Friday August 30, 2013

Wow, what a week it has been.  Here's a quick synopsis:  Shannon O'Hara Foundation Board of Directors meeting, St. Jude Fall Festival of Hope meeting,  IBM charitable giving meeting, a speech to the Kiwanis group, a meeting with our publishers, two volleyball games, and one visit to my grandma...

Uff da.

There is an internal conflict that goes on when I have a week like this.  Why am I doing this?  I hate asking people for money, but I love sharing our story.  In order to make a difference in this world, we have to be able donate to the research that will someday change the outcome for kids like Shannon.  And in the short term, we are helping kids through scholarships.  But, in order to do that, we have to raise money.  It's a vicious cycle.

Nevertheless,  it's been a really good week.  Erin's volleyball season is off and running.  There are games every week from here on out, and that's the fun part.  Erin is playing a new position this year - setter - and it means she's a part of the action on almost every point.  Pretty fun for her.  A lot of fun for me and Dan.

Between volleyball and Dan's work schedule, we've got a busy September ahead.

In my publishing meeting yesterday, we discussed the future of Determined to Matter.  We think it still has legs, although I haven't heard from Ellen DeGeneres or Oprah yet...

Like I've said before, if it helps one person at a time, that's good with me.  I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but I'm going on the assumption that if you are still following this blog, you still care.

Earlier this week we received an email from a woman who had suffered the loss of her husband just a few days after Shannon passed away.  Her sister-in-law bought her a copy of Determined to Matter, and she took the time to write us and tell us that our story is helping her:

Jen & Dan,

I finished reading your book today and so appreciated your words which so often aligned with my journey of grief with losing my husband.  Our pre-loss experiences were very different, but your ability to share your grief reassured me that I am working through my feelings in a normal and healthy way.  I took my girls on a trip, money isn't as important as it once was to me, and we even read the same daily devotional book.  Again, I just want to thank you for your ability to blog about your experience.  It was so good to see you write so many of the same things that I have felt and said over the last year and a half.  Bless you all as you continue to make that new normal life for the three of you.  My girls are both now in college, and we continue to do the same.

Notes like these keeping us pressing on.  Good things are ahead.  I just know it.

Happy Labor Day Weekend, everyone!  

Saturday August 24, 2013

The weekend is here.  Dan has returned from Detroit, and today Erin and I are off to a baby shower for cousin Maggie.  It will be fun to see the O'Hara women and celebrate the impending birth of Erin's first cousin, once removed.

Today will cap off what has been a good week for Erin.  It was schedule pick up this week at Willow Creek and Erin's 8th grade year is going to be a good one.  She has a lot of friends in her section, which means they get to eat lunch together.  Obviously, lunch is the best chance to socialize, so it is very important that you get to eat lunch with your buddies!

Erin also got the team of teachers she wanted, including a few that had Shannon during her fateful 8th grade year.  This is the first time all summer that Erin has shown any excitement about 8th grade, so I think that's progress.

Pre-season volleyball is winding down this week, too.  The 3 1/2 hour practices are coming to a close, and next week the games begin.  Before the season can start, though, you've got to have picture day.  So, courtesy of Matt Addington Photography, here's my little 8th grader, ready to represent the Mayo Spartans...

Tuesday August 20, 2013

Things are good here on Willow Lane.  August is speeding right along, and pieces are falling into place for the upcoming fall.  There have been a few emotional days lately as things change and time marches on, but it's all as it should be.

We had a goodbye dinner last weekend for our friend Ariana.  She is off to college in California and Erin will miss getting to hang out with her.  There were tears for Erin that night, knowing that A bomb won't be around to just pick her up and take her out for ice cream.  She'll see her again, but it will never be the same.

Erin has been talking a lot about her own education path - high school, post secondary option, college, med school perhaps.  If you ask her today, she'll tell you she wants to be a doctor.  I need to convince her that she still has to go to 8th grade!  Schedule pick up is this Thursday, so we'll start with that.

This past weekend we also made an appearance at a softball tournament here in Rochester.  Swing For The Cure raises money for cancer research at the Mayo Clinic and Dan was asked to speak.  He did a great job sharing our story and letting them know a little bit about Shannon.  Erin of course had good advice for him - beer drinking men don't want a sad story, so find a way to fire them up.  And he did.

