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Mother’s Day 2021: Selfies & Family Videos

Mother's  Day

Every Mother’s Day, I reflect on my past year as mom to Janet (Tyler) and Will. My favorite photo from the past year is the photo of Will, Janet, Bill, and me on the deck of Janet and Tyler’s home. We were out on the second-story deck shooting clay pigeons on an unseasonably warm November afternoon. We all lined up side-by-side for Bill to take a selfie. I looked at our four faces reflected on Bill’s cellphone and said, “Hey! That’s us!” Will laughed and said, “Of course, that’s us.”

Selfie Reminds Me How Family Looks

Why was I so surprised? Well, it had been a long time since I saw “us.” I guess I forgot what “us” looked like. You’d think it would be easy to get four people together more often than once a year. Not for us. This year was especially difficult. Distance is part of the problem. Although Bill and I haven’t moved from our Abrams home where we raised the kids, Will lives in Philadelphia and Janet lives in Northern Wisconsin. Covid-19 was another part of the problem. Family gatherings were few and far-between since March 2020. Trips were canceled. Holidays were smaller. Phone and video visits kept us connected, but it wasn’t the same as being together.

Family Videos = A Glimpse Into the Past

The highlight of our short weekend at Janet and Tyler’s in November was watching family videos. Those videos turned back the clock so we could see our family 20 years ago. We were reminded how we looked, the clothes we wore, but best of all, the fun we had being together.

What fun it was to see the kids doing science projects in the kitchen with soup cans and coins. Oh, did we laugh! The only clip that topped the science video was our trip to Gatorland in Florida, followed by a hilarious Gatorland re-creation by Willy and Janet and their stuffed animals. They put on a show even more entertaining than the original. We laughed until our sides hurt.

A Mother’s Day Wish

I miss those hectic days when the kids were little and the house was alive with activity. Even today, Will, Janet, and Tyler bring energy and laughter into our home when they visit. I wish those visits happened more often, so I can remember how “us” looks.

Well, I got my wish this Mother’s Day! All of us are vaccinated against Covid and feel more confident getting together. Plus, Will is moving back to Wisconsin at the end of May! He will live in Madison and work for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services as a Preparedness and Emergency Health Care Epidemiologist. That’s a mouthful! I can’t wait to welcome him back home and pose for more photos of “us.”

To read last year’s Mother’s Day reflection, go to Role reversal: A Mother’s Day Tribute to Our Kids

Father's Day

Father’s Day: A Way with Words

Father's Day memory of Jim Marcks,
Jim Marcks

Today is Father’s Day, a day to recall the ordinary things in life that make fathers extraordinary. Dads don’t need fancy words or lengthy lectures to motivate and bond with their kids. When I was a kid, my dad used a couple of great phrases to get me and my five sisters motivated in the morning. Years later, these sayings still make me smile.

Silly phrase before school

My dad, Jim Marcks, was an agriculture teacher at Luxemburg-Casco High School. Instead of riding the school bus, we would pile into the station wagon and ride to school with him each morning. I remember him calling from the utility room, “Time to go, straight shooters and crooked shooters.” Why he referred to us this way, I can only imagine. Anyway, this silly phrase got us out the door.

Triumphant saying that unified us

This leads to another of my favorite sayings. As we backed out of the garage, Dad would say, “And we’re off, like a herd of turtles and a dirty shirt.” This triumphant saying unified us as a family. We accomplished something together, even something as routine as a ride to school.

Motivation for summer chores

Summer vacation brought a new motivational phrase in the morning. We loved to sleep in, but Dad wanted us to get out of bed and out to the barn. “Sheep are hungry,” he’d call from downstairs. He confirmed what we already knew. We could hear our sheep baaing in the back yard, but we weren’t ready to get out of bed!

Simple question, important answer

The final saying I remember was a 3-word question he asked at a pivotal time in my life. He realized I was pretty serious about the guy I was dating – and later married. I didn’t get a lecture or advice. Dad simply asked, “Is he capable?” Those three words covered a lot of ground.

Happy Father’s Day

Father's Day

It just goes to show that dads don’t need to say a lot to say a lot. Sure, Dad and I had a lot of good conversations over the years, and I’m grateful for these. These helped shape my outlook on life. Still, it’s his simple sayings that are so fun to recall, especially on this day devoted to dads. Happy Father’s Day!

Role Reversal: A Mother’s Day Tribute to Our Kids

Happy Mother's Day card

The tables were turned in 2019 when I underwent a stem cell transplant to treat leukemia. I was accustomed to being the caregiver for our two kids, but last summer, they were my caregivers instead. From June to August, I lived in an apartment complex close to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. A dozen different caregivers stayed with me, including our two kids, Will and Janet.

