Karen & Kurt 
Edgewood in St. Denis

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Smart Woman

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Most in need of mercy

Posted by karenandkurt on February 5, 2015 at 10:15 PM Comments comments (149)

It is the simplest and quickest of prayers, but it’s one that I whisper a lot.

“Oh my Jesus, lead all souls to you, especially those most in need of your mercy.”


I’m not going to take it apart for you and I’m not going to go on a theological explanation. But in the past few days we have seen again the horror of ISIS, or the Islamic State, and the abominable acts it is capable of committing. It murders. It takes hostage. It rapes. It steals – land, oil, people, minds. It claims to act in God’s and in the name of Islam. But it does no such thing. King Hussien of Jordon, a devote Muslim, said: “This is no reflection of our religion. This is evil…”


And it is evil. The devil can quote scripture and it doesn’t care whose holy scripture it reads from.


When James Foley was brutally murdered, I was at a communications conference. I stood there, frozen, watching the TV screen as CNN showed the horrid video. My companions didn’t seem to notice. A reporter to a reporter, an image on the screen, I could not let him die alone. And I cried and prayed.


Oh my Jesus, lead all souls to you, especially those most in need of your mercy.

And ISIS murdered again. It raped again. It destroyed again. Knives to the throats of men and women, bound and helpless. Those most in need of mercy.


This week, a most gruesome video, expertly choreographed and filmed, was released by ISIS showing the murder of a Jordanian pilot. It was not execution because that is the sentence following a trail. It was murder of a helpless man, trapped in a cage, with gasoline soaking through his clothes.


It makes me cry. It makes me pray. For him. For the people displaced by ISIS. For Muslims, Christians, Yazidis – for all who are being targeted by these horrible people.


And the quiet lesson to pray for my enemy makes itself understandable to me.


Oh my Jesus, lead all souls to you, especially those most in need of your mercy.


Who is more in need of God’s mercy than a man trapped in a cage, his hands outstretched in prayer, as flames engulf his body? It is only God’s great mercy that can save his soul and bring him to paradise.


And who is more in need of God’s mercy than a man whose heart is so hardened and mind so turned away from the lesson to love his neighbor than a man who would light a fuse to murder a man trapped in a cage? It is only God’s great mercy that can save his soul, soften his heart and turn him back into a kind man.


Those most in need of mercy. Lead all souls to you.


I don’t have an answer; I want ISIS stopped before it can quote more scripture and destroy more lives. I want death and murder to stop. I want mercy. It is only mercy that will make this stop. War may bring it to an end – but only mercy will truly make it stop, when hearts and mind turn back to Great Mercy, who created the world, who created this pilot, this masked man and me.


Oh my Jesus, lead all souls to you, especially those most in need of your mercy.

What comes after 3?

Posted by karenandkurt on January 19, 2015 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (1)

I’ll admit this right here: I made a big aunting mistake during the Thanksgiving break while driving back with my sister and her three kids.


I realized I had no idea what comes after “three.” I’m just glad my nephew didn’t know I was clueless at that moment. (I’m also glad – I think – that my sister was sleeping at that moment, too.)


We spent a wonderful long weekend for Thanksgiving with our brother, parents, aunt and cousins. The kids ran and played and built forts and did kids things – which included throwing stuffed animals from the balcony at Aunt Jan’s house. They climbed on grandparents, learned to eat new foods – sort of – and played in the snow. In their socks – not that anyone let them do that, it’s just that Max was out the door before an adult could grab him. I got to meet my cousin’s two kids for the first time and fell in love with them. I wish we lived close enough so I could be their aunt, too!


And early Saturday morning we sleepily piled Grace and the twins, Max and Caiden, back into Margaret’s minivan for the 12 hour trek back home. And we drove.


For the first several hours, the kids slept, Marg and I visited and Kurt either napped or read his book. By lunchtime, we were hungry and needed to stretch our legs, so Margaret pulled us into a travel plaza somewhere in Ohio.


Kurt and I stood in line for crummy fast food while Margaret took the kids into the gift shop for a treat. And that’s when they saw the brightly colored packs of gum. I really don’t know why she agreed to the gum but each of the kids promised they would chew the gum and keep it in their mouths and not make a mess.


Margaret climbed in the back of the minivan, wrapped up in blanket and did her best to go to sleep. Gracie immediately stuck her stocking feet up around my ears from her seat behind me. I could smell fruity bubble gum.


“Do you have gum in your socks?” I asked, grabbing of her toes.


There was giggle. “It’s a secret. I’m hiding my gum in my socks,” she told me.


In the way back of the minivan there was a shriek. Margaret turned around and told the twins to share the iPad. “You each get 30 minutes and then it’s your brother’s turn.”


This was followed by, “And keep your gum in your mouth. I don’t want to see it.”


And then, by some Thanksgiving miracle, my sister actually fell asleep.


So we drove. I heard arguing and turned around to see Max with the gum out of his mouth, holding one end and stringing it in a long rope.


“Max, I thought your mother told you to keep the gum in your mouth,” I said.


He quickly gobbled up the string and grinned at me.


Not two minutes later, Caiden calls, “Aunt Karen, Max is playing with his gum!”


