My Last Lecture…to You (or What I Wish I Would Have Said) Tuesday, Dec 16 2014 

Last week, I taught my last class to the second year graduate students. Next semester they will all fly the nest and be scattered all over the U.S. completing their externships, the last step in their graduate careers. I have taught these students five separate courses in graduate school, at least one per semester since Day 1 with two courses over the summer. Some of these students I also taught in undergrad for two to three courses and I have known them for four years. I have also supervised them in clinic and helped them grow into speech-language pathologists.

Typically, I teach the graduate students only three courses and the last one wraps up in the summer. It is usually very anti-climatic because summer is so fast and furious, we are all so tired when it is over, and even though we are finished formally spending time in a classroom together, we will still see each other often in the clinic and around the halls. It is just the formality of the classroom that is missing, so it seemed weird to offer any parting thoughts. However, with the end of fall semester and the fact that I won't ever have these students together as a captive audience, I felt the need to attempt to wax eloquently about the time that we have spent together, the wonderful careers that await them, and the joy of being a speech-language pathologist. I was feeling emotional, so I basically rambled in a very inelegant manner, tried not to tear up, and cracked a few jokes. A few students teared up as well, and I got flustered and we just wrapped things up.

 

So, here's what I wish I had said (with apologies to Randy Pausch):

The last day of any class is emotional for me, but it's especially true with graduate students. And even more true this year because of how many classes we have spent together.

I have known some of you for almost four years and the rest of you a year and a half. I saw your nervous, excited faces that first week of graduate school as you wondered what you had gotten yourself into after all of that worrying and fretting about getting into grad school. You had achieved your goal and you were optimistic and confident, but a little anxious about what to expect. You jumped in with both feet and read, answered questions, tentatively began your first clinical assignments. Meanwhile, I was frantically trying to learn your names and a little about you.

Over the weeks, your sense of humor began to emerge. I got to know you in a different way as I worked with you in clinic, chatted with you in the hallway, or met with you in my office. The little cliques borne of familiarity of those who attended the same undergraduate college began to meld and a real camaraderie developed amongst you as a whole. You started to loosen up, become more comfortable with your skills and knowledge, and more open about what you didn't know.

A lot of emotional ground has been covered in this past year and a half. When we work (live?) together in the “garden level” for 40+ hours a week, we get to know each other pretty well. There's been a battle (and victory!) against cancer, as well as some other serious health challenges among your cohort. Some of you have lost family members and walked through that grief even while attending school. You have had your hearts broken. You have been stressed and overwhelmed and not always performed your best. More than a few of you have cried in my office because of tough clinic problems, fear of your abilities, or the general stress of grad school.

But there have been times of joy as well! There have been many, many engagements and quite a few marriages that have occurred during these past four semesters, including an engagement in the department! I have had to keep up with ever-changing last names and remain dazzled at how you got married on a Saturday and turned in a complex assignment the following week. There have been inside jokes, the excitement of seeing your clients “get it,” and the feeling of accomplishment when you “got it.”

 

 

I feel good about your knowledge and skills and confident that you know how to use resources to find out what you don't know. As you go into your externship, you will find out that there is a lot you don't know. That's okay. There is no way for us to teach you everything and no way for you to learn it all. Remember to embrace that cognitive dissonance. That means you are growing and learning. That keeps you on your toes and that makes your career stimulating and interesting. The day that you feel 100% confident in your skills and knowledge is the day that you should retire. The questions and the puzzles are the learning opportunities to embrace because they will stretch you and help you develop into your best self as a clinician.

Also, never forget that you are working with people. You aren't working with that “cleft palate kid” or that “guy with Broca's.” You are working with individuals and their families–real people with dreams, hopes, accomplishments, hurts, and all sorts of feelings. One of my biggest beliefs in life is that all people want two things: (1) to be loved and (2) to have a friend. Communication is essential for being able to develop those relationships. One of my heroes, Helen Keller, was once asked if she had a choice, would she prefer to be blind or deaf? She responded with “Blindness separates people from things. Deafness separates people from people.” You are in the business of giving people a way to communicate with other people–that is the essence of what makes us human. We are social animals, meant to live in community with each other and you get to play a role in faciliating that and making that happen. Don't ever, ever forget what a sacred honor and privilege that is.

As you go on and get your CCCs and start your first jobs, you will find that Medicare red tape, billing, reports, IEPs, and various bureaucractic policies will eat your time and start to steal your joy. Those are necessary evils of the real world and they are also crucial for you to do so that you get a paycheck. However, keep your focus on your clients, your relationship with them, and the ultimate goals of communication. Step back and be grateful that they allow you into their inner circles and that they reveal their soft under-belly to you as they struggle to communicate and allow you to see their weaknesses. Be an advocate for them and a voice when they have none. Be dazzled by the complexity of language, speech, and the messy process of human communication. Be in awe of the brain and its mysteries, knowing that you will never understand it, but seeking to always know more about how it works. Push your clients harder than they think they can endure, but never focus so hard on your own goals that you forget to ask what their goals are. Be humble and admit when you don't know something, but be resourceful and try to find the answer. Do a good day's work, but then leave it at work.

