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Blogs of Writer, Artist, Photographer, & Caregiver Joanne D. Kiggins

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Joanne has published more than 2,500 articles and was award recipient of the 1990 Woman of the Year for Beaver County, Pennsylvania, for her accomplishments and excellence in journalism and to the community. Her co-authored book, “Unforgettable Journey,” won fifth place in the Grand Beginnings romance contest. An excerpt from her WIP, “Unearthed,” placed her fifth in the Absolute Write Idol contest. Most recently, her essay, “Perseverance,” is published in the Stories of Strength anthology in which 100% of the profits are donated to disaster relief charities. Her most recent articles were published in ByLine Magazine, Writer's Digest, AbsoluteWrite.com, and Moondance.org. She has a monthly freelance writing column at Absolutewrite.com. Currently, she is the sole caregiver for her 85-year-old mother.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Surprises make me happy.

My oldest daughter just called and asked me what I was doing. I told her I was having dinner and she giggled. When I asked her what was funny, she said “we’re having dinner too. At Arbys.” It took a few seconds to realize she and her husband was only ten miles away. They were bored and decided to drive three hours just to visit. They’re staying at his mom’s house and will be here tomorrow to spend the entire day with me. Children are wonderful, especially after they’re married and begin to say things like, "gee, now I know what you meant when you said..." :)

I've moved in with Mom, so Angel will be visiting with me there. Still living out of a suitcase. It will take a while to move all my clothes and things I'll need.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

I'm in hiding!

Someone else needs to stand in the corner and wait for the pop. (thank you SK for that nifty little saying.)
I’m not a fighter.
I try very hard to keep peace.
But when all else fails. Hide.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Today "IS" today.

Tuesday, February 15

Thank goodness I woke up this morning feeling half presentable. For that matter, thank goodness I woke up. I think it has something to do with the ability to vent, brush off negativity, and act. Yes, I said act, not write. I've always considered myself an optimist, but lately I've found myself falling into hopeless pessimism. What can go wrong, will go wrong. Especially if it involves me.

After I heard the pop, I did go back and start over...with everything.

This morning I woke up with this attitude: I don't care what happens, I'm not going to let it bother me.

I have been trying to condition myself not to become stressed out by little things, and from now on, everything is a little thing.

I hadn't been angry at anyone but myself. I was angry because I forgot how precious life is, and how to laugh at myself.

I kept my fake smile, and forced myself not to care about anything but being alive. I ignored all the previous day's problems and concentrated on editing a book that "needs" published. (Of course, we all think that of our baby's, don't we?) One swipe of the scrolling mouse (long story) almost put my head in the wrong place. But instead, I laughed, agreed that my co-author had a very good point, then I closed the file to think, and opened up AIM with a smile to my friend, because "today is today--a new day". And I’m hoping she’s not in a horrible mood again. Quite frankly, I can’t deal with the up one day, down the next syndrome. To me any day is a good day if my feet hit the floor and I’m able to walk to the kitchen for my morning coffee.

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Random Rants: A Week In The Life Of Joanne

Today hasn't been the worst day in my life, but it comes close.

I take care of my 81-year-old mother who has the onset of Altzheimers. It hasn't come to a live-in situation yet, but I know it won't be long before I move all my important things to her house. For now, three times a day, I walk through ten acres of woods, between her house and mine, to make sure she eats three meals and takes her medication properly. Then I walk back down before dark and stay the night with her. At 52+ my body sometimes tells me to drive the long way around.

I accepted the fact long ago that I would be her caregiver, as I was in helping her with my father who passed on the first day of spring in 1998 from Altzheimers and Dementia from a stroke. My mom is not a problem. My problem is stress. Too much of it can kill me.

So back to why I'm here today.

Last Tuesday my car broke down. So I wasn't given the choice of driving or walking to mom's house. I had to walk. She didn't want me to have to trek through the woods all day, so she told me to call her and just remind her to heat up her meals and take her pills. Stupid me, I always respect my mom and listen. Big mistake.