I turn back and say, “Max, you have a choice: the gum stays in your mouth or it goes in the trash.”


And he grins.


Five minutes go by and I hear Grace say, “Max, that’s gross!”


I look back just in time to see Max pulling at his gum and sticking his tongue out at his sister. I took a napkin from the pile on the console between the passenger and driver seats. “Max. The gum has to go in the trash.”


“No, it doesn’t,” he replied.


I passed the napkin to Grace, who passed it back to Max. “Did it come out of your mouth?”




“Then you choose to throw it out.”


Grumpily, Max put the gum in the napkin, passed it to Grace and into the trash it went.


“Thank you, Max,” I said and then checked the time. “You have five more minutes with the iPad and then it’s your brother’s turn.”


“No, it’s not!” Max said.


I know, I took away his gum and I was about to take away the iPad. “Five minutes,” I repeated and turned back to the front. Margaret was curled up and sound asleep.


A few minutes later, Caiden yells, “Max, it’s my turn!”


“No, it’s not,” Max says calmly.


“Yes, it is!”


I checked the time, looked at Kurt and then turned around. “Max, Caiden is right. Give him the iPad now, please.”


“I don’t want to,” Max said. He continued playing on it intently, head down, not looking at me or his brother.


“Max, it’s been a half an hour,” I reminded him. “Time to let your brother have it.”


“No,” Max said again.


Caiden helpfully grabbed for the iPad. Max yanked it away. Caiden cried at Max. Max shouts “No!” I was worried they would wake Margaret up.


“Max, enough,” I said. “It’s your brother’s turn.”


And then he gives me that grin. ‘Try it’ the look seemed to dare.


So I did what my mother did when we were kids, the most terrifying thing she could do –


“One,” I said firmly.


And then – oh, crap – I was suddenly desperate and at the same time knew I couldn’t let it show. If I was counting, I had to back that up, and there I was, at the front of the car and the boys are all the way in the back and Gracie was watching wide-eyed and Margaret was sleeping –


“No,” Max stated just as firmly.


“Two,” I said, holding my voice stern, my face calm and holding the most terrifying thought at bay:


What comes after 3?


I know that you never make an ultimatum that you can’t live with, you never start a course of action you can’t complete and you never – ever – give a child a choice that you can’t follow through on.


And if I were talking with a caller at work, I would have said to her don’t start counting to three until you know what you will do once you get to 3.


When we were kids, 3 meant going to our room. It meant the end of the evening. It even meant going home, even if Mom had to leave a full grocery cart behind.


If Mom got to three, basically, you were toast.


And here I was, at 2, with no way to get back to the boys and remove the iPad from Max’s hands, no room to send any kid to and certainly no authority to back up anything I might even come up with.


I had no clue what was going to come after 3. I was now playing poker with a 5-year-old and praying to God that he didn’t call my bluff.


What comes after 3???


Max eyed me up. And decided I was serious. Or maybe he realized the minivan was starting to slow down and Kurt was changing lanes.


Max handed the iPad to Caiden, who scooted with it as far away from Max as he could. Max folded his arms and glared at me.


“Thank you, Max,” I said calmly and turned back to the front of the car. I never had to get to 3. I was so completely relieved.


We drove in silence for a little while. Eventually Margaret woke up, we changed drivers and headed through Pennsylvania and finally into Maryland. I called ahead to a Chinese restaurant for take-out.


While we waited for our order to be ready, Margaret took Caiden for a walk around the plaza and Kurt and I stood outside the minivan.


“I’m so glad Max gave Caiden the iPad,” I quietly confessed. “I have no idea what I was going to do if I got to 3. There’s nothing I could do.”


Kurt put his arm around me. “I knew what we were going to do,” he said. “I was going to pull the van over. I was already changing lanes.”


And then he said, “Don’t worry; we’re a team.”


Oil tanker rolls off hill

Posted by karenandkurt on December 28, 2014 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (0)

By Gracie Hargrove

Sampson Media Correspondent


An oil tanker fell off the railroad tracks because erosion from the flood caused by Hurricane Agnes washed away the railroad ties in June 1972.


The oil tanker rolled off the track and down the hill. When it rolled down the hill, years later a tree grew between the hill and the tanker. Today, the oil tanker is rusty and dented.


There is also a flour mill that was built in 1856 and burned down in 1905. The remains of the flour mill were washed away by the flood in June 1972.


I had a great time walking through Patapsco State Park and I think you will, too.

Caiden and Gracie Hargrove on the rusty oil tanker.

Gracie Hargrove, the reporter, on the ruins of the Orange Grove Flour Mill.

Leaving Misty Lake

Posted by karenandkurt on September 26, 2013 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (0)

As I write this, we are almost done moving the last drips and draps out of Misty Lake and cleaning the townhouse. I never realized how emotional this process is! Stuff just seems to keep coming out of the house! It’s amazing what two people, who lived full single lives for 15 years, can cram into one house during the first few years of marriage.

