.  But, tonight, I will give it a shot...

Backtrack to Monday and the first annual MGG Swings for Shannon.  The forecast was really doom and gloom and everybody was thinking to themselves that thunderstorms could hit at any moment.  But they didn't.  We can't help but think that Shannon was taking care of us.

Lots of people were sporting lime green, and as far as I could tell, everyone was wearing a smile.

In the end, we raised over $8000 for Mayo Girls Golf and the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.  Amazing. The date is already set for next year, so mark your calendars for July 21, 2014.  And, if you want to see more photos, check out the foundation website.

There was no time to rest on my laurels, because Tuesday night I spoke at the University of Minnesota, Rochester speaker series.  This was my biggest stage yet.  Literally - it was on the big stage outside on the Peace Plaza in downtown Rochester!  If you have known me a long time, you know that in the past, this would have terrified me.  Not anymore.

I had free reign to do as I pleased, and I spoke for almost 40 minutes about our journey with Shannon, the importance of the research, and our work to keep her spirit alive through the foundation.  I managed to make a bunch of people laugh and cry again, so I guess I'm doing something right.

Each time I get the chance, I can find the strength to talk about Shannon.  I always feel sad afterwards - from telling her story, looking at her pictures, and wishing it were different.  That doesn't appear to be getting any easier with time.  But, in the moment, when I am speaking, I am happy to be talking about my girl.  In the moment, my fear disappears...

There are no more speaking engagements on the calendar until the big St. Jude fundraiser in September, but I'm still hopeful there will be more opportunities in the future.

So, with those events behind us, tonight we are packing and preparing to head to Lake Hubert tomorrow.  Dan and I can't wait to have our morning coffee and sit with Shannon at her rock.

Monday is looming.  Shannon's birthday.  She would have been 15.

It's still unbelievable sometimes.

Monday July 22, 2013

Just about to head out for the first annual MGG Swings for Shannon golf tournament.  Setting up at noon, and play begins at 2pm.

Warm & sunny right now... I hope Shannon told Mother Nature to cooperate this afternoon!

I will be thinking of this little golfer all day ...

Wednesday July 17, 2013

We are having one of those stretches of summer weather where the heat and humidity are oppressive.  Add to that my hot flashes, and, well, it's not pretty...

The week is cruising by, filled with meetings and speech writing and taking Erin to and from volleyball camp.  Erin and her buddy Lexie spent three nights at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. They were resident campers, staying in the dorms and making new friends.  Oh, and they worked on their volleyball a little bit, too.

It was a great experience and they were happy to go and happy to come home.  The first sleep away camp experience was a success.  They made new friends from other Southern Minnesota towns, and they hope to all hook up again next year.

We have been doing the final bit of planning for the MGG Swings for Shannon golf tournament coming up this Monday.  I am excited to see all the names of people coming to play, and the even bigger list of people who have donated to the cause.  (Dan thinks he's got the winning team, so somebody else in the field better take them down!)

I have finalized my speech for tomorrow - speaking at a Rotary luncheon here in Rochester.  Erin will come along with me and be my date since Dan is on the road in Michigan.  Work is busy for him, and busy is good.  He signed another big account this week, so all those days on the road do pay off.

I have to get working on next Tuesday's speech, too, but that will be this weekend's project.  I hope some Rochester folks will come out on Tuesday for the UMR Connects event and the book signing afterwards.  I'd hate to be standing on that big stage in the shadow of the Gonda building talking to a bunch of empty chairs...

As I was talking to Dan last night on the phone, I was going on and on about all the stuff I had to do for the golf tournament and getting ready to speak and he said, "Isn't it good that you have the time to do this right now?"  He is so right.  Crazy how things work out like that sometimes...

So, tonight I am grateful.  Grateful for the opportunities ahead in the next week to reach people, have some fun, and carry on Shannon's spirit.

Sunday July 14, 2013

There's a big empty space in our back yard tonight.  Today, I dismantled our old wooden swing set.

With rotting boards and rusty bolts, it was time.  It had a good run - built as a birthday present to Shannon for her third birthday, some twelve years ago now.  We had moved into our new house with the big yard the year before, and there was now a baby sister, so Shannon needed a place to go and play.

Then the neighbor girls, Abby and Tessa, became playmates and that swing set saw a lot of action.  It was a ship, it was a fort, it was a picnic spot.  It had a sandbox and a teeter totter and swings and rings and monkey bars.  Hours of endless fun.