This Mother’s Day, I’m reminded of the time we spent together; the laughs and the love.

Major Life Changes for All of Us

A year ago, the three of us were undoing major life changes. In May 2019, Will earned a Master’s degree in epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta. Since he didn’t start work at the Philadelphia Health Department until August, he became my weekday caregiver by default.

Janet married Tyler Roberts on May 4, 2019, after two years of long-distance romance. I know she was looking forward to life as a newlywed, yet she made me this offer, “I can be anywhere you need me to be.” That made my heart melt. Janet became my weekday caregiver in August, and when I broke out with an itchy rash in September, she made the 5-hour trip from her home in Washburn to get me to the doctor.

A Mother’s Day Message

Mother's Day remembrance of summer with Janet

Despite the difficultly of undergoing cancer treatment, I have many happy memories of summer 2019. I remember enjoying an accordion concert in the dining hall. I laughed when the musician chose Janet and Tyler to accompany him with odd instruments. Janet and I had a lot of fun dancing to Dance Dance Revolution and taking turns playing piano and singing songs. She made me homemade gummy bears and crepes.

Mother's Day remembrance of summer with Will

With Will, I remember his lame jokes that helped lighten the mood. One night he performed an off-the-cuff “rap” song before “wrapping” my arm to keep my PICC line dry in the shower. He’s a smart guy, and I liked to talk with him about current events, medical topics, and anything else that popped into my head. He baked chocolate chip cookies and chicken thighs.

Walking, Singing, Playing Together

The kids drove me to appointments, made sure I followed my doctor’s instructions, cooked meals, and did laundry. We played board games and dice games, shot pool, and played ping pong. We took walks around the apartment complex and the Mequon Nature Preserve.

Both of the kids are great singers, and I loved hearing them sing along to “Anchor’s Away.” I’d get myself motivated for the day by listening to marches, and “Anchor’s Away” played every time.

Out of Adversity Comes Blessings

One thing I learned this summer is this: out of adversity comes blessings. The kids and I were so blessed to spend time together – not just a holiday weekend or 30-minute phone call but every day and every night for weeks at a time. Our shared experiences drew us closer. Will and Janet were there when I needed them, helping me through the tough times and enjoying the good times.

I am now cancer free, and I’m so grateful our kids helped me reach this milestone. They were wonderful caregivers, and I’ll always remember the summer we spent together.

I might even send them a Mother’s Day card this year.

Caregiver tips

A patient’s perspective: 10 tips for caregivers

Over the past 70 days I lived in a new world of healthcare appointments and medical treatments. I learned a whole new vocabulary and adjusted to a new routine. Because of these changes, I required extra TLC. Luckily, I had wonderful caregivers caring for me. This summer I learned some important lessons about caregiving.

Here are my 10 tips for caregivers

Caregiver tips

1. Walk my pace.

It’s frustrating knowing that I’m not as peppy as I used to be. Likewise, it’s frustrating to fall behind when I walk with someone. I’m grateful to the caregivers who naturally adjust their pace to match mine.

2. Crack a joke.

Laughter is the best medicine, so they say. Caregivers who make me laugh certainly brighten my day and focus my attention on something other than my own troubles. A sense of humor can bust even my darkest mood.

3. Let me sleep in.

Rest is a precious commodity as I’m recovering. Caregivers who close the blinds and stay super-quiet in the morning are the best. Starting the day fully rested helps me deal with whatever comes my way.

4. Surprise me with simple things.

Caregivers don’t need to spend a fortune to make someone smile. Just the surprise of receiving something fun is enough. I’m a sucker for a box of animal crackers or a pack of my favorite gum. It was fun to hear my caregivers play a song they knew I’d like.

5. Suggest menu alternatives.

“What are you hungry for?” was a tough question to answer when I didn’t have much of an appetite. Instead, I liked it when caregivers gave me a choice between a couple of menu options. “Do you want salmon or chicken for supper?” I could answer that question much easier.

6. Take notes at appointments.

This is a biggie. I sometimes hear only what I want to hear. By taking notes, my caregivers have a record of what my doctors say. I can look back and confirm what’s true and what’s just wishful thinking.

7. Write down my questions.

I have the doctor’s attention for just a short time. It’s too easy to forget what I wanted to ask about, and then the opportunity is gone. My caregivers added their questions, too, and wrote down the answers.

8. See what I don’t.

Having an outsider’s perspective is really helpful. Caregivers can catch me when I slip up, like when I made faces while listening to the nurse’s instructions (which my son thought was rude). I think my emotions got the best of me.