With all the good you are doing in the world, you must take care of yourself and your family first and foremost. Don't give the people you love the most your leftovers. They deserve the best you. Finding that balance is tricky, but make it a priority. For that, I will leave you with the words from one of my favorite contemporary poets, Jane Kenyon. I have this in my office and look at it often:

I am proud of each one of you and so glad that the paths of our lives have intersected.

Go and do great things.

 

 

 

True Confessions: I Suck at Advent Sunday, Dec 14 2014 

So here it is, the third Sunday of Advent, and I am behind in Advent posts and pondering externally and lacking in the peaceful, prayerful preparation internally. Every year I vow to be more organized and more intentional during the period of Advent. And every year I don’t meet my own expectations at the least, and totally fail at most.

ad·vent
ˈadˌvent/ noun

  • the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
  • the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.

I love the whole notion of Advent, the idea of a period of prepration for a notable person and/or event. For the Christian church, this means a 4 week period preparing to celebrate the coming of the Messiah. A time to reflect, ponder, and joyously await that time in which God, the Creator of all, put on human skin and became a helpless, weak infant born to a teenaged virgin and her bewildered fiance. Emmanuel–God WITH us. Fantastical? Yes! But real? Again, yes, I believe! God has a history of using ordinary people (Moses, a man who stuttered, to be His spokesman to the Israelites; David, a mere boy, to defeat the Philistines) to do extraordinary things. Not only is Christmas the second most important holiday in Christianity, but I also like preparing and anticipating. Think back to the “will he or won’t he call?” days of teenagedom–how deliciously exciting! Or when I circled the due dates of both of my sons on the calendar and saw those dates come and go with no baby. When will they decide to be born? The time of of the unknown, when the anticipation is palpable, and the wonderings are all-consuming…that is the sweet spot of Advent.

I minored in English in college and I remember having to read Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats in my Romantic Poetry class. (FYI, romantic poetry is not about romance in the traditional sense–one of the many things I learned in that class). In my early-20s frame of mind, I was especially enamored by this part of one stanza:

Bold Love, never, never canst thou kiss

Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;

She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

For ever wilt though love, and she be fair!

The point of the poem is that all of these scenes are forever etched into this urn and the moments are caught at the supreme pinnacle of anticipation because isn’t the leaning in for that first kiss almost more wonderful than the actual kiss? Isn’t the giddy excitement of Christmas Eve more stimulating the post-Christmas carnage of ripped paper strewn about the floor and the dry tree dripping needles?

I always plan to be very intentional and prayerful during Advent and I start out well. I was following a photo-a-day plan from OccupyAdvent and made it a total of 3-4 days, before not posting a photo and reflecting upon the word and scripture of the day. “I’ll make it up and post twice tomorrow,” I told myself, but then it was the next day and the next, and then it just seemed kind of overwhelming and I missed the boat. Advent was moving forward without me.

I have made mental excuses that Advent comes at a terrible time for a professor. Last Friday I taught my last class and then tomorrow starts finals week. I have had to write exams and now am in the thick of grading lengthy projects, answering emails, and wrapping up the semester. On top of that, there are extra parties and various social gatherings, many of which involve not just the time and energy commitment of attending or hosting, but also the additional cooking that accompanies such events. In addition to that, December is THE birthday month for us. Noah’s 18th birthday was yesterday, my birthday is Thursday, my brother-in-law’s birthday was 12/5, and my dad’s is 12/28. There are special meals to be cooked, desserts to be prepared, gifts to be purchased and wrapped for birthdays, in addition to all of the Christmas festivities. Just to keep things interesting, I’ll be having surgery on Thursday, so I am trying to prepare for that and my subsequent recovery too. Oh! And Adam comes home from college too.

So Advent has taken the backseat. Preparing for and contemplating the meaning of God come to Earth has been placed on the proverbial back burner, but ah…isn’t that just like Advent.

We know that Jesus most likely was not born on December 25. It is an arbitrary date that was picked for the celebration. What we do know is that Jesus was born at a most inconvenient time. Unlike today when people schedule C-sections around vacations and work obligations or ultrasounds alert OBs to necessary inductions, back then babies always came on their own schedules. I can’t imagine how exhausted Mary was after the long, arduous trek to Bethlehem for the census and then how she must have felt to rest her swollen body outside amongst the livestock. It was not a lovely sanitized Hallmark moment of “the cattle are lowing, the Babe He awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” It was the messy business of amniotic fluid and afterbirth amongst the cow dung and donkey urine. Animals were bleating, mooing, whining. Instead of cute onesies and diaper wipe warmers, this baby was wrapped in scraps and put in a feeding trough covered with animal drool. Mary’s breasts were painfully engorged with milk, the newborn was spitting up and crying, and Joseph was confused and feeling helpless. Nothing like this had likely entered Mary’s mental picture when she was told that she was highly favored and that her son would inherit the throne of David.

