Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

My mother loved to knit.  She was the only woman I knew who could knit while reading a book.  She was famous for knitting, reading and watching TV all at the same time. Yep. She was the queen of multitasking, doing 3 and 4 activities at a time and knitting or crocheting was always the central activity.  My  Mom loved sharing her passion for knitting and delighted in giving free lessons.  In the mid 1970’s with all of the other women in our neighborhood my mother started a group called, “Knitting”.  Once a month all of the ladies in the neighborhood would go to one home, each month a different home, the ladies would drink coffee, chat and knit.  Before the end of the night a dessert would be served, something homemade by the hostess.

I find myself thinking about those “Knitting” nights more and more.  As a kid I both hated and loved those nights.  When it was our month toPatty Jo Pittman Penrod host “Knitting” my mother would insist that the entire house be cleaned top to bottom.  We couldn’t think of allowing the neighborhood ladies to enter our home if there was even a speck of dust.  The cleaning was a drag, but honestly I was kind of thrilled when the ladies would come over.  There was so much to learn if you stayed quiet, and I’m not talking about knitting.  The ladies talked and it was like a live 70’s version of Pinterest.  A quiet kid could get tips on everything from how to make 7 Minute Frosting, to how to clean grout between bathroom tiles.

I’m sure I expected to hear gossip and juicy tidbits about everything going on in the neighborhood.  The truth was much more innocent and infinitely more trans-formative.  These were ladies.  They talked about their lives without drama and they supported each other.  I learned so much from those ladies while their knitting needles clanked and hot black coffee was sipped from my mother’s best china.

In truth, I learned the most from watching my mother.  There was nothing better than watching my mother in her element.  She loved to show others how to make something they could be proud of and she had an amazing way of doing it while bolstering a person’s self-esteem.  She knew just what to say to make everyone feel like they were doing a good job, as women, as mothers and as knitters.

I don’t remember what happened to “Knitting”.  Eventually I got too old to be interested in what the neighborhood ladies had to say.  I was busy looking for my answers elsewhere, which is sad, but true.  I went away to college and it never occurred to me to ask my mother if “Knitting” had become a thing of the past.

As a working 21st century mom I find that most of the connection I have with my women friends is on the cell phone.  From time to time I threaten to host a modern-day version of “Knitting”, sans the knitting, but it occurs to me that you can’t have one without the other.  “Knitting” worked because there was the excuse that the ladies were doing more than just visiting.  It was the 70’s version of a quilt circle.  I don’t know what the modern-day version is…yet.  Let me know if you have any ideas.

Today, on Mother’s Day, I think of my mother and of the ladies of “Knitting”.  They were amazing women, caring mothers, devoted wives and loyal friends.  They were the pillars of our community and although many of them are no longer with us, their legacy remains, in their children and grandchildren and in all the projects they completed in “Knitting”.


Read Full Post »

By Shannon Penrod

Penrod Family

I think it’s important to celebrate the life of a person when they are gone.  People are remembered for their work, for the joy the brought their friend

s and love ones and for the memories they left behind.  My mom, Patty Penrod, left this planet a year ago today, but she left a legacy of love and laughter that will live on and on.  Today to celebrate her life, I offer one of her prize recipes.  This is one of those no fail dishes that is inexpensive, delicious and will please kids, teenagers and adults alike.  It’s great to make for potluck because it travels well, its a great staple for a Holiday

dinner and it perfection on a cold night when you want comfort food.  YUMMY!  *** The big disclaimer here is this is not a gluten free or even vegetarian dish (check the ingredients on the Jiffy mix box) so for those of you who look to me for GFCF recipes – THIS ISN’T!  For the rest of you, ENJOY! and keep my mom in your heart!


Patty Penrod’s Scalloped Corn


1 large onion – diced finely

2 boxes of JIFFY brand cornbread muffin mix

3 eggs

1 stick of butter, melted

2 cans of whole kernel corn – do not drain

2 cans of creamed corn

16 oz. of sour cream

Mix all the ingredients well.

Pour into a large buttered baking dish (a lasagna pan is perfect).

Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Eat it hot, eat it cold, reheat it…it’s all good!

Read Full Post »

by Shannon Penrod

When A Child Dies From Autism…

Last week, on Mother’s Day, Mikaela Lynch’s parents experienced a nightmare that didn’t end.  Mikaela, a nine-year old with Autism, went missing.  For four days volunteers, family members and friends of the family searched for her.  During that Mikaela Lynchunbelievably difficult time, Mikaela’s parents would have been told that their child did not qualify for an “Amber Alert”, which would have mobilized more help and created more media coverage.  Amber Alerts can only be used when there is evidence that the child has been abducted. Children with Autism who are known to “elope” do not fit that criterion, despite the fact that they may be facing life threatening challenges.

The Lynch family was also subject to some negative media barbs wondering why they hadn’t watched their child more closely. As if you can ever watch a child with Autism who elopes closely enough…as if these poor parents could transcend the human necessity of blinking, getting a drink of water or simply looking away for a split second.

I wish there were a happy ending to this story, that Mikaela had been found alive and that her parents could have sighed with relief and held their child in their arms, smelled her hair and felt her breathe.  That isn’t the end to this story.  Mikaela’s body was found on Wednesday, in a nearby creek.  For the Lynch family all that is left is to mourn.  For the rest of us, we have the responsibility to learn from this tragedy and hopefully prevent the next one…because if we don’t, more children with Autism will die.

I know what you’re thinking.  Autism isn’t fatal.  Children don’t die of Autism.  I hear this a lot.  When someone tries to explain to me why there are more children affected with Autism than Cancer, AIDS and Juvenile Diabetes COMBINED but it still receives only a small percentage of the funding these other medical issues garner, this is often the excuse I hear.  “Autism can be devastating to a family, but let’s face it…it’s not fatal.”

Tell that to Mikaela Lynch’s parents.

This isn’t a question of bad parenting.  A recent study estimated that over 50% of children on the Autism Spectrum will at some time engage in something called “elopement.”  No, they aren’t talking about running off to Niagara Falls to get married.  They are talking about when a child runs or walks away without regard to safety or rules.  Every parent who has ever had a toddler knows what this looks like – the child just takes off.  It’s scary for any parent, at any age.  Imagine for a moment what it would be like if your child never grew out of that behavior? Imagine feeling as though you could never let your guard down, not now, not ever.  It is unimaginable, isn’t it?  For a parent with a child on the spectrum it can feel that way sometimes.

The horrible truth none of us likes to think about is that it is impossible to watch our children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  We can try, we can do our level best, but it is impossible.  Every year we hear about more children with Autism who go missing from their homes.  Some are found safe, many are not.  What follows is astonishing to me.  As in the case of the Lynch’s, the media and the public often point fingers at the parents.  If they knew their child was an eloper, why didn’t they keep them safe?  This is the rationale of someone who doesn’t want to face facts.  Until we make sure that all families facing these issues get help and support, we are ALL responsible.

The good news is there is support we can give families to help stop their children from eloping.  It takes time, and systems have to be put in place to keep the child safe while they are getting the proper intervention.  It takes money.  It takes trained specialists.  It isn’t something an exhausted parent can do by themselves.  We need to stop acting like they can.

If you or someone you know has a child who elopes, don’t wait and hope that it will get better.  There are organizations that can help you.    Call your local Autism Society and ask for help.  Contact a TACA parent mentor.  Apply for an emergency grant from Autism Care and Treatment Today!  Don’t wait.

If you are a grateful parent of a well child, and you are able to use your restroom, or step into the kitchen, or take a phone call without fear of losing your child forever, please, please, spread the word and support organizations such as the ones I listed above.

Lastly, send a loving thought to the Lynch family.  Their loss is immeasurable.

Shannon Penrod is the mother of a nine-year-old with Autism.  She hosts Autism Live, an interactive web show devoted to giving free information about resources and solutions in the Autism Community.  Ms. Penrod makes the choice in her writings to capitalize the “A” in Autism, despite the fact that it is not grammatically correct.  In her words, “Trust me, when someone tells you that your kid has Autism…it’s a capital A.”

