How To Tell The Difference Between Lemons And Turds: Part 3

We’ve arrived at the final post in the “lemons vs. turds” series about handling difficult challenges in our lives.  I promised you something powerful that you could put into action today, and I’ll get to that soon.  First, I want to tell you a story.

My father died last December, but in his last few days, he gave me a valuable gift.  This is the story of that gift.

My father was a very proud and private man.  Frankly, I didn’t feel especially close to him for most of my life.  Had he suddenly died early last year, I might not have shed a tear or felt much of a loss.  In an odd twist of life, my father didn’t die suddenly; I’ve shed multiple tears and felt the loss that results from his death.

Treatment was harder than my father expected.  He was very used to things going his way and to being able to force change.  Cancer, chemo, and radiation don’t really care what you’re used to.

I walked into my father’s hospital room one morning to find him in a terrible mood.  He didn’t say hello, and he wasn’t happy I was there.  He asked me to call one of my brothers to tell him not to visit.  I made the call, but wish I hadn’t.  The moment I closed my cell phone, I was told to leave.

“No.  I’m going to stay for a bit,” I said.

‘No’ is not a word my father liked.  A string of curses and anger directed at me spilled from him.  I let him rage.

Him yelling was nothing new, although it hadn’t been directed at me in years.  The things he said weren’t true.  Part of me wanted to scream, “This is not how you treat someone who’s helping you!  What’s wrong with you?”  But another part of me realized that what was really going on was that he was scared and didn’t want anyone to see him this sick.

I walked to his bed, calmly put down the rail guard, took the hand that was pushing me away, and wrapped him in my arms.  I explained that I was staying regardless of how much he told me to go, that I didn’t care that he couldn’t make it to the bathroom or that there was crap in his bed, that I knew he was scared and felt awful, and that I loved him regardless of all of that and always would.  I held him until he stopped fighting (which wasn’t long because he was really weak), kissed him on top of the head, and then set about getting him cleaned up and comfortable.  Within an hour, he was a lot more comfortable and a lot less grumpy.  I talked to all of his doctors and went with him when he had tests ran.  He held my hand for support a few times and checked to make sure I was right there when tests were being performed.  At the end of the day, he asked me to come back in the morning.

The next day the doctor came in and went over the results.  My father didn’t understand what the results or the follow-up tests meant, but I did.   Sometimes being a doctor isn’t fun.

Later that day, my father was talking to me about what he was going to do when he got out of the hospital and was done with treatment.  I did my best to smile and let him talk about things that would never happen.  There was no way to know how fast he’d go, but it was obvious that the end was in sight.

And then out of the blue, he apologized for being a bad dad.  It was barely audible, but he told me he was proud of me.  In 42 years I don’t think I’d ever heard him apologize for anything, and he’d certainly never said words of praise to me.

We spent the rest of every visit from then on out talking about things he’d never even mentioned before.  He talked about his childhood, his hopes and fears, and he talked about his regrets.  He also told stories about good times.  He asked me about my life and really listened to my answers.  We laughed and cried together, we talked about what it was like to be so sick, and we got to know each other in a very different way.

I did my best to encourage him to have similar conversations with the rest of the family, but he struggled with it and only got a little of it out with another brother.  “I’ll get to it later,” he said each time I asked him.

My father died less than a week after the above.  Nearly 300 people came to the visitation and told us stories about their experiences with him.  It quickly became clear that although he wasn’t always great with his family, he was a good guy (maybe even really good) to the rest of the world.  And he was a prankster.  My brothers and I never realized we got it from him.  We picked up many things from him without realizing it.

In the months after his death, I’ve thought a lot about my father and the conversations we had during his last week alive.  What made those talks possible when they’d been absent for a lifetime?

My father’s dad died when he was three, and his mom died when he was 20.  His step-father was an alcoholic, and my father hated him so much that my brothers and I didn’t even know he was still alive when we were kids.  My guess is that my father never knew what it was to feel loved unconditionally.  I’m not saying that he wasn’t loved unconditionally.  I’m saying he never knew he was or felt it.  He constantly worried about how other people saw him, and he never really felt like he was good enough.  He saw his faults much more than his strengths.

Because my brothers and I (and even my mom) were his, he felt that way about us too.  He’d tell other people good things about us if we weren’t there to hear it, but otherwise, we were often criticized and never praised by him.

The morning in the hospital when I refused to leave and told him I loved him no matter what…that morning changed everything between him and me.  It wasn’t me that made the difference, though.  I’ve hugged him and told him I love him hundreds if not thousands of times.  So have other people.  What changed was that he chose to believe it that day.  Once he believed it, he let himself be loved, give love, be vulnerable, share dreams, get and give forgiveness, seek help, and be himself without guard around me.  The moment someone else was in the room, it all disappeared.  But when it was just the two of us, I got to know my dad.

I can’t help but think what a different life my family would have had if only he’d been able to look at himself through loving eyes sooner.  What would have happened if he’d learned to practice forgiveness and to realize that he was good enough?  What would have happened if he could have loved us because we were his and he’d learned how to love himself instead of feeling like we would never be good enough because he felt he wasn’t?  What if he could have seen faults and helped find solutions instead of feeling that faults had to be denied, hidden, or ridiculed lest you risk abandonment?  My father did a lot in his life (he bought a farm, raised six kids, was married 58 years, etc., etc.), but how much sweeter would his life and our lives have been if only he could have enjoyed it instead of feeling like he didn’t deserve it and that it could all be yanked away at any second?

Those questions are the gift my dad gave me right before he died.  They’ve changed my life and added value.

That brings me back to my promise to you of an action you can take today that holds the power to positively change your life.  I want you to stand in front of a full-length mirror, look at yourself from head to toe, and then look yourself in the eyes and say, “I love you and know you’re worthy of a really good life.”

Snicker, fidget, giggle…whatever it takes to find the courage to do it, but go try it right now and then come back.  Seriously, go!  And say the words out loud.

