News, updates, and happenings with the Kragnes family: Phil, our Seeing Eye Dogs, and (me) Rebecca.

Great Day Take 2.

Last Thursday January 21 was one of the best days I’ve had in a very long time. Even though chronologically, they happened in reverse, I’m going to write about the main events which made the day so good in the order of great and greater. Thursday evening, I attended the University of Minnesota’s 35th anual MLK tribute concert. It included a cappella group Committed and, a jazz singer, Chicago native Pippi Ardennia who now calls the Twin Cities her home base. I’d been to see Committed in 2012 when they sang for that year’s MLK tribute, so I knew what to expect. They surprised us with an a cappella version of one of my favorites of 2015, Uptown Funk to start the show. In addition to their a cappella arrangements, individual members had solos of songs reflecting Dr. King’s message. Adele’s Hello and other current songs were performed, but the biggest surprise of the evening came toward the end ofthe concert. One of the singers acknowledged his girlfriend and asked her to come to the stage. Then he revised the words of the last song to include something about her making him the happiest man, and … he proposed to her getting down on one knee and everything. The whole performance was rock solid, but that was the most emotional moment of their show. I was only sorry Phil wasn’t with me. It seems proposing during concerts is becoing a bit of a pattern. Two friends of ours who took us to the Stevie Wonder concert last year became engaged that night.
The opening act was my biggest surprise, as I’ve never heard her. Jazz isn’t usually my thing, but something about the way she drew in her audience and encouraged participation really resonated with me. She also had a brilliant pianist, and I marvelled at both of their talents. In style, I’d compare her to a young Della Reese. She and her pianist made some innovative jazzy arrangements of songs I wouldn’t have expected. Rain Drops Keep Falling On my Head was one example. I bought a CD with this arrangement on Amazon the next day and played it on my Keyboard Kaleidoscpe Internet radio show. I was listening to headphones and waiting for a ride when Pippi came to me saying she could hear me sing from where I was in the fourth row. She also told me she could feel my energy, and I was really into it. She gave me a big hug, and as I promised, we are now Facebook friends. I am no jazz pianist, but I hope someday we’ll meet again. I can never have too many fellow musician friends. As wonderful as the evening was, it pales in comparison to earlier that day. Right before leaving town for Phil’s mom’s memorial service, I got an email from Triumph Technology an adaptive technology dealer in town. When Phil brought up the same email, I told him I was salivating over the braille displays. Phil encouraed me to go take a look at them. I didn’t think with all ofthe medical bills, we could afford it. He and I agreed on a limit, and Thursday afternoon I arrived at Triumph Technology’s office in Columbia Heights. I gave Earle our price point, and he showed me this beautiful machine on which I’m typing right now. Google “Smart Beetle”, and you’ll see a red machine with white keys and 14 black refreshable braille cells. It bluetooths with my iPhone, and su.enly what’s on the screen is under my fingers. I type, and it appears on the screen. Speech is wonderful, but there’s nothing like being able that see writing under my fingers. It also allows me to multi-task without having speech get in the way of enjoying the music as I do so. It’s hard to tell you how cool this is, but maybe a good analogy would be having blindcak and white pictures and su.enly being able to see them in color. It’s more realistic. I’ve figured most of it out myself and am still learning. My writing still may not be perfect, but with two methods of checking it, the writing should be better.         