Read Full Post »

By Shannon Penrod

In the song Return to Pooh Corner there is a line that says…It’s hard to explain how a few precious things, seem to follow throughout all our lives… Peter Pan is one of those precious things in my family.

I have always loved Peter Pan so I was thrilled when a little over a decade ago I was invited to attend a special performance of the acclaimed Broadway version starring Cathy Rigby.  The performance was special because it was being filmed for the Arts & Entertainment network.  I went to the Theater expecting a magical evening and I wasn’t disappointed.  It took my breath away.  It was a bitter-sweet evening, as I watched in wonder and also watched all of the children in the audience.  I was in my late 30’s with a biological clock that ticked louder than Hook’s dreaded crocodile.  The evening was perfect…except that I longed to have a child to share it with.

As luck and prayer would have it, I did end up having a child a couple of years later and I was thrilled that the performance of Peter Pan that I had attended was available on DVD.  My child LOVED the DVD from the first time he watched it.  He danced around the room and would crow like a rooster, following Cathy Rigby’s every move.  It was a special joy to me that my little boy loved that particular version of Peter Pan.  It made my world feel right.

Then my son changed.  It wasn’t overnight, but a slow slide into nothingness.  My child stopped dancing, and singing and then talking.  He still loved that Peter Pan DVD, but Autism had come to live at our house and now his enjoyment was displayed in sitting quietly when nothing else would soothe him.  Whenever he was sick, and for a while that was often, the only thing that made him feel better was that Peter Pan DVD – the Disney version couldn’t do it, but Cathy Rigby could. 

As my son worked to regain language, one of the first things he verbally requested was “Peter Pan!”  My son worked tirelessly for years to overcome the more disabling aspects of Autism.  Through those years we moved a couple of times and at some point the Peter Pan DVD got packed away and was eventually forgotten.  My son progressed miraculously and all was right with our world.

Then last month we were invited to a special performance of Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby!  I couldn’t believe our luck!  I couldn’t contain my excitement.  I talked to my son on the way to the theatre and asked him if he remembered anything about the version of Peter Pan that he had loved as a child.  He didn’t really.  I was dismayed, but hopeful.  I knew he was going to love the show, whether he could remember it or not.

We sat in the Theater as the overture began and I held my breath, it was a full circle moment that had taken more than a decade, but I was finally going to be able to share the magic of such a wonderful show with my own child! There are no words to describe how truly fabulous the evening was.  My face hurt from smiling so much.  My child was riveted, transported, transfixed, enchanted, swept away and moved.  I was in heaven.  I drank in the show, and my child loving the show, like a starved woman at a banquet.  I could have stayed in that Theater in that moment forever.  I would have gleefully moved in if they had let me!  I should also add that my husband who had never seen the live show, but at one point had the entire DVD memorized, sat on the edge of his seat with a goofy grin on his face the entire show.  He loved it as much as any of the children which was just the icing on the cake.

After the show, when I would have told you it could not have gotten any better, we were invited to go backstage.  My little boy shook with excitement when Cathy Rigby came up to him and quietly filled his hands with fairy dust.  She talked to him and I worried that he was going to pass out.  Ahhh, the eye contact was something to behold!  It was the perfect end to a perfect evening and the lovely bookend to a relationship with a truly magical show. But, it wasn’t the end at all…

The next morning my son woke me up singing.  Please understand that before Autism my son sang all the time.  After Autism my son hummed all the time and eventually sang on the rare occasion, softly, so no one could here.  Singing, it seemed, and the enjoyment of it, was just part of the collateral damage of Autism.  Over time it was just something we had accepted. 

I don’t know what the magic surrounding this particular version of Peter Pan is, I just know that there is magic in this show for me and for my child.  It is as though the show reached through time and touched something in him from years ago, something I thought had been lost in translation.  Ever since we saw the show, my child has been singing out loud whenever he has had the opportunity.  This morning he woke my husband and I up singing, ” Zip-a-Dee-Do-Da!”  Every night he has asked me to sing songs from The Wizard of Oz with him.  He has been making songs up, improvising lyrics, cracking us up and leaving us speechless.  I thought we had lost this forever.  But Peter Pan brought it back.  It was something I hadn’t even thought to hope for.