Was it harder than you thought?  Did some part of you want to look away, call you a liar, point out a flaw, feel restless to uncomfortable, or try to hide?  Or maybe you asked yourself, “If that’s true, then why is my life like this?”  Some of you never left your seat.

Maybe you’ve always wanted the approval of a parent and never got it.  But my father’s parents had been dead for 73 and 56 years the day my father got the approval he wanted.  Your and my worth comes from inside, not outside.  It’s you who needs to love you.  You who needs to believe you’re worthy of a good life.  Regardless of how good or how bad your life has been, regardless of what anyone else thinks of you or says about you, what you think of yourself is far more powerful and a much greater indicator of how you will live, love, and learn in this world.  Like it or not, how you feel about yourself will also affect everyone you interact with.

Tell yourself every day.  If there’s resistance, concentrate on something that is good about you and try again.  You didn’t learn to walk in one day, what makes you think that you’ll be able to love yourself that quickly?  If there isn’t resistance, saying it will help reinforce your better points and remind you to live up to the life you deserve.

You’ll learn to identify the “turds and lemons” in your life more quickly.  People trying to push your buttons won’t get reactions and you’ll experience less drama.  Friendships will deepen.  Family dynamics will change.  You’ll treat yourself better and other people will start treating you better too.  You’ll find that you really do have the strength to get through challenging things because you’ll be able to recognize and appreciate the good things in your life.

Not bad for something as small as a perspective change, eh?  I realize it isn’t easy, but each of you is capable.  If my dad could do it at the age of 76, you can do it now.


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How To Tell The Difference Between Lemons And Turds: Part 2

We recently started exploring the difference between lemons and turds.  Lemons can be turned into lemonade, but turds are what they are.  There’s no way to sugar coat them, but they’re part of life.  So, what do we do?

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, let’s be really open about those things we can’t change.  And let’s stop calling those life events turds.  You get the metaphor by now, and I don’t want that label being applied to people who present challenges to you and me.  They’re not turds, even when they act like one.  It’s the situation that is the problem.

What kind of stuff am I talking about?  Illness, injury, addiction, relationship issues, abuse, neglect, death, the loss of a job/income, natural disasters, accidents, etc., are part of the list.

Many of you read through the above paragraph without much emotion.  But others read the word “illness” and felt the pain of having a loved one change so much that you barely recognize them, and they don’t recognize you.  You’ve felt the absolute exhaustion from caring for someone who will never get well but needs constant monitoring—the child or parent who is no longer safe without 24-hour supervision, but who you feel like you are abandoning if you place them where they really need to be.  Perhaps you watched someone go through cancer treatment…win or lose that battle, either way, it’s a tough road during the treatment.  Or maybe you’ve been so sick that the only thing that kept you going was the thought of leaving your kids without a mommy or daddy.

Others have watched children, parents, siblings or even themselves turn to alcohol and drugs.  You read about it and watch stuff on TV, but it’s a whole different world when it’s your chest the barrel of a gun sits against.  You want to believe the person on the other end wouldn’t hurt you because they look like your family member, but you don’t really know the drug-raged person they are now.

I could keep going…the violation, anger, and shame of being molested; the sudden and permanent absence of someone you thought would be there forever; the marriage your spouse no longer wants; your home, pictures, and clothes that were turned to ashes or splinters and rags; the child who died at birth; the approval your parent never gave…things seem a lot more personal when there’s a little more detail or the situations aren’t just words on a screen, don’t they?

This is a pretty intense post, but the reality is that all of us will face pain along with life events we can’t control.  And for most of us, we didn’t see at least one of those situations coming.  We feel totally lost that we can’t make it better or can’t get someone else to make the choices that would make things better.  And it might even come to a point where it feels like every single choice (when it comes to the situation you are dealing with) is wrong and will hurt.

What’s the right answer?  I really wish I could give you a neat little list of solutions.  I wish it for me as much as for you.  Remember when I said that you could tell a lemon from a turd because the lemon could directly be impacted by your actions while the turd couldn’t?  Those things in life you can’t impact are things you can’t impact.  There is no right answer and there is no action you can take to change those things.  That’s kind of crappy all by itself, isn’t it?

Fortunately, your and my lives are layered and filled with all sorts of experiences.  So while we can’t change some things, we can learn to cope and to find the resources and skills to get through the tough times.  And even better than that, we can stack the odds in our favor so we can have a happy and rewarding life that allows us to thrive despite the challenges and troubles we face.

Next week I’ll share something very powerful and positive with you as we wrap up this mini-series of articles.  It’ll be a suggestion you can put to work immediately, and I think you might be surprised by how helpful it is.

Until then, here’s wishing you much health and happiness.


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How To Tell The Difference Between Lemons And Turds: Part 1

We’ve all heard the saying, “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.”  But some of the lemons in life can’t be fixed by watering them down and adding sugar.  Let’s face it.  No matter how much sugar you add, a turd is still a turd and it’ll be hard to swallow regardless of how it’s presented.

I know people are going to find this controversial, but there are things in life that suck and there is absolutely nothing that you or I can do about those things except to accept that there isn’t anything we can do about them.  Some of those things might be changeable, but not by us.

That’s good and bad.  It’s bad because those parts of life are really hard.  It’s good because if we are willing to accept that we have no impact in those areas, it lets us save our energy for the things we can change.  And that ultimately makes our lives better.

{Steven Covey calls that concept our circle of influence.  That circle is such a powerful thing that it deserves a full post.  Stay tuned for that in the next couple of weeks.  We’ll also come back to dealing with the things we can’t change.}

For now, let’s talk about lemons and turds.  Seriously.  This is important.  If we’re talking about actual lemons and turds it’s easy to tell one from the other—bright yellow fruit vs. smelly brown poop is a no-brainer.  But the figurative versions aren’t as easy to differentiate and sometimes they both stink.

