Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gaga's 1st Annual Summer Camp

Oh boy! I have been busy planning for the upcoming "Gaga's 1st Annual Summer Camp" that I will be having the last week of June.  That is when my son and his wife will be going to Hawaii for 6 days to celebrate her brother's wedding and have a few days of "honeymoon" time since they missed out on having one when they got married.  So Avery will spend the week with Gaga and Poppy!!  I am SOOOO excited!!! We will have a fun time doing summer camp activities.

For example, Uncle Nik said the first item on the agenda is the zoo.  Of COURSE!! And we will also have to go swimming and since Uncle Greg just bought a pool to put up at Uncle Nik's ~ we will go there!  I have also found more fun websites to explore during computer time, and I have even planned learning activities focused on gardening and butterflies!  I think I am having more fun than Avery will.

There is a great website called No Time for Flash Cards. (  I have found so many ideas for crafts and books and whatever you need. There are spelling games and everything is broken down by age. Other fun and interactive websites that Avery and I visit from time to time is Sesame Street ( and Dr. Seuss ( Both sites have catchy little tunes, activities, and games for kids. I found new songs to learn that I am sure she will like.

And of course there are hundreds of different ways to engage kids on YouTube but beware - some of them are parody's of the real thing and after you click on one that you think is safe - you learn that it really is not.  Some can be pretty bad too so screen them before you show them to your little ones.

Avery will have fun during our Summer Camp week. I know I will.  I just hope my screened room is up before then so we can find some time to take a little siesta on Cultural Day (Dora the Explorer and activities brought to us by the letter "M" - for Mexico, milk, and MACARONI!)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Job search update

I am still on sabbatical and loving every minute.  I keep finding things to do that I couldn't find time or energy to do before, like refinishing furniture, completing my travel scrapbooks, and gardening.  I love gardening again!  I do realize however that my efforts to find meaningful employment need to be stepped up so that I am in full time employment again ~ or writing serious grants ~ by the end of summer.

I spoke with a former colleague of mine yesterday who shared some very depressing news; she shared some devastating news for those suffering from mental health and substance abuse disorders. Our counties largest social service agencies has threatened to close its doors on June 30, after 53 years of business.  The state is so far behind in its payments that social service agencies cannot serve people and keep their doors open. A merger was developed, key staff lost their positions, and now the merger is coming to a complete stop with very little notice.  More than 2000 clients who cannot afford to pay for treatment will be left to find limited help elsewhere by agencies who are already understaffed and wondering if they will ever be reimbursed on time from the state again.

Which brings me to the point of my post.  One year ago, I left non-profit work and decided to try my hand at grant writing, specializing in helping non-profit directors and school administrators develop programs and secure funding that will serve their clients in the best way possible.  Given the economic climate of our state, and nation, and knowing that we can no longer rely on outside help to meet the needs of our children and families, it is time to look inside ourselves and find ways to bring that help home.  It really does take a village to raise a child but if the members of the village are too ill to take responsibility, we all suffer.

We all need to pool our resources, working together to find solutions locally.  It appeared that our county had the answer. As part of my previous employment, I worked for a system of care movement and I agreed with its founding principles, one of them being that families at the heart of the services should be the driving force behind the decisions.  What was missing however was the lack of leadership who completely understood the meaning of those principles.  Six years ago our county accepted 9 million dollars from our federal government to change the way mental health services were delivered to our families and less than one year after the funding ended, the system of care thinking, and the people driving the movement in our county are leaving ~ for many reasons ~ and in reality, nothing has changed. The county and state continues to operate as it did before, and once again the families are going to suffer.

We need to find a way to strengthen our families closer to home, with local resources and the desire to do the right thing for the citizens of our community driving the momentum. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New inspiration

Like most women, from time to time I take my body measurements in addition to stepping on the scale.  Last year, at the beginning of my sabbatical, I took my measurements and set them aside (with a loud groan) and proceeded to spend the rest of the spring, summer, fall, and winter sitting around, icing my knee, looking for employment, and "resting".  Right after my knee replacement surgery, I measured myself again.  Not only had I gained about 15 pounds (on top of another 10 or so throughout the previous year) since losing my job, (6 months before) but I had added about 3 - 4 more inches of "fluff". A little depressing.

After my knee surgery, as I have mentioned before, my wellness plan included rehabilitation for the knee, my diabetes, and arthritis ~ not to mention, my spirit. I began the day after surgery and while I couldn't walk to lose weight during that time, I could pay more attention to what went into my body. 