Wednesday my mechanic estimated parts and labor to fix my car at $300. Forget that! I'm still trying to get out of the whole from the $100 washing machine repair. So luckily, (the one good thing this past week) someone fixed my car for me with a mere $30 part. That put me back in a fair mood. I drove to mom's house that morning and found she hadn't eaten and hadn't taken her pills when I called on Tuesday evening. I returned home after making her breakfast to find my kitchen floor flooded by my dishwasher that quit running mid-cycle. It's now at the end of the driveway waiting for the garbage collection.

Mind you, I'm still in control, ignoring the stress, and still trying to smile.

On Thursday my attorney called at told me I had to go to a jury trial because the guy who hit my car more than a year ago, and caused me to have cervical spine surgery, decided he's not paying anything.

I have no idea where Friday went...see my post below.

On Saturday and Sunday, my phone rang ten times, ending the weekend with more on my plate than I wanted. My deceased husband's son (my step-son) had been using my social, address, and phone number for his contact information; all the ten calls were from creditors looking for him.

Monday was the worst. Wonderful Valentine's Day. I went to the drug store to pick up my migraine pills only to find out that I have no health insurance. I returned home to call my insurance company and was told I had to enroll in a Cobra plan that costs $400 a month because I was only eligible for health insurance for a year after my husband's death. If you've ever dealt with any type of insurance company, you know regardless of what you tell them, they don't listen. I explained that because my deceased husband had 35 years vested, I was entitled to stay on the employee widow retirement plan. I called the company where he had worked and human resources told me the HMO I had been paying each month for the past year was the wrong plan and I should have been on BC/BS coverage. So after all this, I still don't have health or life insurance until the insurance company does an investigation, and I found out that for the past year I paid $500 more for an HMO with less coverage than the BC/BS plan I should have been on.

To top off everything else, I realized how much my head has been up my butt lately; my co-author told me I needed to "start over" a final edit on our book because the edits and additions I made were unacceptable. She told me in no uncertain terms she would not accept my edits on our book; edits to sections I wrote.

I have always used writing as an outlet, especially when my life is turned upside down. Now I’m being told by my writing partner that my writing sucks, so I buried my head further and waited for the pop. You know that sound made when you pull your head out of your backside.

And someone told me not to be stressed. I'd rather be told how not to be stressed.

Enough of my ranting. Tomorrow is a new day. I just hope it doesn't turn out to be another Valentine's Day. I'll need all the help I can get if I end up like Bill Murray in the movie "Groundhog Day."

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Where did Friday go?

Friday, February 11 writing exercise


Where did Friday go? The gleam in her eyes disappeared. Her vacant house was no help and the soft music playing from her stereo sounded flat instead of soothing. The loud boom when she started the car was the first sign; some days end before they begin. She took the ribbon off her finger and looked at her list. Today is Saturday. Now what was it I’m supposed to do?


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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Last Autumn Rose

An Essay published on Absolutewrite.com in 9/11 Tribute To America.

By Joanne D. Kiggins

As I gather the fragile petals of the last autumn rose, I wonder if the beauty of that rose will appear again after winter plays havoc with its foundation. It reminds me that the world, everything and everyone in it, are just as precious and fragile.

It’s been more than a month since the attack on America. The tragedy that has fallen on our nation has disrupted my thought process, rearranged my schedule, and changed my life. Much of the past month, I, as many Americans, have watched news broadcasts to keep abreast of new developments. A gamut of emotions has filled my brain each day. Fear. Sorrow. Disgust. Wonder. I try to focus on memories and peace.

For more than month I’ve heard the tiny feet of my two-year-old granddaughter pitter-patter through my house. On September 12, the army told my daughter and her entire base to be ready for deployment, and to implement their family care plans. My husband and I were called to the duty of guardianship and we prepared to whisk our granddaughter from her mother.

