Sunday, May 31, 2009


May 31, 2009

Walter and I hit the road today as scheduled and made it to Jackson, MS (our designated rest stop for the night). For those of you outside of Texas, it may seem odd that from our house we can drive in ANY direction for at least four hours before we get to any state border crossing. Follow the compass in most directions and it would take many, many more than four hours to cross into another state (or country, if you head south). Teddy and Willie were inconsolable when we left, inconsolable that is, until our replacements arrived later in the afternoon to hand feed them steak tartar and ribs. Thanks Payton! Thanks Travis! The dogs love to be coddled.

I really have nothing to report about the drive. So far, unremarkable (in the best since of that word). The main reason I logged on was to keep my promise that I would reveal the answer to last weekend's poll. Are you feeling confident? One of you should be.

That's right, the winning, totally correct, absolutely true answer was (a) Fruit cake. The Doolin family not only owned the Frito Company, they also owned a confectionery. Mother Doolin added crushed Fritos to the usual ingredients of candied pineapple, cherries, citron, lemon peel and orange peel, peacans, and blanched almonds. The author of the manuscript speculated "she probably decided to throw in some broken Fritos to extend the batter as well as add nutrition and the flavors of corn, vegetable oil, and salt to her loaf cakes (I added the emphasis).

Final vote:

fruit cake 1 (1%)
chili corn chip pie 22 (36%)
corn dogs 3 (4%)
ice cream sundae 1 (1%)
meatloaf 34 (55%)

Don't forget the "Let's Do It" Mission Weekend *click here and scroll down) comes up next Saturday. This is for all kids who have finished grades K-6 and a parental unit of their own choice and includes swimming at the end of the day.

Also, you may not be used to me posting two days in a row, so if you missed the Ode to Luke yesterday, you should keep reading.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


May, 30, 2009

Luke Skywalker Buenger arrived just in time. He insinuated himself into our household in the summer of 1996. . .definitely there, but not particularly invited. Some neighbor across the road owned him, but seemed not to notice that he had changed residence (maybe Luke forgot to fill out one of those postal change of address forms, just like he forgot that his owner had named him Rusty or maybe he had signed up for the witness protection program).

By the time Erin was born the following summer he had become a permanent family member, much loved and fully adopted (and I might add, more than fully paid for). The first thing Davis noticed when we brought Erin home from the hospital was that "her hair was the color of Luke's ears." He was a prime specimen: four years old, born to swim and to lick children clean, no matter what they had left on their face. He loved the baby Erin (and thought he might pattern his life after Good Dog Carl):

He was always up for adventure and loved the water.

He was officially Davis's dog, and he adored Davis, but he was also a dog with a mission separate from Davis: Do whatever Erin wants, whenever she wants it.

Dress up like Erin's valiant steed for Halloween? You betcha.

Do an impression of Sister Bertrell as The Flying Nun? No problem.

Luke took this secondary job extremely seriously. Shortly after he turned thirteen, back in the spring of 2006, he had a major health set back that required heavy duty vet care, high quality meds, and a couple of months of water aerobics (they also recommended accupuncture, but we opted out). We knew that he had already passed the average life expectancy for a lab, and for most of the time since then we have expected him to just kick the bucket. Somehow, he just kept living. He ate well; until recently, he held his bodily functions until he was out of the house; he could mosey a little way down the road and back; his sniffer really worked. Eventually, his face turned almost completely white, but his ears remained the color of Erin's hair.

I don't know that he noticed when Erin died. By then, he was pretty deaf and blind. Still, I think he knew. I think he understood that although he was nominally a yellow lab, he was really a shepherd. . .Erin's shepherd. He welcomed her home from the hospital (at birth and many subsequent times), watched over her, and was there on the floor by the big green chair when she died. Having fulfilled his duty, he took a few weeks to make sure his other human charges were okay, then he too went peacefully along. He didn't make it to age seventeen, but he got close.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


May 27, 2009

I've have read on other parents' blogs that they avoided the Lego aisle or the Polly Pocket aisle when shopping after their child had died.  This created a dilemma for me.  On the one hand, Erin remains very near to the surface for me, and I wouldn't want to deliberately trigger those inevitable meltdowns that particular memories could stir.  On the other hand, Erin had so many "favorite" things that if I worked to avoid public places that would put me at risk for having my memory stirred, I wouldn't go anywhere:  no bookstores, toy stores, or movie rental places.  No grocery stores or clothing stores.  She adored nurseries, so they would be off the list.  Hardware stores. . .she would browse until I made her leave.  The meat market?  You've got to be kidding.  Hobby Lobby?  Every aisle would be a potential disaster.  You get the idea.  