If you’re treating a problem like a lemon and it’s really a turd, you’re wasting precious energy trying to change something that is out of your control to change.  And if you’re treating a problem like a turd when it’s really a lemon, you’re missing an opportunity to make your life better and more enjoyable.  Life is short and you don’t want to be making either mistake when you can avoid it.

So, how do you tell the difference?

What it really boils down to is this:

  • If your actions can directly result in a change, then the problem is a lemon.
  • If there is absolutely no action you can take that will directly result in a change, then consider the problem a turd.

For example, next month there will be an auction to sell a lot of my father’s stuff.  I walked into his garage (a large, free-standing building) with my mom and looked around.  All of the stuff was there for anyone to see, but what a stranger would never have seen were all the invisible memories that also hung on the walls.

I sat in that chair and talked on that phone to the guy who was my first prom date.  I practiced my jump shot and free throw, shooting thousands of baskets in the hoop hanging over the doors.  I went sledding with friends and family on those sleds.  I spent hours handing those tools to my father as he worked on buses.  He and my brothers taught me to change my own oil, fix a flat, and clean a carburetor with those tools.  That saddle is the one I always used when we rode horses.  Etc., etc.

For a couple weeks it really bothered me that people were going to come put a price on things my father held dear and that housed so many memories.  It felt like his life was going to be auctioned off piece by piece.  It stunk…but it was really just a lemon.

All of that stuff is going to find a new home and will either serve a purpose or create new memories for someone else.  And really, it is just stuff.  The memories are mine and they can’t be auctioned off, so they are safe.  With a slight perspective change, I was able to shift from being upset about it to being happy that my father’s things are going to find new homes with people who will get as much use and enjoyment out of them as he and we once did.

The action of re-framing the experience made a direct difference.  Instead of fretting about it for the last few months, I’ve been able to let go and focus my energy on other things—lemons to lemonade.

Are there things in your life right now that are bothering you?  If there’s something you can do that will directly impact those issues, do it.

But what if there’s nothing you can do?  What if you’re looking at a turd instead of a lemon?  Check back next week and we’ll go over ways to handle those situations.

Until then, be happy and be healthy.


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Have you ever heard of the movie, The Grey? The basic premise is that Liam Neeson fights for survival as he faces a pack of starving wolves that hunt him. A few weeks ago, I had a similar experience while walking through the timber at dusk. I knew how Liam felt with just a couple exceptions:

  • It was coyotes, not wolves.
  • I ran like a chicken. We’re not talking ‘it’s time to go, and your mom just used your middle name’ kind of hustle. I ran as if I’d just realized I was a red shirt-wearing extra on Star Trek.


If you’ve ever heard coyotes howl, you know it can raise the hair on the back of your neck even if they’re a mile away. Well, this was a pack and they were only 40-60 yards away…and they weren’t howling. They were on the trail of prey and closing in quickly with excited yelps.

Nado, my old dog, bravely stepped between them and me, snarling his fiercest warning. He held his ground with hackles raised. Well, he held his ground until the human holding his leash had sprinted to the end of the rope’s slack and practically yanked him off his feet as she fled, dragging him with her. In fairness, I was yelling, “To me! To me! To me!” the whole time, but apparently he couldn’t hear me over his snarling or the coyotes yipping. The jokester part of my brain (it seldom shuts down) harassed me, “That a way. Call the coyotes to you.”

Nado is old and not used to running at night, so he kept tripping over roots and sticks. Just as I was about to hoist him over my shoulders, we burst out of the timber and into the lighted edge of the nearest farm. The coyotes suddenly shifted direction. I was relieved until I realized the cabin I was staying in was in their path, and I’d left the door open with only a screen between my cats and them.

I’m a rational person, and I grew up with coyotes howling in our timber and pastures. Even as my feet were flying over the ground, my brain was trying to make sense of coyotes attacking a human and dog at a time of year when other prey was still abundant.

Rational or not, I opted to ask for a ride back to the cabin where I was staying—telling myself the whole way that there was no way the coyotes would risk breaking into a home this time of year just for a couple of cats. To my horror, they started the hunting yelps again at exactly the wrong timing. When I made it to the cabin, the cats’ dilated eyes looked as though it had been a bad day at the optometrist’s office, and they jumped into my arms the moment I came through the door…but they were unharmed.

The next morning, I went back to where I thought I’d initially heard the coyotes. They were, indeed, just about 40-60 yards away when they started the chase. They had been crashing through the timber and gaining on us too. With a closer look, it appears that the pack startled a deer that just happened to flee in the exact same direction of Nado’s and my walk. When Nado and I made it out of the timber and into the light, the deer saw us and shifted direction back through the timber and toward the cabin. The coyotes must have temporarily lost the deer, and then picked up its trail several yards below the cabin. Nado and I were probably never in any real danger except for tripping over a tree root in the darkness.

The moral of the story: Exercising with others really can motivate you to push yourself harder.

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Hidden Sex Appeal

Nado and I stepped out of the cabin one morning just before sunrise. Thick mist swirled through the timber like cream freshly poured into hearty coffee. The crisp, cool air filled our noses with the musky scent of fallen leaves and damp earth. In short, a perfect fall morning promised a beautiful sunrise as the reward for rolling out of bed early.

Nado in Autumn

About fifty steps into our walk, I heard a low, whistle-like animal call. I’d lived in the city for many years and was rusty on animal sounds, but decided it was probably a wild turkey. I used to love to mimic birds and squirrels, so I whistled my best reply. I was thrilled to hear the turkey call out again.


“Ow-heee,” I whistled to my new friend. It replied again, but this time it sounded closer. I wasn’t worried. Unlike coyotes, turkeys have no interest in eating humans or old dogs. I decided to continue the conversation.


I wondered just how close the turkey would get, when the sound of branches moving and leaves crunching met my ears.


Another call, a lot more guttural and less whistle-like raked through the mists. I might have been city-fied, but I hadn’t been gone that long. Unless Big Bird was roaming wild, my whistling friend was not a turkey. I decided there had been enough chitchat. Nado and I continued on our way. Our chatty friend followed for a while, but without my replies, it eventually took a different route.


