Frumpfighter

When I was a kid, Easter was always a packed (yet wonderful) day. All of my grandparents lived in Kanawha, Iowa, about three hours from my hometown Williamsburg. We got there on Saturday because the sunrise service at my paternal grandmother’s Lutheran church started at 5:30 Easter morning.

My grandparents, Harold and Nettie Assink's house in Kanawha, Iowa.

My grandparents, Harold and Nettie Assink's house in Kanawha, Iowa.

There was a breakfast served by the church’s youth group who led the short service depicting the empty tomb from which Jesus had risen. After breakfast and visiting with my parents’ friends, we would go to my maternal grandparents’ house just a few blocks away and wait for the service at their Christian Reformed Church to begin at 9:30 a.m.

I do recall being rather sleepy many times during that service but the beautiful music and inspirational Easter message kept me awake. After that service and more visiting with friends and relatives, we went back to Grandma and Grandpa Assink’s house and prepared the Easter feast. And what a feast is was. Three or four courses. Salads. Desserts. Meat and potatoes.

Before the day was over, we headed to my Grandma Asbe’s on the farm and had another feast. It did not matter how much we ate earlier in the day, we all seemed up for more great home cooked food.  It truly was one of the most filling days of the year.

Things have obviously changed since I was a kid. Grandma Asbe died in 2000 and the farm was sold. Grandpa Assink died in 2004 but Grandma Assink stayed in the big yellow house on Main Street.

What my grandma's house looked like in the final stages of moving.

What my grandma's house looked like in the final stages of moving.

But the three-level house became just too big for her with the washer and dryer in the basement and the bedrooms and bathrooms on the third floor. So she made the decision to move into an apartment which could better suit her needs.

Last weekend was the monumental moving day. My parents and aunts and uncles from all over the country were there throughout most of the week, helping transfer 56 years of life in one house – 56 years. Three of my grandparents’ five daughters knew only that house as their parents’ and all of us grandkids knew no other.

My grandpa's hats, just as he left them, in an upstairs cabinet.

My grandpa's hats, just as he left them, in an upstairs cabinet.

I didn’t know how emotional I would be seeing it for the last time. In the past decade I didn’t go up there that often – once a year at most. I also knew it would be best for my grandmother to live in a single-level place close to some of her friends and family.

But when my brother and I walked in the house last Saturday, it was a jolt. Only the piano, dining room table and assorted boxes and piles of memories remained. Upstairs, I looked through the closets and built-in cabinets, snooping like I always did. In one cabinet sat my grandpa’s hats, untouched since before he died. In the basement grandpa’s woodworking bench remained as he left it. Grandma’s canning jars were lined up on the shelves, amazingly void of any dust.

Grandma Assink, always the character, enjoying pie in her new apartment.

Grandma Assink, always the character, enjoying pie in her new apartment.

As I walked through the house one last time, I thought of all those Easters and Christmases filled with love and laughter. My generation now has families and our kids are the same age we were while traipsing through grandma and grandpa’s house. I hope the people who end up buying the yellow house keep that family tradition alive. They have big shoes to fill. Just remember: the yellow house has been filled with children, music, food, love and laughter for more than 50 years. Please don’t let it be lonely for too long.

If there is any other mother in the world who is beaming more than me tonight, I would like to meet her and swap stories. Here’s mine:

Tonight was the spring music program for the kindergarten classes at Tilford Elementary in the VintonShellsburg School District. My son, Sage, has been preparing for this concert for months. He sings the songs in the bathtub and plays them on his keyboards.

My son Sage, in the yellow shirt, having a great time at his music program.

My son Sage, in the yellow shirt, having a great time at his music program.

There’s never been any doubt he loves music and has a beautiful voice. However, Sage’s issues with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (on the autism spectrum) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have made any day care or school program an adventure. I’ve never been to a program where Sage stands still, doesn’t need an aide or even participates.

Until tonight.

I’ll admit I was a little (OK, a lot) worried about how Sage would react to standing on the risers for 45 minutes in front of an audience in the auditorium. He told me his music teacher has been instructing him to stand in place and not walk from riser to riser. Apparently, this has been a problem during rehearsal. I, too, have been telling him to sing pretty and stay on the riser.   

But I’ve been through this before. Sage will sing his songs all the time at home and constantly talk about the upcoming concert, only to be instantly distracted when the program begins. However, the moment he stood on the riser tonight, I knew it was different.