9. Keep me on task.

My caregivers got me out the door on time for appointments. They made sure I took my medicine, got enough rest, and ate well.

10. Ask how I’m feeling.

My caregivers were so considerate. They couldn’t always tell how I was feeling, so they asked me. If I wasn’t feeling well, they gave me suggestions of what to do.

Contributing to my recovery

People say it’s the little things that matter, and I think that’s true for caregivers. I’m so thankful they were able to drive me to appointments, prepare meals, keep me company, and take care of household chores. My caregivers were an integral part of my recovery process. I salute them and all caretakers who unselfishly give of themselves to others. You rock!

Mother’s Day 2019: When is it right to say, “I love you”?

A month before Mother’s Day, I was puzzling through one of those weighty questions in life. When should I say, “I love you”? I was thinking about it because someone said these words to me, unexpectedly. I’m not sure what I told him in return, but it wasn’t “I love you.” I wasn’t comfortable returning the sentiment.

Ask the smartest guy

Like I do with so many other things I ponder in life, I took the question to the smartest guy I know — my husband, Bill. He said “I love you” is a deep sentiment shared with family (either by blood or acceptance). Then he told me about a client who signed off on their phone conversation saying, “Love you!” Bill knew she said it absentmindedly. (He knows clients love the work he does for them, but this was getting too personal.) No surprise, the next time he spoke with her, she apologized.

Accidentally eavesdropping

Second story: I remember my surprise the first time I heard our daughter, Janet, tell her boyfriend, Tyler, that she loved him. It was at the end of a phone conversation I overheard while on a Spring Break trip to the Smoky Mountains. I don’t remember any other words from her conversation, but I was irked that she’d say those three words to Tyler. Those words are reserved for family, I thought. (Janet was unapologetic.)

3 magic words

Fast forward a couple of years and Tyler has become family. Janet and Tyler were married May 4, 2019. Coincidentally, our new son-in-law was the one who finally made me realize when it’s right to tell someone “I love you.” He confirmed Bill’s answer without knowing it. As he and Janet were leaving the wedding reception and I said goodbye, those three little words slipped out. “I love you, Tyler,” came off my lips before I could think about them. Unlike the words slipped out by Bill’s client, my words felt right. They had the emotion behind them to match their meaning.

The meaning of love

Truly, Tyler is now part of the family not just in name but in love, also. On their beautiful wedding day, I conclusively found the answer to my question: A person is ready to say those words when the words come out naturally. No second guessing, just effortlessly coming from the heart. So, I needn’t worry anymore about when to say those magic words. Simply put, if the moment is right, I’ll know it.

Mother’s Day 2019

In closing, on this Mother’s’ Day 2019, I’d like to officially announce I am now a mother to one more wonderful son. Tyler, I love you. Thanks for helping me understand the meaning of love on a whole new level.

Want to read more? Check out my Mother’s Day 2018 blog and Mother’s Day 2017 blog.

The reason I love turning 54

I celebrated my birthday on Friday. It wasn’t one of those milestone birthdays. I’m past the half-century mark, but I haven’t reached the 55-mph speed limit yet. I turned 54. You’d think there’s nothing special about turning 54. No big deal, right?

Treasuring moment at Birthday celebration
Celebrating my birthday with my husband, Bill, on the cross-country ski trail.

Turning 54 is a big deal

Well, I’ve had some experiences this year that make turning 54 a BIG DEAL. The message that truly hit home this year is this: Nothing is guaranteed. Friends move away, literally or figuratively. Marriages fail. People get sick. Loved ones pass away. It seems like doom and gloom all around. Sometimes, that’s how life appears.

Fortunately, it’s not the end of the story. New friendships blossom. Couples fall in love and marry. People get well. Babies are born.

I’ve experienced both extremes this year.

Experiencing life’s extremes

I said goodbye to 2 aunts and an uncle, but I also welcomed a niece into the family. (Finally, we have another Marcks girl to carry on the proud family tradition.)

I’ve watched the marriage of someone close to me crumble, but I’ve also been swept into the whirlwind of planning a wedding. With great excitement, we will welcome a son-in-law into the family this spring.

And what about sickness? Today, I saw the doctor for my annual physical. I’m not in perfect health, but I’m better off than the guy I saw when I left the clinic. He was holding his chest and struggling for breath. He definitely belonged in the emergency room. I walked out of the clinic on my own two feet, while the nurse rushed to get a wheelchair for the poor guy.

Treasuring the moment

No, nothing in life is guaranteed. I guess that’s why it’s so important to stop every once-in-a-while and appreciate what we have in life. That’s one good reason to celebrate a birthday.

