Archives

The Ice Bucket Challenge

As almost anyone who lives in the free world is aware by now, there has been a viral campaign going asking people to either dump ice water on their heads or make a $100 donation to ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).  ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  I’ve watched as friend after friend on Facebook has been nominated, and videotaped themselves making a little speech, and then dumped ice water over themselves.  Honestly, I was starting to feel relieved that nobody had nominated ME for two reasons.  One, I don’t have $100 to donate to anyone, and two, dumping ice water over myself sounds like some version of self-torture.  I hate being cold.  I don’t even like to drink ice water.

But then it happened.  My dear sister-in-law, Julie, nominated me in her video.  That was an instant of sheer dread that I haven’t felt since, well, I don’t when.  I started thinking of excuses as to why I couldn’t do it.  I considered donating money I didn’t have.  Then my heart took over and I realized that the ten seconds it would take for me to pour ice water over my head, was a much shorter time to suffer, than the patients with ALS have to suffer.  I decided that not only would I do the ice bucket challenge, but I would also make a donation within my means to ALS.

Once I made the decision to participate, the next order of business was to plan my wardrobe, makeup, and hair for the big event.  I don’t normally post videos of myself on the internet.  In fact, this would be the first time.  People who are my friends through the internet only, would hear my voice and see me live for the first time.  I went with black pants for the slimming factor, which honestly didn’t matter much.  Bare feet sounded good because I hate walking around on wet flip flops, and I have a tendency to slip ungracefully on them.  I couldn’t have that happen, although I’m sure it would have made my video much more entertaining.  I actually showered, and did my hair and makeup before the dumping.  I know.  That was really vain and stupid.  But whatever.  The ALS was getting their money and some awareness, so if I wanted to look decent, then call me vain.  I don’t care.  It doesn’t matter that the video quality was so poor that I could have done it with bed head and yesterday’s makeup running down my face and nobody would have seen it.

The time came to suck it up, prepare the ice water, and do the challenge.  I practiced in front of the camera first, to make sure the angles were good, ie. a “thinner angle.”  I wanted to practice my speech, so I didn’t sound like a bumbling fool.  It took a few tries because my son was standing next to my cameraman daughter, making faces and pretending to laugh at everything I said.  His support is always a blessing. All he had to do was look at me a certain way and I would start laughing.  He kindly offered to pour the water for me, but I passed on that offer as I knew he would inevitably throw it in my face, rather than allow it to prettily run down my svelte body in a “supermodel standing under a waterfall” way.

After a few practice tries came the real thing.  It’s very easy to hesitate indefinitely before pouring ice water over your head, so I told myself I would just do it without thinking about it.  I made my speech to the camera, nominated my unsuspecting friends and family, and dumped the ice water.  Holy shit, was it cold.  The shock to my system didn’t wear off until hours later.  I think I had frostbite down my neck and back.  My kids laughed…a lot.  It was okay because every good comedy needs its own laugh track.  My kids were happy to oblige.  They’re sweet like that.

So, it was over.  Done.  It really was easy, and kind of fun, all for a great cause.  If you get nominated by one of your loving, considerate friends, please seriously consider doing both the ice bucket challenge AND making a donation.  The ice water is to spread awareness…asking for donations wouldn’t have the same impact if it was just some person standing there asking for it.  It also gives your friends and family the sick pleasure of watching you torture yourself.  In my opinion, simply dumping ice water doesn’t excuse people from making a donation.  I think it’s important to spread the awareness as well as make a donation, even if it’s just a small one.  Every little bit helps.

If you are interested in learning more about ALS or in making a donation, please visit http://www.alsa.org/.  In the meantime, if you are nominated to do the ice bucket challenge, buck up, buttercup, and just do it!

Advertisements

Out Of The Ashes

Living in a household affected by chronic illness is challenging, stressful, frustrating, and sometimes next to impossible.  It often feels like a jail sentence from which there is no escape.  But over the past almost seven years, my family has experienced amazing acts of kindness that we may not have seen if all had been well in our world.