I couldn’t believe how smoothly things went Friday morning once we got to the airport. We were slowed down a little by the friend driving us forgetting something important for the trip, but it didn’t take long to get it right. The flight to Baltimore didn’t involve any plane changes, so once we were in our seats, I could relax. We had a third person in our row from Atlanta to Baltimore, who was pretty gracious about my big self and the small space.
Phil’s middle sister (of the three) Janice and her husband Tom met us and were basically our drivers throughout the trip. It made it easier getting the transfer chair routine down and being acquainted with one car. We were late for dinner Friday night, but it was wonderful, as were all the meals. I can’t believe how much eating we did! After dinner, more family arrived, and we all trooped up to our suite where there was plenty of space for people to spread out and hang out. Phil, his sisters, and some of the nieces and nephews went through photo albums and other memory pieces related to Anna. I hung out in the living room where family members went in and out. Someone told us later that Phil’s Dad Earl just sat and smiled at all of the goings-on. Phil’s oldest sister Kathy took him on a tour of the suite after some people had left. I knew I’d forget half the stuff, and that’s the kind of stuff Phil’s memory holds like a steel trap. Over the weekend, I had to ask Phil multiple times where things were, so I’m glad he got the tour — not me.
Phil’s youngest sister (of the three) Cheryl set us up with doughnuts, yogurt, and OJ for breakfast. She also had yummy baking for us and this huge tin of popcorn of three different kinds for me. (I crave popcorn, but Phil can’t have it due to his tendency to get diverticulitis(.
On the way to the church, Janice casually mentioned that they’d forgotten to ask me to play piano and wished they would have. I indicated it wasn’t too late, especially when I learned the minister (a woman with a fabulous voice) was singing “On Eagles’ Wings”. That song originated in the Catholic tradition, so I knew it very well. The Minister (whose name was also Cheryl), practiced with me, and we seemed perfectly in sync. Because of Anna’s love of plants, Phil requested I play Seal’s Kiss From a Rose, a song family and many people in the congregation recognized.
Janice and the male former pastor of this church had readings from 2 Corinthians and Ecclesiastes respectively. We did a call and response on the 23rd psalm along with other prayers, and Phil’s two sisters Kathy and Cheryl made presentations. Phil was last and incorporated a lot of humor in his talk. Then Cheryl the pastor had a sermon or “Message of Hope” which made me definitely decide I was coming back the next day to hear more. I recorded a lot of the talks and Janice’s reading. 
The family Internment service and pictures were touching, and I know many of you have seen a picture or two from this time on Facebook. The weather was sunny with temperatures in the forties and fifties that day. At home the negative temperatures had set in. No one wore black, and I made it a point to where green after finding out in recent days that Anna and I shared this favorite color. I had a necklace with a domino, and it reminded me of Phil and I playing dominoes with Anna and Earl.
There were two receptions, and both had tons of food! At the church, we talked more to family and met a few friends of Phil’s sisters’. The reception at Asbury (the retirement village where they lived and our’ suite was located) was mostly Earl’s friends and one or two workers who had helped him cut through a lot of red tape in terms of government forms for Anna’s care during the last years of her Dementia. From that reception, it was time for dinner, and yep, we ate again! Saturday night was a time for rest, because it had been a super long day for everyone.
Sunday morning Phil awoke me with “Good Morning Mrs. Kragnes”, and it made me realize I was now the only Mrs. Kragnes.I could get up later, because church didn’t start until 11. By then, we discovered just how backed the drain could be and how much it flooded the bathroom. Phil got ready for lunch while we were at church. The pastor Cheryl had another powerful message, and I felt honored that the musician who did the rest of the music at the Memorial service plus at church Sunday was effusive with his compliments. He wouldn’t have had to come over and say anything at all. The music was great, but when the last song was dedicated to the Kragnes family, my tears started again. My tears surprised me, because I really didn’t expect them. I wasn’t as connected to Anna as the rest of them, but it made me realize how much more I need to talk to my own mom. Lunch was the last meal with the whole family together, as some had to go in different directions. Throughout the whole weekend but especially at this lunch, so many memories were shared. The siblings broke out in songs Anna taught them, and somehow the song called “The Prayer” came up. So did the Mrs. Kragnes conversation. It seemed to be more of a celebration, even though there were tears, too. For the next couple hours, Kathy and Cheryl read some of Anna’s memory album pieces like report cards, newspaper articles, high school awards and certificates, and what we really looked forward to hearing — Earl’s love letters to Anna.
It was a nice transition to our friends, a blind couple Jane and Patrick Sheehan showing up. Phil’s sister Cheryl showed them to the suite, and then family said goodbye. The four of us talked about all kinds of things the way blind people do when we get together. We showed them our phone cases, and Phil showed them the lanyards he makes called Pals (Phil’s Adjustable Lanyards). Phil and I both got our dog fix from Jane’s 9-year-old Yellow Lab guide Nugget who was just a lover and a half. He hadn’t been fed, so they only stayed maybe an hour and a half or so before starting home.
We planned to have ham sandwiches for lunch the next day with Janice and Tom before they took us back to the airport, but Phil and I felt like ham sandwiches Sunday night. The outlet for the toaster wasn’t exactly cooperating with me, and by this time, I was really starting to crave being home with its familiar surroundings and placement of things.
After a morning of showering, gathering, and packing, we had lunch and made it to the airport a little later than planned but in plenty of time for our flight. During our layover at Midway, the walk from one concourse to the other end of a second concourse was pretty long, but I was grateful for Kimberly the helper who made it tolerable. There were no chairs at our gate, so I sat in a wheelchair. It was another full flight, but this time, we chatted with an art professor from Minnesota State Mankato all the way home. I friended her on Facebook, and we ran into her one more time at baggage claim just long enough to confirm we both knew a former professor at Mankato. 
Finding the friend who drove us home was no problem, but we thought we had a serious problem on our hands when Phil couldn’t find his keys in his carry-on. I didn’t bring mine, because I thought I’d lose them. Luckily he spotted them in one of many pockets. We asked our friend to right a check which was overdue, because we had no reader. We were dismayed to see our last reader hadn’t written any of the checks he told us about, so we had a few more things to contend with. Still, it felt so good to be back in our own environment. 

