Dr. Stanley Marple Jr. (Feb. 4, 1920 – July 16, 2014)

My grandfather passed away last week. I had been caring for him and enjoying lots of time with him for the past six years. I will miss him dearly, but the struggles he and I faced together are over and a whole new chapter in my life has begun. 

My sister and I sat down together to write a eulogy but I’ll give her most of the credit since she’s the professional speech writer. She delivered it flawlessly to many laughs and tears. I felt strongly that more people need to hear it, to understand the kind of man he was, because we can all learn so much from his life. So please read on.  

StanleyMarple-16-2In preparing for this difficult moment, my sister Sarah and I have had the privilege to read some correspondence between our grandfather and grandmother Stan and Gladys.  One Valentine’s Day card stuck out in particular: It was as you would expect, from a person who has known his wife since he was 5 years old and who has faithfully given his life for her.  “To my loving wife” and it went on and on. But the best part was that just below his signature was the word “over.” So we turned the card over.  And then in his handwriting, it read “If you doubt my sincerity, just look at the price of the card.”

This one simple card sums up so much about our grandfather and the man you all knew and loved.  It so beautifully encapsulates his tremendous wit.  Stan Marple delivered great one liners that everyone enjoyed.  In particular, as he had some health struggles in these last years, the medical staffs at various hospitals and rehabs would fall in love with him because he kept them laughing.

Another reason this card struck a chord with us was that in a small way it speaks to the legacy he left of personal responsibility and fiscal stewardship.  As the son of a minister, a child among 5 siblings and someone who experienced the depression era, Stanley understood the value of hard work.  He was willing to do what it took to invest in things that matter, like working his way though both undergrad and the obtainment of his PhD.  You’ve heard it said that some people know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

On the contrary, Stan Marple understood exactly what had value in this life.  He invested in a few key areas and the dividends paid off during his lifetime, the lifetimes of the two boys he loved so deeply and will continue throughout the lives of his grandchildren and even great grandchildren.

Stan’s top investment was in his family.  He leaves behind a legacy of faithful marriage.  In a world where marriage has become more about feelings and emotions than lifetime commitment and “till death do us part,” Stan modeled the role of  loving and dutiful husband so well, my sister and I watched it replicated in our father and we chose exactly those qualities in our spouses.  And on that day, when I married my husband, Stan wasn’t just there on the sidelines as a model of marriage, he stood in my dad’s stead and walked me down the aisle.   While we all felt the missing piece from my dad’s death, granddad was the glue that held the whole family together.

In a time where “mother in-law jokes run rampant,” as little girls we watched Stan care for Gladys’s mother even when Elin Farren no longer knew who he was or where she was.  In recent days, we watched this patient devotion repeat as he cared for his wife while she struggled with her memory.  Finally, at the spry age of 80, we watched Stan embrace new members of his family with joy when our Uncle Mel married Joan Moore and added her three children Jina, Beau and Buck. In some of his last moments the day before he died, he held his newest great grandson with such a smile and listened to Daniel’s laughter with delight.

While already mentioned, Stan invested in education.  Not just his own and not just in the usual way.   Yes, anyone who undergoes the academic rigor of a PhD at MIT clearly values education but there’s so much more to it.  Stan wanted everyone to understand the value of education and share his joy of learning.  I loved the twinkle in his eyes as my son Timothy would work through the math problems his great-grandfather presented.  He also funded the education of others, gave generously to the institutions that contributed to his education and taught Plant Design, Thermodynamics  and Physics at University of Houston.   But his love for learning wasn’t just books and classroom.  It was taking a job assignment in the Netherlands, being a member of Rotary, traveling the world, patroning the Ballet, Opera and Symphony and doing the daily crossword puzzle.

He also took great pride in the education of the ones he loved.  His smile was ear to ear when he learned his granddaughter Sarah was going to be an engineer and that she could go to any of the top programs in the country.  To top it off, she married an engineer and all of this gave him great pride that he expressed by showing her off to his Rotary Club.