In October of 2010, my husband wound up in the hospital with a failing kidney.  It was decided that he needed a nephrostomy tube placed through his back and into his kidney to allow it to drain properly.  His tumor had occluded his ureter and his kidney was swollen.  It was the only thing they could do to save his kidney function on that side.  We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the turning point for his disease and we had yet to feel the full impact on our family.  Meanwhile, I had a hip resurfacing surgery scheduled for early November that year, and we decided I should keep the surgery date and get it done before he was any sicker and I couldn’t take the time to do it.  I had surgery, and a few weeks later, my hip fractured, and I had to return to surgery for a total hip replacement.  My second surgery was 10 days before Christmas, and my sick time had run out.  Neither of us had any income coming in.  With three young kids, and no income, the stress of Christmas was the highest it had ever been.

One day, a letter came in the mail, addressed to me.  I opened it and found $500 with a note saying that it was so my children could have a nice Christmas.  It was signed, “Santa.”  I felt the tension release from my shoulders immediately, and was so excited that I could buy them presents to put under the tree.  A week or so after that, we found a gift basket full of cheese, crackers, snacks, and assorted other goodies, left inside our back door.  There was no note and we had no idea who had left it for us.  We put it under the tree to save for another day.  We decided to open it a few days before Christmas.  At the bottom of the basket was a green gift box.  I opened the box and found $800 in cash.  To this day, we don’t know who left those for us.  But whoever it was, they were our Christmas angels that year, and we will be forever grateful for their kindness and generosity.  That was the most stressful two months of our lives.  Our world had completely fallen apart, and yet out of the ashes came hope, love, and incredibly kind gestures that made all the difference to us that Christmas.

Over the years since my husband got sick, we have been the recipients of numerous kindnesses from many people.  Our friend celebrated her 40th birthday, and asked all of her friends and family to donate money to help us, in lieu of gifts for herself.  Our parents have helped us out numerous times when we were in a bind.  They have paid our mortgage at times, bought us heating oil, bought us appliances when ours had broken, and my awesome uncle even gave me a car when mine had died.  Friends gave us money this past Christmas and we were able to buy heating oil and pay some bills.  My parents treated us to a Disney vacation,  have taken us on vacation to the beach in North Carolina, and my husband’s parents treated us this summer to a vacation in Vermont.  The list goes on and on.  People have made us dinners, and taken our kids to do things, and helped with projects around the house.  Every gesture of kindness has been very much appreciated and drastically reduced our stress during those tough times.

Families dealing with chronic illness tend to get caught up in the day to day stress of trying to keep their lives as normal as possible, even though their lives are anything but normal.  It helps to take a step back sometimes and look at the good that has come out of a tragic situation.  We have had friends come into our lives who have provided companionship, laughter, and time away from “the disease.”  Anonymous people have come through to help us when we needed it most.  We all have a choice to get lost in the rubble, or to stand up and see the beauty that can come from the same mess. We were dealt a crappy hand, but because of that hand, we have also been given the profound gift of friendship, love and generosity.  THAT is the true gift.

Call Me Crazy

I’m about to do the unthinkable.   I never thought this day would come, to be honest.  I had to think about it for a couple of months, weigh the pros and cons, and seriously consider the fact that I just might be certifiably insane.  What would I be missing?  Would my life be over?  What the hell will I do with myself?  How will I survive?  Then it struck me like a lightning bolt.  These thoughts are precisely why I need to do this.  I need to shut down my Facebook page.  That’s right.  I said it.  I’m shutting it down.  Not permanently…I’m not that loony.  The plan is to shut it down for the summer.

For the most part, I have enjoyed Facebook over the past few years.  I’ve gotten to know people better, and I like that I can see what’s going on, and share in people’s life events.  But over the past year or so, I’ve found myself more and more irritated with the nonsense and insignificant dreariness that people feel the need to share with the world.  I’m confident that I can make it through my day without knowing where people ate dinner the night before, what cashier is out sick at the local Walmart, and whose kid saved the world from some imminent disaster.  I can manage to drink my morning coffee without seeing someone’s 137,868th  selfie or picture taken by their bff.  Here’s a newsflash:  We all know what you look like…you haven’t changed since yesterday.   I’m also confident that I can survive, and so too will other people survive, if I don’t share the crap I share, too.  Facebook is ultimately a crapfest of who did more, who did it better, who looks better, who went more places, who has a better imaginary life, who has a smarter kid, not to mention those awesome vague posts that are simply an attention-getting tactic.  I need a break.  I spend more time being irritated than I do enjoying.

