“I Refuse to be Anything Less Than Successful”

This quote greeted me from my Facebook Newsfeed this morning. Good timing, Chess! Thanks for the reminder.

I am starting Week 7 of my projected six month weight loss regimen which is really Week 7 of my journey toward better health.  I rarely talk about my weight because, frankly, many people are larger than I am and I don’t want to be insensitive, but hear this. Most are neither teetering on the edge of diabetes nor are their cholesterol levels in the same danger zone mine are. Therein lies the difference. Mine is apparently a very narrow window of acceptable weight gain before bad things start to happen.

I spent a few weeks of my last pregnancy experiencing the tip of the iceberg in the life of a diabetic -long enough to know I didn’t want to live that way if I had any say-so in it.  They said I had an 80% chance of developing the full-blown disease within ten years, and I’ve managed to stave that off more than a quarter of a century, but those blood sugar numbers have been creeping up in the last few years right along with those numbers on the scale. Coincidence? I think not. You know that rule  “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten”? Let me interject here that middle age changes that rule when it comes to eating, drinking, exercise and weight, and somewhere along the line I guess I forgot how much I didn’t want to live the life of a diabetic.

As my mid-50s inched toward 60 and I stopped coloring my hair, fully embracing my gray-ness, I said I would enter my grandmotherly years as either gray and thin or pudgy and dark, but not pudgy and gray. I thought my visual of being a squishy, blue-haired MawMaw would be enough to spur me into action. I guess not.

A while back my doctor wrote a prescription for me to see a dietitian. Because I have Meniere’s Disease, I have to eat VERY low sodium. I also have more food allergies than the average bear. These limit my ability to participate effectively in most diet programs. I found that coffee-stained prescription under the seat of the car about a year later. I told myself that I must want to be overweight more than I want to do anything about it.

So, what changed things for me that I can now say I am in Week 7?

My most recent lab work showed an unacceptably high sugar level – I’ve seen that before, but my eyes almost bulged out when I saw my HDL level  (For you youngsters, that’s the good cholesterol that snags up the bad and carries it away from your arteries). Depending on which site you look at, the low end of normal for my age is either 48 or 50. Anything below that is synonymous with things that I don’t want to face, given an option. Mine was 24.  Yep, 24.  Twenty-four is a great number for many things. Hours in a day. A day in December. Karats of gold. NOT for HDL, though, and weight loss and exercise are my only two options for raising that number. That got my attention.

You see, my kiddos have plans for me. They want a large family and have decided that all four grandparents will go with them to Disney World to help with crowd control when the time comes. I want to be there for that.IMG_1894 They want us to take turns in the summer having them come for a stay so they can run freely around the ranch, play in the woods or in the pond, gather eggs from the chickens, feed the animals. I want to be there to experience that and to make memories for them.  I want to be there to photograph it!DSC_0068_2

So it was in the end, a gaggle of children I’ve not met yet that changed my mindset. I am happy to report that I am now working with a dietitian I just adore (Thanks, Penny, for randomly walking onto my ranch one day for a fiber workshop and unknowingly reminding me that I don’t believe in coincidences! When you woke up that Saturday morning, you had no idea what a gift you would be to someone that day, did you?). I will diet and exercise and do all I can do to prevent this foul number from causing me to live with diabetes, strokes, coronary artery disease, dementia, or any of the other vile things that result from it. For them- and more particularly for my life with them – I refuse to be anything less than successful.


It has been a year since I posted this blog, and I thought I would give you a follow-up on how this whole thing turned out for me. In a word – AMAZING. I am shocked at how little I am plagued by the nagging negative thoughts that once were a part of my thinking, and when they do crop up, I know exactly what to do. Life changing. That’s what it was. I highly recommend it.

