New


The pads on our 6-month old puppy’s paws are still soft and pink. My husband said it’s because life hasn’t had a chance to wear them down yet, because she’s still a “new dog”. I like that concept:  “new dog”. If you think about it, we were all once new ourselves.

Puppies are such a gift, so pure and innocent. Ours has only five states:  streaking through the yard at top speed; playing; cuddling; afraid that she’s in trouble; and asleep. Life is very simple for her, and it’s refreshing to watch. Her few moods are highly contagious, especially her joy and love. She’d wormed her way into all of our hearts by her second week here. She’s easy to love.

Just as her paw pads will eventually wear down as she gets older, it’s easy for us to get worn down the farther we move away from being “new”. Life has a way of wearing on you, if we let it, even robbing us of our joy. That’s why I love having a puppy in the house again, even though she’s destructive and expensive. Her innocent antics make me smile and remind me of when I, too, was new. She gives the priceless gift of joy.

“If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment.”  –Carlos Santana


Simple

complex
A friend once explained all of the steps he’d taken to self-publish a book, in the days before Amazon made that relatively easy. I was impressed and told him so, that I had no idea the steps for self-publishing were that simple. After hearing a few more details, I again expressed admiration, saying I hadn’t realized this process would be that easy. My friend then gently corrected me:  “Ah Kelly…just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.” I immediately recognized his point as profound.
I’ve thought about my friend’s words many times in the years since, realizing they’re true for far more than books. There’s much in life that’s simply about perseverance:  painting a house, graduating college, maintaining relationships. And yet so many of these stick-with-it activities are abandoned before they’re completed, or never even started in the first place. Their steps may be simple, but getting through them all before we wear out or are distracted isn’t always easy.
Fundamentally, this “simple but not easy” principle actually describes life itself. Surviving is not only pretty simple…we’re wired for it. All that’s required of us is to make it through one day at a time…pretty simple, but not always easy. Sometimes in the middle of a long, drawn out process–when I’m tempted to give up–I try to remind myself that I just need to focus on the simplicity of putting one foot forward at a time. That focus has comforted me and helped me persevere.
“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races, one after the other.”  –Walter Elliot

Joyland

I was recently reminiscing about one of the best days of my life. The Joyland Amusement Park–the only one in Kansas then or now–opened in 1949, providing thrills and fun to generations of Wichita kids before closing for good 57 years later. Everyone who spent even a part of their childhood in Wichita has a Joyland story, most likely a positive one just like mine.

Entering the park, you passed an enormous swimming pool full of kids. I always wanted to swim there, but never got to…the rides were always a bigger draw. There were bumper cars; a Tilt-A-Whirl (my favorite); a giant Ferris wheel, the only ride which really scared me; and the Whacky Shack, which opened when I was eight. It’s hard to describe the Whacky Shack. It was a sort of cross between a fun house and a haunted house. It was popular, though if I think about why, it may have had a lot to do with the short list of truly cool rides. Joyland is where I learned to play Skee Ball and peeked into the windows of the strange, large fiberglass shoe to see the old lady and her children. Stranger still was the Wurlitzer-playing clown, Louie, just inside the entrance. I always felt obligated to pay him quick homage…to this day I don’t like clowns. But the piece de resistance was the roller coaster. The wooden structure was large, with a steep hill at the beginning setting the stage for the rest of the ride. By the time I was big enough to ride it, it already needed a fresh coat of white paint, which it never got. That run-down look contributed to the fear you felt pulling the paltry lap bar down over your legs and hearing the click-click-click as the chain’s safety locks pulled your car slowly and suspensefully up that first big hill.

Joyland closed after I moved away, but I didn’t give it much thought until I saw a video on Facebook a couple of years ago. Set to haunting music, it was a tour of the abandoned park, still recognizable through the overgrown weeds. There was the familiar A-frame of the Whacky Shack and the skeleton of the roller coaster, now even shakier but still with a car waiting to take ghost riders on a hair-raising ride. Shortly after that video, a windstorm brought part of the coaster down. A bulldozer took the rest of it when the city sued the long-time owners for not maintaining what had become a public nuisance and again a gathering place for teenagers, now up to nothing good. All that’s left today are the memories and the You Tube videos taken by some of those kids as the place literally fell apart…a slow-motion, ugly death.

As for that best day of my young life, when I was about eight my best friend had invited me to Joyland to her parent’s company picnic. Instead of the normal tickets which always meant we were done riding too soon, we had magic arm bands to ride as often as we wanted. When combined with all of the free watermelon and ice cream and Coke they also entitled us to, we were in kid heaven. I felt rich and important. This was the 70’s, when parents thought nothing of letting two young girls roam by themselves for hours, while they sat out of sight in the picnic area at the back of the park visiting. We were independent and free…it was a magical night. This is my enduring memory of Joyland, not the sad, graffiti-ridden buildings from You Tube. Joyland was truly a place of joy for kids for decades; it will never be really gone until the last of us who visited are no more.

Footnote:  A decade after the park closed and he went missing, Louie the clown has been recovered from the home of a former park employee and child sex offender. I don’t know where he is now, and I don’t really want to.


Joyland


I was recently reminiscing about one of the best days of my life. The Joyland Amusement Park–the only one in Kansas then or now–opened in 1949, providing thrills and fun to generations of Wichita kids before closing for good 57 years later. Everyone who spent even a part of their childhood in Wichita has a Joyland story, most likely a positive one just like mine.