As I thought about doing this, I realized I need a plan.  I can’t just go cold turkey without figuring out a way to spend my time sans FB.  At first, I was almost in a panic and came very close to ditching the whole idea.  Then I thought, what did we all do before the internet and social media?  We all managed to have a life before Facebook was invented.  So, I made a plan.  This summer, I am going to do the many things I’ve claimed I didn’t have time for over the past several years.  I am going to read as many books as I can.  I am going to go to the gym several times a week.  My family joined the YMCA, and my kids are just as eager to go exercise as I am.  We are also doing a major nutritional overhaul in our house…no more junk food or processed food.  Well, occasional junk food.  Let’s be realistic.  I used to draw and do artistic things.  I want to start drawing again.  I find it incredibly relaxing and enjoyable.  I lose hours at a time, just by creating a drawing.  I also want to get my house in order so it’s not an embarrassment when people drop by.  I HATE cleaning, so if I get it cleared out and have a plan to keep it up, it will free up time to do the things I enjoy.  I want to get back to nature by going to the beach, going on hikes, or just sitting outside and reading.  I want to spend more time with my kids and give them my full attention.  I want to write.

I’m sharing this all through my blog for two reasons.  One, it’ll keep me honest.  If you all know I’m ditching facebook, then you will also know if I sneak back on.  I don’t have the self-control to do this on my own.  I need to be able to tell myself that I’ll look like a spineless moron if I don’t do it.  It’s the embarrassment factor, which is always a good way for me to not do something.   The second reason is that this is all part of an experiment that I will be writing a blog post on in September.  The experiment is just to see if I can do it, and what I can accomplish by getting rid of a serious time suck in my life.  If I can do it, other people can, too.  Life is too short to waste time reading about what other people are doing.  Life is about going out and doing.  If I die tomorrow, I will be much more satisfied that I spent today sitting on the beach, reading a book, talking to my kids, and enjoying all of OUR moments.

Grandma

This blog post will be a little different today.  I am writing about my grandmother who is celebrating her 90th birthday today.  While most of my readers don’t know her, I wanted to write about her because she has been one of the greatest influences on my life, and one of the ways I can honor her is with my words.  I will be giving her a copy of this post, in a card at her upcoming party.

 

Dear Gram,

Today, on the occasion of your 90th birthday, I want to express to you all the things I love about you and the ways in which you have influenced me over the past 46 years of my life.  You have been there for me since day one and you have always been like a second mother to me.  I don’t remember the first two years of my life when we lived right next door to you, but going to your house, even today, makes me feel like I’m home.  You are always so happy to see me and always willing to make coffee and have a bite to eat and spend time visiting.  I feel like I can talk to you about almost anything and your words of advice stay with me.  Some of my favorite memories from childhood include sleeping over at your house and staying up late to watch TV with you while Grandpa fell asleep on the couch, and the shopping trips and errands we would go on where you would always buy me “a little something.”  I remember all your roast beef dinners, and the holidays that were always celebrated at your house. Christmas will never be the same anywhere else.

I love to hear your stories about France, your childhood, your parents and especially the World War II stories when the Germans occupied France.  Of course, I also love to hear about how you met Grandpa, and the night my Mom was born on your mother’s dining room table.  You are a master story teller with a gift of description that brings your listeners to the place and time of your stories.  You are always willing to share your personal stories, even if it means making fun of yourself or sharing something embarrassing that you did.  Your story telling is one of my most favorite things about you.  My children also love your stories and I love that they will remember you and your stories.

One of the things I admire most about you is your incredible artistic talent.  I don’t know anyone who has a knack for decorating like you do, and I don’t know anyone else who takes it upon themselves to walk into their daughter’s or granddaughter’s home and make adjustments to the decor without being asked.  We never minded because it always looked a million times better!  And you did it from your heart, and to help us love our homes as much as you love yours.  You are amazing with a sewing machine and I know over your many years you have made wardrobes of clothes, but most impressive and meaningful are the many wedding gowns, head pieces, and hats you have made.  I hope someday one of my girls will wear the beautiful head piece you made me for my wedding.  Then there is the knitting.  There have been many babies who have been blessed with the baby sweaters and hats you have made over the years.  I cherish the sweaters you made for my babies, and all the hats and scarves that kept my children warm over the years.  My favorite thing, though, is that every year you take a baby sweater to the hospital on Grandpa’s birthday and donate it to an underprivileged newborn baby.  You are always so generous with your love and talents.