Maybe the timing of Advent works out after all. Maybe my failure to embrace the season of expectation is really what Advent, and ultimately Christmas, are both all about. God stepping into the mess of humanity when we least expect it and when we are the least prepared…yet He comes into our chaos, He draws us to Him, and takes us where we are and as we are. The One who was born away from home amongst farm animals looks at my pile of grading, the unwritten Christmas cards, and another dinner of leftovers and steps into the mess nonetheless.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

 

It’s All About the Focus Saturday, Dec 6 2014 

After a long, good sleep filled with many dreams that weren't work related, I got up this morning about two hours later than I intended. Normally when I sleep too long I have what I call a “bed-headache” in which I have a dull headache that Advil can't touch and it lasts all day. However, today I feel great, so I must have really needed all that sleep. My plan for this morning was to REALLY clean the house and finish the Christmas decorating. However, I don't have ANY grading today and I don't have any plans until 5:30, so I am taking the day slowly and letting it unravel as it will. Before I start cleaning and finish decorating I am sitting in the living room with a cup of amaretto coffee, listening to my James Taylor and Harry Connick, Jr-laden customized Christmas Spotify playlist. If I look to the left, I see our snow-covered backyard and slightly right of midline is our finally decorated Christmas tree that we adorned with lights and ornaments last night. Noah, one week shy of 18 years old, is still a huge fan of all things Christmas and it was fun for us to put on ornaments together. Due to his 6' 5″ height, he is also very helpful with hanging ornaments without a ladder.

As I sit looking at the decorated tree in the house that has yet to be cleaned, I realized that everything comes down to focus. Attitude, appreciation of beauty, gathering wisdom, worship, priorities, relationships…it all comes down to where we CHOOSE to direct our attention and energies. And it is important to remember that it is ultimately a choice. I think it is what separates the glass half-full people from those lamenting their half-empty glasses.

Yesterday, I spent about 30 minutes at a Christmas party for the Aphasia Group in our clinic. Aphasia is a language disorder that commonly occurs after a stroke in the left hemisphere of the brain, where language is housed. There are diffierent kinds of aphasia, but most of the group had the kind where their comprehension and understanding of language is basically intact, but they can't easily access the language that is in their brains to adequately express themselves through words, either oral or in writing. However, with support from clinicians and their spouses they were about to talk about Christmas plans, which mostly involved looking forward to time with grandchildren. They gave each other time as each one in turn struggled to find the words to express oneself in halting speech. They ate Christmas goodies with their left hands as their right hands typically rested loosely in their laps, unable to move well. My eyes welled up the entire time with tears just at the brim, waiting to spill over as I thought about what a precious community of shared experience, compassion, and understanding this group had created. I was also humbled once again about the privilege and honor that I have as a speech-language pathologist to help people find the words to connect with others—the essence of what makes us human.

I finally had to excuse myself when one of the spouses piped in and shared how blessed this group was. Here were a group of people who had faced a terrifying medical scare, that has impacted their whole bodies in terms of movement and independence, as well as their ability to express themselves and they were all nodding their heads in agreement. They are blessed. At the point the tears started to spill, so I left before it got ugly and I lost control. They were focused on the right things–not what they lost, but what they had.

As I look over at my Christmas tree, I realized that we get to choose what to focus upon and that determines the rest. I can enjoy the lights and the ornaments that have been created or given to us over the years and reflect on the beauty of the tree, the scent of the pine, the glow of the warm light, and the memories that the ornaments evoke…

 

…or I can choose to focus on the dropped pine needles, the ugly and necessary utilitarian tree stand, and the mess that a live Christmas tree creates.

 

 

I think I'll choose the tree, the lights, and the ornaments. A vacuum and tree skirt can cover the ugliness and redirect my focus where it needs to be.

 

 

 

Compassion Fatigue Wednesday, Nov 26 2014 

Since my last post talking about how drained and overwhelmed I have been this semester, I spent the better part of a week in Orlando at the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) National Convention. It's always nice to break away from the usual routine, go to a new place, reconnect with friends from my doctoral program, go to seminars, learn new things, and network. It's also very tiring. I spent 8-10 hours a day learning and teaching, then the evenings are spent talking, connecting, and interacting. To top it off, the convention is always the week before Thanksgiving. What that means is that I work frantically to get ready to miss work for three days and make sure classes and clients are cared for, go the conference, and then come back and play catch up on class prep, grading, emails, and voice mails in the three days before Thanksgiving. Then…we usually have from 6-15 people, many of whom I have never met until that day, to our house for Thanksgiving. Because I have been exhausted this semester, I suggested to the family that we put the kibosh on inviting international and other transplanted students and faculty over for Thanksgiving. Instead, we are just having our little nuclear family of four. The menu is scaled back, we'll eat whenever it's ready with no time constraints, and we may even break bread in our pajamas. It will be laid back and restful. The afternoon will be filled with our traditional outing to a movie, followed by naptime.