So…what can I tell you?  Our kids are only little for such a short time.  Getting to see their faces lit with wonder is such a precious gift.  Getting to share a moment of sheer delight with them is something to be cherished, a memory that will never fade or tarnish.  This is what seeing Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby can do.  This and possibly much, much more.  I’m telling you it’s magical!  This amazing show is on its way back to New York for the holiday season.  If you are looking for something spectacular to share with a child in your life, you can not afford to miss this show.

To Cathy Rigby, to the cast and crew of Peter Pan, and to Glenn Casale, the brilliant director of both this production and the one over a decade ago – Thank you!  Thank you for the magic!  Your work and your talent has made profound difference in the life of one special little boy.  Please consider your karma bank full and know that you are nightly included on one mother’s gratitude list.

Read Full Post »

By Shannon Penrod

Dear Jim,

Nine years ago today we stood in front of friends and family and took vows that have more meaning to me now than they every could have meant then.  I remember part of our vow was an Irish prayer that said, “You are the last person I want to see before I sleep and the first person I want to see upon waking.”  Honey, it was true then, but it’s so much truer now.  When you asked me to marry you I said, “Yes!” without hesitation, because I knew I loved you and I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.  I’d already tried to live without you and I didn’t like that.  What I didn’t know was how truly marvelous you are.  I didn’t know it because time had yet to reveal it.

How could I have known that you were going to be such an amazing father?  I believed it, but the reality is so much better. I couldn’t have known that you were going to love our little boy with a fierceness that takes my breath away.  I couldn’t dream that you were going to be the type of Dad who calls me up from work and says, very seriously, “Honey, I’ve been thinking about it a lot and… we just aren’t videotaping enough.  I just know that some day we’re going to look back and wish we had a camera running 24/7.”  It just takes my breath away how wonderful you are.

The things you do to make that little boy laugh!  Oh my!  Yeah, other people may have Emmys and Oscars for their comedic performances but baby they’ve got nothing on you.  The best laughs I have ever had have been of your crafting.  I can not count the number of times you have made me laugh until I have fallen off the couch, been doubled over clutching my stomach and begging for air.  You funny.  It’s kind of my little secret and I LOVE to watch people who don’t know you realize it.  For years my friends and family thought that because I’m funny you must be the straight man to my humor.  Of course nothing could be further from the truth. I love your sense of humor and I treasure all of laughs we share.  Thank God we have laughed, because we have been through some @#!$!

When I think of what we have been through in the last five years I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or wet my pants.  I’d rather just hold on to you and tell you over and over, “Thank you!”  Thank you for sticking by me, through Autism, through a nervous breakdown, a reality show, three moves, being sued by the school district twice, 2 summers in Southern California with NO AIR CONDITIONING, total financial devastation, IRS hell, a dead landlord with a crazy ex-wife and ever so much more.  Thank you, because looking back on it, it all seems like a really funny adventure now.  That’s because we were in it together.  There was never ever a moment when I thought for even a second you weren’t going to stick it out with me.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I can go anywhere and do anything because I know at the end of the night I get to go home with you.  That’s my ace in the hole, right there.

I think back to all of the promises we made nine years ago.  We’ve been able to keep almost all of them.  Yes, a few of our dreams got differed because of a little thing called Autism.  We haven’t been able to do all of the “couple” things we would have loved to.  Even this morning, you’re off to take Jem to Harry Potter Camp, while I’m staying home to tackle the garage in preparation for yet another move next week.  It’s not the big romantic anniversary we would have planned nine years ago.  It may not be what others would choose, but I don’t care.  I want you to know that I still choose you, I still choose us.  I love our life, our love our little family and I love being on this adventure with you.  I love you and I love the way you love me.  I never, ever thought I would have that.  Thank you for making our story a love story.

Happy Anniversary Love!