There was always a new make believe game thought up by Abby and Shannon, the older sisters.  Tessa and Erin would follow along until there were too many instructions from the big sisters, and then all hell would break loose.

As the girls got older and braver,  they would swing high enough to make the whole structure sway, and make mom nervous.  They loved that.  It served a purpose in the winter, too, as Shannon developed a method of placing a sled at the end of the slide, then sliding down into it to propel herself down the hill in the back yard.

Even the erecting of the swing set is part of our family lore.  My dad offered to help me build it.  See, I get my instruction-following-concrete-sequential ways from him.  Dan, on the other hand, took one look at the 48 page instruction manual and the hundreds of nuts and bolts and washers and said, "How about I watch the kids?"

As Dan watched the kids, Papa and I went to work.  Dan came out at one point to "visit" with us, but when we are working on a project, we just focus on the project.  Dan commented to us that "There's not a lot of friendly banter out here."  My dad and I explained "We're working!"  Dan couldn't understand that, and eventually, we not-so-politely told him to leave us alone...

So, today I pulled apart those carefully placed nuts and bolts, and I cried like a baby.  It's silly and it's only symbolic, but it still got to me.

A big empty space, for sure...

Friday July 12, 2013

I bought a new phone case yesterday.  (Actually, I got a new phone but that's not the point of this story.)  So, as I'm looking at the wide range of cases, I gravitate towards the lime green one.  It hits me that lime green has become my new color of choice.  Why not.

Shannon has been front and center this week for me.  I have three "Shannon events" in the next 11 days, so it's time to focus on her story, our story, our message again.  It feels like it's been a while now since the book launch, so I am excited to get back to work.

In the next few weeks, I will speak to the Rotary Club, help with the inaugural Mayo Girls Golf Swings for Shannon tournament, and do a public speaking engagement at the Peace Plaza in downtown Rochester.  For someone who used to be a serious introvert, I now find myself looking forward to these events.  When I step back and think about it, it's amazing how much Shannon has changed my life.

Back at the book signing event in St. Paul, Erin was asked a question about how she was able to move forward after Shannon died.  "Acceptance" she explained.  Acceptance is a daily process for us, and some days are better than others.  As I start to focus on these upcoming events, I struggle a bit with the emotions surrounding our story.  But, this is my course now, my mission, so I'll push on.

Here are the nuts and bolts of the upcoming public events.  We'd love to have you join us:

Monday, July 22nd - MGG Swings for Shannon Golf Scramble 
2pm at Eastwood Golf Course  
Need to register by Sunday - call Coach Steve Myhro at 507-280-9824

Tuesday, July 23rd UMR Connects Speaker Series 
7pm at the Peace Plaza followed by a book signing at Barnes &Noble 
Free and open to the public  

I have received some positive feedback lately from people who have read the book.  In fact, on our way home from Paris, a lady at O'Hare airport took the time to stop me and say "I recognized you sitting there and I just wanted to say how much your blog and book have meant to me."  She's a Rochester native, but lives in Portland, Oregon now and was in Chicago visiting family.  Erin thought it was pretty cool that someone recognized me.  My only regret is that I looked like hell after a nine hour flight from Paris!

Then, yesterday, in line at the phone store, a woman came up and said, "I read your book and it was helpful to me, so thank you for writing it."  She has had her own cancer diagnosis, and Determined to Matter helped her think differently about it.

So, moments like those help me to push on and continue this work.  Next month, our inaugural SOF scholarship winners will head off to college.  That feels good.  Shannon will never go to college, but others can in her memory.  Acceptance.

What we have once enjoyed we can never lose.  All that we love deeply becomes a part of us. - Helen Keller

Monday July 8, 2013

We have returned to Willow Lane and are fighting our bodies today to adjust to the time change.  Our re-entry was made much easier by the fact that Grandma and Papa Harkins stayed at our house while we were gone.

They claim it was a good deal for them as they had a 10 day stay in a house with air conditioning, cable TV, and a golf cart in the garage.  We think we got the good end of the deal as we came home to a clean house, laundry done, dinner and groceries in the fridge, and no kennel bill for Sunny the Wonderdog.  Best house sitters ever...