With the help of my oldest son Nik, who cooked for me and took very good care of me during my recovery period, I was able to begin changing from old unhealthy eating habits to better habits.  My son Nate added his inspirational pep talks and within 3 months, I had lost about 25 pounds or so. Now, 5 months after surgery, after beginning my 5K training plan in April, I am proud to say, I have not only lost 36 pounds (since December) but I have lost between 2 - 6 inches of "fluff" depending on where I measure.  Amazing!

I was just feeling sorry for myself last week. I had had a bad food week, reacted badly to the heat, took a step back (if you will) from my walking to recover from shin splints and heat exhaustion, and complained that for the past month the scale had not gone down any farther.  I had once again hit a plateau. But I knew my clothes fit differently.  I decided to take my measurements again today and while I did gain an inch around my waist, I lost in my hips and elsewhere.  I am sure the 1 inch around my waist was from the milk products consumed over the weekend on our mini-cation to Minnesota for my Godsons graduation and last weeks bad week.

I guess walking really does have benefits even if you don't see the scale go down. This week, my legs are feeling better again and I am re-motivated to "continue on up the road" to conquer the next fitness goal.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sometimes you need a boost

God has been sending me subtle little messages all week to remind me that he really is on my side and doing his part to help me get healthy. For example, yesterday I had a "stressful" day of driving and got lost.  My son had been transferred to a different drug rehab in an area that my husband used to work in and I traveled all the time.  That was 35 years ago however, and things have really changed in that part of the state. I ended up driving too far and was late. I used to drive all over the state and getting lost was part of the challenge sometimes and it didn't stress me out that much but having learned to slowly and methodically move through the day with minimal stress, it was a very different feeling for me again.  So what did I do to compensate? I stopped at McDonald's for lunch and got 2 small cheeseburgers and a fry. I only ate half the fries and couldn't understand why I liked McDonald's food in the first place so I ended up throwing part of it away. I felt horrible and sluggish the rest of the day. Yet I still went on my walk and felt slow and couldn't breath well, but I did it.
I wondered last night, how was I going to ease back into working all day, coming home to make a healthy, well balanced, and nutritious meal (which I have come to enjoy doing at least 4 ~ 5 times a week now) ~ once I start working again?  Will we resort to old habits of ordering fast food again because I am too mentally drained to think of what to have for dinner?  To be very honest ~ I am scared of that possibility.
This morning I made french toast. 3 pieces. I really felt guilty as I was slathering syrup all over them thinking - I really should only have one piece but I don't want to waste the apparently not guilty enough to stop and correct my behavior. As I sat on the porch eating my really good french toast ~ I am half done and along comes a big wind and deposits little seeds all over the french toast. Not taking the cue to stop eating, I try picking the seeds out and another burst comes along bringing even more seeds. Wow ~ that got my attention!
I need to continue to fight my battle of making healthy decisions about what I put into my body, understanding that sometimes it may not be the best choice, but I just can't eat as much of it.  I am also aware of the fact that I will need to always have a plan A and a Plan B to fall back on when I go back to work and Plan B needs to include already decided menus of good healthy choices that are quick and easy to fix.
Thank you God for having my back and helping me get the message that everything is good - in moderation.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 22, 1976

Thirty six years ago today I was getting ready to walk down the aisle to my new husband. I met him at Pizza Hut when he hired me on 1.26.76. We were married 4 months later in the Catholic Church and he still hasn't forgiven me for that but we made it this long anyway.
I was coming out of an abusive relationship and he was so very different; passive by comparison and had a witty sense of humor that kept me laughing even while we were working.  I hated waitressing but I had been unemployed for a couple of months and my Dad insisted I go talk to this nice guy that worked at Pizza Hut because, after having lunch and talking to him, he learned that Dave was hiring.  So I went there with an attitude ~ hoping to not get hired ~ but at least I could say to my Dad that I went.  I knew he would check and Dave would have to say, "Yes, she came in but she wasn't right for the job".
Unfortunately, he hired me on the spot and even when I showed up my first night in an old white uniform that I had used at another job ~ to wear until my Pizza Hut uniform came in ~ he just nicely told me not to wear it again. That I looked like a nurse. We hit it off right away.  I found him very easy to talk to and he could not imagine someone hitting a woman and made it very clear that I needed to leave that relationship with "that Corvette driving, gear-head, drunken, motorcycle driving, girlfriend beating asshole".  He may have added a few other colorful words but it was a long time ago so I don't remember. The next day, I broke it off with Mike.
A month after meeting Dave, we were planning our wedding.  He even asked my Dad and Mom for my hand in marriage and made it clear to my Dad that we didn't "HAVE" to get married, to which my Dad said "Well hell I knew that, you haven't known each other long enough!" So he said yes, and on their way home after lunch my Dad said to my Mom, "I said he could marry my daughter and I don't even know his last name!"
Our marriage has had its ups and downs like all marriages, but for the most part he has remained my best friend.  Happy Anniversary BoBo!