Watching my daughter’s tears flow as we left her home was like watching the last autumn rose succumb to the fall frost. Each tear drop lingered for a second, and then, like each rose petal, fell to the ground, not knowing when or if that rose would return, only that it would be missed.

I still find it hard to hold back tears each day. Tears I shed for my daughter, my granddaughter, for all of us.

I remember while raising my two daughters that they were seldom out of sight. Even as they slept in the dimly lit nursery, I would tip-toe into the room, to glance, smile, stroke their soft cheeks, and be thankful they were complete, healthy and mine. I remember the pride I felt with their accomplishments as they grew to adulthood. No single word could explain my feelings of joy that each has given me, and continues to give me. No single joy gave me pleasure over another. Each memory, picture, smile, hug, and each “I love you, Mom” is etched in my heart to guard and cherish for the rest of my life. And each gives me peace.

I watch dimpled fingers point to familiar pictures as I read to my granddaughter. As I walk with her in my garden, she runs to the last rose of autumn. Her nose touches its soft peach form; she sniffs, giggles, and picks up a fallen petal. It brings me peace to realize my daughter has instilled in her daughter to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of small things that are often overlooked or discarded as unimportant.

I see her mother in her every minute of every day. I miss my daughter. I know she misses hers. As each day goes by, I know we are comforted only by memories and the peace of mind those memories hold.

Each day, caring for my granddaughter, I am reminded how I tried to instill in my daughter to take each day as it came and cherish the beauty surrounding her. Each day, I realize she listened.

The horrific act against our country has changed our lives. Life as my husband and I knew it no longer exists. The pitter-patter of tiny feet and squeals of an excited toddler now fill the peace and quiet of a once empty nest. However, one thing hasn’t changed. We take each day and what comes with it, and cherish each moment. As I tuck her in bed each night and caress her soft cheek, I am reminded of those precious moments so many years ago.

I hope that everyone will keep close to him or her what is important as our country takes us through this campaign. Just as I’m certain the foundation of the rose has been strengthened by its yearly metamorphosis and will bloom in spring, I’m certain our nation will endure. As we pick up the fallen fragile petals, I hope that my daughter and granddaughter will be able to reap those memories, those joys, for years to come and hold them close in their hearts and minds as I have. I hope they, too, will stop and smell the sweet fragrance of the last autumn rose, enjoy its beauty, and the beauty of the world, once again, together. I hope this, for everyone.

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Sunday, February 06, 2005


By Joanne D. Kiggins

Just when my life had settled some, and I'd published the last issue of my newspaper and told my readers I was going to work on my book, I found myself lying on the kitchen floor, numb, unable to move or speak.

I know I was crying, but I couldn’t feel the tears run down my cheeks as I watched paramedics attach medical equipment. I closed my eyes and tried to get a perspective of the scene taking place but nothing would register. Fear washed into my throat as I faded into unconsciousness.

When I woke in the emergency room, doctors told me I'd had a stroke. I looked at them through wide, glassy eyes and shook my head "no."

"You're young, so after physical and speech therapy, you'll be almost as good as new," they said. It was the "almost" that made me cringe. I couldn’t feel my limbs but I could feel the chilling, unadulterated fear that flushed through my body. What was the “almost” that I would be left without?

Those who didn't know me wouldn't notice the slight droop in the left side of my face. The slow, slurred speech and long spans of time between sentences, while I searched for words that wouldn't come, made me sound like a second grader trying to talk with a mouth full of cereal.

By the fourth day I was walking with a limp and a cane, my left arm twitched and went wherever it wanted to go, and my smile faded. I was scheduled to see physical and speech therapists three times a week for rehabilitation. After one week I knew there wasn’t anything that I was being shown I couldn’t do every day at home. I insisted on going home where I could rehabilitate myself to gain those things I desperately needed most. And what I needed most was to write.

In front of my computer, in my home office, I sat staring at the blank screen. No words would come. I glanced up and scanned the diplomas, awards, and pictures of me and Senator John Glenn, Charlie Daniels, and Kenny Rogers.