Your generosity is another quality you have that I admire.  You have always been willing to help out any of your children or grandchildren with anything…whether it was a home cooked meal, or an item from your home that someone could use, or even cash to help someone get by during a rough patch.  You have a way of giving without making the other person feel bad or guilty, and you have no idea how much that is appreciated by all of us.  You also are willing to help strangers.  I’ve seen you help elderly people in stores, or assist a child with something out in public, or simply donate something to a stranger when one of your children or grandchildren mention they know someone in need.  I also remember several holidays when you took in people you didn’t know who had no family nearby, and let them spend the holiday with our big family and enjoy an incredible dinner.  You share your love and let your light shine, and the world is a better place for it.  I know mine is.

Your job as mother is where you shine the brightest.   You took care of your children in a way that every mother should.  Their needs were always first, they always had a hot meal, beautiful home made clothing, a happy place to live, and tons of love.  You took care of Grandpa throughout your life together, right up to his last breath.  He was so lucky to call you his wife.  You have that same love for your grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Everyone knows that Mom, Grandma or Grandee will take care of them.  You taught my Mom how to be a Mom, and she taught me how to be a Mom.  I hope that my girls continue to carry it on.

Grandma, you are one of the strongest women I know and that is one of the biggest influences you have had on me.  Life hasn’t always been easy for you.  You’ve survived a war, and left your country to come here to raise a family.  Our family has had it’s share of difficult times, but you are a pillar of strength for everyone.  You never let it get the best of you.  You have survived the worst of nightmares in the loss of your child,  Uncle Jeff.  I can’t imagine the devastation of losing a child, and I know it was devastation for you.  But you carry on, and live and laugh.  That is an incredible gift to him, and the rest of your family.  So many mothers would get lost in their grief and never be the same again, but you are still here for the rest of us.  As I go through difficult times in my life, I think of you and your strength and it helps me carry on and do the same for my family.  Thank you so much for that.

I could go on, but those were the things I especially wanted you to know.   I love you more than words can express, and I want you to know that you will forever occupy a large piece of my heart.  I will carry you with me for the rest of my days, and I will be here for you for the rest of yours.  Have a very happy 90th birthday, Gram.  I love you!

 

Renee

Diet Delusions

I recently decided to eliminate wheat from my diet, and seriously restrict other grains as well.  I also decided to “give up” sugar.  By “give up,” I mean reduce the amount I consume on a daily basis from 5 pounds to 2 or 3 pounds.  Don’t laugh.  While I am exaggerating, giving up even a small amount of sugar is really, really hard for me.  That’s because it’s addicting…REALLY addicting.  And I like sugary stuff.  Remember, grains are sugar in disguise, so I’m almost insanely sugar free.  Thankfully, there are some wizards out there who have come up with alternatives to the white stuff, and they are just fabulous if you have no taste buds, whatsoever.

The first would be fake sugar…Equal, Sweet and Low, Natrataste, etc.  These are shitty tasting chemicals that cause cancer,  digestive issues, the bubonic plague, hangnails and other icky things that people tend not to enjoy.  There is also Stevia, the “natural” sugar alternative that people like to use because it’s much better for you.  Let’s be honest though…it gives food a nasty aftertaste that leaves me feeling that it’s nothing even close to sugar.  Stevia is okay in baked goods, but it’s atrocious in a cup of coffee.  I love my coffee, and I’ve tried hard to like sugar alternatives in my coffee, but I just can’t do it.  I still drink my coffee with good, old fashioned, white table sugar.  If that makes me unhealthy, then so be it.  Nobody messes with my coffee.