Sunday, May 20, 2012


This morning I thought I would post a couple of updates ~


I am still looking for the right job ~ I am looking for full time employment that will allow some flexibility with scheduling, utilizes my writing and/or management skills, pays enough to give me a chance to pay all of my bills, including my student loans (which are now in the deferment stage), provides benefits, and doesn't require me to work weekends. Traveling during the week with an OCCASIONAL weekend would be fun.  I have decided my relationship with my young Granddaughter is still too precious to set aside for a career and I like that my son and daughter-in-law accept my assistance. Or I would accept a part time job doing just about anything for now.

Grant Writing

I am writing grants but my main client is a volunteer position.  There are two more in the works. I like writing proposals and organizing a project that is short term and so important to the health of an organization. I have registered with just about every federal agency that provides funding for non-profits.  Hopefully I will get notified soon of a grant review learning opportunity.

Green Bay Packer 5K Walk/Run

I FINALLY found the Packer website updated with current 5K information. While I am still on sabbatical, I am determined to walk this year, so I will be in Green Bay on July 28 participating in the 3rd annual Packer 5K Walk/Run. I am raising money for Arthritis and Diabetes Research.  In case you want to donate - go to  "Walking With a Purpose at ~

Dancing with the Stars

 American Idol
Philip Phillips

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Life after knee replacement

Some people say I am one of the lucky ones.  I have spent the better part of almost 2 years struggling with arthritis.  I've dealt with minor flareups over the years and after rest and ice, everything would feel better.  In July of 2010 however, I was on a plane going to Washington DC and experienced a bad landing.  It caused my back to go out and I spent the few days at the conference in quite a bit of pain. That flare lasted several months, getting better for a few days only to come back again. People told me it was stress ~ and I am sure that made it worse ~ but I knew this was different from my typical tension backache that usually came on after a period of stressful events. It affected my work and my health in general.

My back continued to give me problems for months until I finally went to the doctor who took several X-rays.  They showed that I had spondylolisthesis, an arthritis that causes the vertebrae in the spine to shift due to cartilage breakdown.  In my case I had significant degeneration of my spine. I was told to go to bed, take a strong anti-inflammatory, rest, decrease my stress, lose weight, and ice my back. That was in December 2010.

There are over 100 different forms of arthritis. The disease causes inflammation in the joints throughout the body; the wearing away of cartilage in the joints is what causes the pain and creates conditions that make the joints swell. In February, 2011, after gaining 10 pounds from doing nothing, I was finally given the ok to begin physical therapy. While doing the exercises with the physical therapist, I felt my knee pop.  It turns out, I tore the meniscus and the best course of treatment for that I was told, was arthroscopic surgery (AS) to repair the damage, and while they were in there they would also scrape the worn cartilage that had not caused any pain thus far, but was certain to after awhile. It appeared that my body had become overwhelmed by arthritis, and having worked under stressful conditions, and gaining weight over the years, my body was finally telling me that enough was enough.

After surgery, again I was sentenced to encouraged to participate in physical therapy. Now remember, my last experience didn't go so well.  Also, exercise has never been my thing.  I would walk with my husband but nothing strenuous so for me, learning that the best way to live with arthritis was to lose weight and begin a daily exercise routine was like being told you need to eat liver and onions every day. Up to this point, the only consistent aerobic exercise I endured was my heart rate increasing at the sight of anything chocolate and running to eat it. 

After AS, my knee didn't improve.  I was doing physical therapy off and on, icing and resting, and still taking twice daily doses of an anti-inflammatory medication that by this time was causing side effects. My back miraculously improved a great deal during this time so the original problem, was now under control. Perhaps that was because 2 weeks after surgery, I lost my job.

My knee however, was still inflamed and in a tremendous amount of pain 3 months after surgery. I had spent the spring and early summer letting the meniscus heal but the arthritis was still there.  By this time, I had very little cartilage left so it was like bone rubbing on bone. While I was lazing around recovering, my husband was still going strong on his fitness plan and even participated in several 5K's - one being in Green Bay and he even got to walk around Lambeau Field and through the tunnel that the Packer players run through. While I limped along the sidelines in pain and watched. That was when I decided something else needed to be done.

My orthopedic surgeon had suggested knee replacement at the beginning of all this, but some people do not do well after replacement so I was afraid to go that route. Especially when I had really only started having problems with my knee.  We decided to do a series of 5 supartz injections instead.  It hurt like hell, the effects only lasted a day or two, and when it was all done, there was no improvement.  The inflammation in my knee was worse than when I originally hurt it because of the arthritis that was never going to go away. We scheduled my knee replacement 2 weeks after my final injection and at the end of December, I joined the ranks of those who now sport a fake knee.

