Family Photo Phobic

I wrote recently about cultivating the small moments that happen now, not wishing and waiting for the day when something happens or some goal far-off goal is achieved. I decided it was time to take my own advice so we booked a date the first weekend of this month for an outdoor family photo shoot.

First let me say that call it what you want, I’m not as fit as I’d like to be…I don’t look as good (or feel as good) as I know I can. There are very few photos of me in….oh….the last 15 years that I like very much. That’s not to say there haven’t been any, but seeing me in two-dimensional form is a bit of a jolt, and now that I’ve packed on the “2017 Trump Twenty”, it’s even worse. Who would’ve thought I’d stress eat over a president, but we live in strange times…

The only formal photo shoot we had for the kids together was five years ago and omigosh! They’ve grown so much since then. Back then my husband and I did not plan to get in the pictures. Our friend, photographer Dawn Biery-Jackman in Pittsburgh snapped a few anyway, including one of my absolute favorites of my daughter and me.IMG_0664 The fact that this was captured on film should have been reason enough to get photos taken all the time, but I didn’t.

Look at it: I love how her arms around my neck and our two heads form a heart. I love our smushed-together cheeks, my crinkly eyes, her little half moons eyes, and her adorable little tooth-fairy ready smile. This picture is love, love, all love. I am so grateful to have this photo to cherish.

The day of the photo shoot, I thought I was too chubby, my hair too wiry, my clothes too blah. No eyelashes. Do I even have any eyebrows? Why did I think blond highlights were a good idea?

Stupid, I know. I see none of that now.

My husband is 100% supportive of me no matter how I look – he always tells me that I’m beautiful – but it’s a difficult thing to overcome the negative self-talk. At least he is somewhat sympathetic as he doesn’t like formal pictures of himself either but we cast our doubts aside for a couple of hours one afternoon last Saturday. So glad we did.

Props to our local photographer, Ursula DeCesare, this weekend’s photo shoot completely Thankfulblows me away. The kids are pretty photogenic so that’s a plus but her artistic eye, direction, choice of scenery, and creativity elevated the whole endeavor to something downright magical.

So magical it’s been decided: we’re doing a photo shoot annually from now on and you wanna know why?

One day one or more of us will be gone. And regardless of whatever we may be thinking at the time, when it’s all said and done, all we will see is love, love, all love.

 

Cultivating the Small Moments

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It’s easy to get caught up in big plans and big moments in your life – to live for them and nothing more.  You might recognize the litany:

“I can’t wait until…

  • I’m grown up
  • I can drive
  • I get my own car
  • I leave the house
  • I’ve graduated
  • I start dating someone seriously
  • I have a place of my own
  • I land that job
  • I get married
  • I buy a house
  • I have a child
  • I get the promotion
  • I get out of debt
  • I lose 20 pounds
  • I feel better
  • I’m on vacation
  • The kids are in school
  • The kids are graduated and out of the house
  • The kids visit
  • I move
  • The kids get married
  • I’m a grandparent
  • I retire

It’s great to have plans, to work toward goals. But you really only have today, today to make a difference. I read a book some time ago called The Power of a Penny by Glenn Dromgoole. While I don’t remember the individual anecdotes all that well, the overwhelming message was the power of small things, small gestures, small moments. The first story in the book was about the power of a penny…that seemingly insignificant, worthless coin. Of course, the story was about how pennies aren’t insignificant. It got me thinking about how little things add up to become big things. Things we do daily, or could do daily. The things we should do daily.

It’s not every day that we get married, but to love? Yes, love is something we can share and feel daily.

It’s not every day that we graduate from school, but to learn something new? Like Steve Jobs so famously quoted, can we “stay hungry, stay foolish” everyday? Yes, satisfying a hunger to learn something new is something we can do daily.

And it reminds me of the quote by Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I’d rather be known for how I lived the individual moments of my days than my seemingly big moments. Anyone can be great for one big moment. Who, however, is disciplined enough to be consistently great in all the small, seemingly unnoticed ways?

What can we do daily? What are the small moments, the small actions, that manifest a good life? What matters?

Breathe. Stretch. Floss. Smile. Hug. Kiss. Laugh. Love. Nourish. Compliment. Give. Thank. Think. Learn. Create. Encourage. Dare. Sweat. Pray. Praise. Savor. Reflect. Rest.

Perhaps if we cultivate the small moments in life, master the simple things we can do daily, we enjoy. We become one with joy, today and every day.Calvin and Hobbs enjoy

I’ll take that.

 

The Biopsy Blues

The phone call thoroughly surprised me.

“This is [insert name of world-renowned hospital and heathcare system here]. You were just in for a tomogram yesterday and we need to schedule a follow-up diagnostic image right away.”

