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.
 

 

 

 

Tuning Out to Tune In Saturday, Aug 2 2014 

 

Every year for the past sixteen years, we have set aside either August or September as “No TV” month. Well, that's what it started out as, but as the boys have grown and technology has evolved it turned into “No TV or Video Game Month,” then “No TV, Video Games, or Internet Forums,” to the current iteration of “No TV, Video Games, Social Media, or Internet Usage other than Work.” It gets a little tricky because we don't get the newspaper (the typos raise my blood pressure too much, plus cost and tree murder), we get all of our news online, so we do still spend a bit of time reading the news. I also use YouVersion, a Bible study app, for my daily quiet time, we still blog and read blogs using technology, and of course, Robert and I both need internet for various reasons related to work. Part of the evolution of this process has been learning to think about grace versus legalism. We don't monitor or micro-manage each other in the house. Rather the TV stays off, the computers and iPads are cast to the side, and we consciously spend more time interacting and pursuing projects and interests that we rarely “have time” for. As a family who loves to watch and discuss movies together, we still may have a family movie night or two during the month, but it is a thoughtful and intentional choice. Never just TV for the sake of background noise or diversion.

In all of the years of doing this, we have noticed several benefits. When the boys were younger, their play got much more creative and inventive. They spent more time poking around outside and sometimes even being bored which often led to interesting art projects, creative writing, elaborate pretend play, and ingenious Lego creations and Rube Goldbergesque contraptions. We played more games as a family. We cooked more elaborate and experimental homemade food. We are all big readers, but we read even more. We went to bed earlier at night and got more sleep. We had more “adult time.” We went about the day more slowly and intentionally. We created and made things. We spent more time with friends. We didn't miss TV. In their elementary years, the guys dreaded this month and hated it for the first 2-3 days, then they quickly got over it and reveled in the family time and their own pursuits.

I spent the first day of Reduced Media Month piecing a quilt. I was at the dining room table sewing and cutting all day, except for a little reading and a nap. At dinner time I cleared off the table and Robert, Noah, and I ate homemade pizza and played a game of Farkle. While I pieced the quilt, I listened to music and a couple of podcasts (on listening and finding time to be creative), interspersed with silence except for the twittering of birds, basset hound groans, rain and a thunderstorm (with hail!), and the whirr of my sewing machine. I thought and pondered…a lot. It was a good day and reminded me of one of my favorite poems.

Otherwise

Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

 

I read something this morning about how email and texting have removed the handwritten word from our lives. This is nothing new. We have all known this for several years. However, the author of the essay I read mentioned the incredible sensory experience of a handwritten letter. You know that the person who wrote it actually held the paper in her hands. That handwriting is unique to the writer. It took time and thought to put pen to paper and form thoughts into words into writing. It's just so darn intimate. Although I was a fairly early adopter of blogging, I have been writing and journaling all of my life in fits and starts. As a teen, I used to have this tragically romantic notion that if I died young, my family would discover all of my journals and writing and finally discover who I REALLY was. Here are a couple of my high school journals filled with quotes, song lyrics, prayer lists, journal entries, poems, Bible study notes, and other ephemera.

 

Because of blogging, time, life, demands, etc., I had largely given up my traditional journaling, but due to several things that happened or that I thought about yesterday, I decided that it's time to go back to writing by hand, in addition to writing on my blog. For starters, I got a text from a dear friend in Baton Rouge who saw a quote by Oprah on a page of her gratitude journal that she was writing in. She sent it to me as a joke because she knows of my Oprah-loathing. However, it also prompted me to start something I have been meaning to do–write in a gratitude journal of my own. Additionally, the podcast about being creative mentioned how many people make the excuse of, “…but I don't know how to X…” and therefore they never start. Truly creative people think, “I don't know how to X, but I'm going to jump in and figure it out by learning from my mistakes.” So, I'm starting my gratitude journal AND since I want to learn how to do hand typography, but don't know how to do that or even draw, I bought a book on it, called The Art of Whimsical Lettering. It suggested getting a journal and some different pens and start experimenting. The place to start it with my own handwriting (which I don't particularly like) and let it develop into my own style, figuring out which types of pens I like along the way. Basically, it is doodling with a purpose. So I bought a couple of different pens and now my journal and pens will now travel with me for “wasted time” spent waiting or between tasks. Why not learn an art instead of twiddling my thumbs? Clearly, I have a long way to go, but at least I have started.

