30 Days of Thanks

As November houses the Thanksgiving holiday, many use this month to post daily about things they’re thankful for. I’m not much of a conformist but I don’t like being left out of things either. So I decided to do it all at once. Here are 30 things for which I’m very thankful:

1. I’m thankful for my health. Granted, I have a few (or multiples of 10) pounds I should lose, but overall I’ve got a healthy mind and body. That’s good.

2. I’m thankful for the decisions I’ve made (and circumstances over which I had little-to-no control) that have helped guide my path in life. I often think of how different things would be had I not decided to go to Bethany, or hadn’t graduated a semester early and started my career at Hallmark when I did. Or if I hadn’t left Kansas City for a new challenge in Wichita. Or if I hadn’t endured heartbreak and tough decisions… I couldn’t be happier with where I am.

3. I’m thankful for having grown up in Lindsborg. The opportunities I was given by growing up in such a unique town are too numerous to list. Little Sweden USA will always be “home”.  I couldn’t wait for Lillian’s first Hyllningsfest just so I could get her all dolled up in a Swedish costume. It was totally worth it.

Lillian, Hyllningsfest 2011 photo credit: Jim Turner

4. I’m thankful for music. As a card-holding member of the Bishop family, I was born into musical greatness (not that I’M all that great). I can’t help but swell with pride when I hear my mom or Andy perform. Seriously, they’re amazing. Music has played such a large role in my life. I’m glad I was given the opportunity to know what great music is and what a profound affect it can have on a person.

5. I’m thankful for having my dad around for 28 years and 32 days. So many people live 60+ years before losing a parent and though I wish my dad was still here, I can’t help but be grateful to have had a loving, attentive, silly, supportive, one-of-a-kind dad in my life for as long as I did.

Bishop Family, October 2005

6. I’m thankful for Hallmark cards and for Hallmark Cards (yes, both). Y’all know I’m a super sap. I always have been and I always will be. There’s nothing I love more than a good card or commercial…or just a good cry. In that sense, gaining employment at Hallmark Cards, Inc. was the perfect fit for me right out of college. I met some of my best friends at that company. And to this day I always turn any card I receive over to see if it’s a Hallmark. I can’t help myself.

7. I’m thankful for the Öl Stuga. I said it. Some of my most fond memories come from being in that bar. Whether it was making Shirley Temples behind the bar with Margo in third grade or Big Beer Thursday (and schnapps shot Monday and every Friday and Saturday night) in college or catching up with childhood friends there over the holidays or hanging with Lillian watching her plow through a grilled cheese sandwich…it’s hard not to love a place where everybody knows your name.

The Ol Stuga, 2008

8. I’m thankful my siblings have found someone to spend their lives with. They say there is someone for everyone. I believe it. And luckily my brothers and sister have found that special person who compliments them best. So to Jillian, Jamie and Wesleigh (and Kaden), thank you. You complete our family.

9. I’m thankful for having a job. While the unemployment rate is looking better, so many folks are out of work and have been for a long time. I’m thankful that I’ve had gainful employment since before I graduated from college (heck, since I was 16 years old, really). Most recently, I took at job at Fidelity Bank. I celebrated my one year anniversary on October 3. While leaving Heartspring was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made (as was leaving Hallmark), it was the right one. (See #2.) I have no regrets. Bravely Onward.

10. I’m thankful for my friends. They keep me grounded, make me laugh, make me cry, lift me up and stick with me through thick and thin. And there’s been some thick and thin times for the record. Whether we’ve been friends since elementary school, college or met just a few years ago, I have some of the best friends a girl could ask for.

Bethany Girls

Hallmarkers!

Neil

11. I’m thankful for Jimmy John’s. I should buy stock in that place. I eat there a lot. And when they say they’re fast, they aren’t joking. This is not a paid advertisement for Jimmy John’s either. I just really like it.

12. I’m thankful for Gramma Jo. Lillian doesn’t have the luxury of having any biological grandparents living in the same city, but she does have her Gramma Jo. As far as we’re concerned Lillian has three official grandmas (and lots of pseudo grandmas). Jo loves her unconditionally and is always ready and willing to spend time with her Kansas grandbaby. Trav and I often ask ourselves what we would do without  Jo. The answer is simple: We have no idea. She’s a life saver. And she’s a great addition to the Grover family.

Gramma Jo

13. I’m thankful for social media. Thanks to Facebook I’m constantly connected to friends and my favorite brands.  Thanks to Twitter I know everything I need to about the latest news and events in my city, state, nation and the world. Thanks to Instragram I can play with all sorts of fun filters. Thank to LinkedIn I can network with smart business folks. The list goes on and on… And let’s be honest, without social media how would I inundate you all with a bajillion photos of my child?