We made this decision before I went to ASHA, but it was reconfirmed as being a great decision while I was there. Most of the sessions I went to were about research and evidence-based therapy techniques. However, on Friday I attended a two hour seminar on Compassion Fatigue led by a speech-language pathologist and her social worker sister who specialized in working with people experiencing traumatic stress. It was just what I needed! As the speaker listed the symptoms of compassion fatigue, which is common among those in helping professions, I mentally checked off each and every one. No wonder I am so exhausted and feel like I am treading water. I think I have a double-dose of it because I am emotionally invested in 4+ speech/language therapy clients, as well as over 100 different students. All of those clients and students have different needs, including some fairly involved physical, emotional/psychological, and family issues going on.

 

 

The speaker made the point that we have different kinds of energy to expend: physical, spiritual, sensual (not sexual, but relating to deep connections with others), intellectual, and emotional. Our clients (and students), plug into us as part of our therapeutic/educational interaction which then drains us of our energy. If we aren't consciously refilling, then we can be drained and spent. Although I am very conscious of the need to rest, reflect, and take care of myself and have done a pretty good job of it thus far in my 23 year career, I hit a wall this semester. I felt validated at this session and got some good practical tips on how to better care for myself and prevent burn-out from happening again. Basically, I need to be aware of the energy drains in my day–a challenging client, a difficult meeting with a student, a class that isn't going as planned. Then I need to intentionally plan, schedule, and stick to building “energy lifters” into my day. Humor, beauty , exercise, and prayer are things that build energy. The speaker suggested things like fresh flowers in the office, watching a 5 minute Jimmy Fallon clip at our desks between meetings, taking a brief walk at lunch, etc. These have to be intentionally scheduled each and every day.

I am looking forward to replenishing my energy reserves over this Thanksgiving break and finishing out the rest of the semester intentionally balancing my energy expenditures, by putting some new habits in place.

 

 

 

 

Current State of Affairs Sunday, Nov 9 2014 

It's been almost two months since I last blogged, which makes this one of my longest blogging dry spells since I started on this venture almost 10 years ago. Why haven't I been blogging? Well, there are many reasons. For starters, this semester is kicking my butt. This is my first semester as the graduate advisor and it is a steeper learning curve and more time-consuming than I anticipated. I am starting to find my groove, but it has been quite the challenge! On top of that, I am teaching a new course from scratch and it takes a lot of work to create a new course and to stay (just barely!) ahead of the students. I also tend to teach with a project-heavy bent, versus exams, and projects take much more cognitive energy and time to design and grade than merely writing and scoring a test. I have not done a great job of pacing out projects in my three classes and have been pretty overwhelmed by grading. Add on directing an independent study and advising a thesis, with both groups presenting at our national conference in 10 days, and stringing coherent thoughts together in print seemed just too daunting and simply not very fun. When I get home, I am spent.

I was talking to a colleague about how overwhelmed I have been feeling at work. I never have it all together and frankly, wouldn't know how to act if I did. However, I've also rarely felt this out of control and behind either. I told her that I felt merely adequate. I am being an adequate teacher, adequate clinical supervisor, adequate wife, adequate mother, adequate friend. I don't want to be merely adequate. I want to excel–at least at some of those things, if not all. I feel like I am letting myself down and not being all that I can to those closest to me. However, this is not a “woe is me, I can't do anything right” state of affairs. It merely is what it is. It is a season of life. I know it won't last. We are down one faculty member and we are all working extra to plug the proverbial holes in the dyke and keep things moving forward. I know I will survive this semester and learn good lessons if I take the time to be reflective. I know that I am not majorly disappointing anyone or screwing anything up. I am just not physically or mentally able to keep all of the plates spinning at the same time without some of them waffling and dropping to the floor. And that's okay. Here's my mantra for the remaining third of the semester:

 

 

 

This weekend I am not caught up, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel so I thought I might indulge in a little writing therapy. Oh! And I usually blog on my iPad and my silicone keyboard was not working well. The space bar was sticking, so it took me double the amount of time to type with three times as many spelling errors and typos, so that made it too much work too. I am now typing on my new iPad keyboard with REAL keys and it makes life so much better! I have three things in particular to blog about: my relationship with food-part 2, people watching at a coffee shop, and making friends as an adult. What to pick??

Actually none of those because it will take more time than I want to spend at this point and the preface about why I haven't been blogging has already made this long. So, I'll just tell this brief story.

 

 

Every morning as I drive to work I pass this elderly couple. They are walking south as I am driving north. She carries a pink purse and they both lean forward and walk with purpose. They walk no matter what the weather. It can be raining, snowing, bitter cold, hot, windy–doesn't matter. They are out walking and dressed for the weather. Although I love that this is part of their regular routine, seeing them doesn't evoke warm, fuzzy feelings necessarily. They don't hold hands. She doesn't cling to his arm. They don't even talk or look at each other. They lean forward, stare straight ahead, and walk. Apparently their ultimate goal is McDonalds for coffee because on rare mornings when I go in a little later, they are walking north with McDonalds coffee cups in hand. I like the reliability of it. I wonder why they do it. I wonder if I will notice that one day they aren't walking together. I hope at some point that they talk over their cup of coffee and that maybe their hands touch…and their hearts too.