It will be impossible for me to recount all the experiences we have had over the last 10 days.  Exposing ourselves to new places, a new language, world famous sites, and side streets off the beaten paths.  We saw all the things you should see in London and Paris:  Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, London Eye, Wimbledon, a West End Musical, then on to Notre Dame, L'Arc De Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, and a river cruise on the Seine.  We have the pictures to prove it, so allow me to bore you with a few:

Having a French history professor as your own personal tour guide only added to the experience.  Erin's cuz-in-law Doug was able to share stories with her (and me and Dan) about what had happened in the past on the very streets we were visiting.  It almost made me want to go back to college and learn again.

Over our 10 days we experienced emotions of joy and sadness and Erin even admitted to feeling guilty.  We spread Shannon's ashes into the Thames and the Seine right along with Doug, Maggie and Owen who did the same for Henry.  Two families standing in memorable places, fighting to keep the memories of our children alive.  

As we memorialized Shannon in Paris, it was July 6th - 18 months since her passing.

There was also a reception at the Oxford & Cambridge Club while we were in London for British Studies students who received Shannon O'Hara scholarships and Henry Mackaman travel awards.  Doug and Maggie have graciously endowed these scholarship programs and each year some students will be able to have this study abroad experience in honor of our children.  We were able to spend a great deal of time with the three Shannon scholarship winners - an international business major, a pre-med student, and a journalism major.  Great kids with their whole lives ahead of them.  We presented them with signed copies of Determined to Matter and they responded with gratitude.   

Erin continues to be open about her feelings.  She was grateful for these experiences, but her guilt about this trip was real and understandable.  Shannon didn't get to do these things.  And, there is an underlying question of whether or not we'd be taking this kind of trip if we hadn't suffered the loss of Shannon.  If we're being completely honest, the answer is probably no.  We'd be living status quo, conservative with our money, planning for the future, content with our "normal" lives.  

But, we can never go back to that place.  Our world is different and our perspective has been altered.  So, how do we accept that it's OK to live this way?  We need to think about how we frame it.  

It's not that we are capitalizing on our change in circumstance, throwing caution to the wind, and just doing whatever the hell we want.  Of course, we are living differently because of Shannon, but that's OK.  We are living with a bigger purpose, continuing to share our story and do some good in Shannon's memory.  We want to do what we can to give Erin every opportunity to see the world and decide how she wants to make a difference with her life.  We just have to remember that it's OK for us to find some joy along the way and treat ourselves, too.  We deserve as much.

So, we are back on Willow Lane and there is work ahead.  Dan will travel again later this week.  A trip to Cedar Rapids will be a piece of cake!  Erin will get back in the swing of things with volleyball and piano.

I need to begin planning for the next few Determined to Matter/Shannon O'Hara Foundation events.  I have two speeches and a golf tournament in the span of 6 days coming up.  The jet lag is making it difficult to focus, so I'm going to give myself one more day before I start forcing my brain to work.

London and Paris are behind us now, but will always be with us, too.  Dan mentioned that we were having a photo contest between the three of us to take the most artistic photo on our trip.  Here's another possible entry from my camera...

Thursday July 4, 2013

Bonjour from the Rive Gauche in Paris.  We left London early this morning on a Eurostar train, through the chunnel under the English Channel, and arrived in Paris by 11am.

I meant to write more about our London experience, but time moved quickly there and we are on to the next part of our adventure.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one more piece of our London stay.  We brought a few of Shannon's ashes along, and we made a plan with Doug, Maggie and Owen to honor Shannon and Henry in our own special way.  Doug put it so eloquently in his own words:

"Our kids were meant to spend so much more time with us and to travel and explore and maybe even live in exciting places...So in lieu of what was meant to be...we are left needing to find and mark a few forever places that will be our communion points with the one who got away."

And so, on our last night in London, we returned a bit of Shannon and Owen to the earth, sending them down the Thames...

Our take on London is its a balls to the wall, grab a pint, and tell a tale kind of city, but our first impression of Paris lets us know that we have landed in a different place.  Here, the pace is slower and the streets are less crowded.  The cafes and restaurants face outward to the street and invite you in for conversation, maybe a glass of wine, or a cup of coffee.

Today we got acclimated to our surroundings and started to listen to the French language being spoken.  I remember some of it from Mrs. Deines' French 4 class in 1987, but I have to admit I cheated quite often today with this handy dandy app called Google Translate.