14. I’m thankful for Spanx. To quote my favorite movie… Truvy: “Well, these thighs haven’t gone out of the house without lycra on them sice I was 14.” Clairee: “You were brought up right.” The End.

15. I’m thankful for the St. Louis Cardinals. My childhood, my connection to my dad and my brothers, and my life in general wouldn’t be the same without this ball club. Ever since I can remember, the Cardinals have been a part of my family. Growing up, we didn’t take trips around the country, we took trips to St. Louis to catch as many games as we could. With all the Bishy kids holding hands while crossing “the” bridge, a thermos of Coke and huge bag of peanuts in the shell in hand, we’d cheer on Ozzie, Willie and Vince. I  cried during Game 7 of the NLCS this year. I hated to see the season end. But what I love is hearing Lillian say, “Go Cardinals!” And I know her Grandpa Roger was loving it, too.

Lillian's first Cardinals

16. I’m thankful for hand-me-downs. Don’t get me wrong, as a little sister I wasn’t as fond of them, but as a mom, I’m eternally grateful for friends who have girls and are willing to share their stash of adorable, gently-worn outfits. Lillian is not lacking in the fashion department and Trav and I aren’t going broke buying clothes thanks to generous folks. Special shout out to Carin and Sean. You’re tops.

17. I’m thankful for Vickie Runyan. Having a baby is stressful, but finding someone to entrust your child’s well being to as a daycare provider keeps many soon-to-be parents awake at night. We were no different. But thanks to a recommendation from Lisa Elliott, we found Vickie and can’t imagine life without her. Lillian is smart, respectful and well-behaved. And while Trav and I would like to take full credit for all of this, there’s no denying that we owe a lot of our daughter’s amazingness to Vickie. And just in case you were wondering who the boss is, Lillian will let you know, “Bickie da boss.” Yes, yes she is.

18. I’m thankful for having open-minded, socially conscious parents. My mom grew up in Kansas City, KS and my dad in St. Louis, MO. Early on, I was taught to see people as people, not as skin colors, sexual orientations or disabilities.

19. I’m thankful for povatica. This Croatian sweet bread has been in my family for generations and has been served at Christmas and Easter for as long as I can remember. My grandmother taught me how to make it when I lived in Kansas City and now my family looks to me for this baked delight every year. It’s soooo good and soooo time-consuming to make. But soooo worth it. Last year Lillian helped me out.

Lillian learns to make povatica

povatica

20. I’m thankful that my little brother is back in the Sunflower state. Timmer left for South Dakota in 2000. He finally moved back to the homeland in July. As a bonus he brought with him a beautiful lady and a rambunctious little boy. Lillian loves having Uncle Nimmy, Aunt Wes and her cousin Kaden close by.

Story time with Uncle Timmy, Kaden and Aunt Wes.

21. I’m thankful for the Grovers. They’re a nutty breed, but I love ’em. My in-laws are good-hearted people who like to have a good time. You gotta respect that. My father-in-law is handy and God bless them, they bring Yuengling across state lines. Whoop!

The Grover Crew

22. I’m thankful for a good bottle of wine. Because at the end of the day, Mama likes her wine.

23. I’m thankful that when I married Trav, I also gained some fabulous friends. He’s got as close-knit a group of friends as I do. And I love them. I only wish New York and Massachusetts weren’t so far away.

Grovers and Walbergers

NY Crew

24. I’m thankful for my brothers and my sister. Andy was five when Tim was born. That means my parents had four kids ages five and under. My mom was nuts. But I’m glad she was. We were never at a loss for a playmate as kids – not that we always played nice. I credit the boys and my dad for the fact that I don’t throw a baseball like a girl.

What a family

25. I’m thankful for Netflix. And DVR. I don’t ever get to watch anything in real time anymore. And with these nuggets of technology I can catch up on shows I missed or never even started watching (if I ever had time).

26. I’m thankful for Heartspring. Bottom line, without that organization I would have never met Travis or countless inspirational kids and their families. And that, my friends, would be tragic.

27. I’m thankful for my mom. Let’s be honest, without her where would I be?

28. I’m thankful for being an emotional basket case. It sounds odd, I realize, but it’s what makes me, well… me.  Of course you may not always know what emotion I’m feeling. You see, I cry when I’m happy, when I’m mad, when I’m surprised, sad or frustrated. Unfortunately, at times,  I have a tendency to cry for no apparent reason at all. Any more, Trav has resigned himself to saying, “Get it all out.” or “Let me know when you’re done.” He thinks he’s funny.