There was a family wedding this weekend, too.  I'm not one to post my political views here - I'm a big believer in live and let live.  But, watching two people who have been partners for 30 years finally have the chance to marry, well, no political discussion necessary in my opinion.  Congratulations to my uncle James and my "new" uncle Gary!

In the midst of all of this, Erin has also been going through volleyball tryouts.  That is always a stressful process, but now, teams have been assigned and she's happy to be right where she is.  Phew.

I've been doing a lot of work on the foundation and prepping for upcoming events.  Our first two scholarship checks were sent last week.  Our winners are off to college this fall, and $2000 of their first fee statement will be covered by the Shannon O'Hara Foundation.  That feels dang good.  Any of you out there reading this that have donated, thank you and job well done.

As we look to another year of fundraising events, we've got two opportunities coming up this fall.  We will be taking part in two walks for the organizations that the SOF supports:

October 5th  - Brains Together For A Cure Walk in Rochester 
November 23rd  - St. Jude Give thanks. Walk. in Minneapolis

More information coming very soon on these events.  We also are making an "I walk for Shannon"
t-shirt so we'll be sharing info on how to order those as well.

All good stuff, yet still hard to believe she is gone.  I am reminded of that when I get "excited" for an event.  It's not really excitement, because I wish I wasn't there in the first place.  But, given our circumstance, it does feel good to do something - scholarships, fundraising, etc. - in her memory.  She deserves at least that...   

Friday August 16, 2013

I've been tapping into my music this week.  I decided while mowing the lawn the other day that I would listen to my music library on my phone by putting it on shuffle and letting it play all the way through.  1,506 songs on there.  It might take me a few days...

What am I searching for?  Comfort?  Connection?  Inspiration?  I think it might be all three...

The songs that come up on my shuffle each seem to have a story.  They remind me of a place, or a person, or a time.  They remind me of the before and the after.   They remind me of my youth (Madonna and John Mellencamp), they remind me of Dan (Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne), they remind me of our struggle with Shannon (Jason Mraz and Coldplay).

The new stuff that comes up on shuffle has a story, too.  It's part of our new story.  Music from the show Once, that we saw in London.  Music that Erin has introduced into my repertoire (Of Monsters and Men, Passenger).

I am feeling the need for this comfort, connection, and inspiration as fall is fast approaching.  Fall is the beginning of the "regular" schedule where kids go to school and parents go to work.  It is time to start that cycle again.

I have been thinking and thinking and thinking about what's next for me.  I have thought myself right into such uncertainty that I have no idea where to go next with my time and energy.  Sure, I will continue to mother Erin and wife Dan (is "wife" and appropriate verb??).  I will continue the foundation work and continue sharing Determined to Matter.  I have two speeches to write, including the one for our St. Jude Fall Festival appearance next month.

But what else?

My need to find the perfect fit has kept me from doing anything.  Should I find a job?  Should I write?  About what?  If I'm not sure I can succeed, why try?  What if I don't know any of the answers to any of these questions?   I could sit here and try to think my way out of it indefinitely.  I've lived through a certain kind of hell these past two years, and it's very easy for me to just accept that this is how life is for me.  To just say, "this is who I am now because of what happened."

I have been torturing myself with these questions now for some time.  Dan, Erin, and my dear friends have been supportive.  Last weekend, a dear friend told me it's OK to not know where you are headed, but don't stand still.  Do something.

I don't want this to be all there is.  I do believe there is more.  More for me to give to this crazy world while I am here.  So, I will attempt this fall to move myself forward.  I'm going to take a creative writing class and see if that can spark further development of this skill and passion that I discovered in this very blog.  I'd love for writing to be my vocation in some capacity.  Who knew...

As I worked through a few hundred songs over the past few days, one set of lyrics struck a real chord (no pun intended) with me.  It's from the California folk rock band, Dawes, and their song When My Time Comes:

So, I took what I wanted 
And put it out of my reach
I wanted to pay for my successes
with all my defeats

Well, you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks
Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it's starin' right back

So, this fall, my goal is to stop looking at the obstacles in my way, and start looking for opportunities.  It's time...

Happy 50th Birthday, DanO!

This guy is 50 today.  That's a milestone, for sure, but he's taking it in stride...

