Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My new journey

I've decided, once again, to tackle my weight issue. This time, it is totally for me. I know that my family and friends love me no matter what size I am. However, my health, as I get older, is worse than what it should be, and I know it is because of my weight. I want to be healthy again, I want to be happy with myself again, and I want to fit into the closet of clothes I call my "skinny closet".

I decided that all of the "plans" aren't working for me. Although Weight Watchers helped me lose 70 pounds a few years ago, it didn't help me keep it off. I needed to start something that would be more of a life change than a planned diet.

Enter my BFF, Andrea! She asked me if I would be her accountability partner as she tries to lose weight, also. It seemed like a great idea, so I said yes. She texts me every time she eats something and I text her whenever I eat something. Seems simple, but it really makes a difference. We have been doing this for just a few days and I can see my attitude towards food changing - if I am going to have to confess to eating this, is it really worth it? Sometimes it is, and we talk about what to do to counteract the decision, but more often, it isn't.

As we have been doing this, I have also seen that I'm not only saving calories, I'm saving money, as well. I am going to try to post updates on this blog with the choices I'm making, both to remind me later, but also in case my choices might resonate with others.


Before all of this started, I visited Starbucks at least once a day and often, twice. My morning drink is a Grade soy latte, which costs about $5 and is around 170 calories. To be honest, I almost always get a banana walnut bread, as well, which adds $3 and a whopping 425 calories.

My choice yesterday was to brew my own Starbucks Cinnamon Dolce K-cup in my Keurig. The K-cups are 50 cents (these are only 25 cents because I bought them on a B1G1F special). I also decided I wasn't really hungry for breakfast, so I saved between $4.75 and $7.75 and only took in 5 calories!


Again, I saved my $4.75 by making my own coffee. This morning, I was hungry for breakfast.

What I wanted: McDonald's Egg McMuffin (300 calories) $3.00 + Grande soy latte (170 calories) $5.00 for a total of 470 calories and $8.00.

What I had:

Thomas Multigrain Lite English Muffin 50 cents 100 calories
1 egg, fried in canola oil with spinach on top 10 cents 92 calories
Cinnamon Dolce K-cup 25 cents, 5 calories

for a total of 197 calories and 85 cents.

Savings: 273 calories and $7.15!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Yesterday -- Now my troubles seem so far away

Yesterday, I was feeling sorry for myself. As my friend, Dawn Davis, said – I didn’t think it fair to have to focus on work when my mind and body needed a rest. Today, I have applied all of the techniques I’ve learned and developed over the years to turn this feeling of desperation into a feeling of anticipation.

Here is what I came up with:

Rested | Tired
Joyful | Sad
Carefree | Burdened

This represents the way I turn my focus. The items on the right are the words that I described myself as - tired, sad, burdened. The items on the right are on what my friend, Tom Whiteman, gave me a name for - the "God Side."

Here is how you would read the words - 

Rested | Tired
Instead of feeling tired because of the state of sleep-deprivation I’m in due to a health issue, I’m choosing to focus on how well-rested I will feel once I’m able to begin using a resource that will enable me to sleep.

Joyful | Sad
Instead of feeling sad because I lost a member of my church family, I am focusing on the joy I feel when I remember the impact he had on my family and on others inside and outside of the congregation.

Carefree | Burdened
Instead of feeling burdened, I’m focusing on the fact that in a few months, I will feel carefree, as I finish my graduate school work and eliminate some of the other outside stresses I have at the moment.

Today, I woke up and went to work – the sun was shining. There was a light breeze blowing against my face. I spent the day with educators who are passionate about doing what is best for our students. I came home to my family, who I love, and who I love to spend time with. Through that whole time, my body worked – I breathed, my eyes blinked, thousands of metabolic processes happened without a hitch, mutations happened and were repaired.

And I enjoyed another day.

It’s all good.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A new challenge

I was challenged to complete the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and money for ALS. As a student of sociology, I had been watching the challenge gain momentum on Facebook and had pondered the reasons why we, as a society, seem to need personal attention (a/k/a posting a video of ourselves doing something silly) before we will donate to a cause. Some folks took my ponderings to mean that I was against raising awareness for ALS, which I could take another look through a sociology lens to evaluate. I won’t do that here.

The fact about my relationship to ALS is that it has been my worst fear since January 2, 2002. I’ll get back to that date in a moment, but I have had an awareness of what ALS is and does for a very long time. It is my worst fear because I cannot imagine being “here” in mind but unable to express love for my family because my body won’t cooperate. It seems to me like it would be the worst thing that could happen to me – since 2002.