We have loved Misty Lake. The neighborhood – our corner of it – has been beautiful. The pond made a huge difference in helping to create this haven. We have song birds, ducks and geese. The woods around the water are filled with bradford pears that bloom with delicate white flowers, pine trees that are dark green against the snow and graceful trees with leaves that turn purple in the fall. There are rabbits galore! I saw a woodchuck the other day. There are even black rat snakes, a creature completely new to me, that seem to think the middle of the parking lot is a great place to catch some rays.

We have made some dear friends in Tom and Hattie. It has been great having Dave around the corner from us – my non-gourmet snowstorm pizza has been his favorite thing to joke about since he was snowed in with us during the Snowmageddon.

Our garden. Oh, the garden. We are leaving behind more than a patch of soil. It has been a source of joy and life for us. Kurt told me that he had almost proposed to me while we were working in the garden – and then Sha’Ori tripped him as he tried to sneak away to get the ring. The time wasn’t right, but the garden was right for us.

Cleaning, packing and removing has given me the strange sense of what it must be life to clean out someone’s house after they’ve died. The first stage of our life together has ended and a new one is beginning. But the death of that first stage has had its own sorrow and I felt that in cleaning and packing.

This was our first home together. The first garden. The first Christmas. Sha’Ori’s last home.

Each time we walk into the empty townhouse there is a gut reaction. Like something’s wrong. Or like this is temporary and we’ll be back shortly. We look for Luca and open the door cautiously, like he might be there. I stand in the center of the room and pray that Sha’Ori is where is she is supposed to be, and not caught here, won’t be left behind here.

The backyard has been our retreat. Morning coffee, afternoon garden, evening drinks with friends. The one place to hide from a busy world. The one place to reconnect with friends and neighbors.

It’s tough to leave some place you love. Having to do it over the drawn-out course of six weeks has taken an emotional toll. We are tired. We are ready to rest before beginning again.

St. Denis is beautiful. The house is awesome. The park is wonderful. The history of the place is fascinating. The neighborhood and old village are welcoming. Our new neighbors have been excited to welcome us to the community. St. Denis is the right place and the right choice for this next adventure.

We are grateful for our sojourn on Misty Lake and that may be why there is some sadness that on Monday we will return the keys.

Welcome to our house

Posted by karenandkurt on August 22, 2013 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

So, my friends, here’s the update: We signed on the house on Friday. We bought our house! After last month’s crushing rejection, Kurt and I spent a serious two weeks grieving for the Sutton Avenue house that we lost out on. As you recall, I spent the first week waiting for a call that was not going to come.

But an email did.

On the Friday of the second week, at 10:30 at night, Kurt gets an email – the other deal fell through. Do we still want the house?

We made our bid the next day.

Thus began the 45 days count-down to the day we signed on the house and got to call it “ours.” After banks and loans and credit reporting companies and evaluators and home inspections and researching the past 175 years of the house (because I can) we took last Friday off from work, did the final walk-through and signed on a lot of dotted lines.

That night we blew up the air mattress and camped out in our empty house. But it is our house.

So we threw a party the next day with Kurt’s family, colleagues from work and one of my friends from work coming over to see it for the first time. Aunt Dee brought us bread and a new broom “because they’re traditional.”

“There’s something else, too, that you’re supposed to bring, but I forgot what that was,” she added.

I laughed and accepted the generous gifts and the blessings they represent: Bread, that there will always be food in the house; Broom, to sweep away evil and sadness. What she forgot was Salt for good luck and that life always has flavor. But Cousin Beth brought the Wine, that there would always be joy and happiness.

The move is underway now and tonight the curtains will be hung in the front windows. There is so much to do, and lots of packing and carrying of stuff. Olivia our niece has run across the living, giggling happily, though she has bouncy curls and not the pigtails of the little I saw in my mind’s eye. But her laughter had a wonderful sound, echoing through our livingroom.

Our house is a very, very, very fine house...

Pamela Mercer, Reporter and Friend

Posted by karenandkurt on August 5, 2013 at 3:50 PM Comments comments (4)

I have written obituaries before, and I have written them for people who were friends and acquaintances. But this obituary for a friend isn’t running in my newspaper.

I have been looking for Pamela’s obituary online all morning. I haven’t found it. She died last Wednesday. I have emailed her sister and hope to learn her family’s arrangements.

Pamela deserves an obit. We all do, but those of us who pledge to seek the truth and report it deserve this one last time for our names to appear in print, for this one time to have our stories told. Pamela was always very guarded with her story, she shared some of it with me and the rest was just a sly smiled that always seemed to say, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” I’m not even sure how old she is, though the earliest published story I can find by her is from 1993, making her about mid-40s.

Pamela had a way of putting words on paper that took you to the news – interviews with drug lords, survivors of massacres, ordinary people quietly living extraordinary lives. She was compassionate to the one who was oppressed – whether they were the marginalized of Florida, the family trying to survive in a land ruled by narco-terrorists or the caller on the telephone whose child is affected by ADHD and the school won’t help her. She also had a sharp tongue and typed her thoughts too quickly, not always thinking through what the results might be (I know this personally, as I paid a price for some of her actions at work). She could be loving, and she could be unforgiving.

She believed whole-heartedly in the mission of CHADD, though she could not find happiness at the National Resource Center on ADHD. It hurt her to walk away from her work in helping people affected by ADHD but it was something she needed to do; I know she was happy at her new position for many months before her cancer returned.