She wasn't necessarily a shopaholic or even particularly acquisitive.  She just found delight in the  beautiful, interesting, fun, or novel.  So, inevitably I have to go to those places.  And so far, no big mind fields.  

One day recently, I was pushing the cart through the grocery store.  

Produce section:  Do I put kiwi in the cart?  I'm okay with kiwi and so is Walter, but Erin was a big fan, and we're closer to indifferent.  No kiwi this time.

Soft Drink/Sports Drink Aisle:  Gatorade doesn't fall under the category of beer, wine, coffee, or water, which are really the only things that we actually drink.  No real need for Gatorade.  

Snack Aisle:  Do Walter and I really need Chex Mix or Cliff Bars?  Nah.

It finally hit me.  Not grief.  Not tears.  Just realization.  Kids give you permission to stock things that you like (salty/naughty snacks, sweets, ice cream confections), because you don't have to admit you want those things.  Having children (or someone else you can indulge) gives you permission to experiment, to try different options and more varieties, to buy treats.  Of course, you can still buy those sorts of things if you don't have children in the house, but you can't fool yourself into thinking you are doing it for someone else.  If you by a bag of Cheetos or a box of Butterfingers, they're for you.

Of course, all sorts of people have figured this out before me (single folks, empty nesters).  It really wasn't just about whether I was willing to indulge myself by adding treats to the cart or face the inevitably dullness of my basket.  It's about having to admit that the person I loved to dote upon is no longer dotable.  

I helped Shirlene with her Meals On Wheels route last week.  I remembered and asked after a couple on her route from previous times I had helped her.  The man would come out to the car to get their lunches.  He always had a cheerful remark and a smile.  Shirlene told me she didn't serve them anymore.  When his wife died, the man took his name off the list--like it was okay to get a meal for himself as long as MOW was delivering to his wife anyway, but he didn't think he deserved one on his own account.  

Shirlene worried about him.  He wasn't any less homebound than he had been before.  On her route days, she buys his lunch and delivers it anyway.  When I saw him on Monday, he seemed glad to have it.

I think that man lost someone that he took pride in taking care of.  This happens to a lot of us.  Sometimes death is the thief, but other things can bereave us and leave us personally and profoundly deprived of another person and the love that we shared with him or her.  

W.H. Auden wrote that "Love requires an object."  Our bereavement is not so much about what to put in the shopping cart or what aisle to skip in the toy store.  It's about admitting that the object of our love is gone and deciding to live anyway.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Nurse, Serve, Bead, Work

May 24, 2009

I have taken Let's Do It quite seriously lately.

Last week before Walter and I left town to judge at the state History Day competition, I had to do medical duty for Willie. He had developed a significant limp. I couldn't remember any significant precipitating event and when I manipulated his affected leg, he didn't wince or pull back. I kept expecting him to get better, when in fact he worsened each passing day. A complete vet exam and four x-ray's later we had a diagnosis: cervical stenosis. [Aside: I was slightly agog when the vet mentioned this as a possibility because I momentarily confused the concept of cervical with cervix. Luckily, I recovered my knowledge of anatomy before I said anything that would have labeled me as hopeless and signaled a high need for owner education.]

The polite vet thought that the condition might be congenital, and I didn't confess that I suspected that having compressed vertabrea in the neck came from Willie's reluctance to stop when he reached the sliding glass door if he saw what he calls "a squirrel of interest" in his line of sight. I wondered about the vet's powers of observation when he did not comment on the obvious plateau-like flat spot on the top of Willie's head. We have switched Willie out of his collar into a harness to avoid the obvious ascerbation of his joint and tissue inflammation cause by the way he gently leans on the end of the leash anytime I don't move the direction he want to go as fast as he wants to go.