I asked someone about it before returning to the cabin, and she giggled profusely. Apparently, she’s heard that sound during deer mating season. We joked and laughed about my hidden sex appeal that can attract young bucks with just a whistle. I had no idea I was really saying, “How you doin’?”


It was a good laugh, but it turns out that the sound actually comes from fawn calling to their mom (which sometimes happens during mating season). Later that day, I noticed the twin fawn that often grazed through my “front yard” were alone. I’d seen them many times, but never without an attentive doe. No one is supposed to hunt on the property without written permission, but people breaking the law don’t tend to ask for permission. Someone had taken down the doe and left the twins.


The fawn weren’t nearly scared enough of me, so I yelled and chased them a short ways. They needed to learn caution. However, I also set out a bucket of water a good distance from the cabin and left some apples near it just to give them a day to sort out that their mom wasn’t going to answer. They consumed both and slept by the bucket that night. Fortunately, another group of deer adopted them the next morning.


Doe and twin fawn

My apologies for the poor picture quality, but this is the doe and her twins

I’m not sure if it was the hunter, a doe, or the fawns themselves chatting with me during my early morning walk. I could have been prey, predator, parent, or potential mate depending on how the other end of the conversation perceived me.


Life is like that, isn’t it? Others define us based on their expectations, needs, and desires. They hear our “whistle” and decide what we are to them regardless of our actual intent. There’s nothing wrong with that. You and I define other people just as often as they do it to us. It only becomes wrong when we aren’t defining ourselves—when we let other people place us in boxes that have nothing to do with who we are or want to be—and when we refuse to see that someone else doesn’t belong in a box we assigned to them.


I’ll come back to that idea and others related to it in later posts.


Meanwhile, I want to share a great book with you. My good friend, Ryan Murdock, recently published his story about traveling through remote parts of the world. You can read my review of it on Amazon. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and it touches on the idea discussed above with plenty of wit and adventure.


Take care until next time,


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10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me

“Hey Dr. Kathryn, guess who I am!”

Harry Potter, Hermione, her mom, or any number of other possibilities wouldn’t have surprised me. But my young patient didn’t imitate any of them.

She imitated me — and she had me laughing at myself even before she told me she’d “done me” at a party the weekend before. People paid her because they thought it was so good.

When you’re a doctor, people watch you. They look in your grocery basket, pay attention to the kinds of places you visit, how you dress, the things you say, and even who your friends are.

They’re putting their health in your hands, referring their friends, family, and co-workers in, and they want to know that they can trust you.

But now that I no longer practice, I’m realizing that people watch you no matter what you do. And sometimes they’re watching and listening far more closely than you realize.

And that’s why it’s not only okay, but vitally important that you be honest, courageous, and most of all, yourself.

But that’s hard.

Yes, it is.

As I transitioned from doctor to writer, it became increasingly clear that being successful as a writer hinges on being an open book.


“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”
~ Maya Angelou


If you want people to read your material, it can’t be all wishy-washy.

You have to tell your story, with your biases, mistakes, emotions, motivations, triumphs, and fears laid bare for the entire world to read.

And let me tell ya, it scares the crap out of you when you’re doing it right.

But it also gives other people a chance to learn from your mistakes, know they aren’t alone, experience places and people they’ve never known, and form their own ideas and beliefs.

And the biggest surprise of all? When I started writing about my life as openly as possible, my life started changing for the better. People started sharing my posts with others and sharing their lives with me.

I started seeing past patterns that held me back and began doing something to change them. After all, you can’t be open with the world without first being open with yourself.

And then, I found myself wanting different experiences, longing to travel, and even wanting deeper connections with people. You can’t be interesting, life-changing, and intimate in your writing without actually being those things.

Sticking out tongue

What if someone doesn’t like you?

Impossible! I’m adorable, witty, and loveable!

But someone out there definitely doesn’t like me. Like it or not, someone out there doesn’t like you, either. And that’s okay.

Maybe she’s projecting her own issues. Maybe he’s scared of really living life and facing the challenges that come with that. Maybe we have different beliefs and your version doesn’t allow for peaceful differences. Maybe he’s scared you’ll tell someone what he did to you as a kid, so he tells lies to make people doubt you in case you ever decide to tell.

And maybe some people just don’t like you or me.

When you decide to start sharing, to stop trying to be what someone else wants you to be and start being who you are — when you start doing things that scare you because they really matter — someone isn’t going to like it. But a whole lot more people will love it. And they’ll love you.

You’ll feel alive. The people in your life will be there because they like you as you are. All that stress over what people think will slide off your shoulders and you’ll have more energy for the things and people that truly matter.

You’ll breathe deeper, be happier, and influence the world more.

How Do You Get Started?

Start small. Do one thing this week that makes you happy.

Next week, tell someone how much they changed your life, good or bad.

Or dare to dream again about that thing you’ve always wanted to do but were too scared to go after.

If nothing else, find a short YouTube video that teaches a single lesson about something you’ve always wanted to learn.

Walk away from drama. You don’t have to fix the world. You can’t. But you can fix yourself.

In the nature of practicing what I preach…

Ten Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me

1. I’m ornery.

I’ve “Vaselined” a toilet seat (my wiry roommate actually got stuck in the toilet and had to be pulled out), hung a glowing skeleton in a bunch of scary spots and put red Jello in a showerhead (this is especially fun when people are reading Stephen King), scared the bejesus out of my husband more than once, and helped pull numerous pranks that always ended with all involved laughing until it hurt or at least laughing and talking about it for weeks.

I’m considering a t-shirt that says, “Did that comment make my ass look smart?”

2. I’m agnostic.

Most of my patients thought I shared their belief system and would even argue with each other over it. Not because I claimed any religion, but because I could talk with them about theirs. I studied several religions when I was in high school and college, but in the end, an agnostic approach was the only one that made sense to me.