She has three sisters, I believe, along with her mother and several nieces and nephews. Some of her sisters live here in the States, while her mother lives at the family home in Colombia. Again with that sly look, she said her father had been some type of diplomat from the United States, which made her a U.S. citizen. She was brought to Florida for dangerous open heart surgeries as a child – surgeries that in the high elevation of Colombia would have killed her. I remember when CHADD’s conference was at Disney a few years ago. She was so happy because, for her, that was as close as she could get to going home because she had spent so much time there a child during that period of surgeries and recovery. It was the happiest I had ever seen her.

As a child she was educated in Europe and moved with her parents in diplomatic circles. She lost her father at some point in young adulthood. She attended Tufts University where she earned a degree in English and Political Science. Starting in Latin America and her Colombian home, she used that degree to expose drug violence, political corruption, human rights concerns and poverty. She was the voice for the voiceless.

Pamela freelanced for the New York Times and the Associated Press. She wrote on the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald and later for the Orlando Sentinel. In Miami, she covered minority and Hispanic affairs, Spanish-speaking peoples and business and community. In Orlando, she covered education and community. Again, she sought to be the voice for those who were not heard in Florida.

She came up to Washington, DC, to better herself and her career. She campaigned for President Obama because she believed he would help to improve people’s lives. She believed it was her responsibility to help improve people’s lives.

When we first met, we didn’t always get along. I remember storming out of one meeting when we had clashed about education and tradition. But I was married only five months when I was diagnosed with DCIS, a form of breast cancer. As I explained to my colleagues what I was going through, she said something that to my own reporter’s ear meant that she knew a lot more than she let on.

From that day forward, Pamela was my friend. She always signed her personal emails to me “Love you” and she sent email to my cat, Luca, in her persona of a lioness. She offered me strength when I was weak and support when I was afraid. She shared information with me and guidance. She didn’t always agree with my decisions but she stood by them. She told me more about her health than she shared with anyone else but she never told me the complete story. There was more wrong than a Stage II or III diagnosis or childhood open heart surgery. I knew something was seriously wrong when she said she didn’t expect that it would be cancer that would kill her.

Pamela last emailed me two months ago and I dragged my feet in replying to her and then wondered why she didn’t reply to me. I thought she was ticked that I had taken so long to reply and that she was giving me a dose of my own medicine. But in her last email she wrote that she had been ill. She didn’t tell me it was a return of the cancer. I wish she had. Our Editor in Heaven, I wish she had!

Pamela did not have a personal faith in God, but she respected mine. She knew I prayed for her and was gracious about that. When she would shout “JESUS CHRIST!” out of frustration at the computer or some new policy, I took to warning her that if she kept calling out for Jesus, he would come into her life.

In my personal theology, God is the Great Editor and we are all the writers of the story of our own lives. My hope and prayer now is that the Editor has called her into his office and she is the latest member of the Great Newsroom among the Communion of Saints. That in her new role, where ever and however it may be, that she continues to be a voice for the voiceless.

Pamela Mercer

A selection of Pamela’s work:

Not Our House

Posted by karenandkurt on July 3, 2013 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (4)

I keep checking my email account for an email that isn’t coming. Kurt and I spent this past weekend trying to buy a beautifully redone house built in 1887 and adjacent to Patapsco State Park.

And we didn’t get it; someone out bid us. And we’re crushed. And I keep hoping that the “someone’s” bid falls through and we’ll get an email saying that the seller has accepted our offer instead.

I stood there in the room that would have been my office and looked out to the park and felt at home. We planned where the garden would go and discussed how to keep Luca out of the closed off section of the basement – the underside of the house. We planned Christmas. I looked for fireplace mantels. In my mind’s eye I saw a little girl with pigtails running across the livingroom. We were so sure this would be our house.

Not getting the house sets off a swirl of emotions – old and new. We wanted this house. Kurt woke me up Saturday morning and said, “Robin just sent us some listings and I think you will really like the one.” Before my feet hit the floor and I could see the listing I just knew this was our house. How could I be wrong? How could we come in second, yet again, for something so important in life? Why wasn’t our bid good enough? We went up much higher in the asking price. We would love the house and make it beautiful. Why can’t I have a state park for a backyard?

Our agent, Robin, tried very hard to persuade the seller. The other agent wrote back to her, stating, “He thanked you for your offer and said should something happen with the offer they have, he will be in touch…”

The hope and cruelty of three dots! Here we are, second best, but held on the line by three little dots! And waiting for an email that is not going to come.

The house we didn't get.

ADHD is real and I'm really tired of the bullshit

Posted by karenandkurt on June 29, 2013 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (1)

Yes, I did write “bullshit” in the title above. I have spent six years as a member of the ADHD community – I don’t have the disorder but I work for an organization that struggles to get real, good, science-based information into the hands of parents, affected adults, their spouses and partners, teachers, friends, doctors, health care administrators and everyone else who has even the slightest interest in this disorder. And what is the damn message that the popular culture keeps opining? “ADHD isn’t real, it’s made up, it’s an excuse for laziness/bad parents, it’s just so drug companies can make money.”