He stood there, straight and tall with his arms to his side, with a huge smile on his face. He sang the words to every song with unbridled joy. He did the moves and danced at the right time with his classmates. And he managed to bring tears to his Mommy’s eyes. I, too, was smiling through the whole show. I wasn’t my usual tense self hoping for the program to end before Sage ran off.

No, I was a proud Mommy, thrilled to see my son focus enough to enjoy himself doing the things he loves the most – singing and dancing. I used to be wistful during children’s programs at church and school, wondering if my child would ever be able to participate. Now, I can’t until the next one.

Thanks, Toots. You’ve brightened by day. And my life.

Richard Dedor led a workshop about focus at the 2009 Beyond Rubies Conference in March at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. Here is what he says about focusing on yourself:

By Richard Dedor

Richard Dedor at Beyond Rubies

Richard Dedor at Beyond Rubies

My first session at the 2009 Beyond Rubies Conference is by far my most popular and the one I enjoy the most. It focuses around the general idea that you as an individual need to make sure you focus your energies in the right place: on the things you’re passionate about. Those can be anything from writing or reading to working out or to playing with your dog. With our busy lives, we often cut out the things that truly give you energy and that fuel your fire for life. It’s time to take that back. It’s time to re-focus your energy towards your passions. It starts now.

The first thing you have to do is find your passion. What is it? What do you love doing? What do you want to be doing more? For me, the answer is I want to be doing more painting. I haven’t been motivated the last few weeks, but the painting I am on right now is almost done. I just need to get up and do it. Finish it. Focus on the passion. Once you have that, immerse yourself in it. Make it yours. Make it a priority.

Once you have your passion in mind, you have to organize your life to make the passion a part of your life. “Not enough time,” is no longer an acceptable excuse. This is your life; you need to take control of it!

The most challenging aspect of taking control of your life is focused around the essence of compassion. This is a huge factor impacting success in your life and in the world at large. Not only do you need to be compassionate towards your own life, you have to be compassionate to those around you. It’s about offering a helping hand when you can. Spreading encouraging words and empowering others to find their passions or just to simply smile on a rainy day. It’s about learning from other people.

Anyone who attends a workshop of mine goes through an interactive activity built around the belief that  every person in the world has learned something that someone else can learn something from, a Life Lesson if you will. If you’re interested in learning more and sharing your lesson (http://www.richarddedor.com/contact/submitlifelesson/), or signing up (http://www.richarddedor.com/resources/focusyourlife/index.php) to learn from others, please do!

As you’re learning more about yourself, you have to continue to upgrade your skills. You need to grow. I’ve been doing that with Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/richarddedor) lately and I’m excited about the possibilities and how much I can learn! My next venture will be YouTube self-help videos that are currently in the development stages. I’m always learning.

Finally, you can’t do any of these things if you can’t manage your stress. There was a recent cover story in Newsweek about how stress can be healthy. I absolutely agree, but stress to the point where you can’t function productively or positively and when it starts to affect your health – well, that’s bad stress! You have to make sure the stress you do have is manageable and pushes you forward, not downward.

I know I said a lot and I have more to say. You can learn more about all these things on my blog at http://www.richarddedor.com/blog

Gazette Communication’s Information Content Conductor Steve Buttry (in short, my boss) posed a question at the end of his March 23 column regarding the Linn Area Reads program.  This year’s program features “Tallgrass” by Sandra Dallas and Harper Lee’s classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which delves into the delicate issue of racism in America. Steve asked readers what issues a modern-day Harper Lee should address today.

Longtime Cedar Rapids resident and Gazette reader Ray Buck e-mailed Steve of a possible Harper Lee in our midst today.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Ray wrote: “Cynthia Lord and she has written a lovely children’s book, Rules. It is a novel that looks at feeling different yet finding acceptance in today’s crazy, demanding world. You mentioned both of your books were told through the eyes of a young girl. Rules is a story told by a 12 year old girl with an autistic younger brother. About a snooty new neighbor and a young man, ‘handicapped’ with no voice.”

Steve forwarded me Ray’s e-mail because I often write about my son, Sage, who is on the autism spectrum and has ADHD as well. Ray is the grandfather of an autistic child, Jack.

What struck me most about Ray was his willingness to learn about the disorder that affects approximately 1 in 150 children. Autism is a difficult disorder to understand and, sometimes, to accept. It affects an individual’s ability to socialize, make transitions and in extreme cases, function. There are outbursts, tantrums, obsessions, inappropriate comments, incessant talking, and, sometimes, no talking at all.