Then, I cried. Long and hard.

I began my writing career in 1981 as a stringer for two major newspapers and two weeklies in Ohio. Since then, I have crafted and published more than 2,500 articles and two nonfiction regional books. I owned, operated and published my own newspaper. I wrote, copyrighted and taught my Sell What You Write course, sponsored writing seminars, spoke at many conferences and writing groups, and won the 1990 Beaver County Times Woman of the Year Award for contributions to the community and excellence in journalism.

Eleven years ago, the reporter who wrote about my winning this award began her story with the sentence, "When there's time she sleeps." She then listed part of my daily routine in one long paragraph, asked the readers if they needed to take a breath yet, then continued, "...she returns to her personal computer where she seizes the late night and early morning hours to do what she enjoys immensely--write. She is as relentless as the pink Energizer-battery rabbit--steady, persistent and determined to succeed."

I received the award in October 1990. In December, at age 38, I had a stroke. My writing career died along with a part of me. My ability to remember what I had taken years to learn was destroyed. That award winning writer no longer existed. I was once again a beginner.


Those words are posted in large, bold print and tacked to my bulletin board. When my feet hit the floor in the morning, I walked into my home office, read those words, turned on my computer, then hobbled to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee.

I grabbed my writing course notes and my tape recorder and began pacing and reading my notes out loud. None of it sounded the least bit familiar. When I played the tape back it didn’t take long to realize I never would be the same person I once was. All that I had learned to earn those diplomas and awards had vanished. Being an avid Stephen King fan, I often referred to it as the “dead zone.”

I read magazines, newspapers and books out loud into the tape recorder. All day, every day for the next month, I followed the same routine. I would turn on the tape recorder, read and listen.

By the end of January I began to sound somewhat like myself. But that wasn't good enough. I would pace, cane in hand, in front of the mirror, reciting parts of what I'd memorized and reading parts I’d forgotten. By the end of February, I had gained some coordination, some inflection, some pride.

When the envelope from Slippery Rock came with my spring semester course agreement, my hands shook when I opened it. It was my creative writing course. Every student who had taken the Sell What You Write course was on the roster along with ten new students.

Standing in front of a mirror practicing my teaching skills was one thing, but I wasn't ready to face or speak to a classroom full of people. I set the envelope aside.

It took me six trips from the car, with one hand balancing a box on one hip, and a cane in the other hand, climbing two sets of fifteen stairs each, to get all my course materials into the classroom. I wanted to bolt, but instead I smiled, walked behind the desk and said, "Welcome to my creative writing class." One former student glanced at my cane and said, "It's great to be here, what happened?" I took a deep breath, closed my eyes for a second, opened them and said, "I'm here tonight to learn along with you." Those who had taken my other course looked at me questioningly. "Before I begin, I'd like to tell you that if, after you've finished this course you're not satisfied with what you've learned, I will personally refund your money." The student who had asked what happened said, "Yeah, right, as if we wouldn't be satisfied. You're an excellent teacher and speaker. And what do you mean you're here to learn?"

I thanked him, smiled, and began to tell them what had happened since we had last met in this classroom. I told them that I had almost canceled the course because I didn't feel that I had a right to teach it, since I had just begun to learn what I would be teaching. After I told my story, I assured them that it wouldn't hurt my feelings if they chose to leave.

Not one of the students left the classroom. I paced in front of them, leaning on the cane, repeating everything I had memorized over the past three months. I used the gestures and inflections I had practiced. I tripped over the cane a few times. When they'd all jerked in their seats anticipating my fall, I smiled and said, "Just wanted to make sure you are paying attention." I was thankful that my sense of humor hadn’t slipped into the dead zone. Then, after four hours of speaking, joking and tripping, I passed out handouts, gave the assignment for the next class, and closed my briefcase.