And who do you think the biggest of the bad in their opinion is? Me – I am the one answering the phones and describing how to treat the disorder and yes, that includes employing medication. I am the one telling you to drug your kids in their view.

Want an example? Here:
 It’s a horrible shame to be making kids take these mind-altering drugs like that!  It must be hard for you money-grubbing whores to sleep at night.

After six years, I just want to scream. And if I want to scream, how much more loudly must the thousands and thousands of parents, adults, doctors and every other member of the ADHD who have dealt with this disorder for a lifetime want to scream?

I remember when I didn’t know anything about ADHD either. I never thought it was “made up” because I saw the real struggles my friend and my cousin were having. But I didn’t understand the treatment, I didn’t understand how medication worked, I didn’t understand the history of this disorder. My answers then were simplistic and very, very wrong.

I got older, I knew more people affected by it, I dated someone with it, I was the instructor and campus minister for students affected by it. I learned more. My understanding changed. My opinions became better informed.

Then I started at CHADD and wow! The science, the studies, the “lived experience” of this disorder! For six years I have talked with media and press members (my former counterparts), parents, doctors and anyone who asked a question and was willing to listen. The moment I say “ADHD” I have been on call – on airplanes, around bonfires, to friends, to attendees at training conferences, to strangers in the grocery store.

But I need to stop reading the comments sections of news articles on ADHD. This is what we are up against – what I am up against:

From "Minority children less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD":

As a hispanic, none of my family members have ever been diagnosed with ADHD. Also, none of my family members are afraid to discipline our own or each others’ children with a good swatting when they need it.

ADHD is a recent construction that allows for the easy medication of children to displace parenting skills and responsibilities onto drugs. It’s also another means for displace responsibility of behavior away from the individual.

I am wondering if a lot of it is BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS? Why is it so prevalent today and it was not years ago? I do know MANY, not all,, parents of today discipline a lot different than we did when our children were growing up. Everywhere I go, children are screaming and demanding.....parents ignore that behavior. Children need structure and discipline.....

ADHD is WAAAAAY over-diagnosed.

Joe Camel
White America you're poisoning your children. STOP.

From "Kids as young as 4 can have ADHD":

When my kids get over excited, that means it's time to get them over to the park for some softball or football. After a couple of hours of burning off all that excess energy, their so wiped out that all they want to do is eat, (like a pack of buzzards), and take a nap. What the heck is so wrong with the old school methods? Why are we becoming so dependent on pills?

Total BS!



Listen....you have bought into all the hype and myths. There is NO SUCH THING as ADHD!....PERIOD!...That is a absolute 100% fact!......We have got to stop this and expose these drug companies and doctors for what they are doing. My doctor friend also says this is the biggest scam going and most doctors agree.

From "When to test for ADHD:"

ADHD is a myth. From the time children are old to watch TV, they are conditioned to focus in 30 second increments by advertisements. Parent's are afraid to punish their children for fear of being reported to CPS. So they do not learn impulse control. All of our foods contain un-natural ingredients that we can’t even pronounce let alone understand their effects on our brain chemistry. Big Pharma stands to gain trillions of dollars if they convince the population that they have a "mental disorder" that can only be cured with drugs. Aldous Huxley wrote in his novel "Brave New World" of a world where everyone is sedated and controlled through pharmaceuticals. He went on to admit that it was not a work of fiction, but a glimpse into the future.

From "A.D.H.D. Seen in 11% of U.S. Children as Diagnoses Rise":

It's highly implausible that there has been an 50% increase in ADHD in the past decade. This trend is being driven by Big Pharma, pressure from overwhelmed teachers who find it easier to teach to a drugged classroom and now by parents and students who are seeking "performance enhancement."

Perhaps it is time for elite high schools and college to "drug test" for Adderall  and Ritalin in applicants and students so that students who are not taking performance enhancing medications aren't left by the wayside.

In other words, SPEND SOME TIME WITH THE CHILDREN, not ferrying them to some other source of entertainment. BE WITH THEM. Take walks, show them how to clean the bathroom, have them care for a pet, read books, do some art.........Stop scheduling their days with activities in which they have to stop in 45 minutes and do something else.......Let them take the time it takes to paint something, or create something.

Discipline, pesticides, plastics, food coloring, food allergies, sugar, diet, pollution, PANDAS, lack of sleep, sleep apnea, lack of excercise, "Nature Deficit Disorder", iPads, iPods, TV, DNA, bad teachers, boring curriculum, cultural values, single moms, substance abusing parents, early childhood trauma, excellerated academics, No Child Left Behind, "Big Pharma"........

Oh my god no wonder it's easier to just give the kids medication.

Today's adults don't know how to raise children, so they demand pills from doctors to do the raising for them. I blame the 1960s, and the generation of children I was a part of. They didn't want to be like their parents, so they didn't bother doing the hard work of parenting. Then girls stopped babysitting - as was well discussed at the time - and they didn't learn the basics of dealing with kids that had be learned at an early age for generations. That gave us a generation of adults who were clueless as to how to deal with children. Add to that the yuppie obsession for the perfect child, and you get a generation of drug-addled kids.