Letters from Donna

I wasn’t raised in a tradition that included Lent, but I remember listening with great interest once to a girl in my class ponder whether she should give up chocolate or all candy or TV or something else for Lent. As she talked, she meticulously pushed the vegetables on her tray to the side as she did every day and ate around them. I suggested maybe she would like to give up vegetables for Lent. She laughed and explained very patiently that you had to give up something you LIKE for Lent. I was just a little kid. What did I know?

As I got older and my circle of friends widened, I was privy to more deliberations as to what would be an appropriate thing to give up for 40 days. Sweets has always been a popular decision among those I know, but there have been a fair share of the…

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Weekly Photo Challenge: My 2012 in Pictures

On the Ranch:

Baby season started right away. It’s always a fun time for us.


photo_2At the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, we did very well in the more serious events.

In the costume contest, the competition gets tougher every year because everyone wants to beat us.

In the end, however, Bluebonnet Hills Alpaca Ranch and Team Binder continues to be the team to beat in both classes, Youth and Adult.photo

You gotta love a 14-year-old boy who is willing to risk national exposure by dressing like Little Bo Peep!







Our newest line of yarn from our animals, Kaleidoscope, was a huge success, and we had to make more. Lots more.


At Home:

We took Paige on her first trip to Disney World,



and we all visited the Magic Kingdom for the first time.


Going on a pizza crawl in New York Cityphoto

with our friends Robert and Amanda

was a real highlight.

There were plenty of adventures along the way.






After the devastating Summer of 2011 in the state of Texas, Spring 2012 was magnificent!


I picked up a new hobby, spinning,

and am always happy to show off my first completed project.


It was 108° in St. Louis on the 4th of July, and our band of merrymakers may or may not have suffered serious burns to the booty as we watched a first-rate parade that morning, waited on the street for buses to take us sightseeing, and while we sat on the bank of the mighty Mississippi watching fireworks that night. #typicaldaytravelingwiththeBinders.


Laurence continued his decades-old tradition of taking me on a honeymoon getaway. IMG_0492

This year’s choice: someplace cool to escape the heat of the summer, Niagara Falls. Good one, Honey!



We said good-bye to the house we lovingly restored

for Kevin while he was in college,IMG_0174

and said hello to the newest member of the Texas A&M Class of 2012!



With help from their Uncle Zeke, we helped raise the cutest litter of puppies to ever grace the planet.


I picked up a second hobby, sewing,Paige1

and made a costume for Paige to wear

at the annual Christmas festival,

Dickens on the Strand, on Galveston Island.

New hobbies and costumes seems to be the theme for this year. 🙂










And as always, he saved the best for last. Kevin proposed to Paige on Christmas night, and we could not be happier. The girl we call our Princess is going to be our Princess happily ever after!

(Like we didn’t know that already!!!!!)


In the Days Following a Child’s Death: One Mother’s Perspective

Children died Friday. They died in schools, on highways, in hospitals, and in their own homes. On Friday, their mothers joined a sisterhood I’m in. They are now one of us. We are one.

By now, she is exhausted. She discovered early-on one of the hardest truths. Sleep is cruel. She longs for it because it offers her hope of escape, and in it she can still see her son or hear her daughter’s voice. Yet in it, she also re-lives the words no parent wants to hear, and by now, she knows there is no escaping them. They reappear in her dreams, and she cries out in her sleep or bolts upright in bed hoping it was just a nightmare only to rediscover her living hell. By now, she has discovered the cruelest of sleep’s tricks, that when waking, there is a foggy moment of forgetting that precedes the remembering, “My child is dead.”  Each time she remembers, she feels the same knife to her heart she felt when she first heard the words, and she has felt that knife again and again and again by now.

By now, many of her friends and family members have held her for the first time since her child died. She has discovered that when she makes eye contact with each new person, she relives the words, the horror, the moment of  realization of “My child is dead.” More knives to the heart. She is exhausted by it, and she will be surprised by the relief she feels when she has finally seen every friend and loved one for the first time.