It is instinctive to think these children are “bad” and their parents are not disciplining them enough. It can be especially difficult for grandparents and others  in Ray’s generation (he’s 68)  to understand these children. But Ray and his wife, Karren, are making every effort to understand their grandson.

When the Bucks’ grandson was diagnosed with autism, their son Brad and his wife Traci involved them with the process.

Ray wrote me in an e-mail: “I don’t recall we had a difficult time understanding or accepting his diagnosis because his parents included us in everything, right from the start. What they were feeling, what they were doing to help Jack.”

autism-ribbon2April is Autism Awareness Month and I hope more and more people take on Ray and Karren’s attitude of understanding and acceptance.

The Bucks were kind enough to drop off a copy of “Rules” for me at the office. I finished reading it last night and agree that it teaches a valuable lesson and should be read  by many, especially young students.

“Rules” focuses on a 12-year-old girl, Catherine, who is torn between taking care of her younger autistic brother and making friends with the new hip girl next door. To make things more complicated, she develops a friendship with a non-verbal boy in a wheelchair while going to her brother’s occupational therapy appointments.

At that age, there is a need to impress peers , and having your “different” brother tagging along and acknowledging your handicapped friend to the “cool kids” just doesn’t fit the mold.

I won’t tell you the ending, but I think you’ll be pleased with Catherine’s maturity.

I have set up an Autism Awareness Month page on the Frumpfighter blog. I invite anyone affected by autism to share their story. Please e-mail me at angie.holmes@gazcomm.com or ajh1109@mchsi.com

When the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library in southwest Cedar Rapids went under water during the historic Flood of 2008, Gail Naughton, the organization’s president and CEO, was devastated.

But then she got to work.

Gail Naughton     President/CEO Czech & Slovak Museum and Library

Gail Naughton President/CEO Czech & Slovak Museum and Library

“When you have a crisis, you need a leader who will stand up and communicate,” she told attendees at the Beyond Rubies women’s conference March 19 at Kirkwood Community College. “You have to have a strong person in front and fight. It’s been my job to lead this charge to carry this story.”

The museum had a disaster plan and it was implemented once word came that the nearby Cedar River would likely leave its banks. On June 10, 2008, furniture was moved and sandbags were placed around the immigrant home, one of five buildings owned by the museum.

The next day construction began on an earthen dam and critical library materials were removed. The museum sits more than 23 feet high and at that point workers and board members were cautious, but not worried, Naughton said.  The river was expected crest at 24 feet and Naughton was fairly confident the sandbags and levee would hold off flood waters.

Nobody could have predicted what happened overnight and Thursday, June 12 – the day of the epic surge. Pounding rain forced the Cedar well past the 24-foot stage and the river took over most of downtown, several residential areas and Czech Village.

The Gazette/The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids under several feet of water Friday, June 13, 2008.

The Gazette/The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids under several feet of water Friday, June 13, 2008.

Like most people, Naughton first saw the stunning image on television of the museum seemingly floating in the Cedar River.

“It rained all day; it was like the end of the world,” she said. “That was a pretty bad day.”

But unlike most stunned people watching TV, she had to compose herself and look toward the future.

“I called the staff and called a meeting to plan next steps,” she said “We needed to make the best decisions right away.”

The river crested at 31.3 feet on Friday, June 13, leaving 7 to 8 feet of water inside the National Museum. Naughton met that day with board members and put up a flood update page on the museum’s Web site so people from all over the world could find out what was happening. She also worked with media from the Czech Republic to get the word out.

“Before the water went down, we were working,” Naughton said. “Leadership is about stepping up, being visible and having the conviction to come out of it.”

They were allowed into building Tuesday, June 17, to assess the damage. A water line marked the pictures of the Homeland Exhibit. In the Petrie Gallery, the popular “1968” exhibit was destroyed. The force of the water was so strong, it actually bent a wall in half.

Outside, the scene was no better.

“Walking into Czech Village was like walking into a bomb site,” Naughton said.

The museum did have flood insurance for the library and artifacts collection. They were able to treat and handle artifacts immediately.

“We were more concerned to get to clean things than the damaged,” Naughton said. “The longer they sit in a wet building, the more we are concerned about mold.  We lost everything inside; the woodwork started to mold immediately, doors warped, the windows were gone.”

With all the damage and the long road ahead, there was never a question of whether or not to move forward.

“We knew instantly we would have to fight to save it,” Naughton said. “Once we had dealt with the immediate disaster, we had to keep our mission in mind and plan for the future.”

The Gazette/Petr Kolar (left) the Czech Republic's ambassador to the United States, surveys renovation progress at the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library with president and CEO Gail Naughton on Oct. 29, 2008.