Read Full Post »

by Shannon Penrod

I’m not terribly good and beginnings and endings.  I like middles.  Beginnings are bumpy and fraught with unexpected muck.  Endings are messy and emotional.  Today is an ending and I am definitely feeling messy and emotional.  While I am writing this my son is in the next room having his last session with one of his ABA therapists.  5 1/2 years ago I remember hearing the word Autism in connection with my son and feeling like I was stepping off a cliff into a hole that had no bottom.  It was a messy beginning to say the least. But, that was then and this is now.  I’m sitting on the sofa crying because I can’t believe we actually did it. Somehow we managed to rearrange our lives to accommodate an army of trained therapists parading  through our home, coaxing our child out inch by inch, hour by hour, year by year until we  finally arrived here.  Here is unbelievably good.

I remember the first time I ever drove to California. I couldn’t help but wonder at the tenacity of the first settlers who reached the Rocky Mountains and decided to scale them to get to the other side.  For the first time I understood why places like Denver became cities.  A whole lot of people looked at those mountains and decided it just wasn’t worth it.  I always thought I would have been one of those people.  Now, on the other side of the mountain I can’t help but look back and think, “Holy CRAP!!! Did we really just scale that?”  We did.  We really did.

For the last few weeks I’ve been watching this really amazing docu-series on the web, called “The A-Word”.  It follows a family through their early days of diagnosis and getting ABA therapy.  It’s amazing.  I can’t stop talking about it.  For me it’s like getting to relieve those early days without all the fear, without all the uncertainty.  I’m watching the family adjust to the fact that their entire life has been picked up and shaken like a box of Legos, and I find myself crying – because I know how lucky they are.  I don’t know if they know it yet, but I do.  But they are at the beginning and we are at the end.  The Alpha and the Omega of ABA therapy for Autism. Everyone should be so lucky.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that this journey has been life defining for me and my family.  Can’t isn’t in our vocabulary anymore.  Hope is something that has legs.  Fear is just false evidence appearing real.  Courage is a small child who doesn’t give up.  Love is never giving up.  Hard is meaningless and everything is possible.

So, what do you do to mark such a moment occasion?  We already had the party, we already went to Disneyland so today we’re just going to be normal and go see the premiere of CARS 2.  That’s what 8-year-old boys want to do on a Friday night; and starting today that’s who my son is, an 8-year-old boy, just like everyone else.  It is our new Alpha.

Read Full Post »

By Shannon Penrod

There are some lessons I have to learn over and over again.  The biggest one is the power of now.  Last night, I was putting my precious seven year old who is recovering from Autism to bed.  He had been sick the majority of this last week and had run a low fever for several days.  I slathered him with Vicks Baby Rub, gave him a methyl B12 shot and tucked him into bed.  And then we had an amazing conversation.  It was the kind of conversation every Autism Mom dreams of.

He laid in the bed and made amazing sustained eye contact and then he lovingly touched my face.  He told me that I needed a haircut, that my hair was starting to look like I was always in a wind storm.  Then he smoothed my hair down and told me that I looked beautiful.  As if it couldn’t get better he asked me a question about my new job and what it was like.  We talked.  Back and forth, effortlessly for probably ten minutes.  He kept up the killer eye contact and I was putty in his hands.  It was easy, he didn’t keep changing the subject back to video games, or start  about a subject that I would have to decifer.  He asked me questions, listened to the answers and responded to them.  We laughed and chattered like magpies.  It was heaven.

Eventually, I stupidly broke it up.  It was past bed time, I wanted to take a shower, yadda yadda poop.  As I went to leave he said to me, “May I hug you?”   May I?  May I?  I laughed and praised him and I hugged the daylights out of him.  He explained to me that may I is the correct way to ask and even offered the example that workers in stores are supposed to say, “May I help you?”  We’ve been working on getting him to ask before giving hugs.  He’s getting big and his sudden hugs have been known to nearly topple friends, teachers and therapists.  We haven’t focused on grammar, just asking, which frankly hasn’t been going well. 