Another love of mine is ice cream.  There was a time, not so long ago, that I could and would eat a ginormous bowl of ice cream with either hot fudge or chocolate sprinkles piled on top.  It really is my favorite dessert.  I never get tired of it.  I could eat it every single night for the rest of my life and die a happy woman.  However, in my quest to lose weight, feel better, and be all around healthier, I have seriously restricted my ice cream intake to maybe once every few weeks (except for the past 3 nights because I made the mistake of buying mint chocolate chip and I hear it calling my name from the freezer at approximately 10 p.m. every night until it’s gone).  This morning, I stumbled across a suggestion by another wheat and sugar eliminator, to eat yogurt topped with strawberries for dessert because it’s “just like eating ice cream.”  Um, excuse me?  What kind of delusional, crack smoking, half wit has the nads to suggest that THAT would be anywhere close to the same as eating a bowl of ice cream?  The only thing even remotely close to ice cream, is friggin ice cream.  End of story.

There are numerous grain free desserts that call for ground flax meal.  I was so excited to try a chocolate muffin-in-a-mug one night, because I was PMSing and I wanted some damn chocolate.  It was really quick and easy to mix up and pop in the microwave for two minutes.  They suggested topping it with whipped cream, so I did.  It smelled heavenly.  I couldn’t wait to eat it.  I took one bite of that atrocity and nearly gagged.  It was like eating chocolate flavored coffee grounds.  I tried to like it for several bites.  I decided that it wasn’t fit for the dog.  I don’t care how good it is for me, I won’t bake anything with flax meal again.

One food that is allowed and encouraged when you eliminate grains and sugars from your diet is chocolate.  However, it should be 85% cacao.  The antioxidants are really good for you, and it’s low in sugar.  VERY low in sugar.  TOO low in sugar.  In fact, it’s nothing like a Hershey bar, or Dove chocolate, or kisses, or M&Ms, or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  The “anti wheat people” claim that it’s such a wonderful treat.  They eat one whole square of it and are satisfied.  These people are freaks.  They shouldn’t be allowed to breed.  I will eat dark chocolate…the normal dark chocolate, thank you.  And I will eat more than one square.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am really enjoying the wheat free lifestyle, and most of the food is just delicious.  I feel great, have a lot of energy, and have started losing weight.  I don’t miss wheat, or other grains, and I’m okay with not eating most sugary stuff.  Sometimes, I fall off the no-wheat-no-sugar train, and that’s okay.  I’m not doing this to prove to anyone else that I can do it.  I’m doing this for me, and if I choose to drink my coffee with sugar, or eat a bowl of ice cream once in a while, or eat a Hershey bar with almonds one night, then I’m okay with that.  I don’t need to impress the non-wheat people, or the people in my life who point out that I’m not following my “diet,” or who think my way of eating is “just a fad.”  The point is, I’m a lot healthier, but I’m still enjoying a few of my favorite things.

Be A Quitter

Be a quitter.  It’s okay.  If you aren’t enjoying the book you’re reading, go ahead and shut it, never to pick it up again.  Really, the world won’t fall apart.  You could even go bigger than quitting a book.  You could quit the hobby you don’t enjoy any more, or quit hanging out with people who no longer have a positive impact on your life.  You can quit eating food that isn’t good for you.  You can even quit your diet.  How about your job?  Is it draining the life from your body and soul and wasting years of your life?

 

I recently made a decision to quit a certification program in surgical technology.  In the beginning, I was very excited to start a new adventure in the medical field…a field I always wanted to be a part of.  I yearned for it.  I quit a job that I loved, so I could do something new.  It was a huge risk.  My husband and I made the choice to live on a measly disability paycheck that he gets every month.  It was a risky move, but the idea was that I could ultimately get a better paying job, doing something I loved, within a year.  I enjoyed the academics of school, but when it came to working in an operating room, it slowly dawned on me that I didn’t like it…at all.  The operating room is very high stress, I found myself looking at the clock every five minutes while at the hospital, wondering if it was time to leave yet.  I absolutely dreaded going in to the hospital on clinical days. So many people were happy for me when I decided to go to school and it was so great in the beginning.  People would ask me if I love it and I would say yes, while thinking to myself that I didn’t think I did.  It took me awhile to admit to myself that this wasn’t right for me.  How could I spend the rest of my life doing something that I already dreaded?  Four months into the program, I quit.  I didn’t consult with anyone about my decision.  I made it myself.  It was okay to quit.  Guess what?  The world hasn’t fallen apart.  In fact, I’m at peace knowing that I no longer have to live with the regret that I never went into the medical field.