Trip for Phil’s mom’s memorial serviceI couldn’t believe how smoothly things went Friday morning once we got to the airport. We were slowed down a little by the friend driving us forgetting something important for the trip, but it didn’t take long to get it right. The flight to Baltimore didn’t involve any plane changes, so once we were in our seats, I could relax. We had a third person in our row from Atlanta to Baltimore, who was pretty gracious about my big self and the small space.Phil’s middle sister (of the three) Janice and her husband Tom met us and were basically our drivers throughout the trip. It made it easier getting the transfer chair routine down and being acquainted with one car. We were late for dinner Friday night, but it was wonderful, as were all the meals. I can’t believe how much eating we did! After dinner, more family arrived, and we all trooped up to our suite where there was plenty of space for people to spread out and hang out. Phil, his sisters, and some of the nieces and nephews went through photo albums and other memory pieces related to Anna. I hung out in the living room where family members went in and out. Someone told us later that Phil’s Dad Earl just sat and smiled at all of the goings-on. Phil’s oldest sister Kathy took him on a tour of the suite after some people had left. I knew I’d forget half the stuff, and that’s the kind of stuff Phil’s memory holds like a steel trap. Over the weekend, I had to ask Phil multiple times where things were, so I’m glad he got the tour — not me.Phil’s youngest sister (of the three) Cheryl set us up with doughnuts, yogurt, and OJ for breakfast. She also had yummy baking for us and this huge tin of popcorn of three different kinds for me. (I crave popcorn, but Phil can’t have it due to his tendency to get diverticulitis(.On the way to the church, Janice casually mentioned that they’d forgotten to ask me to play piano and wished they would have. I indicated it wasn’t too late, especially when I learned the minister (a woman with a fabulous voice) was singing “On Eagles’ Wings”. That song originated in the Catholic tradition, so I knew it very well. The Minister (whose name was also Cheryl), practiced with me, and we seemed perfectly in sync. Because of Anna’s love of plants, Phil requested I play Seal’s Kiss From a Rose, a song family and many people in the congregation recognized.Janice and the male former pastor of this church had readings from 2 Corinthians and Ecclesiastes respectively. We did a call and response on the 23rd psalm along with other prayers, and Phil’s two sisters Kathy and Cheryl made presentations. Phil was last and incorporated a lot of humor in his talk. Then Cheryl the pastor had a sermon or “Message of Hope” which made me definitely decide I was coming back the next day to hear more. I recorded a lot of the talks and Janice’s reading. The family Internment service and pictures were touching, and I know many of you have seen a picture or two from this time on Facebook. The weather was sunny with temperatures in the forties and fifties that day. At home the negative temperatures had set in. No one wore black, and I made it a point to where green after finding out in recent days that Anna and I shared this favorite color. I had a necklace with a domino, and it reminded me of Phil and I playing dominoes with Anna and Earl.There were two receptions, and both had tons of food! At the church, we talked more to family and met a few friends of Phil’s sisters’. The reception at Asbury (the retirement village where they lived and our’ suite was located) was mostly Earl’s friends and one or two workers who had helped him cut through a lot of red tape in terms of government forms for Anna’s care during the last years of her Dementia. From