In my day ADHD was referred to as DLS - Doesn't Like School.

And can you imagine how bad they are now?? And what this is doing to these young minds?

“Things that children do that annoy adults.” = ADHD

And this, gentle readers, is just a sample of what I have read or has been said to me in this past six years.

In November, in a moment of candor and exhaustion, I said to our CEO that CHADD may have a divine purpose intended for it by God. Oh, that was a startled look I received in return! I hope that CHADD does, but I hope that the ADHD community can find a way to overcome the misinformation purposely spewed by ignorant and harmful agencies and individuals. People are hurting! And yet it is popular to deny this disorder and blame people who are seeking medical treatment for it.

Let me tell you the basic facts and truth about ADHD so you can help:

ADHD is real. And it has been around for a very long time.

This disorder was documented in the 1600s and again in the 1700s, describing adult ADHD. “Fidgety Phil” was written in 1844 and described childhood ADHD.

Following the flu pandemic in 1917, doctors began to see that children who had the very high fever had problems with impulsive control and attention – and then they began to see a group of children with the same problems but who had never had the high fever. The modern research of ADHD began in the 1920s and the first use of stimulant medication was employed. Modern stimulant medication – by the brand name of Ritalin – was first used in the 1960s.

ADHD is a neurobiological condition. It’s brain-based. Researchers are finding physical differences in the size, shape and function of the brains of people affected by ADHD.  They know that it’s primarily genetic – if your genes are a village neighborhood, they know what block the gene(s) sit on and they are coming closer to identifying which house the genes live in.

In group studies, we see the brain differences in fMRIs.

And in everyday life of thousands – millions – of people, we see the disorder manifest. How dare some call this “laziness” when a person affected by ADHD is tired out from trying so hard all day long just be the same as anyone else?  This is a cognitive disorder, a hidden disability that impacts every aspect of a person’s life. It’s something that every person I spoken with who has this disorder desperately wants out of their lives.

Medication works. And lots of people need it to live normal lives.

No, I am not a shill or a whore for Big Pharma. I am not interested in drugging children or adults into submission to make them easier to handle. I truly believe that you take medication only when you need it, when there are not other alternatives available. And if this medication didn’t work, we wouldn’t still be using it after 90 years.

If you have diabetes, no one says you’re weak for employing insulin. No one faults a nearsighted person for relying on a pair of glasses. No one denies the person emerging from surgery pain medication.

But when it’s medication that helps the brain and improves a person’s life – aha! We attack them. We tell them they are weak and to “just get over it.” We say that if “they’d just try harder” they wouldn’t need to rely on medication. We tell them that if they’d eat better and stop watching so much TV all their problems would go away.

Our society says over and over that if there is a brain-based problem, it’s the fault of the person affected by it and that it’s a morally questionable to employ medication. Just buck-up, buttercup.

God save us, we are damn cruel people.

And the thing that makes the situation better – effective medication – people struggle to prevent others from employing. Because it’s always better to let the house burn than to turn the firehouse on it.

Medication works by increasing the neurotransmitters in the brain, by helping the brain organize itself and maintain attention.

Want to know what it’s like to have ADHD? Watch TV when someone else has the clicker and is channel surfing. Medication puts that clicker firmly in your hands.

If you need medication, or your child does, then take the medication. There is no point to allowing suffering to continue. It is morally reprehensible to allow someone to continue to suffer because you don’t “believe” in medication. It is sin.

Behavior management works. If you can keep it up.

A person with ADHD is encouraged to create systems and routines to work around and through their symptoms as part of their treatment plan.

In real life, that means to create a plan for every possible eventuality during the day, to schedule three times as much time to accomplish every task and to schedule every task! It is keeping track of calendars and  day planners when you lose every object you touch, it’s writing downs to-do lists and shopping lists and routine lists and then hoping you can manage to hang on to them long enough to complete them.
It’s exhausting. But it’s necessary, especially if medication is not an option. Behavior management can consume the better part of every day. And one mistake, one slip and the entire day can go down the tubes. And depending on the person’s self-view, the hits to the self-esteem, the support or lack thereof that the person has, it could either be well-let’s-get-up-and-do-it-again or it can be what’s-the-point?-I’m a freaking’-failure-anyway. It is a very, very think between those two reactions.

All the books, all the organizational systems, all the computers and clocks and coaches and therapy in the world don’t make the symptoms go away. Every day is a slog. You just have to hope that today is better than the others.

Life can be a beautiful mess.

While writing this I came across a quote by St. Francis of Assisi:

“The brothers     . . . can live spiritually among the Saracens and nonbelievers in two ways.  One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake and to acknowledge that they are Christian.  The other way is to announce the word of God, when they see it pleases the Lord in order that unbelievers may believe.” 

It took the wind out of the sails that have brought me thus far in this essay.  For a moment, it seems that Francis had kindly taken my hand, understood my anger and spoke calmly during my storm. How best to deal with the comments, the attacks and the distortions presented by the “nonbelievers of ADHD?”

  • Don't engage in pointless arguments.
  • Care for everyone. No exceptions.
  • Acknowledge their dignity (don't call names in return).
  • If they're willing to listen, then talk with them.