The last significant investment Stan made that I want to mention is in the people around him.  Everyone has a story.  Stan was the guy who wanted to hear that story.  He believed in the value and dignity of every human being regardless of their station in life.  Whether the trashman or the waitress, Stan learned their name and asked them their story.  More than that, if your story had a need and he could help your need, he would.    He had a generosity that generated from the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  He worked to get to know each person at his beloved church Riverside UMC and the church where his father had been a minister, First Church of Weymouth. To each of you, he loved being apart of your lives.

Stan gave a wonderful autobiographical talk to his Rotary Club where he included everything from Shakespheare to how Shell’s research labs worked on making better wax coatings for ice cream.  He summed it up by listing several things they don’t teach in college (and here I thought MIT taught it all!).  A short list in his own words,

1) God is real, He will help you when you need Him.

2) Try to be positive. Negative pep talks are absolutely worthless.

3) Help the other guy.  It will make you feel good and your own work will also benefit.

4) If you have some important knowledge or ability, be eager to teach it to others.

In conclusion, I wanted to share some words to comfort us on this difficult day.  Granddad struggled, just like all of us, to understand pain in this life.  Quite possibly the most meaningful conversation I ever had with him was about this 2 summers ago in Boston when I had flown up to be with him because he had fallen and had severe head trauma.  Prior to heading into a scary surgery, he asked me the question of the ages. Why does God allow suffering?

I reminded him of the story of Jesus and how it was in fact the death of God’s only son and the suffering on the cross that allows those who surrender control of our lives to God to have eternity with a perfectly holy and loving God—that suffering is in fact a path to our salvation and that our trials are a path to more fully taking on the character of Jesus in our lives.   I shared with him many of the promises in Scripture such as, “In this world, there will be troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  It was a precious memory but today, I want to conclude by reading Stan’s own words regarding the suffering we feel today.

Earlier this week, I found a Sunday School lesson Stan wrote entitled, “When All Seems Hopeless.”  It begins by discussing 9/11 and cites scriptures out of Job, so you know it was heavy.  But in it, he writes this message I would suggest we all take to heart on this day when our souls are sad and we are searching for understanding.

“But God is good, not evil. He loves us.  Why? I don’t know.  But I am convinced of it.  God gave us his own son to tell us, ‘I love you, my children.’ And in the big picture, not restricted by earth’s bounds, everything will be all right.  I believe this.”

 

Grief, Peace, and Alzheimer’s Disease

The last few weeks have been eventful, to say the least. You may recall this post about my grandfather’s health deteriorating to the point he needed a hospital stay. They didn’t find anything acute but insisted he be discharged to a skilled nursing facility for rehab. I did my best in choosing the best one around, but things went from bad to worse once he got there. The doc there prescribed him with a steroid for pain in his foot and then three days later he literally lost his marbles, in an ugly way. gracecare2

He turned overnight from being the kindest, most loving and pleasant man you’d ever meet to being agitated, negative, depressed, throwing things, swearing and soliciting the other female patients. A total psychosis. It was a nightmare, and thankfully I was there and could advocate for him. Eventually I convinced them to stop the steroid and prescribe some antidepressants, but that took days. In the meantime he decided to stop eating and drinking entirely. It seemed very purposeful, that he was hastening his own death. After a week or so of this, with him growing weaker and sleepier all the time, the facility tried to intervene with a feeding tube and IV fluids. I refused both…well he really refused the IV fluids himself and I told them that was ok. He is 94, his outlook and quality of life right now were terrible, and if he wanted to be done suffering that was his choice. He was very clear to me previously and in his written health directive about prolonging his life.

I think the steroid finally left his system and the second type of depression meds kicked in, because he got nicer and started eating and doing PT again. But by this time he was so weak and not talking much. I talked to lots of nurses and other folks about hospice care and made the decision to move him into the memory care center where my grandmother is staying.

In the meantime, my grandmother is confused as can be and anxious about being in a new, unfamiliar place without her husband. But the folks at Autumn Leaves have been awesome and they keep her engaged in activities and happy in the moment most of the time. My friend Rhonda, who teaches my boys Sunday school at church, works at Autumn Leaves and has talked me through this whole process. She is fabulous with my grandmother.