that reception, it was time for dinner, and yep, we ate again! Saturday night was a time for rest, because it had been a super long day for everyone.Sunday morning Phil awoke me with “Good Morning Mrs. Kragnes”, and it made me realize I was now the only Mrs. Kragnes.I could get up later, because church didn’t start until 11. By then, we discovered just how backed the drain could be and how much it flooded the bathroom. Phil got ready for lunch while we were at church. The pastor Cheryl had another powerful message, and I felt honored that the musician who did the rest of the music at the Memorial service plus at church Sunday was effusive with his compliments. He wouldn’t have had to come over and say anything at all. The music was great, but when the last song was dedicated to the Kragnes family, my tears started again. My tears surprised me, because I really didn’t expect them. I wasn’t as connected to Anna as the rest of them, but it made me realize how much more I need to talk to my own mom. Lunch was the last meal with the whole family together, as some had to go in different directions. Throughout the whole weekend but especially at this lunch, so many memories were shared. The siblings broke out in songs Anna taught them, and somehow the song called “The Prayer” came up. So did the Mrs. Kragnes conversation. It seemed to be more of a celebration, even though there were tears, too. For the next couple hours, Kathy and Cheryl read some of Anna’s memory album pieces like report cards, newspaper articles, high school awards and certificates, and what we really looked forward to hearing — Earl’s love letters to Anna.It was a nice transition to our friends, a blind couple Jane and Patrick Sheehan showing up. Phil’s sister Cheryl showed them to the suite, and then family said goodbye. The four of us talked about all kinds of things the way blind people do when we get together. We showed them our phone cases, and Phil showed them the lanyards he makes called Pals (Phil’s Adjustable Lanyards). Phil and I both got our dog fix from Jane’s 9-year-old Yellow Lab guide Nugget who was just a lover and a half. He hadn’t been fed, so they only stayed maybe an hour and a half or so before starting home.We planned to have ham sandwiches for lunch the next day with Janice and Tom before they took us back to the airport, but Phil and I felt like ham sandwiches Sunday night. The outlet for the toaster wasn’t exactly cooperating with me, and by this time, I was really starting to crave being home with its familiar surroundings and placement of things.After a morning of showering, gathering, and packing, we had lunch and made it to the airport a little later than planned but in plenty of time for our flight. During our layover at Midway, the walk from one concourse to the other end of a second concourse was pretty long, but I was grateful for Kimberly the helper who made it tolerable. There were no chairs at our gate, so I sat in a wheelchair. It was another full flight, but this time, we chatted with an art professor from Minnesota State Mankato all the way home. I friended her on Facebook, and we ran into her one more time at baggage claim just long enough to confirm we both knew a former professor at Mankato. Finding the friend who drove us home was no problem, but we thought we had a serious problem on our hands when Phil couldn’t find his keys in his carry-on. I didn’t bring mine, because I thought I’d lose them. Luckily he spotted them in one of many pockets. We asked our friend to right a check which was overdue, because we had no reader. We were dismayed to see our last reader hadn’t written any of the checks he told us about, so we had a few more things to contend with. Still, it felt so good to be back in our own environment. 