Does it make me uncomfortable when someone says they’ll pray for me? Nope. Nor does it make me uncomfortable to go to my brother’s church and listen to him preach. He lives his beliefs to the best of his ability every day, and I think he’s a better man for it.

With the exception of psychopaths, we all want to be better people. If religion helps you in that pursuit, I’ll fully support you in it. Harm others because of your religion, and I’ll not take kindly to it.

Faith is important, and we all have faith in something or someone throughout our lives.

The most common question I get when people find out I’m agnostic relates to what motivates me if it isn’t hope for heaven or fear of hell. My answer is that I live doing my best to treat others the way I want to be treated and striving to leave the world a better place for my living in it. The results of that are my reward and the mistakes I make along the way often feel like adequate punishment.

3. I went to school, studied with, played catch with, and went fishing with Dennis Ryan. Google his name plus Rulo, Nebraska if you don’t know who he is.

I know that he did terrible things, but when I knew him, he was just a kid who wanted to be a doctor, liked baseball, and disliked homework as much as the next kid.

A year or two before he moved away, we were catching fish and releasing them when one of his didn’t swim away. He cried when he realized that the fish he’d caught was going to die. I smeared pond mud all over his face and clothes to make it look like he fell because he was terrified his dad would know he was crying. (For those of you who don’t live on a farm, farm pond mud pretty much always has cow poop in it.) He stunk like crazy, but his dad bought the story and he didn’t get in trouble for crying.

It still saddens me that a parent led someone with so much potential so far astray. In different circumstances, Dennis would have been saving lives instead of taking them.

I know a psychopath that is incapable of empathy, and Dennis was nothing like that. He was just a horribly misguided kid. I wish my parents would have had the courage to help me be a friend to him while he served his sentence, but they were so alarmed just that they knew the family at all that I’m not sure they ever even considered it.

Group playing music

That’s my father on the guitar (I’m the arm behind him). A crowd playing music was a common sight at our house.

4. I play the guitar and really loved bluegrass music while growing up.

I was lucky enough to be at a campsite in Winfield, KS that Mark O’Connor sat down and played at until dawn. I’ll remember that night forever.

Before they became famous, and when they still played bluegrass, the Dixie Chicks asked me to go on the road with them. I turned down the offer and chose to go to college instead. Although I like most of their music, I’m still glad I picked school.

These days, I listen to and enjoy a much broader range of music, but I don’t play as much as I once did. There may come a time when I do, but for now, writing calls to me more when I have time and energy at the end of a day.

5. The Game of Thrones has something in common with my heritage.

The Red Wedding portrayed in Game of Thrones is based on a real event from Scottish history called the Black Dinner. I read the Game of Thrones books and shuddered at the horror of that massacre. Then I started researching my family history on my father’s side and learned that I’m descended from the line of people who were slaughtered at the real dinner. How bizarre is that?

6. I am both very forgiving and patient and very intolerant and impatient.

I believe we all have areas we struggle with, areas where we excel, past mistakes, and moments of glory. If someone is working to change the less positive areas, apologizes for their mistakes, sincerely works to not repeat mistakes, and they’re trying to live a better life and make a difference in the world, I’m extremely forgiving and patient with them as they grow. In fact, I admire people going through that process. It’s how I want others to treat me, so it’s how I treat them.

When someone isn’t willing to admit their mistakes or work to grow, I have a lot less patience and tolerance with them.

7. For all the years I was in practice, I didn’t cuss. Or at least it was extremely rare.

I strive to avoid cussing most of the time, but I think there’s a time and place for it so I don’t totally avoid it. If I talk with a particular friend, I’ll swear for days (you know who you are, damn you!). If I’m around someone who finds it offensive, I don’t need to cuss, so I don’t.

It isn’t that there’s anything wrong with cussing, it’s just that I realized that I’m less creative in my language when I rely too heavily on swear words. However, there are times when I think swearing is the only thing that adequately and succinctly expresses feeling. That’s why I use it in my writing and life sometimes.

And I giggled when I heard that my husband’s friend’s son got in trouble for saying to his kindergarten teacher, “Well, ship high in transit!” The child is a sailor. What did she expect?

Boat Dock

8. For those who see my sailing pics and think that I love sailing, I don’t.

In fact, I hate being on a boat. However, I love my husband. And next to me, sailing is what he loves most in this world. I think the boats are pretty on the water; I just don’t want to be on one. I do like taking pictures, though.

We make it work.

9. There’s been much speculation about why I closed my office.

Some family members tell people I burned out. I’ve heard rumors that I secretly won the lottery (man, I wish that one were true!)

The truth is that I closed because I was sick. I ate at a restaurant in 2005 and left with 5 parasites, but the first test only showed one. By 2007 I wasn’t doing very well and a few more were found. By 2009 when I closed, life was vastly different and I was a shadow of my former self. It’s been a long ride, but this year (yep, it took a really long time to get one of them diagnosed and treated) I think it finally ended. Talk about an expensive meal!

Will I go back to practice? No. Between the parasites and not knowing that I had celiac disease until I was 37 years old, there’s a bunch of joint damage that just doesn’t let me stand all day or do the physical work I did before.

But I miss it, and I miss my patients. Most of them were fantastic people. I think of them often and hope they’re well and happy.

And although I miss it immensely, I absolutely love my new writing career. People pay me to write stuff! And most of them are talented and interesting people that are fun to work with.

10. I talk to animals like they understand me, and sometimes they do. I’ll also talk for them.

“Dude, did you see the haul she brought home just now? I feel a little bad that all I put by her bed this morning was one mouse.”

“I left the ball with the bell in it by the mouse. She’ll love me more than you because she can play with the ball forever. She’ll eat your mouse in a couple bites.”

“Didn’t she give you that ball for Christmas?”


Stuff like that. It entertains my husband far more than he’ll admit to.

Man, that was long!

Yeah. Did I mention that I’m chatty sometimes?

So, there you have it. Things you didn’t know about me.