By the time we returned from Austin, the anti-inflammatories and chondritin supplements seemed to have helped substantially. Willie's back to full speed now. Thank goodness?

Another bit of action going on around here is planning for the "Let's Do It" Mission Weekend *click here and scroll down). Previously, our church involved the elementary-aged children in a mission project every June (creatively called The Elementary Mission Weekend). This year it gained a new name in honor of Erin. Any of Erin's friends who have completed K-6th grade are invited to participate this year (even if you are not Presbyterian!!). The group will gather at 8:30 on Saturday, June 6 at the church for breakfast and a presentation on childhood cancer by Tammy Raulerson. Following the presentation, the kids and their parents will work on various mission projects at the church, including making lanyards for Erin's on-going project to fund neuroblastoma research. The day will conclude with swimming and pizza at the Thomas Pool Park. Leave me a message or email me if you would like more information for you and your child(ren).

Speaking of lanyards, we have had continued interest in making and selling beaded lanyards, necklaces, and eyeglasses chains:  I'm thinking about Erin's Dream:  Beaded Jewelry Inspired by Erin. To that end, I will have lanyard making workshops on Friday afternoons this summer at my house to build up the inventory for the start of the school year. You are all invited this Friday (May 29) for the kick off at 3:00. Parents are welcome to drop their kids off or stay if they would like to join in. Again, drop me a message or an e-mail if you want more information or if you have questions.

Finally, I am doing a few work-related things, even though I don't have to officially get back to my office until the fall semester starts. I've done a little committee work and some prepping for my fall classes. I am also reviewing a book manuscript for the A&M Press about the family that started the Fritos Company. If you look at the side bar, you will see a trivia question prompted by the first few pages of that manuscript. Vote in the poll, and I will reveal the answer to you next week.

Erin's kindergarten teacher reminded me what a wise-cracking kid she was even as a five year old. Here is Erin's autobiography from Mrs. Borski's 5's class in 2003, just as she was finishing up her initial treatment for NB (You'll note that some things never changed and other's changed significantly. You will also notice what a cradle robber I am):

Erin Channing Buenger is five years old and lives in Bryan. Her favorite restaurant is Gina's. She loves the Laura books, the color green, horses, and the song, "Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot." Her favorite thing at Kindergarten was the Gingerbread Hunt, and she learned the names of all the planets this year. Her favorite place to go on vacation is a farm. Erin's mom, age 60, works at the Business office at A&M, and her dad, age 20, works as the head person at the History office. When Erin grows up she will be 20 and she would like to be a veterinarian and a dog teacher. She thinks she would like to have four kids.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


May 21, 2009

The ripples continue.  Erin's name came up at the Hooding Ceremony for graduate students at the University of North Texas last weekend.  Since she didn't last another twelve or fifteen years to earn her own master's or doctoral hood, we can only appreciate this address as an alternative earned honor.

Commencement Thoughts

Delivered on May 15, 2009, at the Hooding Ceremony at the Graduate School, University of North Texas

by Frances Brannen Vick

I was extremely nervous about speaking to you today. What could someone who started out life writing with a pencil on a Big Chief tablet have to say to people who started out writing on a PC or a MAC, and who wrote your dissertations on the same? To further show my technological ineptitude, I recently bought an iPhone, which I have no hope of conquering before my demise. Answering the blooming thing seems to be impossible at the moment. I could not even retrieve the voicemails that were left when I couldn’t answer the phone until my 14-year-old granddaughter showed me how to do that. What could such a person tell you who are of this new technological age? You are probably sitting out there texting right now, even as I speak, something else I can’t do. My messages come out in some exotic, undecipherable language because I cannot hit the right keys. So what could this archaic woman standing up here with her East Texas twang have to say to you? Thus my nervousness about it.

Then I heard Bob Schieffer say on May 3 that he was honored to be speaking at 3 commencement ceremonies this year and that he was quite eased about it because he knew that absolutely no one pays any attention to what is said at a commencement ceremony. And he is right, of course. I have no idea who spoke at mine or what they said. And rightly so. You are sitting there, as are your family and friends and professors, full of pride with what you have accomplished. You have worked hard to receive these hoods today. What an honor—for both you and for those who have helped you get to this day. So what I have to say is probably not of much consequence.