My blog is going to be really busy this week. Just a warning. I have things to write about our trip, the new radio station situation, and maybe something else. Right now though, I want to tell you about a very short trip I had to make and from which I just returned.

I had to go to the bank for a couple reasons, but one was more urgent. Phil can’t use his Gofer bus card on Metro which means that despite coupons going away, we’ll continue to get a big quantity of $1 bills to pay for rides. I came home to discover that after his cash this morning, we had $2 in $1 bills left. So off to the bank I went. I had something scheduled, so I knew it had to be a quicker trip than Metro Mobility cabs would have supplied. Therefore, I called our regular taxi company. On the way there, I offered my driver Mohammad the option of a round trip, since my business would only take five to ten minutes. He said he couldn’t do that, because he had to pick up his kids. I paid my fare, but had no change for a tip. This is when he told me if I could wait twenty minutes, he could come back. Mohammad was as good as his word. I conducted my business and came back out, when someone said my driver was waiting. Then we got home. I should say here my short term memory is horrible because of the medication I take. When I pulled out my wallet, I wanted to double the fee, since I made two trips plus add a tip for both. I’d already forgotten that I paid him the first time. Mohammad could have taken the money, and I wouldn’t have realized the error, but he was honest and reminded me of my previous payment. I was very impressed and plan to make a report to his company. 

Lost and Found

This weekend’s gospel reading at church was about Jesus staying in the temple area, while Mary and Joseph started home thinking Jesus was with other relatives in their caravan. They returned and found Jesus there, and despite their worry about loosing him, he really wasn’t that apologetic.
I listened to an ABC podcast about a man who fathered twins and then they and their mother disappeared for 40 years. The man and his twins were reunited, and tears streamed down my face, as I heard the reunion.
I have an uncanny ability to lose things, despite my good intentions. Luckily, I’m married to Phil who has the uncanny ability to find lost things. I recently lost a pair of sound activated light-up glasses I wear for my performances. Because of how they were plugged in to be charged, both of us had a feeling they were behind our bed, but between Phil’s injured arms from some successful skin cancer surgery and my arms which were too big to get between the slats, we didn’t know how we were going to retrieve them. A couple of weeks ago, Phil pulled out the night stand and somehow got them out, along with something else I lost. I don’t even remember what that was anymore.
Then there was the “wearable art”, a trinket with sound activated lights Phil gave me around the same time as the glasses. It was gone for months, and then there was this little nudge which said, “Open the bottom nightstand drawer, and look one more time”. Of course, there it was! I was used to the nudges from God telling me to play a particular song. I had several experiences in which someone comes up and names that song as something they needed to hear after I received a nudge to play that particular song.. But it’s rare that I have the nudge tell me exactly where to find something. When I lose things, I tend to simmer, particularly if I drop them, and they roll. Phil gets super loud and cusses out his frustration saying it helps him get rid of it before bending down to find the lost object.
Without a dog, I feel lost sometimes. I feel clumsy and dislike accidentally tripping or hitting someone with my cane. Then there are those situations when we realize just how much a dog does. I was traveling with a friend and his guide dog in the lead. I was unfamiliar with the block, but I usually do OK with my cane trailing buildings if they are there. I didn’t realize the sidewalk jogged in under a building, until I could barely keep both feet on the sidewalk, because it became so narrow! Fortunately a police officer got me straightened out and helped me get through the jog and out from under the building. My friend’s dog just took care of the jog without having to be coached. These incidents make me look forward to the day I’ll hold a harness and not encounter the obstacles I do today with my cane. 
Throughout December, we had something we lost, which didn’t become apparent to us until Saturday night. For the past two winters, we’ve hired a wonderful snow shoveler named Ray to shovel our front and back walks, ramp,, deck and driveway. We thought we heard him out there during the very small snows we had, only to be frustrated when nothing was done at all. Phil and I were getting frustrated with the situation and a little with each other too. Finally he asked me to go check to see whether the cash we left at the beginning of the month had been taken from its spot. We found the cash and found the problem when calls were no longer taken at Ray’s number. So then we had a new problem on our hands. Who were we going to hire to take care of our snow? I sent some texts, but then Phil had a fabulous idea! He’d spoken at an alternative high school in the area, so he called the friend of a friend who asked him to speak. Not only did Phil’s speaker recruiter promise to look for high school students in our area. He and his wife needed to walk their dog and came to our place. They took care of the little snow from yesterday, and Phil and I had a little fur to stroke. Most promising of all, we may have found some neighborhood friends, as the couple live only five blocks from us. They already texted us to get a date for dinner and then games at our house.
There are several things on the horizon about which I’m really worried! but there’s only so much I can do to help these situations. I keep having to remind myself of the “lost-andfound cycles”, and that I’m currently in the lost part. After doing all I can do to make it work, it’s really God who gives me the nudges or sends police officers, friends, and eventually dogs to help us go from lost to found.