And I am so very happy I did it. Now, I walk with NO pain.  I am almost to the 5 month post replacement point and while it still gets stiff, I am told that is normal for the first 6 months to a year. My back has improved because I can walk right again and do the exercises. I have also lost 30 pounds which was one of my earlier goals to treat my back pain. I went to a wonderful physical therapist after my last surgery and he was so different from the first two I worked with that I am convinced he is the reason I saw improvement this time. What is even more important however, is that he changed my whole attitude about exercise and fitness.

On July 28, 2012, 2 years almost to the day after that plane landed and launched me into a nightmare of ongoing chronic pain, and depression, I will participate in my first 5K walk, in Green Bay. I love the Packers and I wanted to run through that tunnel too!

I love exercising now. Walking energizes me.  Stretching relaxes me. And watching my weight consistently go down motivates me to continue. I can finally say, I feel good again.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Last night we had a thunderstorm.  It smelled so good outside just before the storm hit and even better while it was raining.  You could smell the earth, the grass, lilacs, and dust.  My Grandma Hadaway always said rain was good for the plants. Much better than water from a bucket or the hose. If there was thunder and lightning ~ that was even better.  I remember watching my Grandpa doing the rain dance, and amazed that within a few minutes, it started to rain! He was a miracle worker!

We used to lay in the bed on her enclosed porch and watch rain storms coming.  When I smelled the rain last night, my mind went back to those times. I always wanted a sleeping porch and mostly for that reason. In the summer it was always cooler out there, but during a light rain, it was just a perfect sleeping environment.

This morning I went outside and marveled at how much the plants had grown overnight.  My lettuce and cilantro are at least an inch taller.  I water them every day, but the rain seems to make them happier and want to stand taller.  It's as if they are saying "Hello sun! We got a nourishing drink of water last night, it's your turn to feed us!"

Rain also brings out the child in us. OK - light rainstorms do.  Pounding rain, with lightning and having to run to the car or drive in it, makes me nervous.  Sitting on the porch or close to a window when it is lightning makes me very anxious.  I had a favorite teacher die because he was struck by lightning during a storm and since that time, I have had a new respect for lightning.  But a warm rain shower, minus the thunder and lightning, is great for puddle jumping and dancing in the rain. 

Avery and I will do that this summer.  And we will sit in a screened "room" in the back yard and talk about how the rain is helping the flowers and plants grow. We will read books together, sing songs, tell stories, look at photo albums, take deep breathes and smell the earth during a magical rain.  And if God is really being helpful, we will take a nap on my version of a sleeping porch.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Past acquaintances

As I sat on my back stoop reading this morning, my mind kept going back in time.  So often I wonder what happened to the families I worked with in my previous career.  There were so many.  Ethics discourage you from becoming friends with clients, yet in my last job that rule was often broken because the situations were different.  But not a few years ago when I worked for the Illinois Federation of Families.  One reason we didn't become friendly was distance. I traveled all over the northern part of the state to meet with families and attend meetings at schools. It was not uncommon to have a meeting at 7:00 AM in Galena and another one at 1:00PM in Pontiac and a group to facilitate at 7:00pm in Lincoln.  On the same day. I would usually schedule my time around meetings in Springfield so I could maximize the gas money and not be on the road as long.

But the main reason we didn't become friends was out of respect for their privacy, and the need to set boundaries and remain disconnected enough so we could make objective decisions. I always felt that in my position, that rule was a bunch of hooey. How could I truly advocate for a family, and relate their story clearly and honestly, without getting to know the real facts?  You don't become immersed in a families life, learning the hard truth, without building trust.  And sometimes along the way you also build friendships.

In all of the towns I visited, families told me their stories and in order to let them know I somewhat understood, I would give them a little of mine. Most of the time we shared the same kind of experiences.  Same circumstances, different people and so many times, the same similar outcomes. Occasionally the kids had the same names.  I always wanted to research whether all Nicholas' had tormented lives. 

Most of the families I met with had boys but some had girls. I was bullied when I was in high school so I could often relate to the "torture" they were responding to.  Sometimes their stories made me cringe and appreciate the life I had.  It still makes me sad to think of one young girl, who was 13 when I met with her single Mom.  She had lost her Dad in a boating accident 2 years before, and her grief was overwhelming. She had started cutting herself and her Mom, who was still recovering from the loss of her husband, didn't know what to do. The school wanted to throw her out, and the Mom didn't have family living close by, and was about to lose her job.  Again.

I so often think of her and want to reach out and find out what she is doing now.  I think I will try to do that today.  Perhaps her story will be the beginning of a book about the lives of the families touched by emotional challenges. I will change their names, but I have decided their stories need to be told.