 

 

Already this morning, I have slowly sipped one of the best cups of coffee that I have ever made. I finished piecing my quilt. Noah hung out with the cat and me while chatting about his plans for the day, instead of watching his morning dose of ESPN. I have spent time with God this morning and I have written this blog. My afternoon plans include some deep cleaning, grocery shopping, organizing the laundry room, going to listen to a Native American musician at a local coffee shop (friend of a friend of Robert's), reading, some sewing, and a bike ride and/or walk. Looking forward to a slow, easy, beautiful Saturday.

 

 

P.S., If you choose to comment and do so on Facebook, I won't see it until September :-). This blog auto-posts to FB and I'm not there this month.

 

A Few of My Favorite Things…Again Sunday, Jul 20 2014 

Back in 2011 I wrote a post about My Favorite Things. Over the years, it has actually been one of my most read posts–go figure. At any rate, I have stumbled across some new favorite things, so I thought I would share them in a list again. I know that I always like a personal review or suggestion from a real person about something I am about to spend money on. In no certain order, here are a few of the greatest things I have stumbled upon in the past year or so.

 

1. Organix Coconut Milk Anti-Breakage Serum

I am letting my hair grow out so that I can donate it. The longer it gets, the more unruly it becomes. The older I get, the wavier/curlier it gets and also drier. I have always had oily hair and had to shampoo daily. However, because of age and a non-humid climate, I can now shampoo every other day. I often have fly-aways and frizz, even on the second day and especially in the winter. I have never, ever had this problem before. I have tried argan oil, curly hair defrizzers, special shampoos, and styling creams. I read about this Coconut Milk on Jen Hatmaker's blog where she was raving about it. Since it was only a few dollars I thought it was worth the risk. Yes, indeed! I'm not crazy about the smell–it smells too beachy and suntan oil scented, but it dissipates quickly. However, it leaves my hair feeling so soft and silky with less frizz and it doesn't feel or look oily. I can't stop touching my own hair because it feels so good.

After writing off Victoria's Secret due to their inappropriate marketing to young girls, I had to find a new place to buy my lingerie. I found these panties at Target of all places. They aren't meant to be sexy. They are just utilitarian, every day “drawers”, but they are incredibly comfortable, silky, and…no panty lines! They are also much more affordable than VS.

3. Wet and Wild Tinted Moisturizer

Just as age and moving north have changed my hair, my skin has undergone similar changes. My face used to be oily and prone to breakouts. Although I have occasional t-zone oiliness, I also have flaky, dry patches. In winter it seems like my whole face it peeling off and it can be itchy and even painful at times, especially during the past winter of extreme cold. I slather on face cream (lotion isn't enough) in the morning and night, but my face was still so dry all winter. I normally use mineral makeup powder, but that didn't cut it on my dry skin. Since my skin has cleared up now, I decided to see if I could get by with just a tinted moisturizer. It has just enough color to smooth my skin tone and good moisture for my dry skin, but it wasn't heavy like foundation. Since I was initially just trying it out AND I'm a cheapskate, I didn't want to spend much money. I hate the name Wet and Wild, but I do love their tinted moisturizer (and nail polish). It was just the think I needed and only cost $2-3.

4. ELF Eye Shadow

$2 eye shadow–for real! Bought it because it was cheap and I liked the colors. Became a loyal fan because it was the first eye shadow I have EVER used in my entire life that lasted all day without ending up in the crease. I have used eyelid preps, crease prevention, expensive eye shadows, etc. and nothing worked until this shadow. I was so impressed that I actually wrote ELF to tell them how great this eye shadow is.