Somehow the combination of the methyl B12 shot and the low fever, which in all likelihood burned some of his excessive yeast, left me with a perfect pocket of a moment when my child wasn’t having to fight through his Autism symptoms to talk to me.  It was lovely, it was beyond divine.  And then I tucked him in and took a shower.

In the shower I couldn’t help but think about my Dad after he had his stroke.  He was different, communicating was hard.  He struggled and we all struggled to get to know this new person who looked like my Dad, but wasn’t.  And then every once in a while, the mist would clear and for a short period of time my father would be my father.  On those rare moments you could talk  to them man he had been before, only that’s not entirely true.  He was the old him mixed with the new him in a wonderful, unpredictable way that could simply take your breath away.  We quickly learned that those moments would come and go in the blink of an eyelash.  If you wanted to participate in them you had stop everything and enjoy the moment.

I thought about that and realized the same is true with my son.  There are some moments that transcend bedtime, that transcend the desire or need to take a shower.  I turned off the water got into my pajamas and crawled into my son’s bed to read Captain Underpants with him.  He was tired by that point, but I managed to squeeze a little it more joy out of the moment. 

I kissed him goodnight again and told him what a remarkable wonderful boy he is.  I crawled into my own bed a mass of feelings.  I was grateful, a little sad and painfully aware of the passage of time.  Moments continue to fly by.  Sometimes I catch them, sometimes I don’t.   I’m learning…again.

Read Full Post »

by Shannon Penrod

I wish that life had DVR capability. I would love to be able to rewind just so I wouldn’t have to say, “Did that just happen?”  Last month our garbage disposal broke and our kitchen sinks were all backed up.  The repairman came and “fixed” the problem and then nonchalantly turned to me and said, “Okay it’s all fixed!  Just don’t run any food through the disposal if you want it to keep working!”   He said it completely straight-faced!  I started looking around for Ashton Kutcher, but the guy actually meant it. Now I have a garbage disposal which makes a pretty whirr noise and I’m looking into kitchen counter composters.

I spent the better part of my day today on the phone with our insurance company. I just wanted to find a new primary care physician who is in network but not part of an HMO.  I have a PPO plan so you wouldn’t think this would be a difficult thing.  You would be wrong.  After being hung up on (by accident, which I believed for the first 2 times but the 3rd time had me doubting), being repeatedly shuffled around and feeling my blood pressure rising I was finally told that there are no doctors in network within 75 miles of Los Angeles who are not part of an HMO.  Seriously?  Really?  So why are we are paying extra to have a PPO while being held to HMO rules?  Her answer?  “Because that’s the plan we sold you.”  Ahhhh!  Well, don’t I have huevos rancheros all over my face?

Then of course there was the real kicker.  I asked my husband last night if he would do something for me.  In all fairness I have to admit that it was no small favor, but one that I could not do myself as it involved heavy lifting.  My wonderful husband looked at me, paused and said, “Sure.  I’ll do that.”  He said that, but there was subtext.  “What?” I said.  He hesitated.  I pushed… because I’m stupid like that.  And then he said it….”I’ll do it.  I don’t really want to, but I’ll do it.”   Really?….As soon as he said it, he knew he’d really stepped in it.  I could see him desperately trying to think of someway to save it. There was no saving it, of course.  I smiled sweetly at him and told him that I really appreciated his honesty.  He coughed uncomfortably while in his head I’m sure he was calculating  the bus fare to Siberia.  I told him how much more I was going to appreciate the favor, simply by virtue of knowing that he didn’t really WANT to do it.  And that since it was such a meaningful lesson that I would make sure in the future to let him know ALL of the things that I do for him that I don’t really want to do. Then I started to list them.  At this point I have to tell you that it got so ugly so fast that we actually started laughing and then couldn’t stop laughing.  We laughed until our stomachs hurt.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could rewind whenever we want?  There are a few moments that I’d really like to watch one more time, because seeing really is believing.

Read Full Post »

By Shannon Penrod

There are some people in your life that are so special, so monumentally important, that to think of a time when they are not there anymore is simply unthinkable.  Ron Medici is one of those people in my life.  If you don’t know Ron, ugh, I feel so sorry for you!  But the truth is if you know me, you probably know Ron or at least of him.  You’ve heard me quote him, or I’ve passed on something he taught me.  He’s taught me a lot over the years.