Before ALS, I had a different, deep fear. When I was an introverted old soul making my way through my 5th grade year, I read a book by Erma Bombeck entitled “I want to grow up, I want to grow hair, I want to go to Boise.” In it, she told stories about children who were battling cancer. As a fifth grader, I somehow wasn’t worried at all about having cancer myself, but I did develop a deep fear of having a child with cancer sometime in my adult future.

Even in college, I studied Biology with a focus on cancer and micro-biology. Always in the back of my head was that remembrance of the fear that I had. My senior year of college, I had my youngest son during the week before fall finals and I returned to school that next week to take my exams. I didn’t know then that I would learn more about pediatric cancer than I ever wanted to know in just over a year.

January 2, 2002, was the day that I learned my son, who had just celebrated his first birthday, had alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS). RMS is a rare form of cancer, and the alveolar subtype is one of the most aggressive. Through a year of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, my son fought the battle with this disease and won. Today, he is 13 years old and, although he continues to have surgeries to correct skeletal issues as a result of the radiation, he is very healthy and I am thankful for each day that I get to be his mom.

The outcome is not always that good for the families whose lives are forever changed when a doctor tells them their child has cancer. Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death among children ages 0 to 19, even though it is rare enough that (aside from leukemia) drug companies do not see it as being an area of strong need for research. In the United States alone, 37 children are diagnosed with cancer every day. That is 37 families whose lives are forever changed. Of those 37, 9 of them will die.

My reason for writing this is to issue a new challenge. Because we all found it incredibly easy to open our wallets and be silly for a good cause, I believe we can continue to do that on a regular basis. My challenge to you is to find a cause each month that you will open your mind and your wallet to. Whether that is a continual donation to ALS, a new donation each month, or whatever you decide to do, don’t let the ice bucket challenge be something you did just for a Facebook video opportunity.

Open your minds. Open your wallets. Change lives ALL year, not just for a challenge, but for good.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. My donation this month will be to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which I have found to be an organization who puts a very high percentage of the money it raises directly into childhood cancer research.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Amazing Grace

I am an emotional person. I cry when I'm happy, I cry when I'm sad, I cry when I remember something good, I cry when I remember something lost. For many of the congregation of my church, that won't really mean anything. But to the clergy, who sit facing me each Sunday as I and my family sit in the second row (nobody sits in the first row unless someone is getting baptized), they get to see emotion draw across my face often.

I am a very emotional Christian. There are days when just looking at Jesus, hands outstretched on the stained glass window in front of me can make me cry. There are days when looking at my boys, arriving late, but sharp in suits and ties, can make my eyes misty. Then there are those days when music does it. It can be a song, like What a Friend we Have in Jesus - which my father used to sing to me when he talked about it being his father's favorite song. I never knew my grandfather, a preacher himself, but I heard so many stories about him growing up that I always felt like I sat on his knee all my life. It might be the sound of Jed Maus playing a trumpet, sounding exactly like the smooth tones my father caused his cornet - now mine - to issue.

Those days are a little embarrassing to me. I leave the sanctuary teary-eyed and sometimes I know people wonder what is wrong. It is nothing - I just felt it that day.

Today was really something completely different, which is ironic since it was the first day after our last youth mission trips returned home, having served under the motto "Something Completely Different."

It was a song, once again, that triggered the emotion. It was the sermon that might have had me thinking a little too deeply about what that song meant to me that resulted in an all-out, waterfalls down my face, can't talk, good cry. I felt compelled to lean over to my youngest son, Nathan, and kiss his head, which resulted in a similar display of emotion from him. I also felt compelled to touch my husband's shoulder and to sit down beside my mother and give her a hug. By the end of the song, we were all covered in tears.

Rev. Donna McKee silently gave me a hug after the service. She didn't need to ask questions - she knows that I don't just think about my spirituality in worship, I feel it. Still, as I thought about the reason for this over-the-top response to a very familiar song, I feel the need to explain myself a bit.