29. I’m thankful for Sweet Baby Lillian. My days are filled with giggles, hugs, tantrums, toys, dancing, games, books, cartoons, tears and “Iuvyou, Mama”s. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Her sweet smile melts my heart. She’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m so lucky to be her mommy. (While I could go on and on, it’s hard to type through the happy tears.)

Lillian, Easter 2012

30. I’m thankful for my ridiculously handsome husband Travis. Over and over again I’ve told you all that I hit the jackpot. That statement becomes more true every day. He’s compassionate, kind, giving, thoughtful, funny and committed. I’m blown away every day by what he achieves as a teacher, friend, brother, coach, son, brother-in-law, husband and especially, daddy. He loves unconditionally. He cleans toilets, cooks dinner (and breakfast and lunch), he’s handy and handsome. He’s a one in a million.

Trav and Lillian

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Thought I’d check in…

I feel horrible. It’s been WAY too long since I’ve blogged and much has happened since my  last post – we took Lillian to her first St. Louis Cardinals games at Busch Stadium, I got a new job and the Cardinals won the World Series. These are all events I hope to actually write about (and soon), so I won’t focus on them now.

Instead, I’ll stick to my favorite topic: Lillian. In line with my lack of blog posts is my lack of video sharing. I apologize. But I’ve got some doozies to share with you that I hope make up for my short comings.

Today is Lillian’s 22-month birthday. I can’t believe it. Although I miss my teeny, snuggly baby, I can’t help my smile at this intelligent, funny toddler. She fills my heart with so much love.

Here’s three videos that I hope make you smile.

Giggle Book

Bath and Barney with Lillian

Lillian speaks elephant

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Five days may as well be an eternity

Every three years I go to an amazing conference in Washington DC – the American Marketing Association Non-profit Conference. It’s always filled with informative and inspiring presentations and leaves me refreshed and rejuvenated to get back to work at Heartspring.

As I have the previous to two times I’ve attended this conference, I scheduled an extra day or two to take in all there is to do and see in DC as it’s one of the coolest places on earth (in my opinion). The difference this time is now I’m a mommy. To this point, the longest I’ve been away from almost 18 month old Lillian was less than 48 hours. “I can do it,” I kept telling myself, thinking six days would be no big deal. Then Friday night rolled around. I had my alarm set for 3:30am to get to the airport by 5:00 for my 6:20 flight. At 1:30am I had what can only be explained as a panic attack (I don’t think I’ve technically had one before, so I’m not sure what they feel like). My heart was racing, I felt like I was going to vomit…I can’t leave my baby! I spent the next two hours completely beside myself thinking about how I wouldn’t see Lillian until Thursday…and I hadn’t even left yet!

Needless to say I didn’t get any more sleep that night (nothing like a good three hours of sleep to prep you for a day of travel across the country). I showered, finished packing and waited for Grandma Jo (Lillian’s pseudo grandma who came over to stay with her while Trav took me to the airport – she’s a saint) and began to sob uncontrollably. Again, for anyone who knows me this is no surprise. But this sobfest was a ridiculous display, complete with hiccuping waterworks the likes of which have never been seen (even for me). Trav was taken back by this level of blubbering and just let me ooze tears and snot all over him (what a keeper).

I cried all the way to the airport, but managed to gather myself for the ensuing flights. Of course, by this time I’d already made the decision that I couldn’t wait until Thursday to get home. No way.

After some fun in DC, a once again awesome conference and five days away from my loves, I booked it home a day early. Well, I tried to book it home. Flights that should have me home by 12:50 turned in to 4:00, but it was all good as soon as I pulled into the driveway to see my baby girl smiling and waving (which she is exceptional at, by the way) at me.

Immediately I noticed her hair had grown, she was walking even better, had mastered the word “no” (and I mean mastered it – it’s the only thing out of her mouth. Well, next to “duck”) and has picked up some sweet new dance moves from her father.

How did all this happen in FIVE DAYS?! I’m never leaving again.

And for your viewing pleasure, here’s the new dance stylings of Lillian Ro:

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Father’s Day: A catch with Dad

I was searching Father’s Day quotes earlier today to find something to post on Heartspring’s Facebook page and ran across a great quote from Bill Cosby (the king of parenting humor).

Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope.  ~Bill Cosby

I had 26 Father’s Days with my dad. Not nearly enough as far as I’m concerned, but the one that sticks out the most in my memory is the last one we spent together in 2005. I’m not sure why, but I recalled that somehow my dad had lost or misplaced his baseball glove so I went to a local sporting goods store and bought him a new one. For those of you who must not know anything about me or my family – we’re pretty big baseball fans. Seriously. It’s in our blood. Our St. Louis Cardinals red blood. I’ll continue. I called my brother, Andy, who was living in Lindsborg at the time and told him to bring his copy of “Field of Dreams” to our parents’ house and cue up the classic scene at the end where James Earl Jones (playing the role of Terrance Mann) performs the monologue of all monologues telling Ray (the main character in the film played by Kevin Costner) why people “will most definitely come” to a baseball field he built in the middle of his corn field.

Not long after that scene, we watched when Ray is finally able to have that one last catch with his dad, the one wish that so many of us dream would come true.

Of course I bawled like a ninny watching that with my mom, brother and dad. (I’ve always been an emotional basket case for the record.)

After the credits started rolling, Andy and I brought out the gift bag containing the new glove and like Ray, we asked Dad if he wanted to have a catch. So just as we did countless times as kids, we walked the block and a half to Soderstrom Elementary School’s huge grassy field to play catch. It had been years since I’d thrown the ball around with my dad, and I’m not sure why it hit me to do it that Father’s Day, but I’m glad I did. I think someone was telling me it was important to make this one special.

Catch with Dad, Father's Day 2005Just like when we were kids

That August, Andy, his girlfriend Jillian, me and Dad took a last minute trip to St. Louis to catch a few games. We were all busy and debated calling the trip off, but again, I think divine intervention once again came in to play. We made the trip. Our last games with Dad. It was the last year the Cardinals played in “Old” Busch Stadium, the stadium my dad watched being built in the ’60s. The stadium where he took all four of the “Bishy Kids” to see countless games over the summers of our youth. The stadium where he taught me how to fill out a scorecard as we plowed through huge bags of peanuts in the shell and a thermos of Coke. The stadium where all of us would hold on to each other for dear life after a game while crossing bridge that led us to our parking spot (what seemed a million miles from the ballpark). The stadium where, when I was eight years old, the game was on the line in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded and (as my dad would tell it) “Katie got hyper!” Oh the memories.

Last game at "Old" Busch Stadium, August 2005Standing on the infamous bridgeA few weeks later my dad was diagnosed with metastatic carcinoma of an unknown origin. Put simply, really bad cancer. A few weeks after that, my dad died. But before he passed, we made sure he knew that he’d have his place at the New Busch Stadium even if we’d never get to be there with him for a game. We had purchased a memorial brick for him, hoping to take him to a game during the inaugural season and surprise him by showing him his place in St. Louis Cardinals history. Along with a brick being placed at the new stadium, we also got a replica brick. We gave it to him in the hospital one night when things weren’t looking good. I’ll never forget, even though he was so weak and heavily medicated to control the pain, he knew what it was and as his eyes welled up with tears he asked, “So I’ll always be a part of the new stadium?” Sure will, Dad.

To honor my dad the following Father’s Day, we loaded up the entire Bishop family and significant others and headed to St. Louis for two games. It had easily been 15 years since we were all at a game together. We found Dad’s brick and wished more than anything that he was with us.

Dad's Brick, Father's Day 2006Me and Tim, Father's Day 2006The Bishop Kids, Father's Day 2006Our crew, Father's Day 2006As more and more Father’s Days pass, I still wish my dad was here to play catch.

Andy arranged “The Natural” – A Suite for Brass, Organ and Percussion (the soundtrack to the film) a few years ago, which he dedicated to my dad. He created a DVD of the performance (composer Randy Newman gave his blessing for a one-time only gig) and at the end is a collection of photos of my dad, our family and the love we all share for the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s pretty awesome.

Now that Travis and I have Lillian, Father’s Day has a new special meaning. Watching Trav with Lillian fills my heart, but there will always be something missing on Father’s Day – a catch with my dad.

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Break out the baby book

Lately it seems Lillian (almost 17 months old) has been growing up at the speed of light. Just the other night we were at a friend’s house for dinner and a 19 day old baby girl was there. I honestly don’t remember Lillian being that little. I mean, I know she was – I have the photos to prove it, but now in the morning, I walk in to the nursery to find a toothy-grinned, mop-o-hair headed baby STANDING to greet me. When did that happen?!

More and more words are coming every day. She really loves yelling “Dad!” at the top of her lungs. Seriously. She loves it. Ask Trav.