As I began to pack my boxes to go home, I heard chairs sliding, papers jostling and a loud thundering noise. When I looked up, each and every student was standing beside his desk, clapping and smiling at me. It wasn't until that moment that I felt success. My vision blurred from tears that I wouldn’t let drop, but I didn’t need clear vision to see that the months of pacing, reciting and learning had paid off.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't end here and neither did my diversions from writing. Between 1991 and 1992 I had four TIA's (mini-strokes), and went through a divorce. Minor aches, pains, swelling and a few other physical problems that I’d ignored for years were now becoming more noticeable. I’d been tested for everything from lyme disease to lupus. In 1994 I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

For nearly two years, unemployed and at home, I tried to implement mind over matter. I ignored the pain.

After my stroke in 1990, and after the diagnosis in 1994, I continued ignoring the pain, loss of memory and side effects of the drugs, and kept convincing myself and everyone else that I was fine. I continued that daily routine I had started when I left the hospital. The more I tried, the more disillusioned and weaker I became.

My seventy-four-year-old mother drove me downtown for a hearing before a judge, who would determine if I would receive Social Security. My attorney told me just to be myself. I began to wonder what and who ‘myself’ was.

My attorney told the judge I was unable to remember and accomplish even simple chores around the house and medication prescribed limited my ability to drive. She stated that the many ailments and side effects of the drugs forced me to quit my job, but had I not quit, I would have been let go. I listened to her expose all the personal aspects of my life. I knew that I had endured much, but, for me, the humiliation I felt at that very moment was more crippling than any disease.

The judge said he had read my forty-page report but he wanted to hear me tell him my story.
I stood for a few seconds, looked straight at the judge and fell apart.

It’s said that your whole life flashes before you just before you die. Bits and pieces of my life began to flood my brain. My body tensed, my muscles jolted with pain, my legs trembled, my heart pounded against my chest and I felt as if I could die.

I reiterated what had been in my report.

With tears running down my face I said, "I've worked since I was fifteen years old. I don't know what it's like not to work, and work hard. Since I had my stroke in 1990, I've continually told myself I'll be okay. I have convinced myself all these years that I was okay. I've just quit a job that I truly loved I would have kept had I been able to supply my boss with the skills I once had. My seventy-four-year-old mother drove me here today.”

Humiliation struck once more and between sobs I gained enough control only to add, “Sir, how can I convince you that I can't work, when I've been trying to convince myself for years that I can?" Several months later I’d received a letter informing me I’d been approved for SSD.

I use my cane every day now and keep telling myself I’m okay. The pictures, awards, degrees and all the published articles still carry a lot of meaning to me, but hold no validity now. I shake my head in awe of that person’s ability to write and remind myself every day that I am a beginner.

Learning to write had never been easy. Even established writers need to be open to new ideas and learn by practicing. My experience taught me that regardless of the detours my life had taken, I need to continue to set my goals and diligently work toward them. I follow the road to the goal I’ve always had. That goal is--and always will be--to be the best writer I can be.

To be a writer you must have determination and perseverance. Perseverance is to persist in spite of difficulties. It does pay off. Just recently, ByLine Magazine published an article I wrote. It was the first in eleven years.

I love to write. Writing is all I ever wanted to do. I’m still here. I’m still okay. I'm still writing. I’m still learning. And I will persevere.

"Perseverance" appeared in the winter issue of Moondance.org and was honorable mention in ByLine Magazine's Personal Experience Contest.
E-mail Joanne: joannedkiggins@comcast.net.
Visit her site at http://home.comcast.net/~joannedkiggins.
Joanne (Kiggins) Stanko has published more than 2,500 articles. She was award recipient of the 1990 Woman of the Year for Beaver County, Pennsylvania, for her accomplishments in her community and excellence in journalism. She was on the staff of Slippery Rock University teaching her copyrighted writing course "Sell What You Write" andCreative and Freelance writing. She has appeared on television and radio, hosted several Writers' Conferences, and spoke for many conferences and writer's organizations. Her most recent articles were published in ByLine Magazine, Absolute Write.com, and Moondance.org.

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