The song was Amazing Grace. This is such a popular song that I know as soon as you read the title of this post, the tune started playing in your head. Music is one of the most basic of human memory aids - hearing it can deposit us firmly into our past and that is sort of what it did to me today. Because of the sermon topic, forgiveness, I think it was more than just memory. I have four explicit memories that surround that song:

1. My grandmother, Vivian Keller, was a pianist and a preacher. I grew up in a small, wood-floor, wood-pew, no-air conditioning, frame church watching Grandma play every single gospel song ever written from memory on a piano in the front left corner of the sanctuary. Grandma had been a pianist in a silent movie house when she was young, which required her to understand the composition of music itself, so a visiting soloist or instrumentalist had only to tell Grandma which key they needed her to play or a general idea of the sound they wanted to achieve, and she started hitting those keys in  grand accompaniment. As a result, I knew many old gospel favorites - Sweet By and By, Beaulah Land, and yes, Amazing Grace. As an adult in my late 20s, I struggled with my life and my relationship with God suffered. My first story about Amazing Grace is one of new life. I was poor, depressed, and had a car that had no radio. I lived in a town about 45 minutes away from everything, and those silent drives were intolerable. I would sing songs to myself. One of the songs I sang most often was Amazing Grace. It started because it was the only song I knew every single word to. As I drove home in the evenings, I slowly began listening to the words and a song changed my life.

2. Fast forward a few years and the song that meant so much to me became my favorite song to sing to my children when I was trying to get them to sleep. I would sing it, hum it, and sing it again. Because of this, my daughter, Rene, loved the song and determined to learn all of the words. My dad heard her sing it once and the next time he visited, he brought with him something to record her voice. I still have the recording, when my 9 or 10 year old daughter sang all six verses beautifully and my dad just couldn't help but to accompany her in his tenor. That very recording was played years later at my father's funeral and I know he would have been delighted to know that he sang at his own funeral.

3. Three years prior to my father's death, my youngest son, Nathan, was diagnosed with cancer. I had recently become separated from my husband. For a myriad of reasons I won't go into here, I found myself alone with Nathan many times during the year of chemotherapy and radiation therapy that followed. My vivid memories of that time include many nights, sitting in a hospital rocking chair, rocking my baby to sleep and singing quietly. The song that I sang, hummed, then sang again reminded me of the powerful presence that kept me from being completely alone in that room. I'm sure you know the title.

4. Couple years on and David's grandmother "Mamaw" passed away. He sang at her funeral. You can guess the name of that song.

Today, all of these memories with forgiveness wrapped around them brought on the tears. Forgiveness isn't just about forgiving others for wrongs, it is about forgiving our own past. It is about forgiving our own actions, or inactions. It is about forgiving so that we can move on.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The bench

I am at the age when nostalgia is activated by some of the smallest, oddest occurrences. Today, it was a bench.

Yesterday, I attended an all day science conference. When I am away from home on the weekend, David will often decide to get projects done and this time, one of the projects was to buy two chairs to replace the bench that has been a part of our dining room table since we were a new family.

Today, I was thinking about that bench and all that it represented. I remembered that day we bought the table, which came with that bench, and I remembered the reasons we needed it. In July, 2004, we became a family of seven - a combined family which had started off as two families - one with four and one with three. The four of us (my three biological children and myself) moved in with the three of them (David and his two biological children) and did the best we could with a small house that was furnished for three.

The dining room table we started off with was not necessarily small - it would comfortably seat six and no more. For a few months, when it was time to have a meal together, we would pull up a folding chair to give the 7th person, usually Nathan, since he was the youngest, a place to sit. This person had to sit on a corner of the table. We made it work because we really didn't think we could afford a new table. When we had guests, we brought the sewing chair or more folding chairs and crowded in.
The table during home renovations in 2012

One day, I saw an ad for World Market which featured a dining room table that had a bench and it wasn't too expensive. David and I went to the store and brought home the table we have today.

The bench represented something - an acknowledgement that our families had become one - that we were always going to need at least seven places at our table. A new chapter in our lives.

So when David replaced the bench with two chairs, it was more than a furniture change, it felt like it represented a significant milestone in our family dynamic. Now that we are back to being a family of four because the three oldest broke our number one rule - "don't grow up" - and did just that, it makes sense to have more formal seating at the table.

The memories of our small children, then ages 2-12, seated around the table and the often cacophonous conversations that took place there are precious in my mind. I remember times when all of the kids would be gone over spring break (visiting their other families), and the silence was so heavy in the house that I didn't want to be there. The first day that all of them would be back was a joy - it reminded me of the first day of summer camp. That time when lots of people arrived at approximately the same time who hadn't seen each other for awhile. The laughter, loud conversations, conflicts arising as everyone settled back into their bedrooms in our little house. I remember each of those days fondly, as I sat and soaked in the noise. That first family meal after everyone returned was centered around that table. My life always felt right again as I watched the activity and listened to the stories they all had to tell.

A bench prompted these memories. The table, too large for those of us who are left, still fills our dining room, and the bench lurks under the guitar wall, protecting the guitars from misguided shoulders and waiting until the next time we need to seat more than six. We haven't completely gotten rid of the big family table, but it still feels almost like an ending to a movie, with the sequel having already begun.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Year New Life

The year 2013 was a huge year for my family. Two of our children graduated from high school and we watched them in the rear-view mirror as we pulled away from their colleges - 4 1/2 and 6 hours away from home. David graduated, finally, from college with the bachelor's degree he started working toward over 20 years ago. I started pursuing, finally, a master's degree after figuring out what my passion is. Our oldest daughter got engaged on Christmas Day, and we started realizing we are moving into the next chapter of our lives.

The thing is, we're not finished with the chapter we are on. As we look toward 2014, we have plans and goals in mind. I am now about halfway through my master's degree plan and I've realized I'm not stopping and will move right into a PhD program as soon as I'm finished with the master's. Before David finished walking across that stage in West Virginia, he already had thoughts of LSAT preparation and law school fluttering around in his head. What I find myself wondering about is this - when do we stop?

You see, I am much closer to 50 now than 45. David is two years younger than me, but still - we have three adult children. Many of our peers have grandbabies they cuddle and love. Some have purchased vacation homes, own their own businesses, and have achieved other "grown-up" milestones. Should we settle in and realize that we wasted too much of our youth? That dreams of terminal degrees and new careers are for those half our age?

To answer this question, I first turn to a memory. When I was about 10 years old, my father's aunt graduated from nursing school. She was in her 50s. I remember thinking "wow, she didn't let her oldness get to her!" I found her dedication to pursue a life dream inspiring and I referred to that memory often when I finally started my serious college education around the age of 34.

When I started college in my 30s, I had already established a life. It was a life of high-school-diploma-type clerical jobs. I had worked my way into junior management, but that is really all the farther I would have gone. What started as developing office skills as a way to earn money through college had become my life instead of college. I had two children. My first husband had started a new job that earned enough money that meant I could quit my job and, in my own words, I "jumped off that cliff". I had dreamed of meeting my high school classmates someday and having the same credentials as they have (I never will, because they have had a lot more years to establish really cool credentials after graduating from college 10 years before I even started). I delivered my third child four days before finals during my first year at a university. I didn't miss my finals. I was so determined. My second year was looking really good until the baby born in my first year was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the second semester began and I soon figured out I wouldn't be completing that semester. Still, I persisted and returned in the fall, taking a lot of "distance" courses so that I could complete them while sitting in my son's hospital room. When I graduated from college, I was close to my 39th birthday. I became a high school teacher soon after. *career 2*

As I worked through the education system as it is right now, I came to realize my passion was for correcting that system. Specifically, I wanted to turn to my science background to conduct meaningful research that would help teachers and education agencies understand the best ways to teach every student, depending on gender, ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic status. I knew that a master's degree in education wouldn't quite give me the background I wanted to have as a solid scientific researcher, so I am pursuing my master's degree in sociology and plan my PhD to focus on experimental, social psychology. *career 3*

Realities settle in, however, and I know my deepest joy comes from teaching. I suspect what I will really do with my PhD is be a professor. *career 4*

So the question, when do we stop, is hard to answer. Rather, I am faced with other questions - is it prudent to keep going? Should I stop? Do I need to realize it is too late for me?

My philosophies, the mantras that have literally kept me alive through deepest depressions, say that I should pursue as long as my heart and my mind are able to pursue. I can't tell you how many times I have told people "it is never too late" when I have heard them talk about how they wish they had gone to college.

I know there will be people out there who will see David and I, well into middle age, hiking across campuses to get to our night classes after our day jobs who will think we are being frivolous.

I don't think it is frivolous. It is dedicated. It is being true to ourselves, rather than to the expectations of others or of society. It is joyous. It is providing a model for our children and grandchildren that says that mistakes do not have to be permanent. It says that destinations are not nearly as important as journeys. It says that making your life happen is far more rewarding than waiting for it to happen to you.

Whether David finishes law school or I ever become a professor isn't nearly as important as the firm knowledge that we will never, ever have to wonder what would have happened if we had tried. When do we stop? When we are finished.