Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

I’m looking at all the tributes to dads on this Father’s Day. They’re all over Facebook; lots and lots of pretty terrific dads out there. Of course you probably don’t know what Facebook is, I don’t think it was a thing back when you were on the computer. But I think you would have enjoyed it, kept in touch with a lot of your forward thinking friends. And your kids of course.

Speaking of which, we’re all doing pretty good lately. A couple of them are coming up to visit me next week, and I’ll be going south next month. Hopefully we’ll all be together at your lake house for at least a few days. I know you like it when we’re all there, just like the old days. I think the house likes it too.

And you should see our house and garden now. The remodeling is finally finished, you didn’t get to see the fireplace or the built-ins. The kitchen that was so new when you were here last is probably outdated now. I watch those television shows and wonder what a buyer would say when they walked in here. It’s certainly not a gut job, but it’s not white either. Buyers are so fickle! You’d laugh at the thought of someone ripping out perfectly good stuff and starting over because it wasn’t their taste. I think the same way, probably got it from you.

The kousa dogwood tree out front that you helped plant so many years ago is beautiful this year. It’s such a delicate pink and cream. And so many blossoms. I guess that’s because we had a warm winter. Or a wet spring. Or maybe both. You and mom would love it.

You’d both love the birds here too. You should see the huge woodpecker on the oriole feeder right now, stealing all the oranges I just put out. He’s really pretty. So are the orioles, of course, who often share the feeder with other hungry birds. Sometimes I go out to Kensington, one of your favorite parks, and let the birds land on my hand. I often think about how you would enjoy doing that. Mom too.

Hey! Have you noticed that Katie and I camped a lot last summer? We’re planning on doing some this summer too. Can’t believe it’s already the middle of June. I guess if we’re going we should get to it. Katie says she’s glad you taught me all about camping, because she just loves to be out there in the woods, and she sure loves sleeping in her tent. Remember the old heavy green army tent the whole family used to sleep in? Well, tents today are a lot different! And they don’t smell so much either, which is a good thing.

Speaking of Katie, you didn’t get to meet her. You remember Bonnie, right? The sheltie-girl without the tail? Well, Katie is sort of like her but on steroids. She’s wound like a top, and definitely over the top, but I bet you’d enjoy her antics.

And did you see that your third child has grandchildren now? You would have loved these little kids, they’re so cute! And fun in small doses, you know? You could have played with them on weekends and then enjoyed the peace of the lake after they went back home. I’m sorry you didn’t get to experience that. But I figure you’re smiling now anyway.

There’s not a lot of news, dad. We’re all doing fine, partly because of the way you and mom raised us. We’re thankful for what we have, but we sure do miss the two of you.

I was thinking about what picture of you to use for this Father’s Day post, realizing that I don’t have any recent ones, that there won’t be any new photos ever again and that made me sad. So I guess I’ll just use a few of those I’ve already posted, sort of a celebration of your life.

But gee, I wish I could take a photo with you today.


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Baseball, an American pastime and other music

Some of you know that I play in a Community Band. We’re a band made out of people who played in high school, maybe college too, often years, even decades ago. Some of us are retired, most of us are still working, and a few of us are still in school. We have whole families playing together, moms and dads and their kids all come to rehearsals once a week and play music.

That’s my favorite part.

Anyway, our last concert of this season is a week from last night. Like any group we’ve had our good and bad rehearsals, scheduling conflicts, missing music, lack of instrumentation. But we’ve overcome all of that, and with one last rehearsal next week we’ll be ready.

Which is good, because we’re playing Pastime, a Saute to Baseball by Jack Stamp. Give it a listen. At about two minutes you’ll hear the most difficult part, the fugue where the band is split up among several lines and if you’re not careful chaos reigns. Don’t worry, it all comes back together just before two and a half minutes. Still, the whole thing requires concentration and counting. There’s no guessing when to come in on this one.

So I’m practicing. Between now and next Wednesday I think I need to practice every night.

It turns out Pastime isn’t the only difficult piece. We’re also doing Sun Dance by Frank Ticheli. (You can skip the ad after a couple seconds. This is performed by Michigan State University, my undergrad alma mater, so I couldn’t resist. Plus they sound amazing!) It’s turning into a bit of a challenge too. I don’t understand why composers can’t keep the same time signature (the number of beats in a measure) for an entire piece. This is another one that requires concentration and counting. Listen, I think you’ll enjoy it!

But why is everything just so darn fast?