The good news is, he's a better man at 50 than he was at 40 or 30.  I know, because I was there for those milestones, too.  He continues to grow and change and evolve.

I couldn't imagine this is where we'd be when he turned 50.  A lot has happened to us in the past 10 years, but here we are, doing the best we can, and still happy together.  I loved him at all those milestones, and I still do.   I'm grateful that he's my guy.

We'll be together today, just the three of us.  Making brunch at home, shopping for a new golf bag, and having a nice dinner out tonight.  No raucous party, which is just fine with him.  His two main gals will let him know how much he is loved.

Happy birthday sweetie.

Wednesday August 7, 2013

I have a love/hate with social media.  Most people do, I think.  I don't need to know when you've "checked in" at a local restaurant or care to read about how your kids are driving you crazy.  But, in this connected world, we can share ideas and information so easily, and some of it is really good.  I'm always looking for new voices and new motivation.  I love to read other people's thoughts on the world as they see it.  I take from these the things that work for me, and leave the rest.

A Facebook post by a friend last week led me to an article.  It's actually a commencement speech given by writer George Saunders at Syracuse this past spring.  His message:  be kinder.  "What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness."  He reminds us that the people we remember fondly in our lives are those who were the kindest to us.  Not the richest or the most powerful or most successful, but the kindest.  It's a wonderful read, so if you care to, click here.

We are given these opportunities every day.  Opportunities to connect.  Opportunities to be kind.

When we returned from the cabin, there were some unexpected birthday cards in the mail.  Several people remembered Shannon and honored her with donations to the foundation or just a note to say "she is remembered".  That was a day brightener.

Yesterday, Erin and I were shopping at Target and I stepped away to answer a phone call.  Erin was approached by a woman who asked, "Are you Smiley?"  Turns out the woman is a blog follower and she recognized Miss E.  She told Erin, "I saw you there and just had to say something."  Very kind.

I had a pick me up earlier this week.  A woman I knew 20 years ago called me.  She read Determined to Matter while on vacation with her children and grandchildren.  It touched her deeply, and she was so grateful that she felt compelled to pick up the phone and tell me that.  We had a wonderful conversation, and she thanked me.  It absolutely made my day.

I've get asked a lot, "How are book sales going?"  The short answer is, I don't know.  It's a bit anxiety inducing for me to think about.  We are still early in the process - two months since publication - and while it has sold well here locally and at events that we've had, beyond that, it hasn't really picked up any steam.  Of course, I am still hoping to get lucky and have it get some play on a regional and then national level.

But, that phone call this week reminded me that that's not why I wrote the book.  I wrote the book to honor Shannon and to share our story.  I wrote the book to reach people and, hopefully, move people.  If that happens just one person at a time, there's nothing wrong with that.  That person was affected.  That person connected with something I wrote, and it reminded them to cherish each day.

I'm going to try to think of the book as an act of kindness, one copy at a time...

Sunday August 4, 2013

For those of you that tell us that they can instantly tell who is blogging by the writing style, guess who?

We are back in Rochester resting and recovering from vacation and it's great to be home.  I always can't wait to leave and can't wait to get home.  I am blessed with a can't wait life.  I think that is a good thing.

I just can't seem to escape my sadness and memories this week.  It's probably a time of year thing that I will have to get used to.  I was on the golf course with friends yesterday and it was gorgeous; cloudless, windless...just about perfect.  It just seems that in moments of gratitude for the beauty around me it's impossible to clear thoughts of Shannon.

Maybe it's going to the lake.  Maybe it's extra time to relax and reflect.  But Shannon has been everywhere for me these days.

Amazingly, a bald eagle soared directly over our heads when we were gathered around Shannon's rock. Not once - but twice when we were just chillin' near the rock.  And not just a fly over but a pronounced circle directly over us.  The wildlife was sensational this week including our constant companions - the loons (and their complex behaviors).  We heard owls and saw an osprey fishing in the bay.  Perhaps I just need to accept that those are signs from our girl.
This is how I roll 
I have been immersed in professional opportunities recently.  I am blessed.  So Monday I will shift back into that mode.  Heading back to a lake - Lake Darling in Alexandria for a conference with the Minnesota Trucking Association.  Undoubtedly there will be more beauty in sunsets and nature. And anytime there is beauty, I see Shannon.