I do have one story to tell you that I hope will have some relevancy for you—that will strike a chord—and that you may even take away with you. I tell this rather simple story to you who have spent the last few years in intellectual pursuits that have been full of high-flown ideas and packed with thought provoking quests. This story touched me in a way I have not been touched in a long while and I thought the simplicity of it might come as a relief to you after your efforts to acquire your hoods.

Recently a good friend on mine had the terrible misfortune of losing his beautiful, intelligent 11-year-old daughter to cancer. This child, by the way, had been, among other things, an exceptional lobbyist for cancer research in Washington, D.C. She was so exceptional in her lobbying that her Congressman became a good friend and gave a eulogy at her funeral. She had fought cancer since she was five years old. She had done some remarkable things in her short 11 years. She was undaunted by what life had thrown at her. She is really a wonderful role model for the rest of us—an inspiration.

At the celebration of her life, I was taken with the words the minister said her parents had used in describing this incredible young girl. I was taken by it because I was an English teacher at one time and they were speaking my language. They said she was not so much a “noun” like girl, such as: “student,” “friend,” “soccer player,” etc. She was not so much an adjective girl: like “energetic,” “inspiring,” “caring,” “witty,” etc. She was more an action verb: Go. Do. Study. Visit. Play. Research. Make. Persuade. Love. Inspire. So my hope for you newly hooded graduates today is that you will be action verb people like my friend’s daughter. That you, too, will Go. Do. Study. Visit. Play. Research. Make. Persuade. Love. Inspire. What a well-lived life that would be. And what a challenge.

Life is just one adventure after another, if you are lucky. And you never know where you are going to end up. At least that has been my experience. You start out one place and end up somewhere entirely different. For me, it was starting out as an English teacher and ending up in publishing. In retirement I am doing something else altogether with the Texas State Historical Association, and according to my friends almost anything else that strikes my fancy and that I think is going to be fun. And “fun” is a key word here.

What you have done to acquire those hoods today should qualify you to do and be just about anything you want to do and be. You are in a perfect place to be an action verb. What a great future you have before you! And it will be a grand adventure. Keep all your options open and be ready to jump into what opens up for you. Be an action verb. But also HAVE FUN! You should be loving every minute of whatever it is you end up doing.

And one last thing. Do not forget your alma mater. After all, as the old folks used to say, you need to dance with the one who brung you, and, the University of North Texas did bring you to the dance! It brought you to this day of great celebration.

Congratulations to you. You have joined a sterling group of alumni who have gone before you. I salute you all—graduates, families, friends, and particularly the faculty, administration and staff who helped you get here today. Now my challenge to you is to go forth and follow the lead of an inspirational 11 year-old and be an action verb!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


May 20, 2009

Walter and I drove to Austin last night to judge entries in Texas History Day today and tomorrow.  Amazingly, 1013 middle school and high school students thought enough of history to enter through their local competitions and qualify to compete in this state event, with hopes of qualifying for nationals.  AND, this was originally scheduled to take place on a weekend (postponed by swine flu), not during the week when the opportunity to miss class would be a driver.  

I don't have a lot of time to write.  I judged senior high group exhibits this morning. . .who knew that an exhibit on Joseph Stalin could be so compelling?. . .and will judge middle school individual performance this afternoon.  I am hoping that watching dynamic, charismatic middle school students will not be too excruciating.

We also have the great luck to have friends from all over the state in for judging, so tonight promises to be quite relaxing.

Friday, May 15, 2009


May 15, 2009

The Ides of May. I actually had a lot of verbs to choose from today--bow, pluck, run, read, work, bead--but graduation weekend helped me make my choice: thwart.

I always think of Dustin Hoffman and The Graduate on graduation weekend in the spring. I was too young to see it in 1967 when it debuted, but it was one of the earliest grown up movies I got to watch. Somehow, I always remembered the exchange at Benji's graduation party:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?