I first met Ron when I was 17 years old.  It was the spring of 1980 and my father brought me to the SUNY Oswego campus to see if I might like to go to college there.  I saw the lake and met Ron Medici and that was enough for me, I’d chosen where I was going to go to college.  Ron was new at Oswego, he had just directed Godspell.  He intimidated the crap out of me, but I wanted to work with him.  He knew Bob Fosse, to me that was like knowing God.

By the time I was a sophomore I was no longer intimidated by Ron, but I was still in awe of him, that has never changed.  Ron was my teacher, my mentor and he still is my friend.  There was one semester that I took two classes back to back with Ron.  The first was an acting class the second was a directing class.  A group of us decided to take the two classes together.  The funny thing is I learned more about directing in the acting class than I ever have in any class and in the directing class I learned more about acting that I have anywhere at anytime.  But it was even more than that.  In that directing class I learned who I was as an artist and as a person.  I learned what true grief was, and for the first time in my life I learned that I would not die from having an emotion.  Yes, that all came from Ron.  And the group of people who were in that class with me, they are still some of the most important people in my life.  That class was a game changer.  Knowing Ron has been a huge game changer.

As a teacher Ron was honest with me.  It pissed me off at times but I knew he was telling me the truth.  What I didn’t know was how much it cost to tell a student the truth.  Later when I became a teacher I came to know that secret, I realized how much easier it is to give some one a thumbs up than to be honest.  I saved hard truths for the students that I really cared about.  And I appreciated Ron’s honesty all the more.

Eventually I had the opportunity to go back to my alma mater and teach along side Ron Medici.  Oh, the joy of that!  There are so many memories.  The Senior teas that were held at Ron’s house, where we graciously entertained our graduating classes and their families; the long weekends of final directing scenes and watching Ron rub his eyes, shake his forehead and then laugh at what the students had created, the stolen Wednesday afternoons in Room 102 when Ron would decide to teach everyone in the building how to waltz, or jitterbug, or some crazy country line dance, there are a life time of good memories.

But by far the most wonderful thing about Ron is that he is always unapologetically, completely and totally himself and in doing so he gives all of us around him permission to do the same for ourselves.  This is the greatest gift a teacher can give a student and a friend can give to a friend.  I can not count the number of people that Ron has given this gift to but I know that I am a recipient and I know that it has made my life richer, happier and more fulfilled.

Over the years I have told Ron how much I love him, in many ways and on many occasions.  I know he knows how much I adore him.  But there is still so much unsaid. How on earth do you thank someone for helping you to become who you are?  How do you tell someone that you carry the wisdom they have given you everyday.  I don’t know.

This summer I sat on a picnic table at the edge of Lake Ontario with my good friend Ron Medici and listened as he told me that he thought he had pancreatic cancer.  Time and tests have proven what we hoped was not true.  True to form Ron continues to teach me what it means to live with dignity.  He is hopeful, honest, optimistic and staring reality in the face.  Selfishly, I am not ready for this.  But I fear the unsaid.  So…


Thank you for being a light in my life that will never dim.  Thank you for loving me for who I am, for seeing the best of me, for pushing me to be my best and for forgiving me when I was less than my best.  Thank you for trying to introduce me to opera.  Thank you for giving me the gift of unending tears on stage, and for the knowledge that they will eventually stop off stage.  Thank you for being the only man I have ever been able to follow on the dance floor, and for making me feel like Ginger Rodgers. Thank you for being my friend. 

I want you to know that I will love you all the days of my life and that everything you’ve ever taught me, including how to do cartwheels when you are hung over, lives on in my memory and my teachings. 

You are a beautiful person and your life has touched so many people.  You have given all of us joy, hope and the permission to be who we are.  You are a hero in my eyes.  Knowing you has been one of the great joys of my life. I love you so.