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So now they are at least in the same place with loving, capable staff and a more homelike environment. Far less institutional. Gladys gets her hair and nails done there weekly and someone has obviously been helping her put her makeup on in the morning because she always looks gorgeous! The have separate rooms because Stan said he would feel better that way with a bit of space from her dementia related badgering. I’m sure she hates that, but at least they are together all day. She is visibly worried about his condition, not understanding why he is suddenly so weak and tired and irritable. But she’s content to sit and hold his hand as long as he’ll let her. He is fidgety with his hands, always has been.

Right now I have some sense of peace that they are where they should be to live out their days. I still feel anxious and guilty that I need to visit them often because I have a hard time fielding my grandmother’s incessant questions about why they are there. But it’s the right thing for sure. I have certainly been grieving the loss of my grandfather, even though he’s not gone yet. He is a wonderful, brilliant man. Among the most generous you’ll ever meet. I owe so much to him.

Family Fun at Sea World AdventureCon 2014

For the third year in a row, my family enjoyed an awesome weekend at the Sea World AdventureCon blogger’s conference. I always enjoy getting together with other professional bloggers to learn from experts on improving my craft. AdventureCon is unique in that it includes cool activities for families at Sea World and Aquatica in San Antonio.

Third annual photo with Shamu.

This theme of this year’s conference sessions was “Amplifying Your Digital Voice” which meant speakers and panels on working with the media, storytelling, Pinterest and Google+. It was great hearing from my good friends from Houston, Sara Patterson of KPRC, and John and Carrie Pacini of Mom 2.0 and Dad 2.0 Summits.

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Kami moderates a panel with Sara Patterson, John Pacini and Carrie Pacini.

Shoutout to Stacey Teet, queen of Pinterest.

The best part of blog conferences is always the other bloggers. We share ideas, laugh and learn from each other. The size of this conference is small enough that it gives an intimate vibe and the Sea World Wildside Ambassadors (which I am one) come to many events over the years so we really get to know one another well.

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Tori and Jennifer sharing blog advice.

One of the highlights of this year’s AdventureCon was a tour of the newest attraction, Roa’s Aviary in Aquatica. This bird paradise is built over top of Loggerhead Lane with waterfalls to keep the birds inside, and even the little ones can feed all the beautiful species of birds.

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We also got an exclusive behind the scenes tour with some Sea World Animal Ambassadors, such as this awesome Kookaburra bird and a cool king snake.

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So glad April and her daughter joined us!

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Another highlight was meeting Star, a young American bald eagle rescued when her nest was destroyed in a storm in Florida. She doesn’t look quite like a bald eagle yet, but she will in a couple years when her new white feathers grow in.

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Another special event just for us was an exclusive Q&A with one of the orca trainers to answer any questions we might have about the care and nurture of killer whales at Sea World. We had the freedom to ask absolutely anything we wanted about how they treat the orcas and the trainer was absolutely candid with us about everything. I was at Sea World in December the day after a new baby orca was born so I already saw firsthand and knew a lot of the truth about the orca program, but it was great to hear the questions of even the skeptics who had seen the Blackfish film get their questions answered. I’ve seen the film as well and I know the truth and still support Sea World completely.

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My boys and Mike had a wonderful time riding the water slides and roller coasters while I got schooled in blogging and then we came back together for the orca trainer talk and VIP splash zone seating at the One Ocean show. Yes, we got completely soaked. Those orcas move a lot of water with their tails.

Nate and I waiting for One Ocean to start.

We also really enjoyed staying at the Courtyard Marriott Westover Hills, just five minutes from Sea World. It’s a great hotel with a sweet pool and a DJ dance party every Friday and Saturday night. The bartender makes a mean margarita too. I highly recommend it.

As a reminder, I am a Sea World Wildsider so I do get certain benefits such as season passes to the park, but Sea World is one of my favorite places to visit and I would still pay to come often. 

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Boasting In Weakness

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In the Bible, in the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about how being weak is a good thing in God’s economy. To summarize, if we feel pride and can brag about our accomplishments, we are delusional about ourselves, but if we realize our weaknesses, we can brag about those because it is in those that God is most glorified. His strength is made perfect when we are weak. He shows his grace to be enough for us, in any situation.

In the past few weeks I have watched my grandfather’s general wellbeing decline, to the point that he was no longer able to walk. He would get dizzy and imbalanced and weak whenever he walked with his walker, even a few steps. So I took him to the doctor on Friday, and the doc was very worried and sent him to the hospital.