Hopefully, she will encounter very few well-intended remarks that resemble anything related to “God’s will” or “a better place,” and instead will hear for years to come things that begin something like “I remember when,” and “I’ll never forget the time,” or “What I always loved most about.” Hopefully, people will feel comfortable talking about her child because she will want to talk about him or her, and she will want others to be comfortable with that.

The house will be filled with people and noise, but by now she knows there is no noise in the world that will drown out the deafening silence created when a child’s voice is missing.

People will bring food and try to get her to eat. She will push food around her plate to try and convince all those watchful eyes that she is indeed eating, but she isn’t.  Don’t worry, though.  It won’t kill her. She is convinced her heart will do that first. She thinks surely no heart can possibly survive this much pain, and she will often wish it would simply stop beating. But it doesn’t – no matter how much she is sure it will and no matter how much she wishes it would. By now, she has discovered that the pain of bringing a child into the world pales in comparison to the pain of being asked to let one go.

People will try to give her pills to help her though this. By now, she has probably discovered that their pills dull her body and make it unable to cry or move, and she has discovered that she desperately needs to be able to cry, to scream into pillows and throw them across the room. Their anti-depressants do not help because she is not depressed. She is sad. There are no fonts large enough or bold enough, no itallic slanted enough to adequately emphasize the word “sad,” and she knows, unfortunately, there is no pill for sadness.

With so many people in the house, she may try to help with clean-up. People will raise their voices in protest. Hopefully, she has a brother who will reach out to the protestors and with the kindest of smiles and the gentlest voice say, “Let her clean. It’s something she can control.” She will remember his understanding and appreciate his kindness. He knows her world is spinning out of control and she latches on to anything from her old world. She wants it back but knows it is gone. She cannot think about the new world. She doesn’t want a new normal.

By now, she has been asked to use vocabulary words she never thought she would – words like “pall bearer,” and “casket,” and “funeral.” By now, someone has driven her to search for a burial plot. Her husband has probably thrown his hands up in despair and asked, “How do you do that? How do you pick out a piece of ground to put your child in?” No one will have an answer, but no matter what ground is chosen, it is not going to be good enough.

By now, she has been thinking about how to dress her child. Does she put that favorite outfit on and never see it again, or does she keep it for herself as a remembrance? She will struggle with that.

By now, she knows the awful truth. The worst is not over. There will be a service, one that marks the last time she will be with her child’s body. She doesn’t want that day to happen, of course. What parent does? But for her, it will happen all too soon, and on that day when everyone else leaves, she may be asked if she wants to see her child one last time. Inside, her soul will scream, “NO! No, I do not want to see my child for the last time!”  But she will probably nod her head and spend a few moments straightening a wisp of hair and saying things mothers say. A hand will touch her shoulder and a kind voice behind her may ask if she wants to close the casket herself or if she wants someone else to do it for her. If she wants to do it herself, let her. It is, after all, the last act she can perform for her child, and it is the closest thing she will have to replace all those nights when she will never again tuck in her baby.

By now, she knows that given half a chance, any one of her loved ones would take this pain from her, but she also knows these rough waters are hers alone to navigate, and while others can encourage her, it is she alone who must paddle onward. She knows her journey is only beginning, and she finds that unfathomable. It takes all her focus to get through a moment. She has trouble remembering the simplest things – how to put on her pants, how to put toothpaste on her toothbrush. She cannot comprehend weeks, months, years.

She knows you pray for her. She may not know your name or exactly when it is that you do pray, but she knows. She feels it. She depends on it. Don’t stop.

In days to come, she will get letters from strangers who often do not sign them unless it is with something like “So-and-So’s  Mom.”  She  will know that in addition to family, friends, and community, she is part of a sisterhood. She will make a promise to herself that when she is ready, she will do the same for moms in the future who make their children’s breakfasts and wish them good days and then never see them alive again.

