Father’s Day(s)

Today is Father’s Day, and my dad is back in the hospital. I brought him to the ER yesterday morning when his ankles began swelling beyond recognition and his mind became more confused. At the moment, he’s sitting in a hospital bed on the sixth floor, Cardiology, undergoing an infusion that will be repeated every 4-5 days for as long as there’s some benefit, however minute.

I’m crazy about Dad, always have been. He’s got grit. As I’ve written before, Dad knows what he believes in and stands by it. He is a good man, a hardworking farmer, a devout Catholic. He has always acted on his convictions and refused to “go along with the crowd” if their mindset doesn’t gel with those convictions. I have nothing but respect for Dad.

During the past eight weeks, Dad has faced a new challenge: Congestive Heart Failure. His time on earth, and in my life, is coming to a close. I have spent every day with Dad these 55 days, sharing meals, watching Westerns on television, enjoying long chats about his past and the future without him here to counsel me on caring for Mom and managing the farm.

On this Father’s Day, I am reminded that I am extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to call this man my dad. I wish we had many, many more Father’s Days ahead of us.


Tips from a cancer survivor and mom

I came across an amazing article in Working Mother from a mom with terminal cancer: http://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/whats-hot/a-note-to-my-fellow-working-moms-as-i-near-the-end-of-my-life/ar-BBzLxej?li=BBnb4R7

Rachel Huff shares the choices she’s made now that her doctors tell her that she is nearing the end of her life. Rather than embarking on a trip across the ocean or retiring early to take it easy, Huff says that she is relishing in the everyday joys of her life. The people she sees and tasks she completes at work. Opportunities to drive her kids to school and activities. Time to sit and sip a cup of tea. A day without debilitating pain.

Huff’s words made me pause and think about all that I have to be thankful for: a beautiful family, a job I love, a place to lay my head at night, and all the little extras that fill my days that I too often take for granted.


A special lunch

This morning, my 15-year-old daughter, Helena, and I headed to Grace Episcopal Church in the neighborhood of Woodlawn to serve lunch to people from the area. Woodlawn is one of the poorer parts of Birmingham, and the majority of people who walked through the door were either homeless or living in substandard conditions. Surrounding the church are dilapidated buildings, many like the houses in Edwina’s previous neighborhood. They are the kinds of homes and abandoned buildings that likely provide a bit of shelter at the same time they threaten the lives of those dwelling within. Many are standing in mid-crumble.

My cousin Tim, who grew up just a few miles from me and also lives in Birmingham, had invited Helena and me to join him and others for cooking and serving. His church had committed to help out and he wanted to make sure there were enough hands on deck to feed the 100+ people who showed up.

While I’ve volunteered many times with people in Birmingham who are homeless, the experience was a new one for Helena. During the past several years, Helena and Celia have gotten to know Edwina and have visited Church of the Reconciler where homeless folks from across the city come to worship, get warm (or cool, during the summer months), and fill their empty stomachs. But they’ve not interacted with people in quite the way we did today–greeting people, mostly men, when they walked into the church hall; seating them at tables and serving them restaurant-style; and most importantly, engaging in conversation.

Before the doors opened, Tim reminded all of us volunteering that our job was “not to make ourselves feel good about helping out the less fortunate,” but rather to “make our guests feel welcome and cared about.”

So often, those who live on the streets are made to feel invisible. Unseen. Uncared for. Unimportant. All of the “un’s” imaginable. Today was about making people know that they do matter. They are seen.

Helena benefited from the experience and thought that some of the people she talked with enjoyed themselves. She knows they liked the food. I hope she’ll want to go back again one of these days.

One hope I have for both of my girls is that they will seek out opportunities to see all people as they deserve to be seen.





A few weeks ago, my daughter Helena brought home a tiny goldfish from her school’s Relay for Life celebration. The event is a big one at our kids’ school, and everybody turns out to fundraise by selling food, running games, and peddling small items–including, it seems, fish.

Helena walked in the door with her new pet in a plastic bag filled with water, and soon Charlene was swimming around in a tiny bowl. Darting side to side, exploring her surroundings, rising to the surface for a flake of food.

In just a short time, we’d gotten used to seeing Charlene. We’d even begun singing to her–“Charlene, Charlene, Charlene,” to the tune of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”

A couple of days ago, though, Charlene started to look a tad droopy, and yesterday she passed on to the big pond in the sky. Helena and Bruce laid her to rest in the back garden, and Helena said she was going to miss her friend.

“Hey, can I get another fish?” she asked a few minutes later.

Maybe we can actually name this one Jolene.


My oldest daughter, Celia, is a smart kid.

Yesterday, she and I were talking about some upcoming celebrations in our extended family. In April, my cousin Tim’s daughter, Meredith, is getting married, and the girls are very excited about attending.

I told Celia that I’m looking forward to Meredith’s special day, but admitted that I sometimes feel a little bit sad when I’m around families with siblings who share a kind of bond that I don’t have with my only sibling. My cousin Tim, for example, has four siblings. Wherever they are, they remain connected. My relationship with my brother is measured by phone calls with directors of mental institutions, shelters, and correctional facilities.

Celia had a truly amazing response to my comment.

“I don’t think your brothers and sisters have to be related to you by blood,” she told me. “You have sisters like Tanya and Teresa who have always been there for you.”

Celia is absolutely right. Smart kid.

First days

Today marks my oldest’s last first day of high school and my youngest’s first first day of high school. As I snapped their picture this morning, I wondered (like most parents, I imagine) how we got to this point so quickly.


I sometimes tell new moms who express disbelief that my daughters are so grown up that once the girls started school, time seemed to move at record speed. Perhaps it’s because my husband and I are both academics and we measure our time largely around semesters. Or, maybe it feels the same for every parent.

While I’m waxing nostalgic, I want to gush a tad, too. Despite the many questions and uncertainties Bruce and I have faced as parents, I’m proud to say that my daughters are wonderful people–smart, funny, and kind. I couldn’t ask for more.


It’s Father’s Day, a great time to honor the man who’s had a huge influence on how I live my life.

Dad is a fourth-generation Illinois farmer who has spent his days tending to fields of corn, soybeans, and occasionally wheat. Over the years, he also tried his hand at raising livestock. At one time or another, my parents owned cows and sheep. An array of other animals have also lived on the Ryan farm, including a duck, goats, and plenty of dogs and cats.

Though he’s retired now, Dad still loves the land. Every time I head home for a visit, we hop in the pickup and drive by the fields. Last summer, we took photos of the two of us standing in one of his corn fields, the stalks rising above our heads.

As he’s grown older, Dad has also taken the time to teach me some vital lessons about how farms operate since one day, I’ll step into his shoes. They will be big shoes to fill.

If I had to choose just one word to describe my dad, it would be “integrity.” The most important thing I’ve learned from my dad is to stand your ground, even if others disagree with you.

When farmers were borrowing large sums of money in the 70’s to purchase land, Dad didn’t follow suit. He believed that the economy would shift, as it always has, and those who borrowed too much might not be in a position to pay it all back. He was right. Our family kept our farm while many friends and neighbors lost theirs during the 80’s Farm Crisis.

There are so many examples of my dad’s unwavering commitment to what he thinks is right. His Catholic faith. His insistence that spending money to appear rich and important isn’t worth the anxiety you’ll feel at night when your head hits the pillow. His conviction that good leaders are those who recognize disparities in how people around our country live and attempt to do something about it.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!