The Gazette/Petr Kolar (left) the Czech Republic's ambassador to the United States, surveys renovation progress at the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library with president and CEO Gail Naughton on Oct. 29, 2008.

In July,  the board had an interim operating plan, which included setting up space at Lindale Mall. The board also worked with the city on a flood plan that included saving Czech Village and the museum.

“It’s a living plan, let me tell yak,” Naughton said. “There’s a lot still going on.”

Today, the main museum building is still gutted after being cleaned more than once. The heating and cooling systems have been restored enough to control the climate inside. Many of the artifacts and restored books are stored on wrapped pallets right under the chandelier in Grand Hall.

The main building will be repurposed for educational programming. “We are not going to able to do the same exhibitions as we did in the past because other museums won’t loan to us. It’s tainted,” Naughton said.

The total loss of the five buildings is between $8 million and $9 million. The price tag to come back is estimated at  $25 million.

“It’s a long, arduous, frustrating process,” Naughton said, “but we can’t afford not to save it.”

It would be easy to turn back and make everything the way it was, she said. But that would be a step back. “We need to take opportunities to make more out of this. I thought a couple of months ago that everything would be over and we would know more by now. The experience of this is something that will mark our lives and careers.”

To see The Gazette’s multimedia project about Czech Village’s recovery, go to http://ads.gazlab.com/goads/Czechvillage/czechvillage.html

Today was as heartbreaking as any I’ve had in the 6 1/2 years I’ve been a parent. My son, Sage, has had his share of doctor’s appointments, therapy and difficult moments in the journey of being autistic and recently diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety.

He does have awkward social skills and tends to run from one place to another so quickly, you have to wonder what is going on that brilliant, yet busy, mind of his. But he is a sweetheart and loves all people without prejudice.

This morning when I saw his little neighbor friend outside, I told him to go out and play with him. After a long winter of being cooped up in the house, he was excited to see his friend again. Last fall the boy, who is probably 4 or 5 years old, and Sage were the best of buds.

But over the winter, the boy changed and Sage remained the same. His little friend is now buds with his older brother and his friend, who just last fall ignored him. Now it seems the threesome is a little too cool to play with Sage. Don’t get me wrong, I understand Sage can be difficult to play with as he tends to be in his own world sometimes.

But that does not make him devoid of feelings and the need for friendship. Each time Sage approached the boys today, they told him to go away. Even his best bud from last fall. Happy-go-lucky as he is, Sage went and rode his bike in the neighbor’s driveway.

I’m sure I am taking his rejection much worse than he is. I know this type of behavior is part of growing up, whether you are autistic or not, but I am worried that someday his cheerful spirit will be crushed. While the other boys have obviously changed, I hope Sage will not.

Here is a column my husband wrote about what is “normal” after he spoke to a class about Sage: http://watchingwheels.wordpress.com/

This week I had the pleasure of meeting Adriana Boettcher of Mount Vernon. I interviewed the 35-year-old single mother of two because she was named the Newspaper Association  of America’s adult Newspaper Carrier of the Year.

Adriana Boettcher

Adriana Boettcher

This is a national award and a certainly a great honor. Adriana is proud of the award but still seems a little bewildered that such a fuss was made over doing something she says anybody would have done in the same situation.

While on her early morning route in Mount Vernon, Adriana came across two elderly people in distress during winter 2007. These were separate occasions happening within a month of each other. She called 9-11 and stayed with the people until help arrived.  She then completed her route.

A customer on her route was concerned when his paper arrived later then usual. He called her to see if she was OK and she told him what had held her up. He nominated her for a state livesaving award, which she received last August, and her name was also put in consideration for other regional and national awards for newspaper carriers.

This is all flattering to Adriana, but her biggest reward is the way her young daughters are developing into model citizens. In 2000, Adriana began her paper route because it allowed her to spend more time during the day with her ailing parents and her daughters, who were then toddlers.

The time spent with her daughters, Catherine and Sarah, has paid off. One Christmas the girls donated their gift money to orphaned children. Another time they gave money given to them for a fun night out to local charitable organizations.

I, for one, would have a diffucult time getting up at 2:45 every morning to deliver papers until about 5:30 a.m. and then put in a full day. I struggle with the occasional night shift at The Gazette. 

I, along with the entire Gazette Communications organization, commend Adriana for her selfless dedication to her job, her family, and even to complete strangers.

To read more about Adriana’s lifesaving efforts while on her paper route, go to www.gazetteonline.com

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