The detractors, the nonbelievers, the foreigners who intrude in our personal lives have a goal of making a terrible mess even worse. They promote lies, they deny science, and they blame people for their disabilities. They stir up trouble and sit back, happy to watch someone else’s world burn.

ADHD can make a mess out of life. It wrecks havoc on personal relationships, destroys careers, tanks bank accounts and takes lives – figuratively and literally as people perish by depression and suicide.

But life is and always will be a beautiful mess. When there is treatment, when there is knowledge, when there is understanding, when there is kindness, there is beauty.

We make this better in two ways: We help each other. We talk with each other.

There is help and treatment for ADHD that works. There is hope. The detractors are wrong but if one of among them is willing to listen to the truth about ADHD, I am happy to talk with them so that maybe they can change their minds. If someone needs more information because that person or someone they love has ADHD, I will give them everything I have.

And that will make a world of difference to someone who has ADHD.

An open letter to Angelina Jolie

Posted by karenandkurt on May 16, 2013 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Dear Ms. Jolie:

I don’t make a habit of commenting on another woman’s medical decisions. They are intensely personal, wrapped in emotion and often made while we are trying to weigh the information we’ve been given, the research we do, our best and worst impulses and the too-many opinions of friends and family who are all convinced they know what’s best for us. It’s hard to make a decision about our long-term health in the best of circumstances when all of this is swirling around us. It’s unfair when strangers feel they have the right to add their two cents and judge what we decide to do.

But, Ms. Jolie, you’ve put your medical decision out there to have your healthy breasts removed by mastectomy because you feared you might develop breast cancer. This has stirred so much talk, a little debate, a lot of crazy statements in the past few days. Oh, you’ve been called “brave” and “choosing life” and have yourself said you hope women will know “they have strong options.”

You also acknowledge “alternative” medicine, as you call it, and doctors who are working on alternatives to surgery. You leave out the “mainstream” research that includes those alternatives, most especially approaches to minimizing and preventing cancers through lifestyle choices and supports.

And reading your piece in the New York Times, I see that you even got to keep your nipples.

You’ve placed yourself in a position to be criticized by discussing your decision in an open forum, so here goes:

Firstly, I recognize your fear of becoming sick from cancer and dying young while you have small children. The loss of your own mother is very great for you. But what you did is not “brave” and you were allowed to keep your nipples when this is not the experience of the vast majority of women who have mastectomies. You speak of your children seeing “little scars” when most of us have large, dramatic ones.

Women’s body parts are not disposable. Doctors have been telling us that they are ever since they could start slicing into our bodies and have us live through it. To needlessly remove healthy tissue is foolish. And then to go around telling people that “the results can beautiful” and are “a strong option” is absurd. Long before you and I had to consider cancer, women fought with the medical establishment to make lumpectomy (also called breast conserving surgery) an option for us. Why do you think that is? You have fallen prey to fear and a medical establishment that sees us as disposable. I am sorry that you did, but I am angry that you think this is okay.

There are no “little scars.” My scar on the left runs from my breast bone to beneath my arm, for about eight inches. It runs up the center of the breast mound for another three inches.  The right side is slightly smaller, forming an upside-down “T”, with a circle of scarring around the nipple I was allowed to keep. And there are women with far worse scars than mine. Maybe, with your small original breasts, you have a little scar but don’t act like that’s normal. Don’t pretend that other women will have little scars.

Those are the physical ones. The emotional ones continue and continue. The scar continues every time I dress and every time I shower. It’s there when I apply the temporary tattoo decal so I can pretend I have a nipple. (I was going to email you the link to my nipple supplier until I read that you got to keep yours.)  Those scars are there when I am with my husband (who could out-do Brad Pitt any day of the week!) and they are there when I realize I don’t have the strength in my left arm that I did before surgery.

And the pain doesn’t go away after a few days. It hurts sometimes when I move and it aches at night when I go to sleep. The nipple I don’t have itches like crazy and I can’t scratch the mound because I have no feeling there.

And those implants that look so “beautiful?” I pray that mine will last a lifetime; my doctor said if I’m lucky I’ll get 20 years out of it.  You basically just signed up for more and more surgeries.

So, perhaps I should welcome you to this experience. You chose it. The rest of us didn’t. But in choosing this, you have also done damage to women. You are helping to normalize a dramatic medical change that says our body parts aren’t worth fighting for, that they are disposable. You are pushing us towards a slope that will be sold to us and the young women after us that our body parts are useless or dangerous and should just be removed in case something “might” happen. I am truly afraid that all the progress women have made in 100 years will be pushed back to a point where our 20-year-old girls will be told to have mastectomies because it’s just like getting healthy wisdom teeth pulled. Come on! We have formula for babies! Who needs boobies anyway?!

There are better options. The first truly is “watch and wait.” While doing this, change your lifestyle while you are healthy. Get more sunshine, optimize your Vitamin D levels, eat foods from the broccoli and onion families, investigate turmeric, exercise regularly, limit alcohol, and include mushrooms in your diet. Eliminate non-organic foods and sugars and personal care products teeming with BPA, carcinogens, and synthetic dyes and fragrances.