And so I'm thinking about plastics today. More specifically about all those frustrating plastic containers that I can never open without resorting to the "jaws of life" tools that I keep around. I mean, Holy Mackerel, should you really need three types of cutters to get Polly Pockets out of their packaging? These thoughts crossed my mind last weekend when Sarah Radencic, Erin's science teacher brought Walter and me some gifts. Well, I didn't need special tools to open the tea kettle. I was completely equipped and experienced to open the bottle of wine, but the beautiful Mother's Day cake was a different story. It came in one of those "clam shell" type boxes made out of thick clear plastic, meant to show off the cake, but apparently, leave it hermetically sealed inside for generations.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. After some effort I got into the cake, but instead of devouring the whole thing at once, which I should have done, I took a bit and put the lid securely back on the base. This guaranteed that I would have to fight the good fight the next time I wanted a slice (which I did, leaving a metaphorical trail of blood, sweat, and tears on the counter).

Fast forward to Monday evening, when Walter and I were leaving for the awards ceremony. . .and hit pause for a little background:

We rearranged furniture sometimes in the last couple of weeks, moving Walter's Man Chair back into a prime television viewing spot for the NBA playoffs. It's a couple of feet from the kitchen counter. Shortly thereafter we started finding evidence that someone had been swiping things off the counter when no one was home. The swiped items were always food, not bills or dish towels.

We suspected something was going on, and since Luke is entirely too old, Uma is entirely too fat, and Willie is entirely too disinterested to mooch food off the counter, we figured Teddy was scrambling up the back of the Man Chair and making a desperate leap across to the counter to find goodies. Since then we've been pretty vigilant about putting away tasty morsels and leaving the counter Teddy-proof.

As we left for the awards ceremony, I asked Walter if we should move the cake back to the coffee bar area for safe keeping. He said that there was no way she could get into the container and to leave it.

He was right, but not for lack of trying. Apparently, Teddy did her high wire act from the back of the Man Chair (she's eight inches at the shoulder, the counter is 35 and a half inches high), leaped across onto the counter, noodged the cake onto the floor, and then she and Willie tried to get the better of it by biting it and rolling it. . . through the kitchen, the dining room, and then out into the living room. When we returned, we found it at the foot of the stairs:

As you can see (please click for a closer view), it withstood a three foot drop, alot of sharp teeth, and considerable rolling about. Score: cake container wins! dogs lose! "Drats," said Teddy, "My plans are thwarted."

This week has gone pretty well around Buenger house. Davis has wrapped up his second week in Washington. Walter returned to work on Monday. I've kept busy with a variety of things I have in the works, lunched with friends a few times, attended the Jane Long orchestra concert last night to see my buddies Noah, Abby, and T.J, and watched Colton pull in three blue ribbons, a red, and a white at his track meet this afternoon. Tomorrow I will pick up Elaine and Ian at the Austin airport, and they will be home from Australia for good. Mark, Nico, and Adam will follow on Sunday.

Speaking of running, some of you may be interested in clicking over to Grandpa John's website. He is running across Michigan (the long way. . .top to bottom) to raise money and neuroblastoma awareness. He is doing this for a whole lot of kids who can't do it for themselves.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


May 12, 2009

The incredible staff at Jane Long Middle School keep surprising me with their love and kindness. I went to the end-of-school awards ceremony last Friday

Pause for a moment of explanation: I have asked all of Erin's friends to think of
me like a favorite aunt and invite me to any aunt-worthy occasions, like performances, award ceremonies, or birthdays (for example), since it makes me feel very fulfilled to see Erin's friends and share their lives.

expecting to see all the usual suspects hauling in the awards. I wasn't disappointed. Erin hung out with the coolest kids, all of whom really groove on taking care of their business at school. What I wasn't expecting was to receive awards for Erin: a certificate for making the honor roll every time this year and another for maintaining above a 92 average in all her classes for the entire year.

Last night, Erin joined some of her classmates as they were inducted into the National Junior Honor Society at Jane Long. I just know she would have burst a seam. It was so her kind of event: a little pomp, a little circumstance, a lot of photo ops and hugs. Very meaningful to me and Walter, and bittersweet, as well.

Besides these two surprises, other folks have taken the appeal to Let's Do It! to heart. Last week Rachel Atwell sent me this email (and a photo saluting Erin, Christi Thomas, and another child that got lost somewhere on my hard drive. . .Rachel can you send it again?):

I'm an Erin fan from London (you might remember me from the Erin Project- I was the London girl who sent you the picture from the London Marathon last year!) and in a couple of hours time I will be a running in a 5km race for Cancer Research UK.