To everyone else I say that now is not the time for grief, now is the time to say what you need to say.  No regrets, nothing left unsaid.  Tell the people in your life how you feel about them and please include my friend Ron in you prayers.

Read Full Post »

by Shannon Penrod

It occurred to me the other day that this will be my 49th Christmas.  That seems shocking to me.  The number seems high but at the same time it doesn’t seem like all that many Christmases.  I’ve really only done this 48 times?  It seems more familiar than that, like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes.  But actually it is a rare treat.

There have been some truly amazing Christmases in my life, like the one when I was 8.  We had such a blizzard that the snow piled high over our heads.  We spent the week after Christmas digging tunnels in the front yard that led to snow forts.  We built a snow palace that my mother said was worthy of Dr. Zhivago.  Best of all it meant that both my Grandmother and Great-Grandmother were forced to stay longer instead of returning to the California sunshine. Four generations of women under one roof, cocooned by a monumental snowfall, I don’t know how my father survived it.  We played games, heard stories, baked and learned how to knit.  It was a magical Christmas. 

There have been hard Christmases, like the one when we all got the flu. Our neighbor Mr. Mohan died from that flu, reminding us all that there are no Christmases to take for granted.  One of the toughest holidays was the first Christmas we attempted to celebrate after my father died, we tried to drown our sorrows in pecan pie and oyster dressing but there wasn’t enough food or holiday cheer to fill the void that he left behind.

There have been lean Christmases.  I don’t ever remember a Christmas as a kid that my mother didn’t tell us to lower our expectations, “It’s going to be a thin Christmas this year.” she would always say, and yet somehow the magic always happened.  There have been abundant Christmases where everyone got their heart’s desire and the toy that was scarce of unavailable was somehow miraculously located and found its way under the tree.

There are some Christmases that live in infamy.  The year that my parents threw a party for the neighbors on Christmas Eve and the eggnog poured a little too freely.  My sister and I laid in bed and listened as the noise level crescendo while the drunken crowd played with the Skittle Bowl game that Santa was scheduled to bring.  Or the Christmas that my niece asked for a doll house and my sister purchased the KIT on Christmas Eve.  She and I sat up all night hot gluing it together like crazed and tired elves.  When the kids came downstairs to see what Santa had brought it was only half together and leaning suspiciously to the left, my hands were covered in burns and I was barely speaking to my sister, but we all survived it.

There were two Christmases when I brought my then boy friend, now husband, home to meet my family.  Both times we drove from Los Angeles to Iowa.  I had a very old dog that I didn’t want to fly and I believed that one of the best ways to know if you should spend your life with someone is to spend 3 days driving through insane cold with them.  On the first trip we broke up as we drove into Albuquerque.  So much for the theory.  On the second trip we got engaged in the desert of California on the way back.  That was a good Christmas.

I have to say that one of my favorite Christmas memories is just a few years ago.  The economy had already tanked in our home, timed beautifully to coincide with our son’s diagnosis of Autism.  It was Christmas time and there was no money.  I looked at the balance in our check book and knew that we had a choice between buying our child medicine, toys or food.  It was devastating.  The grief of it took my breath away. 

Just when I really faced the reality of it a good friend called.  She told me not to be afraid, to buy the medicine and everything would be okay.  Neither of us knew how, my friend was struggling to make her mortgage payment at the time, but we both agreed it would all be okay in the end.  I hung up the phone and it immediately rang.  It was the friend of an older relative who told me that she typically gave my relative the yearly holiday gift of making a donation in his name to his favorite charity.  This year she wanted to buy some medicine for my child instead.  She couldn’t have known.  Seven seconds had not passed since I had gotten off the phone with my friend.  I started to cry.  I thanked her and I got off the phone. 

I don’t think I have ever felt the spirit of Christmas more acutely than I did in that moment.  I was completely reminded of the fact that Christmas is a time of miracles.  Prayers are answered, sometimes in ways that defy logic.  We are each given the opportunity every Christmas to make a difference in the lives of people around us.  If we are willing, we can see the miracles and sometimes even be a part of them.  That’s what I hope to focus on for this my 49th celebration of Christmas.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »