Monday, April 10, 2017

Celebrating a Change of Heart

Two years ago, the quality of my life was not great.  The core problem, the heart of the matter, the nitty-gritty of it all, was that my heart was not working properly.  I had developed a heart syndrome called tachy-brady. Sometimes, it is also called sick sinus syndrome.  The first time I heard my primary doctor say to me "I think you have sick sinus syndrome," I was clueless as to what it meant, but I knew it wasn't good.  In truth, she was the first to come up with this diagnosis, one that the nurse practitioner at my cardiologist's office dismissed.  By the time the GP, reading the same sleep study report that my cardiologist had received, made this observation, I already had an extensive file containing drugs tried, tests done, and procedures considered for troubling symptoms of arrhythmia.

A year before the final slump with a heart not functioning correctly, I had a heart ablation to correct tachycardia, a rhythm problem that the heart will sometimes develop that will cause the heart to beat too fast.  After the ablation, I felt wonderful and was able to carry on with my life until about six or eight months later when I again began to experience a wildly beating heart that would leave me exhausted and faint.  A sleep study was ordered to see if I was getting enough oxygen at night.  I wasn't, but adding oxygen at night didn't help my faintness and exhaustion.

 Diagnosing my problem was a process.  It wasn't enough to have a GP say that she thought I had sick sinus syndrome.  Diagnosis for me involved having a small device called a loop recorder implanted in my left breast. This miraculous little device allowed my doctor to see exactly what was going on in this heart of mine when it would decide not to beat properly.  I had the recorder fewer than two weeks before it was determined that I needed a pacemaker.  

Getting that pacemaker changed my heart, the way it beat, and it changed my life.  A pacemaker gave me my life back.  Today, two years ago the miracle of modern medicine allowed for a device to be implanted in my body which would monitor my heart and keep it from going too fast or too slow.  I can now walk longer distances, walk up hills, and I can go about the business of my life with few problems with my heart.  I am so grateful.

Two years ago, just before I received the pacemaker, I remember sitting in the my chair in the living room feeling quite sorry for myself as my husband went out for a long walk in the neighborhood with the dog and without me.  I remember that while he was gone my heart rate went down in the 30's and my blood pressure plummeted so low that I had to call the doctor.  He ordered me to get to the hospital.  It was Easter Sunday.  I did not want to go to the hospital with yet another heart episode, but I had no choice.  When my husband got back from his walk, he had to take me to the hospital.  They almost implanted the pacemaker that night, but finally determined I would be safe to wait a few days for the procedure.

I don't take being able to walk at the altitude where I live for granted.  I am grateful I am able to go for my daily walks and enjoy the beauty of the world around me.  Today, the sky was as blue as it could be.  I never tire of looking at the rock formations near my home.  They fascinate me.  They remind me just why I love to live where I do.  My marmalade cat rock (I love her) looks down on me as I walk by her, and seems to say, "I'm happy to see you out and about today."  (She is the rock formation on the top right.)  The table rock on the lower right is still waiting for one you to come and join me for a tea party on her flat surface.



I never could have made it through the bouts with my health that I have had without the guy by my side, my dear and greatly loved husband.  It is so good to walk through this life with him.  I so love when we go on walks together.  Today, I said, "I love where we live," as we sat on our patio after our walk.  With my camera, I captured this laugh on his face when he brought up my one complaint about where I live, "Except for crawlspace in the basement."  Hey, I'd probably live in crawlspace with the guy, but don't tell him that.  He keeps me laughing.  He keeps me keeping on.


I can't forget how much I love my other loyal companion.  He also is always at my side.  (Except when his master is home.  Then he is by his side.)  I love my Boston boy too.


Today, was such a beautiful day.  The sun was shining.  The sky was blue.  My man was by my side.  Even the daffodils I planted around our new patio last fall were blooming.


On this glorious spring day, I was able to walk 1.9 miles, gaining 137 feet in altitude at an altitude of over 6,600 feet.  My average heart rate was 115 BPM.  Look at this cool map that shows my route.  (Thank you Jim for my Apple watch which tracks such things.)  


I could do this because of that change of heart I had two years ago.  That is something to celebrate.  

Saturday, April 8, 2017

April You Bring Such Joy and Such Sorrow

The sun, unseen and unfelt, as I, clad in a heavy wool sweater, entered an office building for a recent late afternoon appointment.  For days, a mind full of thoughts all over the map regarding sundry problems in my life alternately vacillated between agitation and calmness. The weather, nearly always given to sudden and seemingly unaccountable changes in spring in Colorado, was not helping my unsettled feelings about those troubling thoughts weighing down my mind. 

The day, one packed with activity and plans, was far from over when after the appointment I briskly walked towards the car.  Once out of deep shadows cast by the office building, I realized the sun was warming my back as I hurried down the street. As my mood lifted by the good visit and the sun at my back, my quick pace slowed down enough for me to glory in the beautiful spring scenes around me.

As I entered the building just an hour before, had I even noticed that the once brown bare bush branches near the doorway were now clad in green leaves? Why hadn’t I earlier drunk in the beauty of trees covered in fluffy white blossoms that lined the wide street on which I stood?



Since my husband and I had long awaited plans for the evening, I wanted to keep believing that the sensory input I was experiencing was true and trustworthy.  Sight, smell, touch: they all confirmed it was a warm, sunny spring day. I could feel the warmth of the sun.  I could see that Mother Nature had done her springtime magic by causing bulbs to emerge from their long winter’s nap in the earth. Hoping be eradicate any belief in the weather forecast of snow later in the day, I looked to the west.  Blue skies minus any clouds provided a beautiful backdrop for the snow covered mountains in the distance.  “No storm clouds are coming in over the mountains,” I told myself. Even the car temperature gauge reading of 70 degree supported my internal argument that surely snow would not ruin my day, and my mood.

Then, I turned around.  I looked south and east.  The forecast that had been in the weather for days was confirmed.  Sensory input coming from the direction I now faced, could not be denied.  A storm, not coming from the mountains in the west, but from the south and east, was brewing.  Dark, nearly black, low clouds forming and covering the entire sky to the south forced me not to be misled by only looking at part of the picture. 

Logic, rational thinking, and experience caused me to turn and to look towards the part of the sky where the weatherman had predicted the storms would form. The evidence was clear.  A storm was on its way. 

The skies above and around me provided a perfect metaphor for the juxtapositions we encounter in life:  Darkness meets sunshine.  Two extremes collide.  Springtime, a time of perfect juxtaposition between winter and summer.  Upon which image is one to focus?  Should one focus only on the springtime flowers and sunshine, or should one focus on stormy skies stirred into a fury by chinook winds which bring blizzards and destruction?


************

On the day I just described, I wanted to believe that the sun would keep shining.  I could substantiate that belief if I only looked at part of the evidence. 
 
Julie's Tree
April 8, 2011


Placing images of sunshine, spring flowers, white blossom covered trees, and dark, threatening, moisture laden dark clouds driven by fierce cold winds side by side in my mind, a new metaphor began to emerge.  It was a metaphor for strongholds in the mind.
 
April 1, 2017
Strongholds in the mind remind me of spring. 
They deceive. 
They don’t tell the entire truth. 
They ignore evidence,
 believe false evidence,
or they only consider a portion of the evidence. 

Strongholds of the mind are clung to as if they could save, rescue, restore, give peace.
They run hot and cold. 
They are sunny one moment, and oh so stormy the next.

Strongholds keep us from living the life we were meant to live.

Strongholds are like March.
March, the madness of March, could nearly drive one mad.
The weather vacillates.

Soft mountain breezes whispering hope for sunny skies stir the daffodils one day.
 Those same bright yellow flowers that brought such hope and joy, such optimism on a perfect spring day,
 are buried in snow the next.

April, no wonder you have the reputation of being the cruelest month. 

Spring, you are so capricious.

In those dark dreary days of being shut-up indoors during winter, we believe that when Spring brings forth her flowers, we will only have sunshine and happiness. Our beliefs on how spring should be suddenly become incongruent with our experience when a sunny spring day suddenly turns stormy and snowy. Uplifted, buoyant emotions change like the weather.

Strongholds are like that.

Strongholds take root in the mind based on some belief about how we think life should be.
Or maybe, strongholds are based on what we think we should be, or how others should be. Too often we base our beliefs, our emotions, on what we can see, think, or experience.

Can we always take that which we
see,
feel,
think,
believe,
as being true?

On that recent spring day when I wanted to believe the sun would not give way to a storm, I based the information I wanted to believe about the day by only looking in one direction.  I based my belief on only one part of what I could see.  I wanted to ignore the dark clouds forming to the south and east of me.  I wanted to focus only on the sunny sides to the west. 

I could have faced only to the south and east and stood in the shadow of a building and denied that the sun was shining, the skies were blue, and that winter’s dreariness was giving way to spring.  I could have. 

I could have insisted that my truth was informed by what I could see and feel while only looking in one direction.  I could have.

I could have rejected the evidence that a strong wind was stirring those dark foreboding clouds in the southeast and moving them westward towards the sunny skies.  I could have told myself, “I don’t think it will storm.”  I could have thought these thoughts, and I could have believed them.  Thankfully, earlier in the day, I’d heard the truth of these words:

Don’t believe everything you think.

Thinking that is not consistent with the truth will never bring peace.  Just because one thinks something is true doesn’t mean that there is any truth in what that someone is thinking
Spring reminds me of strongholds in the mind.
Strongholds of the mind remind me that there just as spring is capricious, so also are my thoughts and my emotions.

Spring nearly always breaks a part of me.

*************


The breaking comes as I associate both the birth and death of my daughter with spring.  She was born forty-one years ago today on a glorious spring day in April.  I noted in my journal on the day she was born that the daffodils were blooming. 

A first peek at Julie by her sister's Amy and Keicha

Keicha, Julie, Amy
April 2010
The last photo of my three girls together
She took her life seven years ago just as spring was nearly over in 2010.

Strongholds in her mind brought on by depression, suicide ideation, and other addictions became too powerful for her to overcome on that day when her life ended.  So many other days and times she had not believed the destructive thoughts about herself and the future, but on that day, the day of her death, her battle with her mind, her body, her emotions, her beliefs, her demons, was lost when she took her life.

************

On this the day of her birth, I wish to remember all that was Julie.  The spirited joy that she brought to us all is what I remember most. Birthdays are to be celebrated.  As a mother, it breaks me each year as I seek to integrate the joy and sadness that Julie’s birthday evokes in my heart.  I also purpose in my heart and mind that Julie’s life will never be remembered only for the strongholds which ultimately destroyed her. 

Julie surrounded by daffodils in Ireland


Julie’s legacy to me is a lesson I hope to pass on to others.  
You just cannot always trust what you are feeling.

 I’ve learned a lot about strongholds of the mind since that fateful day when my daughter took her life. I’ve also learned how to fight those assailing thoughts which seek to destroy. 

After Julie died, a sticky note found on her desk became the message I believe she left for us all.

Live well was its simple message.*


That is the message of her life I hope to remember most. 

I wrote in my journal right after her death, that I hoped to integrate her life and death as I progressed through life.  I did not want to live as a person shattered in broken pieces that never were gathered up to make a new a new story for my life which had held so much joy and sunshine but now contained such grief and darkness.  I wished to live well and not give in to any strongholds which could destroy. 

Today, the girls, my beautiful daughters have each called and with brave voices asked, “How are you, mom?”  I heard their tears and my throat catches as I say, “I’m ok.”  I know they hear the tears in my voice.  We cry.  We remember.  Amy, says to me, “You have handled this all with grace, Mom.”

Grace.

If it shows to my daughter, it is because I’ve been given so much grace. 
Grace is always a gift.
It is not one I could have conjured up for myself.
It is simply God's gift to me: 
Grace for the journey.

Grace has allowed me to take the darkness and the sorrow, 
the joy and laughter, 
the snow, 
the rain, 
the wind, 
the flowering trees, 
the jaunty daffodils 
and seek the grace to live out the message Julie left for us all.



Live well.


*The photo at the bottom of this post, and the photo of Julie's message to us all were taken by my daughter and her sister, Keicha.  You can read a beautiful tribute to her sister here: Julie, Do You Love Me?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Doing What I Can to Stay Healthy

Today was a beautiful day here for those of us whom live along the foothills of the mountains of Colorado.  With temperatures in the low to mid-70's (F), folks in shorts and white legs were jogging and walking and pushing babies in strollers in every neighborhood I drove through.  These warm temperatures are great on one hand, but they also bring the danger of fire.  We have not had much moisture in the lowlands of Colorado this winter.  Right now, it feels like we are living in a tinderbox.  When I look at the snows in the eastern part of the country, I am just a bit envious of all the moisture that such storms provide.

I didn't get out to walk in the neighborhood today, but I did yesterday, and it was wonderful to out walking in such pleasant weather.

Sally with Boston

If you look closely at the landscape, you will see how dry the grasses in my neighborhood are.  Also, the trees are very dry.  I am hoping we will get some much needed moisture soon.

I am working very hard at getting healthy again after being so sick during February with a bad sinus infection and acute bronchitis.  It seems there is always a fall out when one goes on antibiotics.  I dread the questions that come when I am sick.  The doctor looks at my long list of drugs that I have reactions to or am allergic to and then asks, "What can you take?"  "Not much," is my standard reply.  I was given three different antibiotics over the past six weeks and prednisone (one day only before I had a reaction that landed me back in the doctor's office)  and now I am struggling with problems which were most likely brought on by medications and a body fighting infection. Heart arrhythmia and tachycardia (rapid heart rate) have been causing me a lot of concern of late.

I saw my cardiologist yesterday for my six month check-up after my recent "download" from the pacemaker.  Thankfully, the data from the pacemaker looked good, but that data was downloaded before I started being symptomatic again.  I am so thankful I have the most phenomenal cardiologist. He knows me well, and he knows Jim well.  He jokes with us, shares stories, talks about some place that has the best food, or just makes us feel like he enjoys visiting with us while he is also taking care of business and checking out the old ticker.  He said that the lung issues I had can trigger the heart to act up and sometimes those issues can take two months to resolve themselves.  He also said that the antibiotics can cause the problems I'm having.  He ordered blood work to check my thyroid since I have Hashimoto's disease.  He then surprised me by saying he was going to have me wear a Holter Monitor to compare its findings with my pacemaker.  I must admit that I was surprised that he is having me do this testing, but I am also relieved because the tachycardia has been quite troublesome in the past few weeks.

In the meantime, I am actually feeling quite well.  I know that sounds crazy, but I do feel good most of the time now.  I just hate having those spells with my heart.  I thought they were all behind me after the pacemaker was implanted nearly two year ago, and after I had the heart ablation.

Besides the heart problems, I am really fighting my weight.  I put on ten pounds quite quickly last year because of a medication I was taking to try and tame the chronic inflammation I have.  The weight gain caused my A1C to go up.  I am trying so hard to keep those diabetic numbers in the range of pre-diabetes.  So far, I have fought pre-diabetes successfully for about eight years.  I'm trying to limit my carbs to 30 per meal, and I am trying to walk or do some sort of exercise daily.  This has been a challenge because it was after an hour's class in water aerobics last week that I suffered a bad spell of tachycardia and arrhythmia.  The cardiologist said to keep up the exercise, but to listen to my body, make sure I stay hydrated when I exercise, and try not to overheat.

The antibiotics also stirred up GI issues.  Can I just say that I really am grateful for antibiotics, but I hate taking them!  They stir up so many problems for those of us with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and SIBO (Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth). These are not by any means new problems for me.  Over the last five years or so, my digestive issues have become extreme.

A few years ago, my GI doctor handed me a list of foods to avoid.  She said, "This is the FODMAP Diet and many of my patients have found that following it has really helped them."  I looked at the list, smiled, took it home and filed it away.  Then, she asked if I was following it on my next visit.  The answer was, "No."  Being one who hates diets, when my symptoms became more and more severe, I decided to do a bit of research on the diet.  I downloaded all the materials I could find about it on my phone and bookmarked websites on my computer.  Then, finally, I decided to be brave enough to try to follow the diet.

FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found naturally in foods and in additives to foods.  FODMAPs is an acronym that stands for:


  • Fermentable 
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Disaccharides
  • Monosaccharides
  • and
  • Polyols
To know what those terms mean, read the links I am providing.  I am not about to try to explain it all because I am not scientific enough to do so!  Trust me, it makes sense once you study it, but don't ask me to explain it. 

I follow a dietician from the Boston area who is an educator on the FODMAP diet.  Her website is katescarlata.com.  You can learn a lot about FODMAP from her.  


I've never been 100% successful at following the diet's 21 day elimination phase faithfully,  but I have been faithful enough at following it to have identified some triggers.  When I avoid these triggers, I do well with my digestion.  When I have a flare-up of symptoms, I can be sidelined for days on end with pain.

My endocrinologist recently thanked me for telling her about the FODMAP diet.  She said she had told some of her patients about it and had seen some wonderful results.  She said it was too early for her to know if it also helped with establishing a diet that helped diabetics.

As I said, I hate diets.  I don't like restrictions in my diet, and I don't like avoiding some foods; however, when one suffers badly enough from digestive pain and problems, one becomes more open to taking the advice a doctor gives.

I am absolutely against fad diets where whole food groups are avoided.  I am also against self-diagnosis and treatment for health problems.  For that reason, I haven't written about the plan I have studied and tried to follow for the past year.  I am now taking it much more seriously and am following it more consistently.  If a food doesn't bother me, then I don't exclude it.  I have followed the plan enough to have learned most of the things I must avoid.

I snapped a photo of a recent lunch I fixed myself that is a suggested lunch on the plan.  I made a salad of mixed greens, grape tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, eggs, kale, and a dressing I made with red wine vinegar, dijon mustard (with no added garlic or onion), and chopped green onion tops.  The dressing made the salad especially good.


My father used to say that no one want to hear about health issues.  I have a hard time writing about health issues for that reason.  I do suffer from a number of issues that have taken years for me to sort out. It has also taken me years to find answers from professionals I trust.  Thankfully, I now have a team of doctors that give me great support and care with two of the health issues that I juggle on a daily basis.  I'm doing what I can on my end to do what I can do be healthy.





Wednesday, March 1, 2017

February Notes

Late February may seem a bit early to be doing some spring cleaning, but winter doldrums magnified each time I dealt with dog fur, dander, dust, and dirt accumulating throughout the house.  Vacuuming and dusting just were not dealing with all that debris tracked in by the dog throughout the winter.

Having spent most of the month of February ill and cooped up in the house, I decided spring cleaning needed to come early this year.  The light switches, every surface in the bathrooms, the door knobs, and other frequently touched areas of the house were wiped down with Lysol once I started getting well.

On Monday of the last week in February, the sun was shining and it was warmish enough outside that I opened windows throughout the house so that the house and I could breathe in fresh air.  The dog's bed was carried to the back deck where my hubby vacuumed every square inch of it.  We then moved the bedside tables and vacuumed under them.  Tables throughout the house were cleared of knickknacks.  Sheets were changed on our bed and on the guest bed.  At noon, the carpet cleaner arrived.  Now, I also have clean carpets and much tidier house.

The house is losing its winter doldrum appearance.  Over the weekend, my daughter Amy gifted me with the same flowers she almost always brings for my birthday: daffodils.  Even the daffodils in the yard are poking their head up.

Soon, spring will be here.  In Colorado, that means that we most likely will be having our heaviest snows of the year, but I can handle that because I will know that winter is nearly behind us, and we will experience springtime in the Rockies.

February, the year's shortest month in days, was such a long month this year because I was sick nearly the entire month.  It is rare for me to have colds.  This year, I was hit with a terrible sinus infection and acute bronchitis.  I don't even know when I've ever had bronchitis, but I had it this year. Thankfully, it did not go into pneumonia.  I think that is because I had the Prevnar 13 vaccine for pneumonia a few years ago.  I had also had a vaccine against pneumonia about twenty years ago.  This year, I was grateful to know I had taken precautions against getting pneumonia.  The case of acute bronchitis was scary enough.  In the end, I was given three different antibiotics, and had to have three breathing treatments before I finally began to kick what was making me so sick.

Days were lost.  I don't even know what I did with my time when I was sick.  I didn't feel like reading.  I didn't spend much time on the computer.  I had no appetite.  I drank a lot of tea and water.  I sat in my hubby's easy chair under an electric throw blanket and watched some episodes of The Crown while the cool mist vaporizer beside me helped me breathe.  Through it all, I had two loyal guys by my side:  Jim and Boston.  They certainly made me feel better just by being there.

Sharing a Footstool ~ Sharing a Life

Cozy evenings at home in front of the fireplace brought solace to me during the long winter days of late January and throughout February.  One night, as my hubby and I shared a footstool as we sat quietly beside each other reading, I snapped a photo that captured for me the comfort that comes from sharing a life with a dear companion.



Quite honestly, there were days towards mid-February when I wondered if I'd ever be well again.  We had planned a winter vacation to Southern Utah.  We thought we would go to St. George and perhaps even venture into Zion National Park.  Jim had a week off from work, reservations were made, and we began to plan our adventures.  Then, a day before we were to leave, we had to cancel our plans because I just wasn't well enough to travel.

Then, we thought that perhaps I'd be well enough to go to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs near Buena Vista, Colorado, for the few days leading up to Valentine's Day.  I thought soaking in the hot springs would be just what would make this old girl feel better.  We were able to book a wonderful room, and we were looking forward to a Valentine's Day dinner in the lodge.  A day before we to leave, after I had to go to the ER for my third breathing treatment, we cancelled yet another get-away trip.

I thought our plans for Valentine's Day were doomed, but thankfully, we were able to get last minute reservations for lunch at The Cliff House which is just a short twenty minute or so drive from our house.  The Cliff House was built in 1874 in a tourist area near Colorado Springs called Manitou Springs.  The historic hotel has in recent years become a sought after place for wedding receptions.  The restaurant has become a destination place for those seeking a special meal ever since one of the top chefs from the Broadmoor Hotel came over to be the executive chef.  We were very lucky to get the reservations for lunch on a day when they had been booked for months.


The sky was a beautiful blue, and the sun was shining on the first day I'd had anything to look forward to for weeks.  My spirits were lifted even more when the first thing I saw when I stepped out of the car upon our arrival at this historic hotel were tiny purple crocuses in bloom.  Suddenly, winter's gloom began to lift because I actually had visual confirmation that spring is indeed on its way.

Our Valentine's Day venture across town to enjoy lunch together was just what the doctor ordered.  The smiles and jolly laughter from my dear husband lightened my heart and filled it with gratitude.  I am so blessed to have this wonderful man by my side through sickness and health.


A shared life is a rich life.  We share our ups and our downs, but sharing those ups and downs is so much easier when they are shared with one whom makes one smile, laugh, and is solid and trustworthy.  Such is the man with whom I share my life.  I met him during the springtime of my life, and now as we enter the last season of life,  he remains the young man whose personality, character,  smile, and sparkly eyes first captured this girl's heart.

************

During those days of youth, my life wasn't just blessed by meeting my dear husband, it was also blessed by meeting some of the most amazing women I know:  my high school girlfriends.  In November, I had committed to hosting the next gathering which was to be held in February.  Then, I took that short lived journey into employment, so my plans to host a gathering had to change.  Thankfully, the girls agreed that meeting at a restaurant would be a good plan.  

Our group was smaller than usual, but girls from Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo all met together in a small community just north of Colorado Springs.  One of the girls recommended we meet at The Bistro on 2nd in Monument, Colorado.  We loved Rick, the owner, and his restaurant, and the food!  Rick gave us a private room and the very best of service.  He also joked with us and made our time together all the more fun.  If you are in the Monument area, stop by the Bistro on 2nd, you will love it.

As usual, we giggled, and laughed, and told stories from our days in high school.  Quite honestly, I can't imagine my life without this group of girls in it.  They are counted as some of my richest blessings.  In Ann VosKamp's book, The Broken Way, she writes of talking to her daughter about friends who "betray and break trust."  Our girlfriends group is not perfect, but of them, I can best describe their characteristics by quoting from VosKamp's  book.

Girls can rival each other, but real women revive each other,
girls can impale each other, but real women empower each other.
Girls can compare each other, but real women champion each other
 and we are all made to be
ground breakers and peace makers and freedom shakers.

I am so blessed to be a part of this group of real women.


***********

We are two years into our seventies.   I have no idea how we got to be this age.  It seems like yesterday these high school girlfriends and I were studying Latin, and English, and algebra, dragging Main Street,  cheering at high school games, going to dances, and having sleepovers.  Now,  we are older, much older, and some of us have had serious heart operations, have been widowed, are nursing loved ones through cancer, and are sharing stories of how we are fighting back against other aspects of aging.  One of us no longer would even know the rest of us because she has Alzheimers and lives in a home in another state.  That doesn't mean we have forgotten her.  A few years ago, a few from the group went to visit her and took a gift of a warm sweater from the rest of us.  It is comforting to celebrate another year of life with girls I've known since long before any of us even thought we would get wrinkles.  When I look into their eyes and receive a smile from them, I know for certain that age is just a number.


********


Exactly two weeks after Valentine's Day, on the last day of February, I celebrated my birthday.  I was again reminded that I am grateful for each and every birthday I have.  Birthdays are good.  They are so much better than the alternative of not having them.  Daughter Amy and granddaughter Hannah came to celebrate on the weekend before the big day. They brought flowers, presents, and cheer.  Amy's birthday is five days after mine, so we celebrate together most years.  Jim had a beautiful cake made for both of us.


We went to dinner at a sushi place.  My choice.  Granddaughter Hannah said she really didn't like sushi or fish or sushi places.  My response: "That's too bad.  It's my birthday and your mom's and we like sushi, so you can stay home if you wish.
I will have Grandpa bring in McDonald's for you."  Her response:  "Well, maybe I'll try the sushi place."  She liked tempura, and even ate tempura shrimp.  

Amy remembered a story about Julie, my daughter and her sister, that happened many years ago when Julie was in Salt Lake City going to college.  It was New Year's Eve and Jim wanted to go to a fancy steak house.  Julie went with us even though she wasn't very happy about it because she had recently become a vegetarian.  She ordered an expensive steak.  Jim asked her when she stopped being a vegetarian.  She said, "Just now."  He laughed and said, "Now's a fine time to change your mind about meat.  The steak is more expensive than vegetables."  

*******

February, my birthday month, has always been a special time of year for me.  In Colorado, we have a mixture of winter and spring, sometimes both seasons occur in one day.  Yesterday, on my actual birthday, Jim and spent a mostly quiet day together.  We had an early dinner/late lunch at one of our favorite restaurants.  I finished reading the novel I'd been reading.  As I progress into my seventies, I find my definition of celebrating a birthday changes.  An early dinner and quiet evening at home seem perfect.  

A high school friend wrote a phrase on my Facebook page on my birthday: tempus fugit.  That simple phrase meaning time flies is one I can't seem to get out of my mind.  February is gone, and now we are in March.  Winter is nearly over.  Where does the time go?

Today is Ash Wednesday.  In six weeks, in forty-six days, we will celebrate Easter.  We are entering a time of renewal.  Now that my deep spring cleaning has begun on my house, I hope to spend the days during the Lenten Season sweeping out the cobwebs in my heart and soul.  I told my son I have been suffering from political fatigue this past month.  I plan on changing my focus to that which brings me hope.  I hope to spend a bit more time reading the Bible and in prayer.  I am grateful for a season of renewal.  


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

That Didn't Last Long

Retired English Teacher is fully retired again.

On January 24, 2017, I began my new job teaching English language learners for a local school district.   The day dawned earlier than most of my days have dawned for a long time.  After going to bed early, I was still a bit stunned when the alarm on my phone signaled to me that it was not only time to get up, but time to shower, dress, eat breakfast, gather my things and head out the door.  The amazing thing is:  I was able to find my way to my school via Google maps and arrive on time.  

Since I would be working at three elementary schools, and one middle school, I walked in the school where I was first assigned to be and was taken to the room (small, cramped, but at least a room that was completely designated for use by the ELL teacher and her aide) and met the delightful young woman whom would be my aide at this school.  We didn’t have much time together because I was scheduled to visit a principal at another school where I would be working, but we did establish a quick working relationship which I thought would be very productive and full-filling. 

We discussed the needs of the school, the students in the program, the schedule, and the materials available.  I felt quite uplifted about the initial contact I had made in a school where I would work for half days two days a week.

That afternoon, I drove over to the middle school where I would have a planning period and be assigned to teach a class every afternoon.  Already a bit familiar with the school, I was greatly looking forward to teaching there. 

The principal introduced me to the assistant principal whom would be my evaluator and contact person for any needs or concerns that I might have.  I was then given a tour of the building and shown three possible sites that I could choose as my “home” while I was in the building during my planning period: 
·      a narrow storage room between two technology classrooms that was full of a lot of stuff and hadn’t been used as an office in years. “But it can be cleaned out if you want to use this space originally designated as the itinerant teacher office”
·      an office off the library shared by another itinerant teacher which I could not use on Wednesdays,
·      a workspace used by all the aides to the sixth grade teachers that was located in the sixth grade workroom.  The former teacher had used the latter space as her “office.”

I was also briefly shown the room where I would teach during seventh period.  The room was dark, and I couldn’t really see it because a group of teachers were in there watching Trump’s Inauguration during their planning period, lunch, or whatever. 

I met the aide that would assist me for the briefest of moments because she had to leave to test students. 

At 4:00 p.m., I left the building at the end of my day.  It was cold.  The wind had been blowing all day, and I asked myself what I had gotten myself into.

*****

On January 25, 2017, I repeated the part about getting up early and getting out the door.  This time, I went to a different elementary school.  It was the one where I would also spend half a day three days a week. 

The ELL teacher’s aid is a delightful person whom has the luxury of actually having a classroom designated entirely for use for serving the ELL population of the school.  The room was very pleasantly decorated and set up to serve the students. 

I spent much of the morning in mainstream classrooms with two students just learning English.  I was very excited about the possibility of working with these students and their teachers.  I was able to spend some time with a teacher helping her with strategies for best teaching the student she had that was just learning English. “I’m back in the saddle, and it feels so good and so right,” I said to myself as I left the classroom to meet with the district level leadership for the ELL Department.

That encounter left me again wondering what I had gotten myself into.

And so the week went.  I got up early.  I went to the assigned school for the day.  I tried to remember where my classroom was, and tried to rehearse in my mind the schedules that did not really align with the task that been assigned to me. I gave it all my very best brain power, organizational skills, and knowledge of how best to teach the students and was trying to come up with a reasonable plan that would serve the population I was there to teach.

On Saturday, January 28, 2017, I awoke with a terrible ear ache.  I am not one to get viruses such as colds or flu.  It is rare for me to be sick.  I may have my multiple health problems, but I am rarely sick with a virus.  Since the ear ache was quite painful, and since I needed to be back at work on Monday, I went to the doctor.

Indeed, my ears were bulging.  I was given a prescription for an antibiotic, and for a decongestant and sent on my way.  I spent the weekend resting, taking my medicine, and drinking fluids. 

*****

On Monday, January 30, I was back at the job.  This time, I spent the morning in the third school to which I had been assigned.  I was to spend half a day one day a week at this school. 

The school is a wonderful elementary school.  I was thrilled to be there.  The ELL aide was quite competent and delightful.  The classroom space dedicated to the program was not large, but it was more than adequate, and it was welcoming and stocked with great teaching materials.  We had a productive time together. 

When it was time for me to go the middle school, I was worn down and overwhelmed with the task that had been assigned to me with this job.  Mostly, though, I was just sick.  I felt terrible.

******

On Tuesday, January 31, 2017, I called off sick.  I felt worse than I had when I went to the doctor on Saturday.  The meds did not seem to be working.  I went to the doctor again.  This time, she gave me a penicillin shot and a prescription for prednisone.  We discussed my problems with steroids, but I agreed to try taking the
prednisone anyway.

******

On Wednesday, February 1, 2017, I called off sick again.  I then took the prednisone in an attempt to try and get well.  By three o’clock that afternoon, my husband had me back in the doctor’s office because I had a negative reaction to prednisone, could not breathe, and had chest pain.  I told her I was allergic to it.  Now she believes me.  No more prednisone for me!

Discouraged, and being fully aware of the fact that I was as sick, or sicker than I had been on Saturday, I fretted all day about what to do about the job.  In my heart of hearts, I knew that it just was not the right job for me at this time in my life.  It was not a good fit.  It involved way too many moving parts, too much travel, too many schedules, and little real opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the students most needing instruction. 

******

On Wednesday, February 1, 2017, after much discussion with my wise husband, and after shedding many tears, I called the human resources department and asked how I would go about resigning from my position.  I then called the principal of the school which was my home school to tell him that I was still sick, and felt it was only right that I resign from my teaching position.  I then sent a letter of resignation, effective for that day’s date.  Relief flooded my heart and mind once I had actually made my decision and acted upon it.

Life Lessons

My latest chapter, and my last chapter, in my experience as a classroom teacher was very, very short.  I spent five complete days in the classroom.  Then, I spent two days on sick leave.  On the seventh day of this short teaching gig, I resigned. 

While I was trying to decide what to do about the job, I realized that the known aspects of the position were aspects that would stretch me to the limits physically, mentally, and emotionally.  The stress evidently had been too much for the two teachers before me. 

The unknown aspects of the job were the students.  I had not had a chance to interact with them much.  I was just learning the ropes and trying to develop a reasonable schedule that would serve those needing my services best.  In the meantime, I picked up all those germs floating around the schools where I was working because my immune system no longer has the ability to fight off all those new germs like it once did when I was in the classroom every day. 

Looking back on this latest venture of mine, I am reminded of a line from Mission Impossible.
Your mission should you agree to accept it…

Oh how I wish I would have thought of this line during the interview for the job.  The first question asked of me was, “Why do you want to be hired for this job that requires you to go to four school.”  I laughed and said, “Well, I didn’t know that the job required me to go to four schools.”  Right then and there, I should have interviewed the committee myself.  I should have said, “May I please visit these schools, speak with the teacher aides, and look at the requirements of the job and determine just how the school district expects me to fulfill these duties and requirements before I accept the job?”

I learned this life lesson about jobs a long time ago. 

A little over twenty-five years ago, before my husband and I were to be married, I applied for a job as an accounting assistant for a school district.  I had a B.S. in Business Administration, and I was working as an accounting assistant in a non-profit in Denver.  Since I had much experience in school district bookkeeping, and since I was moving to the town where the job was located in a very short time because of my impending marriage, I thought the job would be perfect.  The salary was low, too low for me to accept, so I negotiated for a higher salary.  My husband-to-be (now my husband) said I’d never get it.  He said they would never pay me what I was asking.  They did.  They gave the salary.

 The others in the department were not happy when I started the job because word had gotten around about my salary.  Never mind that I had a degree which they did not, and I had a great deal of experience. 

In just a few days, the joke was on me.  What I should have done was ask to see the books before I took the job.  None of the accounts had been balanced in over three months.  Some accounts had not been balanced in nearly a year.  The report to the state was due in just a few short months and all the books had to be balanced before work on the report could even begin.  All of this while learning how the system associated with district worked.

I caught up the balancing of the books and completed the report for the audit.  In the meantime, after spending five or six hours a day on the ten-key calculator or doing data entry on a ten key computer pad, my hands no longer could even tell if I dropped something until I heard the item hit the floor.  I couldn’t remove a paper clip from paper.  I had a very serious case of carpal tunnel.  That job ended my career as a bookkeeper/accounting technician. 

After surgery for carpel tunnel syndrome, during the recovery time, I was not allowed to work.  In fact, my doctor told me he would never release me to do that type of work again. 

That is when I went back to school and earned a BA in English and a certificate to teach Secondary Language Arts. 

***************

All of the lessons of life are applicable in other areas.  When I was interviewed for this most recent teaching job, I just didn’t remember to ask that important question:
“May I see the books before I start the job?”

In this case, I really should have visited the schools and seen the entire scope of the job.  If I had, the famous line from Mission Impossible would have given me a true picture of mission which I found impossible for me to do.  The job was not a good fit for me.  I do hope that some way, somehow, the needs of the students with limited proficiency in using English in the academic setting will get the services they deserve and are guaranteed for them under the laws which we currently have in place. 

***************

Today, February 7, 2017, a full week after I resigned, my husband said to me this morning.  “If you were working, you still would not be well enough to go back to work.”  He is right.  The virus has now settled in my chest.  I am more sick than I was a week ago.  Hopefully, this stubborn virus doesn’t hang on much longer.  At least I am home, fully retired, and able to do what I need to do to get well.