On Saturday, Clayton Sue and Ellen Benson did the ultimate: a mother/daughter triathalon, and sent this pic with the following message (which coincidentally leads me to ask the following philosophical question: which takes more guts, competing in a triathalon or letting a friend post your photo on the web in spandex and no make up? Either way you are super in my book!) :

Ralph has been working on a design that represents Erin that maybe we can use for different things and he tried it out on us at the tri. The butterfly is actually an E and a B for Erin Buenger. The antennae is supposed to look like an upside down cancer ribbon. Anyway, we thought they looked great!

I also received a link to a video that Rose Eder thought Erin would appreciate. I include it here because I think we will all appreciate it:

For any of you book-y types, I have added a link to my current reading selections on the left ribbon (you can roll the cursor over the book jackets so that you can actually see the titles, authors, and book summary). Comments and suggestions welcomed!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Slip Up

May 11, 2009

Thank you for sharing a laugh with me about the Mother of the Year award, and for the other gentle messages I received from you this weekend. I appreciated all of them, though I would have traded any one of them for a warning that the postal rates went up today, leaving me needing to buy a boatload of two cent stamps to pair up with my lovely 42 cent stamps of Wyoming (truly one of Erin's favorite places in the world, once she got over sharing that love with Wyoming's best known resident, former VP Cheney). Yes, before you say it, I did invest in a whole lot of "forever" stamps (they have liberty bells on them), but on the advice of Elaine, who really chewed me out for even considering to use my usual flag stamps, I bought a quantity of "meaningful" and "beautiful" stamps that I thought I could use up before the deadline. Oops. Letter writing never goes as fast as you think it will, nor do you ever start as quickly as you plan (I think these are both corollaries to the Law of Term Papers).

So, my mom and I did some meaningful things together yesterday. We went to church and lunch together (Gina's had a complimentary chocolate fountain and dippable strawberries for those of you who don't care for your chocolate straight up in a shot glass or tumbler.). We picked up three wheel barrows full of sticks and branches in the back yard that had blown down in recent storms to make way for the lawn mower. We also proved ourselves a few trumps short of a winning hand.

My mom, Super LTA (library technical assistant?), reads more than anyone I know. Every once in a while (usually on a weekend), she finds herself bereft of reading material and comes to my house to scrounge around for a book she hasn't read. Over lunch we had discussed a book that we had both thought she had already read, but as luck would have it she had skipped over it and read the next one in the series. I had bought it and read it and thought she would like it, so I told her to stop over later and get it.

So, it was no surprise when she came over later and asked for it. In fact, she said, "Just tell me where it is, and I won't interrupt what you are involved in."

Had I known, I would have told her, but I didn't . Since we have book shelves and nooks tucked all over the house, I just told her I would go and grab it for her. I went to the most logical place, then the next most logical place, then the third most logical place. No luck. I probed from room to room, ending up checking shelves in Erin and Davis's rooms. No luck. Eventually, I went back to the most logical place, and it had not magically appeared. I'm thinking, OMG, I'm actually going to have to clean my house from top to bottom because I have set a book down that I just finished reading about ten days ago, and it has sunken into the morass my house has become and completely disappeared. My mom was patient with me, and before leaving, asked casually if I might have lent it to someone. I told her I didn't think so, but maybe I had and had completely forgotten.

She went back home, and I returned to my desk.

About twenty minutes later the phone rang. My mom told me I had lent the book to someone. . .her.

She told me I could write about how both of us were slipping in our golden years, but only if I put a very flattering photo of her up with the story.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


May 9, 2009

Erin is not the only one in the family to rake in awards.  Thanks to Lara Weberling for the nomination.  

(Apologies for the firewall problems with this video earlier.  I think it is fixed now, but let me know if it isn't.)

And if I were honest I would have chosen a different verb for the title of this post, perhaps chortle or guffaw.

Friday, May 8, 2009


May 8, 2009

Relay for Life. We will join the hundreds (thousands?) of good folks from the Brazos Valley who will gather tonight at the high school stadium to honor and remember their friends and family members who have had cancer.