 

On Perfect Lives and Pity Parties Saturday, Sep 13 2014 

 

There have been quite a few blog posts and magazine articles I have read recently talking about the illusion of perfection that permeates Facebook and other social media sites. There have also been studies that show that people who spend a lot of time on FB are more sad and less fulfilled than those who aren't on FB as much, and it has been suggested that seeing everyone's perfect families and “best exotic vacation EVER!” is to blame. I would venture that it has more to do with constant exposure to a screen, along with watching others live their lives and failing to get out of the recliner and live one's own life.

 

I will say that I do tend to try to post funny or more upbeat things, with the occasional whine or vent. However, my natural bent and personality is one of optimism and joy. I tend to find the beauty in the ashes and see my cup as not only half-full, but overflowing. I also make it an intentional habit to see the good. That doesn't mean that my life is a bed of roses. Sometimes my kids and husband annoy me and I annoy them. I lose my temper. I think and say things that I shouldn't. I have an unreconciled relationship in my life. I don't post these things on social media though (or really blog about them) not because it might show a chink in my armor. Rather, I don't post these things because they are personal and they involve other people besides just me. If I talk about a spat that Robert and I had or a punishment that I had to dole out to one of our sons, I am implicating and writing about someone else, likely in a negative light and without their permission. That's why I don't do it. In person, I can be as real and as flawed as anyone else. Depending on the context, I might be very willing and open to share about it too. I will also say that I do feel overall that I do have an incredible marriage and fabulous children. However, I don't consider that to be luck, but the result of thoughtful decisions and hard work, along with a large dose of God's grace.

 
But that leads to the pity party portion of this post. (How's that for alliteration?). I live with a chronic condition called idiopathic subglottic stenosis (ISS). I have blogged about it several times before, but I am too tired to link back. You can use the search engine in the left hand column of the blog if you are particularly interested. Here is also a nice overview of ISS. At any rate, it means that for some unknown reason my trachea starts to close right below my vocal cords. When this happens, I can't breathe and have great difficulty talking. It's like trying to suck in air through a drinking straw. There is no cure and the condition is managed through a surgical procedure in which the trachea is lasered open and then dilated with a balloon. This results in immediately improved breathing which, for me, lasts for a few years. Many people with ISS have to be dilated every few months.
 
I have noticed the past couple of weeks that I am having a lot more trouble catching my breath when teaching class or after walking up just 1-2 flights of stairs. I just finished layering a quilt and crawling around on the floor to smoothe out the fabric left me winded. I think it might be time for surgery again. Ugh! I'm going to try to make it to January when I am off from school and my new flex account money will kick in to pay for what insurance won't cover. My last surgery was in July of 2011.
 
 

So as big of a pain in the butt (well, really the throat) that surgery is, what I am really, really tired of is my voice. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work with voice disorders, so being an SLP with a voice disorder is quite odd. (There are actually a lot of SLPs who stutter, but not many with voice problems). I start all of my new classes by making it a teaching moment. I tell the students about why my voice sounds hoarse and why I cough a lot. I show them photos and explain the anatomy and physiology of what is going on. That's all fine and good. However, I am so tired of the people out in public always thinking I am sick and offering advice or trying to help me. Certainly it comes from a place of good intentions. I know that. But drinking a glass of water isn't going to help me.

My voice is pretty chronically hoarse and/or scratchy and it is worse when I do public speaking because I have to work harder to project my voice. Also, because of all of my surgeries, the cells responsible for moving and clearing mucous in the trachea have been damaged and I have a lot of extra scar tissue in my trachea. This results in thick mucous plugs that get caught on the scar tissue, which in turn makes it harder for me to breathe. Sometimes the mucous gets stuck on my vocal cords and I can't breathe at all until I cough it up, which can take a couple of minutes. When the mucous is hanging around my cords, it adds bulk and makes my voice sound even worse. In the past few months:

1. I've met some new people and they kept asking if I had allergies, if they could get me water, if hot tea would help, etc. (Of note, yes, I do have to drink water frequently to thin out the mucous.) However, in the moment water or any other beverage won't help because the problem is in my trachea below my vocal cords. Liquid doesn't reach that low and if it does I would have bigger problems like severe choking, pneumonia, and/or death from aspiration. I also just say something glib like, “Thanks for the water. My voice just sounds like this because of a medical condition. I'm not sick or contagious.” I hate even saying that because I know that people really don't care what's going on, but I don't want them to keep trying to remedy the situation.

2. Last fall I was teaching a workshop to a room of SLPs and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association National Conference. After the workshop, a friend of one of my colleagues asked him if I knew I had a voice problem and if so, what was it. I hate that the sound of my voice detracts from the content of what I am saying.

3. Just last month I was leading a teacher inservice at the school where my sister works. Ten minutes into my presentation two people from the audience slipped up front and put some water on the lectern for me after hearing me cough repeatedly. (I already had water there). I had to stop and explain my voice and my coughing.