In Honor of Those Who Serve

Arlington National Cemetery is a place where we can go and honor our fallen soldiers on any given day. We marvel at the rows of white markers and the skill with which they were designed. Pictures take our breath away and fill us with a sense of pride in our country and a sense of solemness at the price we pay to keep it. At Arlington, we are reminded that being an American is hard work.

On this visit, I witnessed for the first time teams of men maintaining the markers. Time and weather cause the grounds to shift on the hills, and headstones inevitably list to one side or another. Teams work to preserve the integrity of the sharp lines we love to see in the headstones. Without the aid of machinery (it would disturb the profound silence that exists there), using shovels and string and the simplest of tools, men work tirelessly to return the markers to their upright positions. When we walked past, the team disappeared behind a clump of trees – an obvious effort to keep from disturbing our experience there; however, I sneaked back and caught this man returning to work before he caught sight of my lens. I don’t know why I think of these people so often – working quietly, respectfully, and with great pride in their work. But I do think of them. And I think of the heroes I walked among- those who fought for causes I truly believe in and those who fought for causes I would spend my entire life rallying against. They are all American heroes fighting and dying for the America they loved. And that is why when I visit Washington D.C., I spend time at Arlington National Cemetery. I come away with a larger sense of what this country is about, what it stands for. I come away feeling like whatever political winds that blow causing me to list one direction or another disappear, and I walk away feeling renewed and more upright as an American after spending time there.

To all of our heroes who serve and have served our country,

to the families who sacrifice right along side them,

I thank you –

and today and every day,

I honor you.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

I live on a ranch in Texas.

This is an example of what a cowboy on my ranch looks like.

Is this what you thought a cowboy in Texas looks like?

Is this what you thought a Texas ranch looks like?

We raise alpacas on our ranch in Texas.

Many people think alpacas belong on a mountaintop in South America.

Here is one of our alpacas.

He thinks he belongs on our hill.

Alpacas don’t like foreign things on their heads

or bodies

or feet.

Usually, that is.

If they let you dress them up, it means they trust you.

Does this surprise you?

Me stressed? Nah. I'm good.

Here is one of our alpacas.

He trusts us.

For Halloween, he went as a rodeo clown.

This is what rodeo clowns really look like.

Sort of.

If you’re lucky, an alpaca might give you a kiss.

I think he wants to give you a kiss goodbye.


Ya’all come back, now. Hear?

So What’s a Nice Girl Like Me Doing Hanging Out in Bars With My Underage Kids?

If I were on Family Feud and Alex Trebek posed the question, “Name one place you would not take a child,” I would pounce on the buzzer and respond with a resounding, “A bar!” So, how is it I started hanging out in them nearly a decade ago with my underage children? I’m a counselor, for Pete’s sake. People ask me all the time for advice about child-rearing. How can I justify saying one thing and doing another?  When I was their age, I wouldn’t even attend a church-sponsored dance – being fairly certain my soul would burn in Hell for all eternity if I did – so how did I come to sink so low?

Or is it that I really didn’t sink at all?

My bachelor’s degree is in music. I guess that makes it my first passion. While a hearing loss changed the course of my career early on, it did nothing to diminish my love of a brilliantly orchestrated song or a skillfully executed riff.

My older son Keith was a drummer. Each Christmas, beginning as an almost-2-year-old, Santa brought him a new drum because the older one was loved, quite literally, to pieces. As he grew, he heard the same percussion parts I heard in music, but he could recreate them – something I couldn’t do. And what a voice! One music teacher tried to convince him to audition for the Houston Boys’ Choir which sent him running and screaming toward his go-cart so he could burn some rubber and send dirt flying to ward off whatever he thought the mere suggestion would do to his testosterone levels.

