Friday, June 27, 2008

California Here We Come!

I’m a California girl at heart.

When people ask me where I’m from (I always say the West Coast—California!). It’s HOME to me.

So I guess it’s no surprise to any of you that when Mark retires in 2010 (or sooner!), we will be moving to sunny California.

It was always in our plan to return home once our “boys” were raised (they will be 22 and 27 this summer). Our entire family lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we took the verse in the Bible “leave and cleave” very seriously when we were married. Now 32 years later, as my parents and Mark’s dad enjoy the “golden” years, we want to be available to share in that time with them.

Yesterday, we checked out housing on the Internet. It’s a buyer’s market, and some houses are almost being given away. We found a couple of homes that we were interested in, but since we won’t be moving for a while, it’s too early to snatch any of the deals at the moment. But don’t think that stopped me from wanting to pack my bags as of yesterday.

It’s hot and humid here on the East Coast and as much as we’ve enjoyed living here, there’s something about California that beckons me: the cool mornings and evenings (even though it can be 110 degrees during the day); knowing that the ocean is less than a stone’s throw away; the Sierras in my backyard; Napa Valley in my front yard; the smell of Oleander bushes lining the freeways; commuter traffic (I call it reading time!); the smell of Redwood trees; Yosemite National Forest; Mt. Hermon (where I went to camp as a teenager); and the joy of watching (not picking!) California poppies along freeways, backyards, and sidewalks ALL year long!We have moved 27 times in 32 years, and so this will be our last and FINAL move (until God calls us home). It will take Mark about a year to recuperate from his injuries sustained in the biking accident, which gives us just enough time to do the necessary packing.

What about our “boys,” you might ask? Well, I learned a long time ago, you can’t follow your kids around. We raised them to be independent and secure adults. They have lives of their own and girlfriends (possibly future wives) that will care for them (smile!). Besides, we’ll just be a phone call away, and somehow the idea of vacationing in California to visit Mom and Dad doesn’t sound that bad either.

So, California, here we come!

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Monday, June 23, 2008

"A Band of Brothers!"

The doorbell rang at exactly 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, and to our surprise it was the “Band of Brothers”—Mark’s cycling team. They came to pay “tribute” to one of their fallen cyclists (six weeks to the day of his accident). Tears welled up in Mark’s eyes as he hobbled outside to greet each one of his “comrades.” What greater gift than the gift of time, friends, and those who stick closer than a brother. They left their helmets at the door and trudged through the house with their bike cleats, sat at the kitchen table, and talked about riding again with Mark. I chimed in, “Yep, I’ve got his BIG WHEEL all ready to go.” Anything more than ground level is not going to “fly” in this family. Mark flashed me a smile (and I knew that meant “yes” he would ride again).

It’s been six weeks since the Mother’s Day accident that has changed both of our lives. Mark is out of his walker and walking with the assistance of a cane—a welcome change!

To try it out, we spent the weekend at Mt. Gretna taking short walks, visiting the Jigger Shop (an old-fashioned ice cream parlor), and taking in the sights of this Chautauqua retreat—a place lost in time with wooded cottages that resemble an “elf village,” a spring- fed lake with canoes and water slide, theater/ playhouse, gift shops, carriage rides, and streets with names like: "Yale, Harvard, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Carnegie." The Mt. Gretna Playhouse is an historical monument with Broadway plays brought to our doorstep and the place where Charlton Heston first performed. A short-20 minute drive brings us to this place that time has forgotten.

As we walked out of the “Jigger Shop,” Mark grabbed my hand as we headed down the path to the car. It was the first time we were able to walk hand in hand since the accident, and it did not go unnoticed. Tears filtered down my cheeks as I recalled the last few weeks that brought us to that moment.

Today, Mark starts physical therapy and continued pool therapy, which means more day trips! The car has now become my office with works in project in the backseat: speeches half written, edited material for clients, and other works in progress. Many nights I sneak away to Panera (with free Internet access), munch on the “Strawberry Poppyseed Salad” (yummy!), and pound away at the keyboard to meet more deadlines. So far I haven’t missed one (yet!), but it’s been close.

I’ve kept a detailed journal of our journey and I have a greater appreciation for caregivers, both short-term and long-term. It is not easy, but with a “Band of Brothers” it makes the “ride” so much more tolerable!

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

How to Make Every Day Great!

The past couple of days have been “interesting” to say the least.

Usually, my summers are spent in writing, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of time for that. Instead, it seems like I’m writing speaking contracts. It doesn’t take a lot of creative talent to do that…you just change the date and the fee!