5. Fennel

I came upon this recipe, fennel salad with pear and parmesan, in a book I read last year, The Homemade Life. I had never in my life purchased fennel, eaten fennel (except the seeds), and certainly had not cooked with fennel. I decided to experiment. It was a little intimidating since I didn't know how to choose or cut fennel. I made the recipe above and was enchanted. It was such a refreshing salad and full of subtle, yet complex flavors. I am now a fan of fennel and not scared of it anymore.

 

6. Camille Roskelly fabric

A quilting friend of mine shared Camille Roskelly's blog with me and there I saw and fell in love with her fabrics. Since I am planning on redoing our bedroom in aqua and red, I am particularly enamored with this fabrics.

 

7. Litle Bee

Frrom Wikipedia: “The Other Hand, also known as Little Bee, is a 2008 novel by British author Chris Cleave. It is a dual narrative story about a Nigerian asylum-seeker and a British magazine editor, who meet during the oil conflict in the Niger Delta, and are re-united in England several years later. Cleave, inspired as a university student by his temporary employment in an asylum detention centre, wrote the book in an attempt to humanise the plight of asylum-seekers in Britain. The novel examines the treatment of refugees by the asylum system, as well as issues of British colonialism, globalization, political violence and personal accountability.”

From me: Powerful, thought-provoking, cry-inducing, and impactful. This was a page turner, beautifully written, and gave me a lot of to think about.

 

8. A Place at the Table

I have a very soft spot for Southern literature and this book hit just that spot. Well-crafted characters who were very flawed and yet likeable meet in NYC across generations, stereotypes, and life experiences. I felt like I knew all of these people in real life and I was quickly drawn into the story of these diverse people and how their lives all just so happened to intersect. This was a fun read, but very challenging too.

 

9. Where is the Mango Princess

I just finished this book a couple of weeks ago. It was required reading for my counseling class. Studentss are required to read a novel or memoir about someone with a communication disorder. In this case, Cathy Crimmins, writes about her 40-something husband who sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) when he was hit in the head by a boat. The book is funny, heart-breaking, shocking, and inspiring. It paints a very authentic picture of the erratic recovery of someone with a TBI and the reality of the family having to adjust to significant changes in ability and personality.

 

10. The Good Wife

Last year we watched all episodes of How I Met Your Mother in rapid succession since we were late to jump on the HIMYM train. This year, The Good Wife has been our HIMYM. Robert and I have enjoyed watching episode after episode together. However, we were so busy getting caught up that we missed the most recent season, so we are eagerly waiting for it to come out on Netflix. Part legal drama, part soap opera, it is an engaging show that has drawn us in to the complicated family life and love triangles of the good wife and her not-so-good husband.

 

11. Naked and Afraid

Robert and I stumbled across this show on The Discovery Channel and really enjoy watching it together too. The premise is that a man and woman who have never met are dropped naked into some remote and dangerous location with one object that they each have chosen (e.g., fire starter, knife) and a camera. They have to survive for 21 days…naked and afraid. Aside from the obvious awkwardness of meeting someone for the first time butt-naked and the multitude of “bad naked” (a la Seinfeld) moments that chopping down brush and climbing rocks provide, the survival part is very real. Mosquito bites, leeches in various orifices, cut/bruised feet, and sunburn from lack of clothing make the survival even more difficult. However, the pair still have to build shelter, find water and food, protect themselvess from various aggressive or poisonous animals and insects, while working together and maintaining their sanity in very unrelenting environments. I wouldn't do it in a million years, but I am fascinated by the people who do.

 

12. The Way Way Back

We happened upon this movie in Madison last summer. Neither one of us had heard of it, but there was nothing else on that we wanted to see. I can't believe that we didn't know anything about this movie and its all-star cast. What a gem! This was a tender, sweet, and powerful coming of age story–the kind that doesn't come along very often. Quirky and fun characters, a dysfunctional family, an awkward teenage romance, and an unlikely mentor make for a delightful sleeper movie.