I call it treasuring the moment. You freeze time and experience the special moment a little longer. Then, you tuck the treasured moment away, into your memory.

My birthday was filled with treasured moments.

My husband, Bill, said the sweetest things at dinner. It made me treasure our love even more. My nieces, Chelsea and Sara, said the funniest things when I opened my gifts. My sister, Cathy, gave me a script from a 1970s play. I was about 12 years old at the time, and I had a part in the high school play. When I dramatically read a few lines, Chelsea said, “It’s like no time has passed.” When I opened 3 pairs of pajamas, Sara said, “Now you can go shopping at Walmart.” We all laughed. It really made me treasure the love of my family.

Celebrating a birthday

Turning 54 has changed me for the better. Thanks to everyone who helped me celebrate. We’ll celebrate again when I hit 55.

Milestones of meeting in-laws

Milestones That Make You Cry

Milestones of meeting in-lawsLife is marked by a series of milestones. My husband, Bill, and I experienced one of those milestones this weekend. We drove to the U.P. to meet our daughter’s future in-laws. Our daughter, Janet, will marry Tyler in May.

Tyler’s parents and brother were very gracious hosts. They gave us the most precious gift they could—the gift of their time. They welcomed us into their home and made us feel as if they had nothing better to do than spend the weekend with us.

I brought along Janet’s photo albums to show Tyler and his family some of the milestones of Janet’s life. I knew it would be fun to page through the books. What I didn’t bargain for was the melancholy I’d feel looking at those photos.

Janet has marked a lot of milestones in her life: her first haircut, her first day of school, her first time traveling out of the country. In February, she hit another big milestone when Tyler proposed.

While we paged through the albums looking at the kid she had been, Janet sat at a desk nearby with a photo of the grown-up woman she’s become. She was addressing Save the Date postcards. In the Save the Date photos, Janet is in Tyler’s arms, not mom’s or dad’s any longer. That’s a milestone I’m still getting accustomed to.

Being a mother-of-the-bride is rough on the emotions some days. I couldn’t be happier that Janet is all grown up and ready to share her love and her life with Tyler, but part of me still thinks of her as our little girl. I can’t comprehend how she could be ready to walk down the aisle and into a new life as Tyler’s wife. How is it possible when I can still picture her as a baby in my arms?

After our weekend with Tyler’s family, I feel more confident than ever that she’s making the right choice for a husband. She’s marrying into a family that is kind and loving.

Their May 2019 wedding will be just one more milestone on life’s journey. I’m hoping that the old adage is true: I’m not losing a daughter, I’m gaining a son.

Why this Green Bay girl chooses the Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers fan experienceTo everyone who hopped on the Milwaukee Brewers’ bandwagon this October I say “Welcome!” and “What took you so long?” I’ve been a fan since 2011, and I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to be at Miller Park for Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Game 6 was a heart-pumping, high-fiving three hours of fun. The electric atmosphere was powered by 43,000 fans plugged into every pitch, every swing, and every nuance on the field. The amazing journey ended a day later and just one win away from the World Series.

In honor of that momentous Game 6 I have compiled 6 reasons to stay on the bandwagon and become a loyal Milwaukee Brewers fan for life.

1. Milwaukee Park is a blast

I’ve tailgated, toured, and tipped a few back at Miller Park 3 Must-dos at Miller Park. What a fun atmosphere to watch a game. The sausage races are a highlight. So is the sing-along during the 7th inning stretch. Be sure to make a sign, and maybe you’ll see yourself on the Jumbotron, like me!

2. Be part of the excitement

Milwaukee Brewers fansBrewer fans share a special bond. They’re part of a community that has its own language, knows the players by name, and shares an enthusiasm for their team. My earliest conversations about the Brewers occurred in an unusual place—the church sacristy. Our priest was a big Brewers fan, and I wanted to be a part of the excitement.

3. Summer lasts forever

Baseball is a summer game, and the 162-game MLB season makes it feel like summer, no matter what the weather is like outside. The excitement starts in April, and the team was still going strong in October. I remember driving through a blizzard and listening to a game on the radio. It was surreal! The beauty of Miller Park is its roof. Rain, snow, sleet or cold…you know the game is on. Once you get inside the ballpark, it feels like summertime, no matter the season.

4. Duh, it’s a game

Players were having fun this season, and it showed. As a Brewers fan, you don’t need be to a baseball purist or stats expert to enjoy the game. My baseball was mostly played in the backyard at home, and some of that simplicity translates to the big leagues. A hit brings happiness, and an out, disappointment. At their core, games are fun, and I have fun following the team.