Mike was home Friday so I was able to spend all day in the ER with him. Stanley will tell you that getting old stinks. He has had to give up control over his own life and even his own body. He doesn’t boast in his weakness.

My first reaction is not to admit weakness either. I get anxious and start planning everything, trying to think through and control every detail. Care for my grandmother with dementia becomes paramount. I’ve known they really needed higher level care for awhile but I feared moving them again. I was traumatized the last time I moved them last summer.

Making decisions is necessary, but hard. Worrying about doing the exact best thing is unecessary. No matter what I do, it’s all in His hands anyway.

Mike had to go out of town for a project Saturday and still isn’t back. I’ve dragged my kids around town, to the hospital and running errands for my grandmother, to tour various facilities, etc. I’ve been totally on my own in this, and at times I feel incredibly weak.

Kills me to even say that. You can thank Brene Brown for that confession.

So I pray. I read 2nd Corinthians and the Psalms and lots of other scriptures. I admit my inability to control everything and admit my fear and anxiety. In return God places a few people in my path at just the right time. Helpful nurses, my grandparents’ pastor, smart friends with opinions of care places. Pieces start to fall together. I have hope of a good outcome from this crisis.

In the next few days my grandfather will move to a rehab place nearby and my grandmother will move to a Memory Care center nearby. I hope he can join her in a few weeks.

He wants and needs to meet his newest great-grandaughter, Rose.

 

DIY Makeover Tutorial: Vintage KitchenAid Stand Mixer

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Rosanna Hinde to the blog in a guest post about how to make your grandma’s old stand mixer look fresh and awesome. This is totally relevant to me as I keep finding cool vintage treasures in the process of cleaning out my grandparents’ house. I love their stuff but I don’t want my whole house to look straight out of the 50′s. This is a fabulous and easy way to add some style and flair to a vintage appliance. Thank you Rosanna!

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I’m not a hard-core baker. I like to bake, but I hate washing dishes, and my counter space is limited. Plus, I am cheap. This means I want a stand-mixer, but I don’t want to pay for it, clean it, or find the space for it.  But one day a friend said she had a used mixer for sale for $60. It’s a vintage mixer, a “lovely” faded yellow. “Lovely” isn’t the word I really want to use here, if you know what I mean.

Vintage KitchenAid

Once I started using the mixer, I knew it was a keeper. But what to do with this faded yellow? I mean, it’s depressing to use a mixer that’s so… “lovely.”

I knew what I was going to do with it the moment I saw it. I kept ignoring that crazy “you can do it!” voice in the back of my head, but it wouldn’t shut up.  “Spray paint it!”, the voice said. “You can do it!”

Sometimes you just have to give in to the voices in your head to make them go away. Or you can medicate. I chose giving in.

Here’s how I gave my KitchenAid mixer a make-over:

Step 1: Scrub it clean. I used a DIY granite cleaner (dish soap, water and rubbing alcohol) and a Magic Eraser. Man, I love those things!

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Step 2: Tape off the metal trim with a nice painters tape, and hide your cord in a Ziploc bag. Tape off any part of the cord that is still exposed. Trust me on this one. I didn’t, and I was scrubbing paint off the upper part of the cord for a while.

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Step 3: Use an Exact-o knife or razor blade to trim off excess tape. Don’t know where to start with the blade? Punch your fingernail into the tape, and that’s where you start!

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Step 4: Spray paint 3 coats, about 45-60 mins apart. Use a fan in a well-ventilated area, but somewhere there’s not a lot of dust. Don’t forget the underside of the mixer arm!

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Step 5: Remove tape. Clean up your overspray with nail polish remover and a Q-tip.

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Step 6: Stand back and admire your work of art!

Vintage KitchenAid Mixer Makeover

Please note, do NOT, I repeat: DO NOT go back and spray with a coat of clear varnish. I did this the following day and immediately the red paint began to pucker up and crackle. I could’ve cried. But I’m not the crying type, AND I knew when I started this project that I might ruin it… and I was okay with that. I guess I still am. More than anything, I realized I CAN do this. Guess those little voices in my head are pretty useful after all!

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