 

13. Enough Said

Another movie I had never heard of, but happened to see on a flight this past winter. It was James Gandolfini's last movie. He and Julia Louis-Dreyfus engage in a sweet middle-aged romance which is complicated by teen daughters and a common connection that they don't know that they share. Watching this romance develop is quite charming.

 

14. My bike

The is the summer of the bike! I have discovered biking as a way to get places I need to go this summer and am quite captivated by the fact that I am getting exercise (and a bit of a tan!) while running errands. It's quite fun to watch the mileage computer on my bike and my MapMyRide app go up and up.

 

15.Nozbe

The Nozbe app has revolutionized my work life and allowed me to sleep better because I know that everything is in my app and not running through my mind. Nozbe is an app based on the GTD principles outlined in the book, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. I just have the free app and it is enough to cover my work needs. It is like a “to do” like on steroids, plus it automatically syncs to all of my devices including my PC, my iPad, and my phone. One thing I especially like is that, unlike other online listing services I have used, when you check something off it shows that it has been completed and doesn't just disappear. I need that reinforcement for a feeling of accomplishment.

 

16. Road ID app

I have a Road ID bracelet that I wear when doing outdoor activities. They have a free app too that makes the lock screen on my phone contain my name, any medical conditions and allergies, date of birth, and contact information for my family. That way if I'm in an accident of some sort, all someone has to do is look at my phone for crucial medical and contact information. I can also leave “ecrumbs” which will send a text to anyone I want that tells them when I left and they can track me while I'm gone. Then a text is sent when I arrive. This is great when going out for a run or bike ride alone. Highly recommend!

 

17. Dollar Shave Club

Buying razor blades kills me because they are so darn expensive!! Enter, Dollar Shave Club. Even though it is marketed toward men, there is no difference between male and female razors…except these don't come in pink. I get “The 4X” and am on the every other month plan. Robert uses “The Humble Twin.” They send 4 razor blades to me every other month and the $6 is just taken from my debit card. Great razors, I don't feel guilty about changing blades more often, and the price can't be beat. If you decide to give them a try, please go through this link and I'll get a little bonus :-)

 

18. Spotify

Robert had turned me onto the Spotify app on my PC and iPad a couple of years ago. I love it because I can choose every song I listen to, make playlists, and listen to entire albums. It can be a lot more personalized than Pandora. Just last month I decided to upgrade from the free version to the $9.99/month premium account. Since I can download 3000 songs to listen to offline for this price, as well as listen to anything streaming online, I can't foresee any reason to every buy albums again. The music is very diverse. I haven't yet been unable to find anything I'm looking for from Broadway musicals, worship, indie acoustic, pop, jazz, etc.

19. Messenger bag

I figured out that a messenger bag fit my needs best for lugging stuff to and from work, as opposed to a briefcase or backpack. Robert ordered me this one off of Etsy. It's comfortable, the perfect size, had 3 pockets inside and two on the outside, has been durable so far, plus it's adorable!

20. Speed Queen Washer

Our washing machine died several months ago and I did extense online research trying to find the best buy. I had heard a lot of negative things from friends with front loaders, so I decided to go with a top loader. Then I had to research agitator or not. As I started reading review on Best Buy, Amazon, etc. I started seeing that the reviews were very erratic and largely negative regardless of the brand…until I saw reviews for Speed Queen. They were consistently rated 4-5 stars on each and every website. You can only buy a Speed Queen at a local mom and pop store. They do not sell in big box stores like Lowe's or Best Buy. They are American made and actually made in Ripon, WI about 75 miles away from us. They have no electronic components, which are one of the first things to go wrong on the current machines…and they tend to last 15-20 years versus 5-7 for LG, Maytag, Kenmore, etc. There are only 3 models of washers, there aren't many bells and whistles to pick from, and they are decidedly unsexy as far as washing machines go. However, our machine is very large capacity (even with the agitator), washes quickly, and does an excellent job. Our experience buying from a small local appliance store was also fabulous. I am now sold on Speed Queen and local applicance stores.