5. Gotta love Ueck

I don’t watch much TV, and I’m not sitting still for a 3-hour game. Luckily, Brewers games are on the radio. I tune in when I’m driving or working around the house. You gotta love Bob Uecker, one of the Brewers’ radio announcers. He’s always good for a laugh and tells great stories about people and ballparks. Plus, he’s good at calling a game.

6. The team is winning

Milwaukee Brewers NLCS  Game 6Brewers’ players, General Manager David Stearns, and Manager Craig Counsell have done wonders this season. The team compiled a 96-67 record, won the National League Central Division, and fell just one game short of the World Series. The pennant chase was like icing on the cake. What a thrill to be caught up in the excitement.

I’ll follow the team through thick and thin. How about you? The 2019 season will be here before you know it. I hope you’ll be a part of it.

How a health scare changed my perception of Mother’s Day

Mother's Day Koehne familyI faced a frightening health scare the week leading up to Mother’s Day, and the relief over what could-have-been made me appreciate the holiday celebration that much more. Both of our kids were home for Mother’s Day weekend. One flew in from Atlanta, and the other made the 5-hour drive from Duluth.

My husband, Bill, and I have been empty-nesters on and off since 2013 when both kids were in college. Our home has become a weekend getaway, and we no longer expect the kids to be home for a lengthy stay. My mothering expertise is mostly shared over the phone.

My nest if full on Mother’s Day

But when both birds flew back in the nest for Mother’s Day weekend, I quickly reverted to Mom-mode again.

  • I baked chocolate chip cookies and made their favorite breakfast.
  • I picked up their wet towels and their dirty dishes.
  • I gave them some money for emergencies.
  • I listened for their laughter.
  • I asked about their love lives.
  • I hugged them tightly.

Adding one more to the nest in 2019

On Saturday, I tried on a dress named in my honor, a Mother of the Bride dress for our daughter’s May 2019 wedding. By next Mother’s Day, I will become Mom to a new son-in-law. That’s the great thing about a mother’s love, it expands and evolves with time. I know I will have plenty of love to give the newest member of our family.

The love I held for our newborn babies has intensified over time, as we shared our lives and our home. Those babies are all grown up now, and the love I feel for them is stronger than ever.

Of all the roles I’ve had in my life, Mom is the most special. I’m so thankful I had good news from my doctor so I could truly enjoy a happy Mother’s Day.

Happy belated Mother’s Day to all moms!

NWTC student success

From the check-out counter to the research lab

NWTC student successNote: Here’s an inspiring story I wrote for Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, where I earned my marketing degree.

NWTC student Natasha Clark has come a long way from her days working at the check-out counter of a Lakewood grocery store. After graduating from Laona High School she tried a semester of college, but it wasn’t a good fit. At age 23, she wanted to return to college. She wasn’t sure how, but she knew she wanted something better for herself and her 2-year-old daughter. Going online one night she came across the NWTC Lab Science Technician program, and it changed her life. She enrolled in the introductory year of the LST program in 2016 and will be one of the first graduates of the college program this spring.

“I drive an hour and 20 minutes every day to school, but I love it.”

An Associate Degree is just the first step toward Natasha’s goal of becoming a research scientist. “Since I started taking classes I really fell in love with research, and I’ve decided to go on and earn my bachelor’s degree and hopefully, eventually earn a Ph.D.,” she said.

She is steadily moving toward this goal. For the past year, she’s interned in the physical testing lab at Nature’s Way in Green Bay and will soon transfer to the microbiology lab. She is wrapping up an independent research project at NWTC and plans to study cellular molecular biology at UW-Green Bay next fall. NWTC biology instructor Angelo Kolokithas has witnessed Natasha’s transformation from a shy student to a confident, hardcore scientist.

“She’s like a sponge in every class, and she’s a good thinker.”

“She’s the one always asking the thought-provoking, ethical questions,” he said. Angelo and his colleagues developed the LST curriculum with a two-fold mission, to be rigorous enough to transfer to a bachelor’s degree and practical enough to teach skills for the workplace. Students in the program experience how research is done in real research science labs.

“Students can actually perform their own scientific research, which is unheard of at most tech colleges,” Angelo said.
Natasha said her interest in science is what keeps her motivated to learn more. The hands-on lab experiences, small class sizes, and personalized attention from her instructors made her learning experience even better.

“I gained a lot of practical knowledge regarding the tools and the procedures used in labs.”

She hopes that someday her research will lead to a significant break-through or discovery. “This program really helped my self-confidence. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to do it, but I got here and everyone was so helpful and nice. They really gave me the boost of self-confidence I needed to go on to school,” she said.