Some of our friends organized a special memorial for Erin. Here's the way they put it on Facebook:

We will have a lap in honor of Erin at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, May 8. We are inviting all of Erin's family and friends to join us in a lap at Relay to celebrate her life and remember her. We know Erin loved green - so be sure and wear your green for her!

Everyone that wants to participate in Erin's lap should gather at the Field House at 8:15. We will take our lap at 8:30.

Please note: this lap won't officially be announced. So, we need to spread the word and let everyone that might want to participate know that we are doing this. Then, just gather at the Field House around 8:15. We'll take our lap for Erin at 8:30. See you then!!

I don't know if Walter and I would have made it out to Relay this year, but not for this special gathering of Erin fans. As it is, I will bring a handkerchief or two or six. The year that Erin was the honorary co-chair, and every year after that we attended, she would start off with the other survivors for the opening lap, but unlike everyone else, she and Nico would run the survivors lap. Every year she ran or walked 20 or more laps (depending on how long I would let her stay). Even the year I let her get up to 26 laps (six and a half miles), I had to force her, under duress, to get in the car and go home to bed. If you are a local, consider this your invitation to join us tonight to celebrate and remember the spirit of Erin and all of those dear to us who have faced cancer.

Here's Erin her first year at relay with my nephew Mark who survives lymphoma.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


May 6, 2009

I can't believe I missed a Cinco de Mayo post opportunity yesterday. For years, Erin, Nico, and I spent Cinco de Mayo (a rather regionalized holiday) at the Ronald McDonald House, eating some sort of volunteer-provided Mexican casserole, followed by a super-secret, no-moms-allowed craft project which always turned up the following Sunday or so as a special Mother's Day gift. This year, I didn't even think of the brave Mexican soldiers who defeated the much better armed French at whatever battle that was.

For those of you keeping track, Davis made it to DC last Sunday, found his lodgings, and immediately noticed how many bike lanes the city had. Poor Ruby, stuck in his closet here at home, until Davis's parents wend their way up to the northeast to reunite them and move them both up to Rochester for the rest of the summer. Drop me a note, if you know of a trustworthy pawn shop in the DC area that Davis might buy a decent road bike for the intervening time, OR if you live in the area and might lend him one with a tall frame for the month of May.

Walter and I are finding different ways to reflect on Erin and continue to love her. We have walked Willie, Teddy, Luke, and Uma to within an inch of their lives (a quick trip for the ancient Luke, but a pretty long journey for the vital and intrepid Willie) because walking the dogs is a pretty good setting for sharing time and thoughts with each other. I have also spent time in Erin's room (we should all have such spacious and well-appointed digs at some point in our lives). I listen to audio books (P.D. Wodehouse's Jeeves books currently) while I take care of correspondence and generally lay eyes on all the many aspects of Erin's personality represented in the treasures she kept. One thing I came across the other days reminded me of how opinionated she was about certain things. She had a notebook that she used in the last week or so of her life to write down thoughts she had (so that I would always know the exact plan, even if I wasn't in the room when she made the plan) about what was going to happen next. So the three pages of notes that she written about the trip to St. Joseph's for a red blood and platelet transfusion went something like:

(Page 1) Getting There (in bold across the top):

Column 1:

Pack items on list in next column in green shoulder bag (unless you need the black bag for more room. you can also use both)
Put motor cart in car
Carry my stuff to car
Carry your stuff to car
Carry me to car
Go through circle
Drop me and the stuff off
Meet me in the room
Set up the room (see two maps on next two pages)
Get started

Column 2:

To Pack:
4 movies, including Last of the Mimzies
whatever you need

The next two pages had detailed maps of how to arrange the beds, tables, chests, and chairs: option one if we got a single room and option two if we got a double room. It included instructions like: "Rotate bedside tray table parallel to bed with space for my chair in between the table and the bed. Pull out food tray extension. Make sure the lower side faces me. That is easier!"

I really don't think of her as imperious, but she did always have a plan.

Much like the Trappist monks, sworn to a vow of silence, in the following video had a plan to sing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus (note to self: oops that didn't turn into as smooth a transition as I had hoped). By the way, this composition, indeed the entire Messiah, debuted on April 13, 1742. Two hundred and sixty-seven years, to the day, of Erin's memorial service. She would have thought this video was worth six minutes of your time. Thanks Marsha!