Wish us luck. I think it’s a cool thing, to play with other musicians from all sorts of backgrounds, to not give up our instruments when we graduate from school. If you used to play and haven’t touched your instrument for a few (or a lot) of years, think about joining a community band near you. Many of them don’t require auditions to join.

And don’t be nervous. OK, you’re going to be a little nervous on the first couple of nights. We all were. But you’ll find the other musicians are just happy to have you. We’re always looking for more people.

Trust me. What your brain has forgotten your fingers remember. It will all come back. Promise.

If you didn’t play, consider attending a community band concert. We’re always looking for audience members too. Mostly we ask our friends and families to attend, but it would be fun to look out and see a full house. Music always sounds better when the venue is packed. I bet you even know some of the people playing, and they’d be delighted to see you out there providing support. It’s a community thing, and we certainly could use a little community building these days.

Thanks for listening.


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Mom and her birds

On this Mother’s Day I’m reminded how much my mom loved birds. She kept a life list of birds she’d seen, and they figured prominently in her descriptions of travel around the world.

A busy morning at the feeders.

In the last week, here in Michigan, the summer birds are arriving. I have photos of some of them, taken in bad light, through a dirty window.

Still, I know if she had been here she’d have been just as thrilled as I am to see them return.

Mr. Oriole is a very nervous eater, twisting his head this way and that to see what we’re doing inside.

Whatcha looking at lady?

But he’s also a pig and can’t resist stopping for another bit to eat. Frequently.

Yum!

Mrs. Oriole is a frequent visitor too, a bit less nervous, but just as hungry.

Good morning lady!

Yesterday I saw the season’s first male rose breasted grosbeak. This morning he hung out at the feeder for a long time, not afraid at all even when my camera lens hit the dirty window separating us.

Don’t bother me, I’m eating!

And last night, with camera focused on the feeder, we had another visitor to our yard.

Backyard streaker!

Mom would have gotten a kick out of that too.

So…though I don’t have a recent picture of her, I still think of mom every day, especially as I share with her the wonders of my backyard.

Just like she shared with me her love of everything wild and beautiful.

Happy Mother’s Day mom. We miss you.

Another mom hanging out in my backyard.


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Safety first

Safety is no accident!

Those of us working for truck safety appreciated all your support and kind words as we worked together to increase the safety on our roads. It’s been a tough few days for us as we gathered with determination to make a difference, many still raw from recent loss.

But it was amazing too.

I saw people with grief fresh on Saturday, sobbing through the initial telling of their stories, grow to tell those same stories calmly and firmly at the press conference on Tuesday. Friendships were forged that will last forever. People know they are not alone and progress is being made

Working the halls of Congress.

One of the most exciting things I saw during the conference was a short video clip of a side underride guard being tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In the first clip a mid-sized car was sent into the side of a semi trailer at 35 miles per hour, the standard speed the IIHS uses in test crashes. Without a side guard the car slides right under the trailer, the car’s safety features useless because the front of the vehicle doesn’t collide with anything. Air bags don’t deploy, the test dummy heads strike the side of the trailer. Death is probable.

In the second clip a side guard has been attached to a semi trailer, and the car sent speeding toward the trailer. The front of the vehicle crashes into the side guard, crumpling as it is designed to do. The passenger compartment is protected, in fact after the crash the driver door still opens and the occupants would have been minimally injured.

The passenger would survive!

Success!

Side and rear underride is a major safety issue, and one that The Truck Safety Coalition is focusing on this year. For many of our families it’s proof that finally someone is listening. So many of their loved ones died by sliding under a truck and finally we are making progress to stop that from happening in the future. The guard we saw is affordable, relatively light, and easy to install. And future iterations will be even lighter and more affordable. We believe that soon you’ll see them on the trucks driving near you on our nation’s roads.

I’m proud to be a part of this year’s Sorrow to Strength conference, proud to walk the halls of Congress, meet Members, talk to staff, support safety. Regardless of the political climate there is good work that will be done, good people to work with, good ideas that will be supported.

It wasn’t easy. My feet are tired and so is my head but my heart remains strong and my vision is clear. The roads are safer because of people like us, groups with no agenda other than safety. It takes work. But we’ll work on it forever.

Because safety is no accident.

Spreading the news.


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There will be tears

Today was day one; the first official day of the Truck Safety Coalition’s Sorrow to Strength Conference, held this year in Alexandria Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington DC.