Monday, May 14, 2012


I have not been on here for a few days and it certainly wasn't because of a lack of things to say.  I have been busy doing many activities that I know I will have to put off once I start working full time again. I enjoy spending time in my back yard now.  I was thinking the other day that we have lived here for about 17 years and I haven't spent as much time in my back yard in all those years as I have in the past couple of months. I would read on my front porch or I was too busy working and doing inside chores to take the time to sit outside in the back yard.  I didn't realize how busy nature was back there.

Yesterday was Mother's Day AND my fathers birthday.  By habit, we spent the time sitting in the driveway in the front of the house. My goal is to get everyone into the back yard by the end of the summer. I loved spending time with my Mom and Dad. Two of my boys were here (one was not able to come, he was being detained elsewhere).  Nik has become such a good man.  We were worried at one point that he would not live this long.  We will not get into that now, but let's just say, he is now a hard worker and loves to spend time with his family.  Nathan and Jessie brought Avery over.  Nathan was tired from his two week long celebration of his very best friends wedding celebrations.  Little Avery felt her Daddy's fatigue as well and at times was a little cranky.

Do you know how hard it is to sit and let parents discipline your grandchild?  I try so hard to be supportive but gosh darn it - you might as well be putting me in time out because I was crying right along with her! (I am sure both of them WANT to put me in time out sometimes too).

When they got here, before the car door opened, Avery was yelling, "Gaga!!!" and apparently she was working very hard to get out of her car seat and remove every treasure she holds dear to her while en route to wherever from her lap. She finally escaped and came running up to me, arms out, yelling, "Gaga! MY GAGA!!!"  She gave me a big hug and kiss.  Why is that a big deal?  Because it was the first time she had claimed me as her Gaga. MY Gaga........damn right!

She is going through a shy phase right now so with people she doesn't recognize right away she pretends to not see, or hides from them by hiding behind my leg. Regardless of who is here or why, she knows what should be happening while at HER Gaga's house.  PLAYING!!! While ignoring most others, she grabbed my hand and led me to her park to play the normal slide game, or led me inside the house to find toys. From a two year old's perspective, this is just what is done. She is responding to habits already formed and will ease into new habits over time. So we need to have more picnics.

At one point it was time to eat. She wanted no part of taking time out of her busy playing to eat.  Even if it was macaroni and cheese.  Eventually, I am sad to say, she ending up in time out. I know now that when my precious grandchild goes into time out, I need to as well ~ in another state. While she was sitting on her time out chair, her eyes locked with mine and she screamed "GAGA!!!  GA-GA!!!!!!" ~sniffle~ My heart broke! I seriously had tears in my eyes.  I can't describe the feeling I experience at that time ~ the pain of knowing my grandchild wants me to save her from all things evil (in her mind) and I am just sitting there watching her.

Now, I fully support my son and daughter-in-law.  If I didn't I would have run over and grabbed her and put the two of THEM in time out.  But I know that it is important to let them discipline her if I want to have a well behaved grandchild when she is 5. I also know it is important to the relationship for Avery to see me support her parents. But gosh darn it is so hard sometimes.

She did forgive me though and when time out was over she came to sit beside me.  With huge tears in her eyes which I promptly kissed away. She still wouldn't eat. She is stubborn that way.  She gets that trait from someone in the family ~

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Wow, I have been so busy not doing much for the past two days I thought I better check in with my blog so I don't disappoint my many readers.

I have spent most of the past two days observing birds and squirrels. I say "observing" because I am not usually all that observant. People make fun of me because we will go somewhere and they will be talking about what somebody was wearing or how the house looked a certain way, and I will say, "What do you mean? I didn't notice that!" I am always missing really great clothes or a beautiful kitchen in someones house because I seem to be more concerned with how I am feeling in that environment or with that person.

The turf
This morning I was sitting on my back stoop drinking my morning coffee and reading a James Patterson novel.  Suddenly I heard a commotion in the tree and given that the novel is a murder mystery, my first thought was, "Who is watching me? I am going to die!" Then reality took hold and I realized I was not in any danger, just surrounded by birds and squirrels. Then, paying more attention and looking around, witnessed what one can only describe as a Civil War between the birds and the squirrels. What they were fighting over I am not sure because when everything calmed down, I looked into the tree and didn't see a nest or anything.  Perhaps it was their version of "turf war".

I used to believe that squirrels were these cute little fuzzy tailed creatures that frolicked through the neighborhood running along branches and fences, jumping from fence to tree, to rooftop, to car, to ground ~ having joyous fun along the way. Of course they have always had their share of fun at my expense, digging up my flowers to bury nuts, or climbing into our attic and running around, noisily thumping along the floor.