As all writers, I have my writing goals before me each day, but somehow they keep getting pushed down to the bottom of the list. My “patient” is getting better, which means he wants to be taken out to “play” every day at the pool (therapy). I promised myself when Mark broke his hip, that I would take care of the “caregiver” as much as I was taking care of him. Well, I think at this point, I need to take an assertiveness training course and learn how to say, “No.”

Today I got out my “Ten Rules to Making Every Day a GREAT DAY!” I have no idea who gave it to me, but it’s been in my Bible for years and this morning I read each one out loud. I hope that it helps you as much as it has helped me today. I even went out and took some photographs at a nearby garden. When I’m not taking care of my garden, my garden is taking care of me.

Ten Rules to a Great Day:

1. Think and expect that good things will happen!
2. Express gratitude to a loved one!
3. Let go of your grievances.
4. Be patient with an annoying person (oops!).
5. Do something special for yourself (see photos!).
6. Reach out to someone who needs comfort.
7. Live and fully experience the present moment!
8. Learn from a mistake.
9. Look closely into a flower and see and experience its true beauty.
10. SMILE all day and LAUGH as often as you can!

Have a Great Day Everyone!

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Surviving and Thriving

Last weekend I was in Ossining, New York speaking to a group of cancer survivors on behalf of the Support Connection at their annual Survivor Luncheon at the Travelers Rest Restaurant.

To look out into the audience and see husbands, parents, friends, and co-workers sitting beside each survivor made me realize once again that it takes more than a village to get cancer survivors to the place where they are surviving and thriving!

The Support Connection is just such a place. Their mission statement says it all: “To provide emotional, social, and educational support services to women, their families and friends affected by breast and ovarian cancer. The support provided enables women to help each other and empowers them to become their own health care advocates.”

I spoke with one woman who was 23 years old and was just diagnosed with breast cancer, another was a mother of five who just finished treatment, and another woman sitting next to me had not started treatment yet , but through her smile I saw fear—the same fear I had before starting treatment 12 years ago. Some women wore pink ribbons for breast cancer and others wore teal for ovarian cancer, but we all wore the ribbon of courage that bears no specific color. But if I could give it a color, it would be ruby red like the slippers that Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz” wore: vibrant and bold!

It’s been 12 years since I first heard the words, “you have cancer,” but they are emboldened in my brain. When Nancy Heller, the founder of Support Connection, asked the survivors to stand by years of five, ten, fifteen, and “yes” 20 years, I realized they were not only surviving cancer they were thriving—all in their own way!

Photo courtesy of Ken Valenti, Hudson Valley News. Click here to read entire article.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Oh where or where did my little blog go?

“Not last night, but the night before…” I was about to comment on my blog when I found an error (not unusual!). It was a typo! I know what you’re thinking…so what? Not that it really matters, but at that single moment in time it bugged me, so I went in to edit my post and somehow deleted the entire blog!

I love life’s little surprises.

Fortunately, I had opened my blog into two separate windows and so I cut and pasted it back where it belonged. If you’re reading this for the second time you’re not having a déjà vu experience, you’re enjoying the benefits of my error!

Confused yet?

I’ve discovered something about my personality (one of those hidden traits). When I have a million things going at the same time (Mark’s doctor appointments, pool therapy, getting ready to leave for a speaking engagement, writing deadlines, client deadlines, cleaning, shopping…), my brain goes on overload and shuts itself off. There’s a medical term for it, but it’s like autopilot. You know the feeling: you’re driving and you got to your destination safely but you don’t know how you got there? Now take that one step further and you’re right at the place I was the other night.

Scary, huh?

My brain short circuits typically around 1:00 a.m. The laptop in my frontal lobe shuts itself down into a dormant state and stays there until I go into “alarm” mode (like when I deleted my blog), and then I immediately wake up!

Today is catch-up day: no appointments, no deadlines, and no major crises. I’m peaceful and enjoying the “pause” before I have another, “oh where or where did my little blog go” moment!

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"These are a few of my favorite things..."

The doorbell rang and I rushed downstairs thinking it was my neighbor. No one was there! I glanced down and there was a box of “motor oil,” and I knew immediately the package was from my mom and dad. Dad is an automobile mechanic by profession and anything that comes in a motor oil box is definitely from the “Rowley Ranch.”