I am just tired of my stupid cough and my stupid voice limiting what I can do and drawing attention to itself. Last weekend we went on a long bike ride with friends. I have been biking all summer and have pretty decent endurance. However, at one point I was lagging way behind everyone else. Robert slowed down to wait for me and I had to explain to him that I was fine if I just pedaled, but I had been pedaling and talking with our friends and I just can't suck in enough air fast enough to do both. Because of this I can't participate in any group exercise classes or have a walking/running/biking buddy. Anything more aerobic than a slow (e.g., 20 min mile) stroll and I can't talk while doing the activity. If I took Zumba or Piloxing (Pilates/kickboxing), which I would love to do, I would sound like Darth Vader and I would have a coughing fit. That's why I have to be a solo exerciser. So there's my not-so-perfect life, thorn in my side, whiny butt post and pity party.

However, I am thankful for a diagnosis, for a great laryngologist, and that I don't have a tracheostomy. I am grateful that my ISS can be managed by a relatively simple surgery. I am blessed with wonderful, supportive, and understanding family and coworkers. I just wish I hadn't taken for granted the delightful ease of breathing that I had for the first 30 years of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hair, Fur, and the Stuff of Life Thursday, Aug 28 2014 

Where to begin? Well, most people who read my blog are friends of mine on Facebook and already know the saga of my missing cat. We were away in Alabama and had a housesitter. When she was letting our dogs outside, apparently the cat got out. My cat, officially named Oreo but always called “kitty girl,” is a declawed, long-haired, indoor-only cat…in other words, a pampered diva. She has gotten out once before, but we noticed in about 30 minutes and found her by the side of the house. The problem with this situation is that the housesitter didn't notice she was missing for 3-4 days. The really frustrating part is that our next door neighbors saw our cat by their garbage, then she ran in their garage, but they didn't know we were missing a cat or they would have returned her to us. Sad thing is, we didn't know we were missing a cat either since we were still in Alabama at that time.

To say I am utterly heartbroken would be an understatement. I wear the “crazy cat lady” badge openly and without shame. I adore cats! I always had cats growing up and with the exception of our first 1.5 years of marriage, we have always had at least one cat in the family. Oreo is the only female cat we have owned and she is such a odd, fun, and loving cat. She squeaks and meows in conversation with me and has excellent turn-taking skills. She did not leave my side–seriously, I don't know when she ever ate or used the litter box–during my recovery from back surgery. She follows me throughout my morning routine, runs to the stairs to greet me with meows when I come home from work, and is my constant companion when doing any type of craft, sewing, crocheting, or quilting project. She is also my napping and reading buddy. Her constant presence in my life as my feline shadow is sorely and sadly felt.

 

I have spent every day wandering through our back yard, up and down our street, and through my neighbors' yards with a flashlight, calling and looking for kitty girl. I typically go out in the morning before work, right after work, and again at dusk. Today I got up at dawn to look for her too. We also have a huge school forest behind our house with nothing but trees and brush for as far as the eye can see. On the good side, I have realized that there are a million safe and dry hiding places for her which is especially good because of predators in the woods and lots of rain this week. It's also horrible, because she could be anywhere. It's literally a needle in a haystack situation.

I have contacted the Humane Society, Robert posted on Craigslist, I have used social media, and all of our local friends and neighbors know she has missing. Three people from church spontaneously showed up to walk the neighborhood and the woods looking for her. I have read extensively online about finding a lost cat and learned that most indoor cats tends to stay in a 3-5 house radius when outside. That's comforting, but with all of the woods and great hiding places in sheds, under porches, in bushes, etc. that is still a million and one places to look. We have purchased a feral cat trap and in it I have a dirty shirt with my scent on it, her cat bed, and some tuna. We have also made a “kitty buffet” which is an assortment of super stinky foods that cats like (such as salmon, tuna, mackeral, and sardines). Although it could potentially attract other critters such as opposums and raccoons, we have a motion-activated trail camera aimed at the buffet and we can at least determine if she's in the area and have a more strategic place to put the cat trap. So far, not even the raccoons have visited the buffet. I'm going to wait until Sunday when the rain stops and create tuna juice trails to the buffet. I'm sad and sick with worry, but still hopeful as I know she has access to water with the rain. I have also read and heard many stories of cats returned home 2-4 weeks later…or even several months. That's the toughest part is the not knowing and then ultimately trying to decide when to give up. For now, I hang onto hope. I have never prayed so much for a cat in my life–for God to keep her safe and dry, to help her find food, to help her hear and respond to my voice, to help her access some innate homing device and find her way back, for her to at least be in scent vicinity of the kitty buffet and trap, etc. I miss my kitty girl so much,

 

At least I have been able to keep busy with work this week, as it has been contract week. This is the first week back before students arrive. I have been busy with meetings galore, writing syllabi, learning my role as graduate advisor, planning orientation for the new graduate students, and getting ready for the new semester. Today, I also donated my hair. I have been growing it out for 2 stinking years and have been so ready to cut it off, so today was the day.

Here's the before:

 

And the after:

 

It's so much healthier and feels a lot thicker. I also played around making it a little messy, but since it had already been straightened and had three different straightening products in it, it wasn't uber-cooperative. However, the cut has some long layers and my hair is pretty wavy when I let it dry naturally, so I'll be able to vary the style quite a bit.