Alexandria is beautiful. Yesterday evening my husband and I walked a few blocks of the historic shopping district, me trying not to trip as my bifocal glasses distorted the already bumpy brick paved sidewalks.

I watched the families, decked out in shorts and flip flops eating ice cream and laughing. I wished we were here on a vacation.

Pretty row houses.

Instead I spent a sleepless night going over my opening remarks, worrying about people’s arrival times, how to coordinate lunch, whether or not this person was going to get along with that person. Turns out I worried needlessly, as is often the case with me. Still, I can’t seem to help it.

Day one went really well, if you can call listening to story after story of horrific truck crashes, death and injury while wiping tears from our eyes going well. This year we have at least four new families, most of their losses are within the past 18 months. It was hard for them, extraordinarily hard, to stand up and tell us about the crash, and then later in the day tell us something special that they miss about their lost loved one, or about the loss in their own life if they were a survivor.

Pretty hotel.

It takes courage for families to show up at a conference like this, let alone speak aloud of unspeakable tragedy.

But I know that once they get that story out there, shared among other families who have suffered similar pain, they will begin to feel a tiny bit better. There’s no greater group of people to share their tragedy with than the families here. And tomorrow will be a bit easier as we’re focused less on our loss and more on getting change done. We’ll be learning about talking to politicians and media and agencies.

We’ll be gathering our strength for the fight.

During one of our sessions today a long time volunteer told the new families not to worry about understanding everything. “We’ve got your back,” she said. And she’s right. We’ve got these new families in our hearts and in our memories and even after we head home next week they will still be with us. We’ve got their backs and always will, And in two years when they come back to the conference, they’ll be in a position to help the next wave of new families.

Feels like a summer night.

Because there will be new families here at the next conference, and our hearts will break all over again to see their fresh and raw grief. But we’ll have their backs and the backs of the families after that and the ones that come after that.

We have to make at least some of this stop.

As one volunteer said today, speaking to us all, “Make your voice heard. Make sure they hear you in your meetings. Show your emotion, let them see your grief. They owe you that much. Make them hear.” We’ll be on the Hill Monday through Wednesday. I hope you can hear our voices all the way out where you all live. We’re going to be making a mighty sound.

And there are going to be tears.

Shared by another Truck Safety Volunteer on Facebook tonight:

“Tears are how our heart speaks when our lips can not describe how much we’ve been hurt.”

I felt you with me all day long Dad.

Younger dad.


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Why I go to Washington

I’m packing my bag, getting ready to go to Washington DC for the Sorrow to Strength conference. I’ll be with other families who have lost loved ones to preventable truck crashes and some people who have survived such crashes themselves. It’s five days that we look forward to and dread all at the same time.

It hurts.

Still, if you ask any individual attending, they will tell you straight away that the reason they work to make our roads safer is because they don’t want another family going through the pain and grief they’ve been through. They don’t want another family suffering because of something that is so preventable.

Tonight I’m listening to the 10:00 p.m. news as I zip the suitcase shut. The television is on just for background noise, I’m not paying much attention, more interested in making sure I don’t forget to take something important.

And then I hear the words ‘semi’ and ‘fatal’ and ‘construction zone.’

And I reel around and stand still as the story unfolds. You can read about it here.

There is construction on a stretch of freeway that I travel regularly. Today cars were slowed to merge into the construction zone. A semi lost control and rear ended the cars ahead. Two men are dead. A woman was airlifted in critical condition to a hospital. Doubtless there are other injuries, certainly other people who were terrified.

It’s early yet, and we don’t know the entire story. But regardless of the details the truth is that tonight there are new families facing a long journey through loss and injury. Their worlds have just imploded. A semi running into the back of cars slowing for construction is the definition of a preventable crash. I hope that we can connect with these families when they are ready. Meanwhile, I’ll travel to DC and try to be heard.

Because this is why I go to Washington.


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“Democracy isn’t a spectator sport.”

I’ve had a good winter off, playing on the beach, watching light move across water, sleeping in, napping mid-afternoon. But it’s time to get back to work.

Work!??? You’re right; I’m retired. So what work am I talking about?

There are many of you new here at Change is Hard. You probably haven’t heard me talk about trucks and safety and my family’s story. You probably think my life is all about photography and travel and a special little dog. And sometimes it is.

“You can turn grief into action.”

But sometimes it’s about grief and loss and preventable crashes. And honoring the memory of my dad who was killed in December of 2004 by a tired semi driver who fell asleep at the wheel while going 65 miles per hour on a freeway in the early morning hours. A driver who failed to see the lights of emergency vehicles up ahead, the people working to clear a minor crash that had occurred earlier. A driver that didn’t notice the traffic stopped in front of him. Didn’t see my dad in his little red car until it was too late.

