Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year in numbers (and photos)


"Blessed. Blessed, indeed."

That's the answer I would get every time I asked a woman I used to work with, "How are you?" I started to ask her that just so I could hear her response.

It's time to recall the blessings of 2009. There are so many. Thank you to
all who helped us live our dream every day. We couldn't cruise the country singing songs without your support.

And 2009 wasn't without its difficulties, sadness, and tears. We attended more funerals in the past six months than we have in the past three years. There are still gaping holes in our hearts from the passing of our dear friend and super-human Bongo Barry Bernstein (photo is from our show together in May), and from the equally sudden loss of Jeni's cousin Greg. Both are child-like spirits who continue to inspire.

Many thanks to those of you who hosted shows and opened up your homes to us this year and fed us and gave us a place to rest: The McLoones, Gjovigs, Skuces, Gogals, Christnagels, Eitzmans, Trices, Carters, Obamas (the Lincoln bed was really comfy), Sedenos, Leahys, Pizzos, Castenedas; Stotzers, Annette O'Connor, Diane Baryenbruch, and Kate Kopischke.

Here are some outstanding numbers from 2009:

13: Number of fish caught and kissed by Lyda while fishing for the first time in Wisconsin.

2: Number of times Jim was mistaken for Willa's grandfather. Number of teeth lost by Lyda in five week period. Number of kids who vomited during a Mr. Stinky Feet concert. Number of times in the same week Jeni saw Bon Jovi in concert.

126: Number of jars of peanut butter collected at shows in December for local food banks.

1: Number of hotel microwave ovens blown open by exploding eggs. Number of breweries toured (Leinenkugal in WI). (No correlation between these items.) Number of raisins removed by medical professionals from Willa's nose.

117: Number of episodes of The Brady Bunch in the complete five-season DVD box set. We've watched all of them.

3: Number of fingers Willa holds up when she tells people she's two.

25,000+: Number of people who attended Jiggle Jam 2009. (The grooviest family music fest in the country! Photo is backstage with Recess Monkey and Brady & Bridget Rymer)

24: Number of boyfriends Lyda collected on tour -- as of today. (Down from the mid-30s in September because she "dumped" some.)

49: Number of shows Jim played in July.

8: Number of days in a week -- Lyda and Willa are huge Beatles fans.

11: Number of requests for a photograph Grandpa Schmidt got while made up like Gene Simmons at the KISS concert.

14: Number of states in which we performed.

16: Number of times the girls rode the Wacky Worm roller coaster at Worlds of Fun.

240: Total number of Mr. Stinky Feet Concerts.

110: Number of times Lyda sang "Stinky Feet" on stage.

18,000+: Number of tour miles.

1.3 Bazillion: Number of hours Jeni spent on Facebook.

7.7 Gazillion: Number of times we'd like to say "Thank you" to you all for helping make this life so wonderful. And it still wouldn't adequately represent our gratitude.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lessons in Courage

Maddox and me

If I had to choose one thing that is most fulfilling about my career, I suppose it would be the amazing life lessons that I've learned from kids. And there's no shortage of those lessons -- they keep coming.

Last week I visited two spirited and courageous kids at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. The first was Maddox, an energetic three-year-old with a spine disorder. You'd never know the way this guy bounds around in his wheelchair that he also has a metal halo attached to his skull with multiple screws. It serves as a traction device to help straighten out his spine -- and it seems to be working. We laughed and sang songs and played instruments, and he hammed it up for the camera. Pure joy.

Maddox exemplifies one of my favorite things about kids: They're usually pretty good about living in the moment. You can see it in their cherub faces as you walk the halls of any pediatric ward. They're not worried about the past or the future. Their heads aren't full of the worldly stresses that weigh heavily on us adults. Their "carpe diem" attitudes seem to scream, "Forget about my bald head, let's play! So what if I'm strapped into this chair for a few months, I've got wheels! OK, so my body is like a pin cushion from all the needle pokes, but do you want to hear a knock-knock joke?"
I can't say I'd be very "present" (or pleasant) if I were in the same situation.

The next girl I visited was Elise. She's three, too, and is being treated for Leukemia. She'd been running a fever of about 105 for a few days. Yes, that's right, 105 degrees!! As you can imagine, she was a bit sluggish. She was asleep when I came in the room. When her mother woke her, she turned to me and grinned. We sang a few songs, and she asked for the "Slug Bug" song. Up went her hands, shaking them crazy everywhere, as she giggled! Then she rolled over and fell back to sleep. If I had a fever that high, I don't think I'd want to see some
goofy dude with a guitar. But, not Elise. Her mom said she's been talking about it ever since.

Please remember all those kids who will spend the holidays in the hospital. Remember, too, their parents who will be standing, sitting, pacing, and sleeping anxiously by their sides. And please remember their health care providers who skillfully and tenderly encourage their healing.

I'll leave you with a great quote that's on the wall of the lobby of Children's Mercy Hospital...

"Skill cannot take the place of sympathy and understanding, for science without heart is ugly and pitiless." Dr. Katherine Berry Richardson