One day I saw a little squirrel sitting on the birdhouse on my front porch, with both eyes on the bagel I had left on the table next to my chair. Running to answer the phone, I looked outside to see the squirrel with MY bagel in his mouth, running across the driveway, up the tire of my car, and because the bagel was too big, he had to leave it on the tire so he could go get help. I have a picture of that somewhere.  Someday I will find it and hopefully by then I will have a working scanner again so I can post it here as an update. 

Chucky, part of the Squirrel brigade

This morning I witnessed two battles, the first won by the squirrels,the second by the birds.  It was amazing to see squirrels coming from all over the neighborhood to lend support, while birds sat in neighboring trees waiting to be called on. There was a lot of chirping and squawking and fluttering of wings. I was too busy cowering behind my book to capture it on film, but I did take pictures later.

When it was safe.

Monday, May 7, 2012


I never realized before I became unemployed decided to go on sabbatical, how much stress plays a part in our lives.  There is good stress and bad stress. Having stress throughout the day can help motivate us to make changes, assists us in the decision making process, and gives us that feeling of excitement when we complete a goal or experience a happy event.  Planning a party can be stressful but it is a good stress because there is a beginning and an end in sight. Even though something might go wrong, you still have joy throughout the process.

Chronic stress, that ongoing stress when the end is unknown, depletes us of our energy. It creates an environment that is not healthy for your body or mind.  When someone is under chronic stress the people around them try to help you but eventually, even they can become overwhelmed and begin to feel helpless and fatigued by your company.  I know, I have been in both places. Trying to help others, and being the one who needed the help.

Caregiver fatigue happened to me when I spent years helping people and not feeling like I was making a difference. It started long before my career took off. In fact, everyone told me I was such a good listener that I could be paid to help people.  I was always being told to get my counselors certification but that was not what I wanted to do. Yes, I was a good listener, but I didn't want to do that all the time.  I spent enough time listening to peoples problems from my friends and family, why would I want to do that all day at work too?

Yet, that is what I ended up doing.  I never became a licensed clinical professional counselor, or a social worker, but I became a parent mentor and spent years listening to the struggles of parents trying their hardest to raise children with learning problems, substance abuse, and/or emotional and behavioral challenges. My focus was to listen and then connect them to people who could help them the best.  I spent hours looking for additional resources for families. While searching for resources, I met others in similar situations or read many testimonials from parents who had "been there, done that, learned this".

Please don't get me wrong.  I loved my job.  I connected with families better than most therapists because I offered to them what many therapists couldn't ~ or wouldn't.  History of being in their shoes and "living to tell about it". I met some wonderful people (parents, caregivers, and professionals) along the way; caring, loving, and extremely stressed out individuals who after awhile, also suffered from the effects of chronic stress on their bodies. I listened to all of their problems and worked with people who were referred to as "workplace bullies" which creates enough stress right there. I carried their problems with me everywhere. I also had chronic drama in my personal life so combine that with what I was feeling from work and I was a stress bomb accident waiting to happen.

I needed to learn to let go and not feel responsible for the way others felt or behaved. That was the first step of many more to follow.

I won't get into all the scientific reasons about stress and illness because that is not the purpose of this blog.  There are many resources available online from credible sites such as, National Institutes of Health (, Help Guide ( or one I found a few months ago ~ the Global Healing Center All of these sites provide information about the effects of chronic stress and what you can do about it.

I mention it today because I heard from another person I used to work with who is counting the days to retirement.  She has been under so much stress over the past few years that she continues to suffer from health problems that I know will diminish ~ and might even disappear altogether ~ by this time next year. What is ironic in all of this is the fact that SHE is the person who taught me about stress. I had help getting to the place I am at now because the decision to eliminate my position from the non-profit I worked for, forced  me to make the decision to look at my life and reflect on the decisions I was making and why I was making them. It forced me to take a step back, slow down, quiet my mind.

This past year has allowed me to rest and recover. Saturday was my 1 year anniversary of being official eliminated laid off unemployed guided toward the healing journey I gratefully refer to as my sabbatical. My plan when I finally re-enter the workforce again is to be good to myself, set appropriate boundaries, remember to eat healthy and exercise every day, and ALWAYS make time for the ones I love.  All of these steps will help me keep my stress level in check so I don't go back to where I was a year ago.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The art of frying potatoes

I think there is an art to frying potatoes.  You know the kind of potatoes I am talking about.  Slices thicker than chips, fried crispy with a little softness inside.  I was never very good at it; they were too greasy and soggy, or burned.  Never could I find that happy medium. Someone taught me once how to make the perfect fried potatoes.  I watched in horror as the potatoes danced in a pan of so much oil that if spilled, the EPA would declare an oil slick.