 

And thus concludes the 2014 edition of “My Favorite Things.” Maybe I'll get around to doing another one in three more years…

 

P.S., I wrote this while on a Lortab I had taken for back pain subsequent to gardening, so apologies in advance for any typos or other errors.

 

Thrift Store Thursday: Thriftless Version Thursday, Jul 10 2014 

While I have been wearing thrifted clothes several times a week, as per the usual, I am out of the habit of taking photos. Plus–I hate taking photos of myself anyway. It feels icky, but I do it just for these blog posts. At any rate, I am more on a kick of taking things to the thrift store than showcasing what I have bought there. I am reading a lot of blogs on minimalism and am busy cleaning out and scaling back. I'm not going to be uber-drastic like some people are, with just 10 items of clothing and one plate for each member of the family. However, I want to keep only what I use, what is beautiful, and what brings me joy. That led to me purging 3 of my 5 loaf pans, 2 of my 3 springform pans, a bunch of travel coffee cups and water bottles, some clothes, and some books. I got rid of all of my Wilton cake pans in a variety of shapes too. As a family, we have decided that cake is our least favorite dessert. We all much prefer cheesecake, pie, or other desserts so there was no need for me to hang onto all of that stuff. My bakeware cabinet feels empty–just 2 pizza pans, a few baking sheets, one springform, and 2 loaf pans. It is fabulous!!!

I used to collect stuff for Goodwill and make a big trip a few times a year. Now I am purposefully cleaning out a drawer, a cabinet, a closet, or a shelf each day. I immediately bag the items, put them in my car, and go to Goodwill at least once a week. A few of the nicer things go to a consignment shop. That way things are gone, making more space, and keeping things clean.

 
There are two areas that are tricky for me to minimize–books and fabric. I cleaned out a fair number of books last fall, but this week I perused our bookshelves again to find things I could purge. I decided that any book that I read, but wouldn't recommend or re-read would go. We also had more than one copy of a few books. The results looked something like this:
 
 
I am hoping that by the time we move next year that looking at houses that have “storage” will not be an issue. The only thing I ever want to store is Christmas decor…and I'm rethinking how I can pare that down too. The more I get rid of, the more free I feel. Laundry room and bathroom are next on the agenda. Wish me luck!
 
 

 

 

DTR: Defining the Relationship…with food (Part 1) Monday, Jun 30 2014 

A term that has been floating around in dating circles for the past several years or so is “DTR,” which stands for “defining the relationship.” Basically this means that when two people are dating that at some point fairly early in the relationship they must define what that relationship is and where they think it is going. It is a time to profess one's mutual “like” for the other and declare an intent to date each other exclusively. I know that I am middle-aged, but back in the day we didn't resort to such formality. If a guy kept asking me out, I assumed he liked me. If I kept saying “yes,” he assumed I liked him and BOOM–we were dating. No ceremony, no serious conversation. It just happened organically, as like, love, and other types of relationship are wont to do.

 

 

And speaking of organically, I've been thinking about my relationship with food in light of this article I read (Why We Need to Stop Talking About What Women are Eating) and my annual doctor's appointment. First of all, women do talk a lot about what they are eating. Sometimes it is related to shopping and cooking, trying new recipes, and things of that ilk. However, other times it is related to dieting and body image. At my doctor's appointment, she was praising me to keeping my weight consistent, just a couple of ounces different from last year. I commented that I was suprised because I had gained quite a few pounds over the never-ending winter of hibernation this year. Normally I like to snowshoe and cross country ski in the winter and we certainly had plenty of snow. However, we also broke records for the most consecutive days below zero and the winchill was often in the negative double digits. It was just too darn cold and, quite frankly, too dangerous to spend much time outside this winter. So I stayed indoors and ate carbs. Apparently I had lost weight before winter and gained it back to be at my same weight from last year.