Kevin could sing on key beginning at about eight months. There was no mistaking his songs from the baby seat in the grocery cart. A lady, who reminded me of Gladys Kravitz, once yelled across aisles, “Harry, come quick! This baby is singing ‘La Bamba!!'” For his fifth birthday, he asked for a guitar, and I knew in my heart-of-hearts he didn’t mean a toy one, so the boy got a real one that was just his size. In school, he played French horn beautifully, and after school I often found him in the band or orchestra rooms getting tutored in how to play other instruments. He taught himself to play piano.

A certain look I recognized came across their faces when they heard something in a piece of music that moved them. It was never long before I heard it painstakingly recreated on their respective instruments. I loved watching that happen.

Maybe you’ve already jumped ahead of the class and know how my boys ended up in bars as teenagers. Keith was a freshman in college and Kevin a freshman in high school when they got together with some of Keith’s buddies from high school and formed a band. Their first practices were in my garage in 2003, and last December, the band opened for Bob Seger at the American Airlines Center in Dallas in front of 23,000 people. Lots of interesting venues fill the dash between the two dates.

I learned more about bars than I ever imagined. In Texas, teenagers can work in them but can’t just be in them without a parent. So, while our kids could legally stand on stage and make money, they couldn’t walk off stage and hang around without us. This is where what I like to call “bar etiquette” comes into play. (Who knew there was such a thing, right?) Apparently, if you open for another band, then in the world of bar etiquette, it is considered rude and socially unacceptable to leave before the headlining band has played. The consequences of breaking this rule are severe – tantamount to professional suicide, so we moms and dads followed our underage kids along and stayed and listened to the headliners so our guys would not be black-balled by the powers-that-be.

For the first two years, this was a typical scenario. Some weekdays, I drove Kevin from marching band practice to the other kind of band practice. On Fridays after the football game, I drove him to his gig and waited for 2:00 a.m. to arrive. Thursdays were the worst when they played out of town. Remember the old M-W-F college classes? Not so nowadays. Classes are M-W and T-Th, making Thursday nights the big nights in college towns. Egad! How many times did I grab Kevin, bags packed, from marching band practice Thursday evenings and make a mad dash to play a gig in a college town 2-3 hours away? And every Friday morning we were up by 3:30 and headed back so we could both be in our respective desks at 7:30. Oh, how I wished on more than one occasion that he would have answered differently when I asked, “Are you SURE you feel ok today?” But alas, he always felt fine, and we were in class and at work on time every time. He, of course, was the only band member not in college, so he was the only one with classes the next day. **Sigh**

In another strange twist regarding kids in traditionally adult places…..during tenth grade, Kevin applied for and was accepted into a program at Lamar University where each year 35 juniors enter and finish high school while concurrently enrolled as college freshmen and sophomores (There’s another blog post waiting to happen!). When he graduated from high school, he had lived in a college dorm (one reserved for high school kids only) for two years and had 56 college hours under his belt. For the first year, instead of picking him up from the football stadium on Friday nights, I drove 2 1/2 hours to his college on Fridays, took him to his gig(s), and drove him back to college on Sunday nights. No, he wasn’t old enough to drive himself to college at first, and he wasn’t old enough to hang out in bars without his parents; yet, he was in college and working in bars. Overachiever.

I had the time of my life, and they had experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Some of the finest, kindest, most loving people I have had the privilege of knowing are those I met in bars while hanging out with my underage boys. When Keith died in 2005, the church was filled with friends from every aspect of his life – neighborhood friends and sports teams, public school and college friends and teachers/professors, old church ladies who loved him and young children who idolized him, his business associates, and yes, his bar and bar-owner friends. What a wonderful testament to his life that at age 21 he loved and was loved by people of all ages and from all walks of life.

There is a great deal of discussion this week in the blog world about kids in adult places, so I thought I would weigh in. At the end of the day, is it a good idea to take your kids to a bar? No. Almost never. There are times, however, when you realize that for every hard-and-fast rule, for every black-and-white situation, there exists a gray area. We lived in that area for several years, and they were some of the best of my life.