My mom is an expert packer and care packages are her forte. The tradition started when I was in college, later as a missionary in Sicily, and then when we moved 3,000 miles away to the East Coast. As I carefully opened the package with scissors, I hummed the song from “Sound of Music”: “These are a few of my favorite things…”

When the Styrofoam peanuts fell to the floor, I unearthed treasures of “gold”: garlic olive oil, Gursky Ranch raw mixed nuts, jelly beans (49 varieties), Mama Leone’s Zuppa (minestrone soup—cooks in 20 minutes); Tres amigos Enchilada Stew, and See’s Candy—Molasses Chips in milk chocolate. These are a “few of Mark’s favorite things,” but he’s willing to share!

Mom’s note read: “A little extra nutrition to help your bones heal and aid in your recovery!”

My mom is the queen of care giving. She cared for her mom and dad when they had broken hips, and her spiritual gift is “serving.” She finds no greater joy than helping others in their time of need. What comes naturally to her, is something others have to “work” at. But she also knows how to care for herself. Oil painting is her “refuge,” just as writing is mine. She has taught me through the years how to care for me.

“Just as airline passengers are admonished to put on their oxygen masks before helping others, caregivers must look after themselves. Signs of overload include feelings of isolation, stress, guilt, depression, helplessness, anger, and resentment.” This past week, I have to admit I felt helpless because my “patient” started to do things he should NOT do, like climb stairs with his walker while I was out of the house.

Two days ago, I returned home to find that Mark had climbed (unassisted with his walker) up two flights of stairs to put clothes away. He thought he was helping me!

I had gone walking for 45 minutes and when I returned, my hubby was nowhere to be found. I discovered him upstairs putting away folded laundry. Anger set in. “What if you fell? How do you think I would feel?” I cried out. My hubby explained, “I was only trying to help!”

I had him promise me he would never do that again, and to make our agreement “stick,” I made him sign a contract.

Care giving is hard work and it takes a village of “caregivers” to assist along the way. Everyone is doing their part: my sons continue to mow the lawn, do the heavy lifting, assist Mark with his shower, and friends come to visit, and my mom sends us a “few” of our favorite things.

Together it makes a difference in recovery and we look forward to the day when we can walk hand in hand down the Mt. Gretna hiking trail…another one of our favorite things!

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posted by Connie Pombo @ 1:03 PM 7 comments

At 4:53 PM, Susan Kelly Skitt said...
So my dear, it's easy to see where you've learned your art of caring and serving others :) Your mom is so sweet! And it's gotta be hard for your get up and go hubby to be kept down. It's great to hear how everyone is pitching in.

Praying my dear friend that you will be back on the trails soon.


At 6:13 PM, Connie Pombo said...
You and the boys will have to come up and go to the Jigger Shop (an old-fashioned ice cream parlor at Mt. Gretna); there's a lake, hiking trails, and a fun gift shop. Let's plan on it--okay?


P.S. Oh, did I mention a water slide and canoes?!?!

At 7:50 AM, Susan Kelly Skitt said...
Sounds like a date! Now, let's pick one :) Give me a call sometime this week, or I'll try giving you a call, okay?

Love ya and miss ya!

P.S. (That place sounds familiar - my grandparents have a cabin at Mt. Lebanon Campmeeting Grove. Maybe we can set it up for a time when my family in staying over at the cabin. I wonder if we could bring our own kayaks with?)

At 9:41 AM, Greg C said...
It's a constant battle for me trying to stop my wife from over doing it. She has a bad back but continues to take risks and do too much. I got on her yesterday when she was bending over to wash something that I could do. She tells me the same thing and is always saying "If I don't do it, it won't get done" I tell here to give it a try and see. One of us will pick up the slack. That's what a partenership is all about. You have a great Mom.

At 4:58 PM, Connie Pombo said...
Okey-doke! This is the week of follow-up appointments. It seems like I'm in the waiting room more than I'm at home. E-mail me your phone number, okay? I have it, but my office is in different sections of the house. I left the window open during the storm on Saturday.



P.S. Yes, bring your canoes. They have ones you can rent, but you can bring your own also.

At 5:02 PM, Connie Pombo said...
I hear ya Greg! It's been so hard keeping Mark down. Now that he's off pain pills, he has the energy with no where to go. His favorite line is from the Snicker's commercial: "Not going anywhere for a while?" Smile!

Your wife must have the gift of serving! But a bad back can put you out of commission for a long time! I know...Mark had back surgery while working for UPS when the boys were just 3 and 8. It was a LONG 3 months!

You two take it easy...moderation is my new word!

At 11:11 PM, Flea said...
OMG! I laughed and cringed when you said he climbed two flights of stairs alone with the walker. I was reading aloud to my husband and when I got to the part about Mark helping he said, "He was!". Arhg! Do you really think the contract will do any good?

Give your mom extra kudos for that tiny bottle of Tabasco. Is that the Chipotle? Yum!!!