 

 

And the part that was chopped off will now be sent to Pantene's Beautiful Lengths to be made into a wig for someone with alopecia or undergoing chemo. Donating this hair and getting a new style has been the bright spot in an otherwise devastating week.

 

 

 

 

Southern Stone Soup Friday, Aug 22 2014 

 

I think almost everyone, at some point in his/her elementary school career, read the classic tale, Stone Soup. In case your formative years were lacking in classic third grade literature, the basic story is tha someone is making soup, but only has a stone. She puts ths stone in a large pot of water and muses that the soup will be good, but would taste so much better is she only had some carrots. A neighbor has some carrots and adds then to the pot. Then they talk about how just one onion would make the soup taste even better. Of course, the story goes on and on until the stone soup actually becomes a delicious vegetable soup brought about by collaboration and pooling of resources. Cue insightful moral lesson…and possible introduction to communism???

I accidentally had the real-life stone soup experience this week.

 
 

I have been visiting family in Alabama for the past two weeks. During my relaxing stay, I had planned to do a lot of blogging. However, due to lost luggage (4 days!), no access to wifi for 10 days, and time packed with important things like pleasure reading, floating on rafts in various bodies of water, and napping, blogging has taken a back seat. At any rate, we have eaten at seafood restaurants twice this week and are going to one again tonight. I have been “saving up” my fried catfish craving until tonight, so when we went to Wintzell's a couple of days ago I just got a salad and baked potato. I wasn't terribly hungry and I had been craving some vegetables. However, when the fried Southern fare and seafood began arriving at the table, it was hard to resist. Well, all except for the raw oysters.

 
 
 

Althought I didn't think to take photos at the time, it is amazing how much “free” food you can acquire off of other people's plates if you just make a few occasional comments such as “Oh, that fish looks really good” or “Are you too full to eat that last hush puppie?” Besides my own potato and salad, I ended up with some fried dill pickles, one and a half pieces of fish, and two hush puppies. I had to turn down oysters and shrimp & grits. I think the stone soup strategy is my new go-to approach to eating with large groups.

 

 

 

 

Make Do and Mend Wednesday, Aug 6 2014 

 

While I certainly wouldn't want to live during a World War or economic depression, I have always been fascinated by those who did. My grandmother married in 1929 and was a wife and mother during WW II and I've heard quite a few stories from her about “making do.” I grew up in an era of disposable Playtex nurser bottles with plastic bag inserts, aluminum foil TV dinners, and paper plates. Although I do remember bottled Cokes that could be returned for a deposit, using and tossing were the order of the day. With cheaper clothes mass-produced in sweatshops and/or overseas, cheap plastic food storage containers that wear out quickly, and technology that changes as quickly as you've just adjusted to the current technology, we have become a disposable society.

Since having moved to an area of the country that takes recycling, composting, and sustainability VERY seriously, plus some maturity and life changes on my own part, I have become even more enamored with wartime sensibilities and pioneer ethics of making do with what I have, mending what gets worn out, or getting by without. I certainly haven't “arrived,” but I am taking baby steps to make this a part of my lifestyle

 

 

A couple of weeks ago, a underwire popped out in one of my most comfortable and frequently worn bras. Every woman has experienced this. It can be painful, or at least irritating, and the wire can migrate upward throughout the day. No biggie–I'll just sew it back into its casing. I did just that and things were fine for exactly one day. The next time I tried to wear this bra the underwire had poked a new hole in the casing I had repaired. I figured there was no way I could strengthen the thread in the weak area enough to reinforce the hole, so I decided to go bra shopping. Ugh! Shopping for bras ranks in the top tier of shopping nightmares right alongside swimsuit and jean shopping. On top of this, I HATE to try on clothes of any sort, much less a bra. I tried on a total of 8 different bras at two different stores. None of them fit right. There was either weird underarm fat or boob spillage or extreme flattening or extra room in the cup, even with trying a variety of sizes. I decided I couldn't bear to try on any more bras and I would wait a few days and muster up the wherewithal to attempt brassiere shopping later. In the meantime, I googled DIY bra repair. Lo and behold, I read that you could use moleskin to repair a bra. Having just cleaned out the bathroom closet, I knew I had some moleskin there. It took me about 5-10 minutes and I now have a repaired bra that has made it through repeated wearings and is still holding strong. That quick and free repair saved me a minimum of $25 to purchase a new bra.

 

We have also been doing a major overhaul of our backyard. It was an overgrown mess of weeds and woodland underbrush. We had the county extension agent give us advice and we saved some native species, killed and roto-tilled everything else, and planted new grass. We are like proud parents of our new baby grass growing. Our lot is wooded and total shade, so we thought growing grass was impossible, but look…GRASS!!!

 

We had a few hostas along the back fence. They are one surefire, hearty, shade-loving plant that can tolerate our disinterest in yardwork and gardening neglect. We were planning to buy more hostas to fill in the whole length of the back fence. However, we were dreading it because I make much less money in the summer since I only work part-time and hostas are pretty expensive plants. We got the great idea to: (1) Divide some of the larger variegated hostas and (2) Move some of the crowded hostas in the front yard to the back. We didn't have to buy a single hosta, we doubled the amount that we had, and we now have hostas planted every 1.5 feet or so across the backyard. Here are the hostas along the back fence and another picture of our grass growing…where grass has never grown. The green plants in the corner and along the side fence are transplanted native species that I “saved” when we got rid of the weeds, as well as some transplanted ferns and a rhubarb plant from other places in the yard. We made do with what we already had in our yarda.