My dad was a guy who lived by safe rules. He had retired ten years earlier from a career managing chemical plants, inherently dangerous places. He made us all wear our life jackets in the boat when we were kids. He drove with us around and around the neighborhood when he taught us how to drive a stick shift car, until he was satisfied we could operate it safely. He helped my sister build her house in Tennessee, complete with extra roof brackets to hold the roof down in a tornado. Just in case. He carried an emergency contact list in his wallet, listing the four kids and spouses with work and home phone numbers. That’s how they knew where to find us after the crash.

“Hope in the face of difficulty.”

So after we got through the initial days filled with disbelief and unbearable grief, when we were moving into sad confusion buffeted by unrelenting grief, we began to ask questions. How did the driver not see all that traffic ahead? Not see all the emergency lights? The road was straight. The sight lines clear. We searched the internet looking for anything about truck crashes.

And we found the Truck Safety Coalition.

It’s an organization made up of the families of people who have been killed or injured in preventable truck crashes. It provides support to families and it works to change the way things are done in the trucking industry. Sometimes that means working to change regulations and laws. Sometimes that means working to change perceptions among people that drive trucks. Sometimes it’s about educating people that drive cars. Sometimes it means meeting with legislators and staff, or truck company executives, or members of other safety groups. Always it means honoring the memories of those we’ve lost, honoring the lives that have been changed forever of those who were injured.

It means trying to save lives

Every other year the families meet in Washington DC for a few days. We tell our stories, we sadly welcome the new families — those whose losses are recent, we talk about issues, resolutions, how to make a difference. And we go to the Hill and talk to everyone we can. Legislators, Regulators, the Press. Everyone. Sometimes they call us the ‘crazy truck people.’ That’s OK with us. Whatever gives attention to our issues.

“Even when you’re 100% right getting things done requires compromise.”

The conference is coming up next month. I can feel the tension escalating among my Truck Safety “family” already. Facebook is abuzz with truck issues. People are becoming stressed. Or depressed. Or hopeful. Or everything all rolled into one. Attending the conference brings it all back again for us. Yet it’s hard to stay away. “It’s like attending the funeral all over again.” says one mother who has been fighting for truck safety for more than twenty-five years.

The title of this post, and the quotes interspersed throughout, are from former President Obama’s July 2016 speech. I wrote a few things he said down on a random piece of paper way back then and that paper has found it’s way back to me this week. As I gear up for a difficult few days in Washington I thought they were appropriate. Hopeful. Democrat, Republican or Independent, the world would be a better place if we could learn to compromise. I’m hoping we find a bit of that during our conference this year.

It’s probably the most I can expect.


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Home is where the sheltie girl lives

Let’s follow that road mama!


Katie here with the last post of my big adventure. Mama did the math (cause my toes don’t work very well on those little calculator keys) — we drove 5,842 miles! And I got to go on every one of ’em! You could say I am a well traveled sheltie-girl.

On our trip back up to Michigan I insisted on taking my dad to the Smoky Mountains. Mama and I visited there when we were stuck in Tennessee way back at the beginning of February. I took dad on my favorite path…

There’s a good smell over here dad!

…and posed with them on a mountain ridge. It was a fun day!

A nice lady took our picture.

Then I took him to see Cumberland Falls. Mama and I went there too, back in February, on a cold day when the spray from the falls was freezing all over the rocks. I had more fun this time when we got to walk around more…

Me and a bridge and the Cumberland River.

…and it wasn’t so darn cold out! The waterfall was huge and the river was full and beautiful.

I was getting tired of being picked up.

The rest of our trip turned out to be rainy and cold, so I didn’t have to put up with mama taking so many pictures. Now we’re home again and mama is doing laundry and cooking and stuff. I’m going to take a nap right after I post this.

I was such a good girl on this adventure. We were gone almost two whole months! I never complained once and was always interested in the new places we visited. I only barked a little bit at the hotels, and I let lots of people pet me. Even better I met lots of great dogs, especially Reilly and Denny in Florida. Mama, Dad and I had a really good time.

The life of luxury.

I’m absolutely positive mama can never top this adventure and I’m going to have to settle for tame visits to my park for awhile, though I know mama has some camping trips planned already.

I guess I better rest up!

Katie signing off for now.