But when I tasted the golden beauties, they didn't taste greasy at all.  The outside crunched and the inside melted in your mouth.  The perfect blend of textures and flavor. And you could taste the potato! Yum.....

Not so when I do it.  Just this morning I tried again.  When I finished eating, I commented to my husband that now I understand why I only make these once a year. If I ate them more often I would have a heart attack for sure.  Now that I am following a much healthier diet, even a piece of bacon feels too heavy and greasy. So why did I think that eating a half of a fried potato and 4 pieces of bacon would feel good?

I know if I made them more often I would master the art of frying potatoes.  In the past year I have practiced patience and learned to "live in the moment", appreciating simple pleasures and living a simple life. Paying attention to what you are doing and patience are two very necessary skills for frying the best potatoes. I stood by the pan, turning my little treasures, reminiscing about the importance of special people in my life and spending happy time with old friends. Perhaps that was the experience I was after, thinking about people I haven't seen for too long. I didn't burn anything, but unfortunately, once again my potatoes were soggy.

I guess that is my cue to let others do what they are good at and spend my time concentrating my efforts doing what I do best. It is okay to not do everything well, especially when you only spend 20 minutes a year trying.  We spend time with family and friends so we can experience the best we all have to offer.  Sometimes it is special recipes, but most of the time it is the gift of time. 
Avery enjoying a ride in a wheelbarrow

Yes, I will stick to favorite and much more healthy activities that I do relatively well and enjoy practicing. Like walking through the yard and following my granddaughter around with the camera.
She loves bugs

Yesterday we spent time with my son, Nik, who absolutely adores his niece and spending time with her.  He gave her rides in the wheelbarrow and you would have thought she was the queen.  Well she was actually. 

This queen loves bugs and is not afraid to touch them. She enjoys spending time in outside with nature.  She loves spending time with the people who love her. 

As she grows she will learn valuable lessons from all of us.  She will spend as much time with us as we can give her. I will teach her how to cook some of the same recipes my Grandmothers taught me, like homemade chicken noodle soup, bread, brownies, cookies, and crazy cake.

But I won't be teaching her how to fry potatoes.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Flowers and other forms of life

Yesterday I spent time with my granddaughter Avery.  She loves flowers and as I found out yesterday, bugs and worms. She is fascinated by little things that crawl and will spend hours watching and observing, and checking back in again later. She is also not afraid of much. Like bees.  We were at the park and she saw a bee buzzing in the area and she went after it with Gaga "running" behind yelling, "NOOOOOO!!! DON'T TOUCH THE BEE!!" Thank goodness they fly almost faster than she runs.  The only thing that prevented the bee from being caught was that he flew higher than she could reach ~ while running.

We walked around my yard for the better part of an hour, examining flowers, herbs, and weeds. As we rounded the corner to the part of the yard with the most blooms she yelled "Oh Boy! Oh BOY!!" and started ringing her hands.  I was not sure whether this act was a good thing or not but clearly she was overjoyed with the beauty of all the flowers. For a moment I feared for the life of the plants only because a few minutes earlier she had walked out of the door and bent down to admire a geranium and quicker than I could say "No don't pick" she had pulled the only flower off of the plant and said "There ~ all better" Who could argue with that I thought as she smelled the flower and grinned. So we talked about the happy flowers living on the bushes and settled for picking ONE. We picked one from each bush (including the chive plant) and had quite a beautiful bouquet when we were done. We both wore happy faces after we admired and smelled our beautiful collection.

One of Avery's "friends" watching over her flowers
Later we visited her Grandpa at work.  After eating her treat and coordinated who sat where, she saw an ant crawling around on the floor.  She picked him up and giggled as the ant crawled up her arm.  She handed her new friend off to "Poppy" and then decided squeezing the bug between her thumb and forefinger would keep him in one spot better.  She sang songs to her new friend and decided he had a sad face. Watching her demonstrate a sad face, while she is so happy, is such a cute thing.

On our way home, she lost the bug in Gaga's car, or at the park, we are not sure.  It may have crawled into the half eaten box of raisins, we will never know.  It was small....

Thankfully, on the step to her apartment she found a much bigger ant carrying a small worm.  TWO NEW PETS!  She picked them up, separated them and said "One Two bugs!!! Gaga ~ one two bugs~ oh no! Bug sad!" and she once again demonstrated what the bug looked like with her version of a sad face. It didn't stop her from bringing the bugs into the building and watching them crawl on the bottom step.  The ant bit her ~ which ended the friendship with Avery giving me her sad face ~ so she decided to leave the ant on the floor and keep the worm. I think the worm died by the time we reached her apartment. Once we let the dog out of his cage, she had forgotten about bugs.