 

I left school with a game plan.  I would apply to substitute teach in the school system that I quit working for to return to school.  While doing that, I would look for something permanent.  Again, it was a risky move.  The job market isn’t great, and substitute teaching is only as needed.  So far, it has worked out.  I look at this time as a transition period.  I am working, and waiting for the right job.  I’m 46 years old and don’t want to settle any more for what’s available.  I don’t want to settle for a crappy job that bores me.  I don’t want to settle for a job that other people think I would enjoy or a job that I should take because I’m not working a permanent job right now.  I have three kids and a sick husband to think about.  While I need something that can pay the bills, I refuse to be miserable to do it.  Some people may understand that, some may not.  I don’t need them to understand.

 

I am now in a place in my life where I realize how short life really is.  This is MY life, and while it affects others, I am the one who ultimately has to live it.  I have responsibilities to my children and husband.  I would never sacrifice their well being in a selfish way.  It’s better for them to have a happy mother and wife, not a miserable one who is living like a robot, doing what everyone else expects of her.  I’ve spent most of my life, doing what is expected by others, all at my own expense.  I am now choosing to live authentically by doing what is right for me, based on my own feelings, desires and needs.  If I do that, my husband and kids will be better off.  I will have more energy for them.  I will be happier, so they will be happier.

 

I’ve heard so many people say so many times that they “can’t” quit something that no longer serves them.  They started a book, they don’t like it, but they feel they have to finish it.  They started a karate class, or learning how to knit, or training for a new job, and they can’t quit.  They are hanging out with someone who brings them down, or treats them as if they are only a friend of convenience, or they blow them off when something better comes along.  But, they can’t stop being friends because they don’t want to make them feel bad.  Really?  Obviously, people like that aren’t too concerned about your feelings.  Let them go.  My point isn’t to live selfishly with no regard for others.  My point is to be honest with yourself, see when something isn’t serving you, and let it go.  There are no prizes for finishing that book that bores you to the point that your eyes are glazed over.  Close it and get a new one.  The prize is much bigger if you quit that which you hate.  It frees up your time to do the things you really enjoy, that bring positivity to your life, and maybe give you a feeling of peace.  Life is too short to waste time on things that aren’t right.

New Year’s Resolution

Anyone can make a New Year’s Resolution on January 1st.  I usually make some sort of half assed resolution that I forget about in a matter of days, if not hours.  I’m pretty sure the reason is that most resolutions are about self-deprivation, and who likes to deprive themselves of things they enjoy?  I’d like to lose weight, but that would mean depriving myself of chocolate chip cookies, french toast, and candy.  There are those annoyingly self-disciplined people who say, “You don’t have to deprive yourself of cookies, just eat one or two.”  What those perfect people don’t get is that I’m not satisfied with chocolate chip cookies until I’ve eaten 1/4 of the cookie dough before the first batch has come out of the oven, and that I MUST test a cookie from each batch to make sure it passes quality control.  Once all the cookies are baked, I need to have at least 3 with my cup of tea.  See how that works?  Satisfaction comes after about a dozen cookies.  So, the hell with that resolution.

This year, I decided to change tactics and come up with some resolutions that I could enjoy, but that would still be self improvement.  They include learning to knit, learning to create and interpret astrological birth charts, and to start doing more active things such as hiking.  My first resolution, and a long time goal of mine, was to start writing a blog.  Many people have been encouraging me to write.  I like to write, but it’s not an easy thing to put yourself out there by expressing your opinions and ideas.  People will disagree with me, some will take offense, some will take it personally, and hopefully some will relate and enjoy.  I’ve had a million ideas for blog posts running through my head.  Being the disorganized person that I am, I haven’t written down a single idea.  However, I think someone, somewhere, said something like, “You can’t get down the road unless you take the first step.”  Or something kind of like that.  So, this is the first step.

This blog doesn’t really have a theme.  Mostly, it will be based on my thoughts and observations of every day situations.   If you choose to read it, I hope you enjoy!