 

We still have a ways to go with the landscaping. The grass needs to grow in thicker, we need to edge around the hostas, and there are some other plants to move, but we are well on our way and have spent almost nothing on plants. (I did buy a hydrangea and 2 shade-tolerant types of coneflowers.)

Any time we need (or think we need) something new or something breaks or wears out, we both are having fun trying to figure out how to make do or mend. I'm even learning to darn socks! So far it's been a grand adventure in resourcefulness and tapping into my inner 1940s housewife alter ego.

 

 

Humans of Stevens Point Sunday, Aug 3 2014 

One of my most favorite Facebook discoveries every if stumbling upon Humans of New York (HONY). If you haven't “liked” this site on Facebook, go there immediately and do so. Really. I'll wait. The premise is this: In 2010 a photographer named Brandon set out to take photos of 10,000 inhabitants of New York. Along the way, he started collecting stories as well as pictures, and HONY was born. I love my daily dose of HONY because of this…

 

 

I have come to find that to be so true. I have learned the stories, dreams, disappointments, pains, and joys of so many random New Yorkers. The surprising thing? The story is often at odds with the photo. Some of the most joyful looking people have the most painful vignette that they share. Sometimes the dirtiest, meanest looking homeless person has the most wisdom. Brandon has a certain set of questions that he asks to get people to a deep story quickly, such as “What makes you sad?” These kinds of deep soul-baring questions that complete strangers often readily answer tells me that most of humanity (a) has a story and (b) they want those stories to be heard. I think this is so important to remember and what can pull us together in rich community with one another. If heads of state, politicians, terrorists, etc. could sit across from one other and hear each other's stories with an empathetic and open mind, I honestly think that THAT is how world peace could come to exist.

As I have mentioned before, I love to strike up conversations with strangers and people I have just met. In the linked post I wrote earlier this year, I said:

I am an extrovert. I do love to talk. However, it never ceases to amaze me how easily people will let you deeply into their lives when you ask questions and listen. And talking to strangers, especially those from different racial, socioeconomic, religious, etc. backgrounds, teaches me so, so much. People are generally quite wonderful and the world, broken as it is, is full of bright spots, big dreams, and amazing stories.

Like Brandon, I have a couple of go-to topics/questions that I ask people to get to know them on a deeper level. Some favorites are: What's your best day? What's your biggest pie-in-the-sky dream? What book or movie has impacted you the most and why?

So since I discovered HONY, one of my pie-in-the-sky daydreams is that I wander around downtown Stevens Point on a summer Saturday and do my own version of Humans of Stevens Point (HOSP) with photos and story gathering. Because of the farmer's market and the local shops, downtown is usually hoping with all sorts of interesting folks on any given Saturday in the summer. As Robert and I made our way downtown for lunch yesterday, we passed a woman on a bicycle who had a yoga mat sticking out of her back pack. I commented to Robert that “if that isn't Stevens Point in a photo, I don't know what is.”

Robert's “office” of sorts is Emy J's, a local coffee shop. When we first moved here he was there literally every day and still now, he goes several times a week. He knows all of the baristas, the owner, and all of the “regulars.” When I go with him to Emy J's I feel like I am with Norm from Cheers since there have been times when a collective “Robert” has been yelled when we walk in the door…like yesterday.

Robert has become friends with Mike and Karen who are regulars at Emy J's. This rather typical looking couple actually have a fascinating story. They are both Native Americans, Mike from the Menominee tribe and Karen from the Oneida nation. As Robert has become friends with them, he has learned that Karen is master beadworker, whose work is in the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian!! Mike has done some incredible language maps of Native American languages and was honored at a big reception at the university last year and invited Robert to attend. These are some seriously cool and and accomplished people with a fascinating story.

They had invited Robert to hear a Native American musician friend of theirs who was doing a gig at Emy J's yesterday afternoon, so we attended. The musicians were okay. However, they invited Mike and Karen up to do a couple of songs, which they did. They were purely instrumental with Mike on the drum and Karen on the cedar flute. Haunting and beautiful.

 
The first song that they played was in honor of a Wisconsin Menominee, Ingrid Washinawatok, who was murdered in Columbia trying to help indigenous people there to protect their culture and language. The stirring melody was followed by Mike explaining that the type of drum he played is called “the heartbeat of the people.” It is typically played in patterns of two beats (da-DUM) to replicate the sound of the beating heart. However, in Ingrid's song there was just one steady beat throughout since her heart no longer beats. Then Karen went on to explain how her father is a classically trained flutist, but has since learned to play the cedar flute and gives her lessons even today. Endearing and fascinating.
There's the start of Humans of Stevens Point. I love where I live and I love people and their stories.
 

 

 

 

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