Biology isn’t destiny. My doctor told me my cancer was caused by my environment and I struggle every day to change that environment. Maybe it was easier for you to just boobie-lop rather than take control of the risks you can mitigate. Maybe your fear was so overwhelming that you surrendered to a knife.

I fought to keep my breasts and lost that fight. I am cancer-free but the battle has left me scarred. I intend to stay cancer-free and fight every day to be healthy in a terribly unhealthy environment.  The women who are fighting to recover, to survive or to heal when faced with death are truly brave. They show grace when faced with taller odds then you ever had. Each of them has fought to remain whole, in whatever manner wholeness has been offered to them.

If you care about other women, you will donate some of that fortune to cancer research to prevent, treat and help women (and men) recover. Don’t give to Komen or anyone running around with a pink ribbon. Give to real researchers in hospitals and universities.

Here are some suggestions:


Finally, Ms. Jolie, I wish you well in your choices. But I ask that you not act like they are the right choices for all women.  And I ask that you include a message that our bodies are not commodities, they are not disposable and that they are to be valued and cherished and careful for. We have a responsibility to fight for our bodies, not to surrender to fear or ease.

One woman chose an elaborate tattoo to hide the scars from her double mastectomy.

Vikings - A Review of the History Channel Epic Series

Posted by karenandkurt on May 10, 2013 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (0)

More than 125 years ago, my great-great-grandfather passed through Ellis Island, carrying with him a family history of a long-ago devotion to  Thor, the Viking God of Thunder. Just ask each one of the men in the family who’s name comes from our ancestor, Thor Saulmanson who Americanized his given name to Thomas. I was taught that I am descended from a mighty warrior people who explored the seas and new lands, who fought and died bravely and who stubbornly changed the world. My ancients were so feared that during Sunday Mass people prayed, “God save us from the Vikings!”


The History Channel has its first-ever fictional history-based series, Vikings. It’s about to come to its conclusion for the season, but as the daughter of these mighty Vikings who prayed to Thor for safe passage upon the water, I was excited to get into the series.

And then to my amazement, I realized that this series based in the Viking world, its people and traditions, is a show about faith – faith in God as God has been known to two very different people, at the time when the Christian faith began to supplant the Norse faith, as the All-Father Odin was replaced by Yaweh, the Father of Us All.

Wow. It doesn’t spare the grittiness and thebrutality of the Norse religion but remains true to the faith of people who prayed with sincerity and hope to Frigga for healing, Thor for safety and Odin for wisdom. People who so feared the end of the world, that they celebrated it; people who found glory and redemption in an honorable death in battle. That their gods blessed the people abundantly, but still asked for animal and human sacrifice. People who knew that Loki the Trickster would both bless and curse them depending on his capricious nature.

Instead of giving shallow representations of the ancient Norse faith, we are shown people who are very alive in their faith, who turn to their gods in both desperation and celebration. Their sacred stories frame the world they live in, giving them an understanding of life and the courage to face death head-on – and giving us the viewers a context for what we witness. It is a religion alive with hope. It enables them to embrace God in full force.

To emphasis the turning point in the history of the Western world, there is a Christian monk among them. He’s brilliant. We watch him struggle to remain who he is and figure out how to live as a Christian among a Norse people. What does it mean to understand their faith and to learn the creation story of the people he lives among? How does he hold secure to his religion while helping to raise two young people in an entirely different religious tradition? Even in his doubts, his faith remains. He’s not afraid of being converted from his Christianity and no one seems to be attempting to force a change in his religion. Instead he has to grapple with the possibility of losing his faith in his circumstances – and this quietly makes him stronger in it.

God is very present in their world – Ragnor, the protagonist, sees the valkyrie come for the souls of the dead and he sees Odin walking the fields of battle. His wife, Lagertha, leads the family in prayer to Frigga for Ragnor’s recovery from his injuries and the monk Athelstan prays the psalms, offering his own request to Mary, the Mother of God, to save the man who now owns him. A man of their village willingly steps forward to be sacrificed for the good of his people, trusting that this will please their gods. Each one of them is confident that their prayers are heard, that they are living the lives God – as they know God – has called them to.

Faith supports them when their feudal lord launched an attack against their village. Faith gives sight to a blind seer and it gives wisdom to a half-crazed shipbuilder/healer.

The History Channel remarkably did not shy away from telling a faith-filled story of the Northmen and their world. This isn’t a paper cut-out practice that has been sanitized, either. Ragnor’s faith in Odin brings his strength and courage. Athelstan wrestling with his faith makes him real – and saves his life (only a willing sacrifice to the gods can be accepted and he hasn’t the faith in the Norse gods to be acceptable).

Will Odin, who has so far led Ragnor on this road, support this favored son as the new leader or will he beckon Ragnor to Vahalla sooner rather than later? Will Jesus show the Northmen that he is a living god and bring Athelstan out from the Vikings? Will Frigga heal her daughter Lagertha, grant her children, and help her to restore her marriage?  These seem to be the great questions that will move the story forward into its next season.

Faith is the great dragon ship of these Vikings, crashing though very rough seas.

Ragnor in contemplation.



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