She is also a bookaholic, which makes mommy VERY proud. Some of her favorites include, Peek-a-Who?, Brown Bear, Bear, Hop on Pop, Hoppity Hop Peekaboo, Barnyard Dance, The Going to Bed Book and Goodnight, Grover. The best part is that she also loves “reading” to mommy and daddy.

And for a baby who was in a full body harness for the first four months of her life, walking seemed like it was a lifetime away. Well kids, it’s time to break out the baby book because Sweet Baby Lillian is off to the races.

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“Think Different”

I saw Apple, Inc.’s “Think Different” commercial just the other day and I love it. It encourages you look within yourself to do better, do more, BE more. Using the narrative “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” and featuring images of individuals who left an indelible mark on our world’s history, including Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart and John Lennon, this ad pay homage to those who, though some thought them crazy, achieved greatness in their own respects. The simple use of black and white archival video with voice over elicits feelings of nostalgia and, for me, hope. Hope that this world will embrace “the crazy ones, the misfits, the round pegs in the square holes”.

Because I work for a nonprofit specializing in education and therapies for children with special needs, I see people every day who believe that anything is possible. They are the ones who “see things differently”, who “change things”. Even further, you will not see a product in this spot. It was not pushing Apple’s latest, greatest invention. It was simply sharing the message that “misfits, troublemakers, ones who have no use for the status quo” are those who make the biggest impact. Simple, thought-provoking, moving. That is what makes this spot so effective. And I for one agree that, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who usually do.”

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A lesson from high school freshmen

I’ve spent the last six and a half years talking to anyone who will listen to me about the inspiring children with special needs who receive services at Heartspring. But I’ve spent the last 33 and a half years of my life (that’s all of it, by the way) trying to make sure one certain person with special needs is happy and living a fulfilling life.

Growing up, having a sister who was “different” was tough – especially during our teenage years. Not because I wished she was like all my friends’ sisters (ok, maybe I did a little), but more so because I always worried about how she was being treated by others. Since Sara (my sister) was exactly two years behind my older brother Andy in high school and two years ahead of me, she (thankfully) was never left to endure one of those formidable years without one of us looking out for her – not that we could shield her from all the tough situations. We were lucky though. We grew up in a small town where, for the most part, people were good to Sara. Most of her classmates accepted her for who she was and there were some people in her class that were genuinely nice to her. Of course small school or not, there are always those who make things hard. But like I said, for the most part, she’s always had someone close to her to be her advocate, helping her along her journey. For the last 17 years that’s been her boyfriend Jamie, who through thick and thin, has been by her side. They live exactly one block away from my mom in Lindsborg and enjoy living their lives they way they want to live them. She loves her job as a people greeter at Wal-Mart and is dang good at it, too. Seems she’s doing awfully well for someone who many thought would never move out of my parents’ house.

Sara and Lillian, Easter 2010

This week, my job took me to four different schools, from elementary schools to high schools, to film Heartspring’s Autism CARE Walk commercial. The gist of the spot is to highlight the successes that various children with autism have experienced – to show that, just like kids without an autism diagnosis, there are things they excel at and enjoy. One of our stars was voted friendliest student by his entire school. Another loves science. But what touched me the most (and left me very close to tears) was the last stop of the day at an area high school. We went to film Matthew and a bunch of his buddies (all freshmen) on the football team. Their job was to tell the world how special Matthew is and what an integral role he plays on the team as manager. What made this experience so significant is that every one of the boys that surrounded Matthew wearing their Andover Central football jerseys truly cares about him. They weren’t there for their 15 minutes of fame. Each one has been a good friend to Matthew – many since early elementary school. One boy in particular really stood out and I later learned from Matthew’s dad that he has taken Matthew under his wing since fourth grade. Their bond was immediately evident and it was moving. Think back to your freshman year of high school. What was it that most concerned you? For this young man, it’s making sure that Matthew is accepted and treated with respect. How’s that for mature?

Travis and I have often talked about how Lillian will grow up around individuals with special needs. She actually doesn’t have much of a choice since she was born into the Heartspring family. It’s important to us for her to learn acceptance and compassion at an early age. With all the bullying and hate that peppers the news on a nightly basis, it’s our duty to help her see beyond any external characteristics and focus what’s good, what’s special and unique about everyone she encounters – to not see disability, ethnicity, or sexual orientation – but to see that, more often than not, they are fabulous people worthy of our kindness and respect. I was reminded of that Monday while watching those eight boys in Andover.

A reminder to all parents: hate breeds hate and ignorance breeds ignorance. Take the time to educate your children about the Golden Rule. Heck, take the time to remind yourself.

Here’s the finished commercial. I hope you get something out of it.

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