Entering the park, you passed an enormous swimming pool full of kids. I always wanted to swim there, but never got to…the rides were always a bigger draw. There were bumper cars; a Tilt-A-Whirl (my favorite); a giant Ferris wheel, the only ride which really scared me; and the Whacky Shack, which opened when I was eight. It’s hard to describe the Whacky Shack. It was a sort of cross between a fun house and a haunted house. It was popular, though if I think about why, it may have had a lot to do with the short list of truly cool rides. Joyland is where I learned to play Skee Ball and peeked into the windows of the strange, large fiberglass shoe to see the old lady and her children. Stranger still was the Wurlitzer-playing clown, Louie, just inside the entrance. I always felt obligated to pay him quick homage…to this day I don’t like clowns. But the piece de resistance was the roller coaster. The wooden structure was large, with a steep hill at the beginning setting the stage for the rest of the ride. By the time I was big enough to ride it, it already needed a fresh coat of white paint, which it never got. That run-down look contributed to the fear you felt pulling the paltry lap bar down over your legs and hearing the click-click-click as the chain’s safety locks pulled your car slowly and suspensefully up that first big hill.

Joyland closed after I moved away, but I didn’t give it much thought until I saw a video on Facebook a couple of years ago. Set to haunting music, it was a tour of the abandoned park, still recognizable through the overgrown weeds. There was the familiar A-frame of the Whacky Shack and the skeleton of the roller coaster, now even shakier but still with a car waiting to take ghost riders on a hair-raising ride. Shortly after that video, a windstorm brought part of the coaster down. A bulldozer took the rest of it when the city sued the long-time owners for not maintaining what had become a public nuisance and again a gathering place for teenagers, now up to nothing good. All that’s left today are the memories and the You Tube videos taken by some of those kids as the place literally fell apart…a slow-motion, ugly death.

As for that best day of my young life, when I was about eight my best friend had invited me to Joyland to her parent’s company picnic. Instead of the normal tickets which always meant we were done riding too soon, we had magic arm bands to ride as often as we wanted. When combined with all of the free watermelon and ice cream and Coke they also entitled us to, we were in kid heaven. I felt rich and important. This was the 70’s, when parents thought nothing of letting two young girls roam by themselves for hours, while they sat out of sight in the picnic area at the back of the park visiting. We were independent and free…it was a magical night. This is my enduring memory of Joyland, not the sad, graffiti-ridden buildings from You Tube. Joyland was truly a place of joy for kids for decades; it will never be really gone until the last of us who visited are no more.

Footnote:  A decade after the park closed and he went missing, Louie the clown has been recovered from the home of a former park employee and child sex offender. I don’t know where he is now, and I don’t really want to.


As Good As It Gets


This is my favorite movie title. The Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt movie is pretty good, but the movie title is awesome; it’s become a sort of life’s motto for me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been unbelievably blessed. I’ve got three really cool kids with my high school sweetheart; I have a job I love and colleagues I like; and we don’t have big money worries. I realize how few people can say all of that. Yet life is still challenging. I struggle, just like everyone does. Some of my struggles are obvious even to those I know only casually, while others are known only to family or very close friends. Sometimes I get really weary…no one goes through life without baggage or scars.

But I also know how good I’ve got it. I may get tired and stressed, but I wouldn’t trade my life and problems with anyone. I thank God for every day, and pray for His help to be better and stronger tomorrow. This is definitely as good as it gets.

“I think I’ve discovered the secret of life. You just hang around until you get used to it.”  –Charles M. Schulz


Graduation


This weekend marks the second graduation for our three kids; one more left four years from now. This graduation was a particularly profound accomplishment, which for much of the past three years was far from certain. But she did it, overcoming odds stacked against her…I couldn’t be more proud.

Following that middle-of-the-night race to Little Rock several July’s ago, her biggest concern was catching up for marching band practice. But within two weeks, only Megan was worrying about school:  her diagnosis and the shock of chemo and possible bone marrow transplant drowned out everything else for her dad and I. The morning of our anniversary, the doctor reassuringly (he thought) told us he was pleased she’d made it through the night, as they prepared to transfer her back to ICU. School and grades no longer mattered.

Fast forward to today. Through two hip replacements, two knee surgeries, wheelchair confinement, PT, countless doctor appointments, and constant pain, she graduated on time and with a GPA to be proud of. I couldn’t be prouder. She’s my  brave, strong, amazing daughter. She’s my hero.

“One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever gotten is my daughter.”  –Ace Frehley


Puppies


Our puppy hasn’t learned to smile yet. She’s still learning pretty much everything, since she’s only been on the planet for five months. She’s still learning to beg for people food. She’s still learning not to get too close to the edge of the couch, or she’ll fall off. She’s still learning that passing cars and blowing leaves won’t hurt her when she’s out on a walk. She has already learned that cuddles are good. But she hasn’t yet learned to smile.

It’s fun to spend time with puppies. They’re adorable, and the things they do make you smile. It’s amusing to watch them explore the amazing world around them, reminding us that it really is an amazing world after all. I remember watching our other puppies take their time in learning to smile. What seems to be instinctive in human babies doesn’t seem so with puppies. But with enough love and a safe environment, they eventually learn. Even our neurotic, senior rescue dog learned to smile in time, once she settled in and learned that her new forever family loved her. The analogy to humans is obvious. We’re happy only when we know that we’re loved.

So I’ll watch her grow and play and learn, laughing at her novice antics and snuggling her every chance I get. And I’ll be waiting. Waiting for her to learn not just cuddling, but what real love is. Then she’ll smile the real smile of true happiness.

“Not every person knows how to love a dog, but every dog knows how to love a person.”  –Unknown