Monday, May 4, 2009


May 4, 2009

My niece, Loren Thornburg, has an e-mail ministry. She shares her personal reflections by email with Loren fans across the country and world. Here's an excerpt from her mailing a couple of weeks ago.

Unlikely Hero

You’re My Hero

You fight when there’s reason to run

You’re brave when there’s reason to fear

You go when there’s reason to stop

…You’re my hero

You believe even though it’s hard

You try even though you might fail

You play even though it hurts

…You’re my hero

You smile because you’re alive

You dance because you can

You dream because there’s hope

…You’re my hero

You live and never stop loving

You reach out and never stop caring

You push for more and never stop inspiring

…You’re my hero

My life is forever changed

The way it was no longer enough

I won’t, I can’t be the same

…You’re my hero

Heroes are those people whose lives call to ours. Their story speaks so loudly to our own we are ignited in such a way that we will never be the same. I have found that some of my greatest heroes are not world famous, they don’t hold a prestigious position or have great wealth. In fact the older I get it seems the people I want to be like when I grow up are getting younger. Because of these heroes how I lived, the way it was, is no longer good enough and so is true because of 11 year old Erin Buenger. Diagnosed at 5 with cancer, battling this disease for 82 months she fought without fear. Not because it was easy, but because she could. She could still smile, love, fight, encourage, believe, hope and live and that’s exactly what she did. When I think about Erin, mediocre is no longer good enough. The circumstances that once defined my life become not smaller because others are going through worse, but they become less powerful. I am reminded of her smile, her energy, her life in the middle of it and that calls to me, it speaks to me, it ignites me to more and now I won’t, I can’t be the same. . .


Thanks, Loren. You light the fire.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


May 2, 2009

And sometimes the only thing to do is sweat. . . which is the upside to living in central Texas in late spring and owning a large lawn.

NOTE BENE:  only a connoisseur can discern the taste difference between tears and sweat.

NOTE BENE DUO:  no, I will not mow your yard, too.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Unpack and Pack

May 1, 2009

Not nearly as inspiring as, well, "inspire" but totally necessary, and slightly more interesting than the other verbs I used today: pay (as in pay bills) and argue (as in argue with both my bank and AT&T about why I had a $260 EFT to AT&T from my account that I didn't authorize and that AT&T claims it has no record of).

Davis put his semester in the recycling bin and headed home to the microplex last night. Fortunately for him, he had the full volume of my van, less the driver's seat, to hold his one-semester collection of stuff that needed a lift home. Today he has spent some part of the day sort things to store for the summer or take with him when he leaves on Sunday.

I think the range of items he has to pack is relatively small. For one thing, he's sharing space with three other guys (sadness of sadness, there is no room for Ruby) and for another, he has to wear a coat and tie to work every day. Don't worry, Walter and I are planning a road trip to the northeast towards the end of the month to reunite Davis and Ruby and change out his dress clothes for the more casual wardrobe suited for a math intern.

Erin has been keeping me company for most of the week. I really needed her today when I was looking for a particular photo of Davis and Robbie for The Report. She had a great head for that sort of detail and over the years I just used her as an extra memory card. Now that I have lost my memory card, I have to do manual backups on everything.

For your planning purposes, locals should note that her friends have planned the following event at Relay for Life, one week from today (Thank you Jennifer for organizing this memorial!):

A Lap to Honor Erin Buenger

We will have a lap in honor of Erin at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, May 8. We are inviting all of Erin's family and friends to join us in a lap at Relay to celebrate her life and remember her. We know Erin loved green - so be sure and wear your green for her!

FErin's Lap - Relay For Life will be held at Bryan High School's Merrill Green Stadium (a.k.a. Viking Stadium). Everyone that wants to participate in Erin's lap should gather at the Field House at 8:15. We will take our lap at 8:30.

Please note: this lap won't officially be announced. So, we need to spread the word and let everyone that might want to participate know that we are doing this. Then, just gather at the Field House around 8:15. We'll take our lap for Erin at 8:30. See you then!!