But the thing I want you to take away most is that if I can be open about my life, so can you. Trust me when I tell you that it will positively affect people more than you can imagine.

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Unforgettable People



Have two strangers ever changed your life?

Each of us physically interacts with about 80,000 people over a lifetime. (1) Most of them don’t make your contact list or a repeat appearance. Some you’ll love or at least like; some you’ll find irritating and may even grow to hate; most fall into a group of forgotten names and faces.

Lillian and Walter* were two of my 80k. They walked into my office on separate days, and yet, my memory links them.

Lillian was strikingly beautiful and spoke little. During my exam, I discovered an offensive tattoo on her arm. She didn’t want to talk about it, so I continued evaluating her health.

Despite her silence, Lillian’s body and medical history told her story. Multiple rib fractures, healed and then broken again. Previously dislocated joints, scars all over her body, several miscarriages, and a history of brutal rapes—too many to count.

Except for her face, almost every area of Lillian’s body had suffered a broken bone. When asked, she admitted that pain was a way of life for her.

A few days later, Walter walked into my office. The creases around his eyes were proof of frequent smiles and made his humble, kind, and witty demeanor even more charming.

Part way through his exam, I spotted a tattoo similar to Lillian’s and was once again appalled. However, Walter was more talkative than his friend.

Both Lillian and Walter had been prisoners of a concentration camp, the only member of each of their families to survive. Their tattoos were an attempted theft of their humanity, and I found them offensive on the part of the giver, not the wearer.

Walter shared that when he and his younger brother got off the train, his brother was sent one direction and he another. Walter told me that he often wondered what he’d have done if he’d known what existed in each direction and was allowed to pick.

“I don’t know which direction I’d have chosen for us,” he said. “It’s an impossible choice.”

During his time in camp, he stayed alive in the hopes of reconnecting with family. Afterward, when that hope was gone, he lived because they didn’t get a chance. Walter has a wife, kids, grandkids, friends, and smile lines from the life he created after being freed. Still, so many years later, he wasn’t sure what he’d have picked.

Lillian, because of her beauty, was kept alive. Not because she was a person with the same human rights as all others, but because soldiers wanted her body and refused her death even when she begged for it.

Can you imagine surviving the torture, the heartache of that much loss, and how alone and forgotten they must have sometimes felt? I suspect that no matter how good your and my imagination, we can’t come close to understanding the atrocities they saw and experienced.

Lillian and Walter have frequently been in my thoughts this last year. Not just them, but the millions of people like them who are deceased and can no longer tell their stories.

We need to tell their stories. We need them all to be unforgettable people. We need it because if we don’t—if we forget and aren’t vigilant against it—history will repeat itself.

The last time that a large group of people—folks who meant well, wanted positive change in the world, and were genuinely good souls—supported a leader who condemned a particular religion, sought registration, and wanted to build a wall, things got bad.

Mass grave; Never forget

and this…
Holocaust Victims; Never Forget
Holocaust victims; Never Forgetwere the result.

Are they troubling pictures? Yes. Look at them anyway. It’s okay to feel sick, to be speechless, and to feel great disgust that anything like the Holocaust ever happened. In fact, it’s a lot more troublesome if you don’t feel the horror.

Estimates put the loss of life at over 12.5 million people (2)—the equivalent of every resident of New York and Chicago or the combined population of Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa. That number doesn’t include the survivors who were tortured and maimed or active military members who lost their lives in battle.

6.5 million of the dead were not Jewish. The others were some of the same people who supported Hitler’s rise to power and who never dreamed that the hateful things he said were anything more than a ploy for attention.

Let me be clear. In the previous paragraph, I am not saying that it would have been okay if just Jewish people had died. I’ve included that statistic for the people who tell me that even if the worst-case scenario happens during the next decade, I’ll be safe because I’m not a Muslim.

They say it as though religious discrimination is okay as long as it’s not your religion or that senseless torture and murder is okay as long as it’s not you going through it.

It’s not. Nor is discrimination based on skin color, country of origin, sex, sexual preference, sexual identity, the absence of religion, or any other factor people come up with to create division.

The pictures of bodies don’t show the subtle shifts that allowed the Holocaust. For most people, it’s like thinking that you’ll be able to identify a serial killer because you’re used to hearing scary music on TV. It’s not that easy to judge intent in real life, and scary music doesn’t emanate from those who mean harm.

When a tyrant like Hitler rules, no one is safe.

We must all join together with the commitment of “Never Again” in our hearts and minds. And we must do it for now and every future generation, because anger, hatred, misogyny, bigotry, racism, sociopaths, and psychopaths are likely always to be present. The best we can do is constantly work to outshine the darkness.

*Names changed for privacy
Want more info? Check out:
This Irish Senator
This History Teacher
This History Essay
Dan Rather
1. Funders & Founders
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Bridges, Old Friends, and Possibility

Written during the fall of 2012…

I’m not supposed to walk for exercise, but my dog is old, has been a good companion, and I find it hard to deny him one of his greatest pleasures in life. In full honesty, walking might be hard on my hips but its sweet relief for the rest of me. My mind clears, my soul sings, and the weight of the world lifts from my shoulders when I’m alone or with someone I love on a trail. So, we walk sometimes.


This particular autumn day, I pick a path I’ve taken thousands of times as a kid. With the creek dry, I plan to cut through a small ravine and then head back to the cabin. However, the crunching of leaves beneath our feet stops abruptly when a steep bank falls where a gentle slope once existed.

Tornado looks down at the rocks below, glances up at me, and starts back to the cabin. We’ve walked long enough that retracing our steps is reasonable, but instead, I call Nado to me.

Time changes things. Creek banks wash away and form different routes. Things that once thrived exist no more. Change is part of life, and many experiences have re-enforced that lesson over the years. The course change shouldn’t be startling, but it is.

There’s a bridge not far from my childhood home, but the absence of this crossing will make it hard to get there once water is flowing through the creek again. I feel an odd sense of urgency to get to the bridge today.