Kragnes Christmas Card

“How do we begin?” we ask. “Where do we start”To talk about 2015 without a song to impart?

Lines of “all we want for Christmas are Seeing Eye Dogs just won’t do,

But with this rhyme we’ll try to summarize this year for you.

Maybe if we’re quick about it, maybe if we’re fast,

It won’t feel like the eternity we’ve lived to read of this year past.”
Phil’s now a double amputee and spent most of the year healing.

But the sore on his leg is the physical wound, not the grief that he is feeling.

Three days before Phil came home, his guide dog Garron died.

He acted fine and touched so many, despite the cancer inside.

Zane was a major comfort in the months of Phil’s home stay,

But when Phil went back to work, Zane also went away.

He retired with a friend and is doing well while at his new home base.

With a younger Black Lab “brother”, we know he’s in a good place!
The Kragnes house feels so empty now without at least four paws,

But it’s out in public we feel less sure, and there’s a double cause.

The cane or wheelchair aren’t preferred for ways we’d like to travel,

   How the public treats us without our guide dogs makes our spirits unravel.
On December 14 Phil’s mom went home to be with her Lord,

Where her memory gone for years is sure to be restored.

But memories of Anna with friends and family live on,

And will be shared for years to come although her spirit has gone.  
Phil’s adjustable Lanyards or “PALs” are currently his pastime.

PALs may turn into more than a hobby, maybe a little sideline.
Rebecca still does her music at The Malt Shop and at Church.

She longs to write her songs again and is on the search,

For the creative juices which feel so dry, but one day they will flow.

Perhaps as life improves and steadies it will happen so.
The highlight of 2015 was seeing Stevie Wonder.

That night in March kept us afloat when it felt we were going under.
Rebecca’s Internet Radio shows are now at stations they fit.

It took trying several before finding comfy places to sit.

Peach Tree Radio FM hosts her Keyboard Kaleidoscope,

 Radio For Life hosts Blessing Blend, a Christian show of hope.
And hope is one thing we still have despite the crummy year.

2016 is bound to be better, and it’s almost here!

A friend keeps reminding Rebecca it takes many a baby step.

Rebecca appreciates family and friends for their influx of pep.

Phil got rid of home health care, recently his wound vac.

It’s the first of many baby steps which will bring normalcy back.

Next the wound will completely heal then a new prosthetic limb,

Will allow Phil to walk again! what a joyous day for him!

There are a lot of factors on which it will depend,

When both of us will meet and train with a future furry friend.
Next summer The American Council of the Blind will be in town,

We look forward to seeing friends who attend. We’ll definitely be around! 

Are Advent may be long, and our Christmases be late.

But our Thanksgiving will go beyond the turkey as we wait.

Thanks for the countless favors of our friends and family.

Thanks for the financial support for the ramp on Go Fund Me.

Most importantly for being with us through this rough, tough period,

And listening to our complaints and whines of which there’s been myriad!

Next year this letter will be written from at least one canine.

We’ll go back to a carol with words which fit the song in every line.

We hope your years have been better than the one which we have seen.

Merry Christmas happy solstice, Chanukah, quanza blessed twenty sixteen!

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