Tonight, we met up with The Mackamans and walked along the Seine near Notre Dame and through the Latin Quarter.  It's a bonus for us to have our own French History professor along as we walk.  Doug is helping teach Erin - and remind me and Dan - about the French Revolution and French History.

Doug pointed out a place where Benjamin Franklin hung out when he was the Ambassador to France, and he talked about the history of many of the buildings we passed, including the Pantheon where many great writers are buried including Voltaire, Rousseau, and Victor Hugo.

The Pantheon
We feel so very fortunate to be having this experience.  As we walked back to our hotel tonight along the Boulevard Saint Jacques, Erin admitted to feeling a little guilty that she is here, and Shannon is not. Erin's exact words:  "Shannon would have loved this."

But, we are meant to go on, to experience things, to open up Erin's eyes to the world.  Would we be doing this if Shannon were still here?  Maybe not.  There's no way of knowing, and it doesn't really do any good to wonder.  So, we will cherish the opportunity to experience this.  Having Doug, Maggie, and Owen here to show us the ropes and share the joy and pain is perfect.

Team Mackaman and Team O'Hara at Notre Dame

Wednesday July 3, 2013

Greetings from the banks of the Thames.  Jen and I slept until 9:00a!  Now we are up relaxing in the executive lounge at the hotel drinking strong coffee.  This blend comes from a commercial coffee maker that is available down here (the exec lounge is on the 9th floor - our room is on 11).  One more night in Central London.

We have expanded our horizons most definitely over these last 5 days.  Mind the gap and top up your Oyster are key phrases we've learned to understand as we navigate London's Underground aka The Tube.  Truly an international city, with languages and cultures coming together for business and pleasure.

However, our pop cultures are in sync - John Legend's "Ordinary People" plays as I log in and write in the lounge on a big-ass IMac Pro.  Monday night we made it down to the Theatre district to take in the show Once at the Phoenix Theatre.  Jen woke early and queued for "day of" show tickets and scored us front row tickets for £25 each.

This is certainly a brand aware culture.  We did see a TK Maxx - don't suppose Jen and Erin will shop there today?

Jen, Erin and I have a photo contest going.  The winning photos will end up on a wall at home to remember the trip.  Dan's entry is entitled "Textures, Form and Cheap Sparkling Wine".  I found this scene the other day near Westminster Abbey;
Photo contest winner
There are too many highlights to fit into one blog entry.  But I have to say it was fascinating to take in Erin's cousin-in-law Dr. Doug Mackaman lecturing to U of So Miss "London Alive" students as we toured galleries and historical sites.  Erin O'Hara and cousin Mugs blended right in;
Dr. Doug outside St. Paul's
While Jennifer very much enjoyed her birthday at Wimbledon, Tuesday's return to the AELTC (All England Lawn and Tennis Club) was a mind blower.  Eric Butorac's family had departed so Jen, Erin and I became Booty's family-for-a-day and enjoyed privileges that included all access badges to player dining and practice facilities.  
That's what I'm talking about
There were no top Men's matches scheduled Tuesday, but as we sat and chatted up Booty after his practice hit, all the top guys were walking by and hitting the practice courts where we stood; JMDP, Andy Murray, Jokerman, Thomas Berdych... they were all there and many said hi to Booty.  Jen was in jaw-drop-mode.  I was of course, cool-as-a-cuke.  (Full disclosure; Erin was so embarrassed by my iPhone camera usage...she thought it was soooo uncool.)
Rochester's Eric Butorac
Great to see Eric in celeb mode - he laughs when the autograph seekers ask him what his name is.  

Jen will need to write about her experience; but there was a rain delay and Erin and I tubed back to the hotel and left Jen in heaven.  She sat in the player dining area visiting with Booty and others (Wimbledon Champion Goran Ivanesivic among those sharing a table at one point).  Truly a who's-who of professional tennis.  

Eventually, play resumed and Eric and his partner won in straight sets to move into the third round of the mixed doubles draw. Congrats to Booty - as his sleepy little pro tennis career continues at age 32.  Jen got back to the room well after dark, tired and smiling.

Tonight we will honor Shannon and Henry Mackaman with ceremonies and book signing event at the Oxford and Cambridge Club.  No kidding.  Tomorrow we Chunnel for Paris.  GTG.