I love viewing life from the perspective of a 2 year old.  As we age we forget the beauty of simple pleasures. We are so busy doing "important things" that we stop paying attention to life around us. Why do we have to have our little friends remind us of simple things that bring so much joy?

Thursday, May 3, 2012


The weather we have been having this spring in Illinois is best described as bizarre.  We started a few weeks ago in March with temperatures in the 80's and then it got cold again, then cold and rainy, now warm and rainy. I love days when the morning is warm enough that you don't need a jacket and stays consistently in the low to mid 80's all day. I can spend the whole day outside puttering in the yard, reading on my porch, or walking through the park on days like that. I don't mind rain once a week or so ~ it helps the flowers grow and gives me a chance to catch up inside the house.

What I really enjoy is waking up before dawn and walking outside to smell life as it is just waking up. My husband and I used to take walks at 3:00am.  Yes, I said that right ~ 3:00 AM.  Every day we would wake up and go for our daily 2 ~ 3 mile walk at a time when everyone else was still sleeping.  We would walk right down the middle of the street like we owned the town and nobody would bother us. Well the police interrogated us a few times but other than being detained by the police, nobody else knew we were out there.

It didn't matter what season either.  We walked as long as it was above 0 and the wind child was above 20. We just dressed warmer than we do in the fall, spring and summer. We would love walking during a light snow fall but then it became difficult because of knee and back problems. We just couldn't take the chance of falling. The rest of the year we just had to be careful of our own feet tripping us up. In the summer, after a rain, the air smelled so fresh that you could smell the rain and the grass.  While out in nature early in the morning, it sets the stage for a great start to the day. I love walking by flowers and bushes that have such a strong fragrance that you can breathe, inhaling the aroma that God gives to us.  I miss walking in the middle of the night.

But now I walk during the day and find visual beauty to accompany the fragrance.  Yesterday the park smelled wonderful and while walking along the path breathing deeply, I witnessed a family of baby squirrels frolicking in the plants, climbing trees, and playing in the park like most children do. About a half mile later, I saw a hawk sitting on the fence looking at me while I walked towards him.  It was huge!  He just sat on the fence watching me come closer and closer and the only part that moved was his head as he turned as far as he could, keeping an eye on me, wondering if I could be trusted.

Today I plan to walk, but I will be taking my granddaughter with me.  I am certain we will find even more treasures to admire and she is more than likely going to want to chase after the squirrels. My fear is that someday she will catch one.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happy places

I love spending time by the water. I spent time on the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington on the west ~ Florida, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire on the East ~ Louisiana on the Gulf and inland I have spent time on the coasts of Lakes Michigan, Superior, Huron, Eerie, and the mighty Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

Just sitting and thinking, sometimes reading the latest novel, or writing a letter.  But mostly, especially by the oceans, I just sit and breath, take in the salty air, let all my negative thoughts flow out with the waves while the new waves coming in bring me peace and serenity.  My favorite places are along the Pacific Ocean.  I really want to take a car drive up the coast from San Diego to Vancouver. I really, REALLY want to spend time on an island in the South Pacific.  I dream of taking a significant amount of time to live on an island.  I would never get bored.

 Laguna Beach, California
In 2000, I had the opportunity to speak at a conference in Sacramento.  It was the perfect opportunity to take a trip with my Mom so off we went.  It was the first time I had traveled on a plane in many years and I was a bit nervous.  My Mom however, was a pro and got us through the airport without a problem. Once we got to California we spent several days ~ 8 as a matter of fact ~ traveling between Sacramento, San Francisco, Napa Valley, and along the coast on Highway 1 to Fort Bragg.  We stayed in beautiful Bed and Breakfasts, spent a lot of time people watching, and got lost quite a few times, laughing our way out of our mess.  We toured a winery owned by Nicolas Cage's uncle but was disappointed to not find Nic there himself.  They have great wine though.  It was a trip I will remember always and a great way to get some one on one time with my Mom without having to compete with my kids or my Dad for her attention.

I have gone back to the west coast several times, most recently in 2010.  Again I was speaking at the same conference but this time it was in Anaheim so I was able to see other parts of California. This time I went with co-workers and found traveling with them a bit different than with my Mom but fun just the same.

I would love to go back.  I came home the last time announcing that I had found a shack along Route 1 that I would have bought in a heartbeat had I found a job out there to support me.  I wouldn't have needed much money because my lifestyle would include sitting by the ocean and reading or collecting seashells. But then I saw my granddaughter again.  That took care of that plan.  I need to stay here so I can be involved in her life and just find a way to visit the coast. Someday she and I will take a trip along the coast of the Pacific Ocean and I will show her all my favorite beaches and we will collect shells and take lots of pictures of the birds and seals.  I can't wait.