It’s as though I left something there years ago, forgot about it, and now desperately need it again.

The logical part of me wants to put it off until another day when my hips ache less and Nado isn’t panting this much. After all, it hasn’t rained in months, and the stream is dust-dry for the first time in my 43-years of life. Ignoring logic, something turns my feet toward the creek bed.

Nado and I find a spot that allows a safe descent. The banks on each side guide us while the roar of the highway gauges distance.

Once there, I look around and feel disappointed. My old puppy climbs the bank and lies down in the shade of rugged steel. Guilt that I’ve dragged us so much further on a whim of forgotten treasure drips into my emotions. My hips ache, and Nado is obviously tired and hot.

Even during one of the worst droughts the area has known, the cold cement feels rough and damp beneath my hand. There is no water in the creek bed running beneath the steel frame, but memories flood the area as musty air kicked up by my sneakers fills my nostrils.

After a quick search for snakes and bee nests, I sit down with Nado and lean against the pillar, tilt my head up with a sigh, and run my fingers through his fur as a surprise catches me off guard: My brothers and my name stand scrawled in each of our distinctive writing styles.


One afternoon when I was still young enough to print my name, we’d stood in the spot where Tornado and I are today, and we’d written our names underneath the bridge. My brothers might already have had theirs there, and they were just letting me add mine. I don’t remember for sure, but I remember hurrying so the infamous boogie-man who lived under the bridge wouldn’t get me as I added my name to the list.

We were low-tech kids and had used nothing more than a limestone rock as our stylus. It should have washed away with the two floods that had come in the years since. Instead, our names stood—engraved not in stone but with stone.

Regret and guilt evaporate as what I’d lost but again need comes into view.

You see, for at least the last year, everything has felt out of kilter.

I’d always imagined I’d have children, and although I’m capable, other factors led to the choice not to. That decision haunts me and weighs heavily. Despite loving my career, a parasite infection left me unable to do enough of the physical work required to earn a living with it. I don’t know enough about the career I’ve been studying for to know if it fits me. Wishy-washy would never have been used to describe me before, but I second, third, and fourth guess myself these days.

The pressure to create income is intense. A couple of online business ventures haven’t been what I hoped for or returned sufficient revenue for the time invested. They’re great products, but I lack the energy to promote them. My husband is ill with an uncertain prognosis. His company recently downsized his position, and now we have no income.

So many things drastically contrast to the expectations and dreams I have.

I’m trying to gracefully handle all the changes and figure out who I want to be now that the things I’d planned on no longer exist, but most days I fall short. I’ve lost my certainty, and it feels like I’ve lost what once defined me. In fact, if I had to pick one word to describe me, “lost” would come to mind.

In the time leading up to today’s walk, I’d spent five years caring fulltime for a special needs child, two years sliding downhill as the parasites took hold, two years fighting for my life and learning to treat the recently discovered autoimmune disease I’d had since I was a toddler, and then three years caring in one format or another for ill family members while trying to heal, repair, and redefine myself.

Whatever the word is that describes the state a few levels beyond exhausted, it falls short of being adequate as I sit under this unintended time capsule and lean against its cool pillar.


Things I’d thought would last at least through my lifetime were gone while fragile marks in chalk still stand. I wonder if, in a twist of irony, the engraved name on my brother’s tombstone will fade before his written name disappears.

I imagine that we can guess what will last and what will fade, but we’ll be wrong just as often as we’ll be right.

I’ve been seeking certainty and asking questions that have no right answers. It is nice of my friends to tell me that I deserve a better life, but plenty of people don’t get what they deserve—good and bad.

If names written in chalk that we expected to be long gone can last through two floods and over 35 years, who can say how my life will turn out, regardless of how things are going now?

My brothers and I were leaving our mark when we wrote our names. We wrote with the enthusiasm of youth and the passion of hopes and dreams not yet tried. Without meaning to, this old bridge captured a snapshot of our potential. As I sit here looking at our names, they remind me of who I am.

Seeing my and my siblings’ names still written on the supports of this bridge over 35-years after putting them there shocks life and soul into me.

The chaos, fatigue, and challenges lose their hold of the tainted filter they imposed, and the distortion about who I am fades.

Just like the younger version of me, I am someone with the rest of her future still in front of her. I have just as much reason to be hopeful now as I did then; just as much chance to experience wonder and miracles as to experience loss and heartache. I know with certainty where life took my younger self. If she knew back then what I do now, she might have enjoyed the journey less or been afraid of what was to come.

Then again, my younger self would have told me that I don’t know anything for sure and shouldn’t tell her what she can and can’t do. My younger self was full of passion and determination.

Certainty might be extensively over-rated.

Having found some treasure, Nado and I limp back to the cabin. He sleeps the rest of the day while I start asking questions that have answers.

The next day it unexpectedly rains enough that I’d not have been able to make the trek to the bridge again during my time at the cabin without getting wet and muddy. Risking a fall and the damage a sudden slip could do to either hip or my knee would have been enough to stop me.

I found the following Alan Cohen quote about a year later, and it once again reminded me of the sensation I felt when my feet instinctually led me to the bridge.


An old friend had been on my mind both times. By example, he taught me the importance of loving others the way Mr. Cohen describes. And with equal importance, he taught me to love myself that way, too.

It could be my imagination, but I like to think that knowing love like that led me to a bridge—not to cross it but to be reminded that our past and present don’t determine our potential or our future.


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When life is hard…

“Don’t quote your heroes, become them.”

~Ryan Murdock

Alright, I’ll admit that there are layers of irony involved in using a quote about not quoting others. But Ryan isn’t my hero; he’s my friend. And besides, the quote is cool — even cooler than a bowtie.

If only Ryan had said it a couple of years ago, it’d have been useful. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t have heard it. You ever have times like that? There’s a great lesson, perhaps even the exact lesson you need, staring you in the face…and you walk away from it.