My doctor mentioned that my BMI was great at 21.9 (“normal” weight BMI for my height is 18.5-24.9), but I told her that I wanted to lose about 5-8 pounds. I really appreciated her response. She essentially said, “You are at a really healthy weight right now, but you know what weight feels best on you and feels most like you.” I told her that I knew my weight was considered to be good, but that some of my clothes felt a little snug around the waist and I had a few additional “wobbly bits” (as Bridget Jones would say). Because I am tall and at a healthy weight, if I say I want to lose a few pounds to some people they would roll their eyes and scoff. However, she validated that I don't feel like my best self at my current weight. No, I am certainly not overweight, but I do have a smaller bone structure and am built just like my grandmother–tall and slender. I feel best and most comfortable when I am near the lower end of the “acceptable” weight range for my age and height.

When I graduated high school and started college I was 5'9″ and weighed about 115-120. I have no idea exactly how much I weighed because I never weighed myself and honestly never, ever thought about my weight. I know that sounds weird or unbelievable because all teen girls are supposed to be obsessed with weight and body image and dieting, but I really never was. If anything, I was too thin in high school. I look back and photos and think how I look rather anorexic. I wasn't. I had no eating disorder other than being an exceptionally picky eater who lived on junk food, meat, and carbs. Until college, the only vegetables I liked were carrots, potatoes, and corn. In high school for lunch every day I ate a Milky Way candy bar, hot fries (the kind out of a vending machine) or sometimes school pizza that I had to put a napkin on to soak up the grease before eating. I'd come home from school and down almost a whole bag of Doritos by myself. I generally ate whatever was fixed for supper, but rarely the vegetables…although I did learn to like salad at this point in time. (Yay! A green vegetable–except it was usually iceberg lettuce). I never, ever ate breakfast. This is how I looked at the time. It's a little blurry after I cropped the other people out. (Pardon the fact that I have a number attached to me like a farm animal at an auction. This was during my confused feminist time–aka “I want to be a female scientist and compete in pageants”)

 

 

I honestly have no idea why I didn't obsess/think about weight and body issues except that it just didn't cross my mind. I can't remember my friends talking about it either, so maybe that was the key. I just was just surrounded by people who had other more important things to talk about…like boys. I have one memory about having a fleeting negative thought about weight when I was dating my first boyfriend when I was 16. It was a summer romance and I was wearing shorts when we were in the car going somewhere. I remember looking down my legs and thinking that my thighs looked big because they were in their normal, non-flexed, and therefore wider-than-usual state of rest on the car seat. After a moment of shock and horror, I just reasoned that my thighs weren't huge, but it was just an angle and positioning thing kind of like how your chest falls into your armpits when lying down.

If I obsessed about anything in regard to my appearance as a teenager, then it was my face; in particular, my skin. I didn't have cystic acne or anything that severe, but I had very oily skin and frequent breakouts. I begged my parents to take me to a dermatologist and was on some pretty heavy-duty topical medicines and antibiotics for awhile. That cleared up my breakouts, but then caused my skin to flake and peel. I also tended to have terrible posture because I was a bit conflicted about my maturing body and didn't quite know how to carry myself.

So all of that to say, for some reason I never had issues with weight or even thought about it much…until I went to college and originally gained the “freshman 15″ and then over the following summer I added another ten. And like that, I weighed 145, up from my original 115-120ish. Still a “healthy” weight according to all of the charts, but on my frame suddenly I had back fat, belly bulge, and none of my clothes fit. I went to Weight Watchers, they confirmed that I could stand to lose some weight and still be in the healthy range, and I proceeded to lose 20 pounds over several months. During that time, I learned to eat healthier–although that term is relative, since I was still not eating well, but better than I had been. Mostly meats, fruits, and grains, less junk, but still not many vegetables. That was my first plummet in self-esteem due to weight, my first “diet,” and my first time to think so much and so often about what foods I was putting in my body.

G

And…in writing this, I have come to the conclusion that I have too much to say on this for one blog post so it will be a 2-3 part posting with more to come.

 

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