If you were sitting in a theater watching the movie of your life, “No! How can you possibly walk away from help and toward the serial killer!” would be screaming in your head. But the real you walks away anyhow. I went through that for a while.

There’s a website called Early to Rise that I read. A guy named Craig Ballantyne is part owner and writes most of the articles. The ideas he writes about aren’t new to me. They’re part of the motivational, self-help, and financial information that inspired me to go to college, become a doctor, and run my own business of helping others.

The ideas he writes about stem from principles that have stood the test of time.

And yet, for a while, I thought they no longer applied to me. I was broken — I can no longer physically take the demands of treating patients or going for the long hikes I once loved or playing the occasional game of tennis. Even just trying to keep up with yard and house work is a struggle.

The Early to Rise emails kept showing up in my inbox like they were automated and didn’t know how much my life sucked. I’d intend to delete them, but the subject line would pull me in, and I’d read Craig’s latest story. Instead of inspiring me, I’d get a little pissed off that his words no longer applied to me. Early to Rise…yeah, that’d be great if only I were able to rise.

That continued for over a year until one day I sat beneath a bridge and realized that we’re all broken (you, me, the lot of us that are too tall – short- fat – skinny – tired – poor – pretty – ugly – bogged down with emotional baggage – in pain – unable to do what we once did – old – young -etc.,). But broken doesn’t matter. The type of broken wasn’t the same as it had always been, but I was just as able to rise as ever.

I can look back and laugh at myself. It was easy to embrace and apply the principles of success when I was young, rested, and life on my own was in many ways easier than life as a kid had been. But when I most needed to grab onto them — when I needed something steady to guide me and stop the desperate bouncing from one plan to another — I turned away from the logical path of help and walked the one heading toward the movie serial killer even though the theater audience was screaming not to do it.

Only it wasn’t me the fictional killer was after. It was my hopes, dreams, and ability to live a purposeful life…on second thought, the killer was after me.

A few years have passed since I sat below a bridge and realized that until death claims us, we’re all able to rise. The moments when you and I most think we can’t — the times when you think you’re an exception or exclusion or that what you want is impossible — if you’re still breathing, you’re wrong. Suck it up Sweet Pea and use those breaths to improve yourself.

What if I’m wrong and there is no way to improve your or my situation? Well, won’t your life have more meaning if you keep trying than if you just quietly slip away? There’s going to be pain and heartache either way. You might as well fight for some laughter and love to go with it. If things can’t get better for you, why not use your last breaths to make them better for someone else?

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m just saying it’s possible. If I can do it, so can you. You’re able to rise, to become the heroes you like to quote, to change your life. I don’t know if you’re willing, but you’re able.



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Kathryn’s Rules For A Good Life

Everyone has a code or rules they live by, even if they aren’t written on a piece of paper.

When I decided to change my life, I wanted a set of guidelines to remind me of my long-term goals – things that would ground me if I started to drift, ideas I strive to meet, the actions needed to be the kind of person I want. I fall short sometimes, but this list helps me live the life I want.

Be Beautiful

The reflection you see in the mirror isn’t always going to be as physically attractive as you’d like. That’s okay. Be beautiful anyway.

Build character, humor, love, kindness, compassion, knowledge, experience, and patience into every cell of who you are. Not everyone will look past your physical appearance, but for those who make the effort, reward them…and be one of them. 

Learn Something of Value Daily

Maybe it’s…

  • Something about a friend or loved one that makes you appreciate them more.
  • A new word.
  • Something that makes you better at your job.
  • Something about a place you’ve never experienced before.

Switch it up as much as you want, but keep learning useful information.

Get Up Again

Life is going to knock you down, break your heart, leave you broken, and make you question things you once thought unquestionable.

Get up again. Love again. Heal or deal. Realize that nothing is unchangeable.

You’re capable of more than you realize. Make the best of whatever comes your way by helping yourself, and help other people as much as you can.

Be Grateful

Life is going to give you opportunities, surround you with people who will help you and love you, give you gifts, give you natural skills, and reveal itself as more intricate and beautiful than you once thought possible.

Be grateful. Take the opportunities. Accept the help and love. Thank the people who teach you, love you, make you laugh, make you better, and help make you who you are. Look for and see the beauty that surrounds you.

Make the best of whatever comes your way by helping yourself, and help other people as much as you can.

Judge Wisely

If you’re going to judge, and you should, do it based on fact or statistics. Leave fear and ignorance out of it.

If you’re in a dark ally and a stranger pulls out a switchblade, statistics are on the side of them intending to harm you. In that case, being judgmental will most likely save your life.

If someone has a different religion, skin color, sexual preference, country, favorite team, hair color, diet, idea, etc., than you, statistics are on the side of them not wanting to harm you. Judging those people as dangerous is fear-based.

If you aren’t comfortable enough with your own religion, skin color, sexual preference, etc., etc. to remain unthreatened by someone making a different choice or being different, perhaps it isn’t the other person you need to question.

When It Comes To Love and Loving

Remember the truth of the following Alan Cohen quote and let it guide your behavior when others make mistakes or forget who they are:

“Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty, and your purpose when you are confused.”

Make Life Better

When everything seems to go wrong, when you don’t feel good, and when you’re tempted to think/hope that maybe tomorrow will be better, find a way to make life better right now.

Even in your darkest, most painful moment, there is something or someone that will make you smile. If you can’t find a way to make your own life better, there’s definitely someone else who a kind comment or light-hearted joke from you would help. It’s not easy, but focus on making life better right now.

Help Others

Wonderful and terrible experiences fill your life. Share them with others when appropriate.

Maybe it will help them find a way through a tough time or realize that there is more good in their life than they’re seeing.

If it does nothing more than let a single person know they can survive, it is worth the vulnerability.

Your Best Is Enough

It doesn’t matter what you used to be able to do or what you will eventually be able to do.

Stick with what you can do, right now, today, and do it.

Do any of you have a set of guidelines you strive to live by?

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