This was the scheduling center calling me.

“I beg your pardon? Wh-what? Can you tell me what they saw on my image that you need me to come in right away?” The lump in my throat catches at the end of the sentence.

“No, I’m sorry you need to talk to your practitioner about that.”

“Well, why didn’t she call me first? Why am I hearing from the scheduling office first?”

“I’m sorry ma’am. You’ll have to talk to your practitioner about that.”


Huh. That’s not exactly the way I would have liked that conversation to go. As instructed, I call my doctor’s office and end up talking to her nurse. She confirms that my tomogram revealed something different than the last regular mammogram I had. They want to schedule me for a diagnostic imaging to confirm what was seen in the most recent image. I now have an appointment two days later to have that done.

A tomogram, for those who don’t know, is a 3D version of a mammogram. It’s a relatively new thing, and I agreed to have it done instead of the conventional mammogram even though I may get billed out of pocket for it.  It’s essentially the same procedure, just longer. AWESOME. New! Improved! More pain, more radiation! Woo hoo!

Yep, you’re still getting your individual breasts slammed between two glass plates, horizontally and then vertically, and when you think it can’t be crushed anymore, the radiology tech tightens the plates that much more. The difference is, rather than getting one x-ray of the breast, the camera moves in an arc, stops, and takes an individual picture, again and again, from eight or so different angles. You’re getting zapped more and you hold each of those positions maybe 20-30 seconds longer in total. It’s hard to know for sure since time stands still while it’s happening.

Those of you who remember the first time you saw “The Matrix” and the scene where Neo bends backward to avoid getting shot by the spray of bullets, it’s a little like that. The movie director had cameras positioned from several different angles getting the same image so they could freeze Keanu Reeves’ position and then rotate the camera 90 some degrees to show him in exactly that same spot and position but from a different angle. This is essentially a tomogram. It begs the question whether the tomogram is medical technology inspired by “The Matrix”. Really: inquiring minds want to know.

Anyway, so there you are on your tippy toes, wincing from the pain of getting crushed, holding your breath and holding still for those 20 seconds longer while the camera pans and takes its various images. Four times.

F-O-U-R. Horizontally and vertically. For each breast.

I know those of you in the breast health field are face-palming right about now. Honestly, I don’t say any of this to discourage women from getting it done. Oh no. I am dead serious about that. I would still encourage women to do all they can for their breast health because early detection is oh-so critical.

Besides, we’re women. We can handle it. We handle childbirth. We handle discrimination and inequality. We can handle this. For reals.

However, I promise that if you gently placed a male doctor’s flaccid penis in a mammogram machine and crushed it to the degree you do a woman’s breast, the medical profession would design a better diagnostic tool for women than the mammogram, in a heartbeat.

Mmmmm hmm. You have to imagine me snapping my fingers, left and right just now, like a bad-ass.

I joked around with the radiology tech while the whole thing was going on and thanked her when we were done. I told her that I’m pretty sure no one ever thanks her. She belly-laughed and admitted that it was absolutely true. Nobody gives her the love. And she thanked me profusely for making her day.

She deserves the love. Anybody who helps me with my medical care deserves the love.


I show up two days later for my diagnostic imaging. Turns out they want to do an ultrasound first and then they’ll know immediately whether they need to do second mammogram. Oooo-kay.

Laying down on the gurney reminds me of the ultrasounds I had done while pregnant and the ones I’ve had done on my thyroid. Mostly happy occasions with a slightly scary one. This one was more like the latter.

I turn my head and behold, I can see the ultrasound monitor. It always surprises me that this is one of the more common non-invasive procedures they use to look inside of you because the image is so abstract, like a bad TV signal in the early 70s. Featured in the middle of the grainy black and white image is a white, almond-shaped spot that looks different than the surrounding tissue. Even I can see that. It hurts while they rub the wand over my breast and hold it in that very spot, even though they use the lubricating gel. The pain concerns me, but the almond-shaped spot is what concerns them.

The radiologist breezes into the room, looks at the image, and tells that she recommends a breast biopsy. The news takes my breath away.

Wait….what? OMG, is age 50 when shit hits the fan? Wait, wait, wait, wait….what?

It’s moments like this when so many thoughts run through my head I can’t sort them out let alone say them out loud. I’m not shy but I am an introvert. All the words inside my head, all those thoughts, stay there. My breathing becomes shallow. Maybe my breathing is always shallow but times like this, I notice it.

The radiologist then tells me that this lump is likely not cancer but they want to rule it out. She tells me they need to wait a week to do it, and how to prepare, where to show up, etc. Sign here… These are all logical next steps. She asks me if I have any questions and I am mute. I shake my head no. I can’t think of any. The immediate, logistical ones were answered. The emotional ones are trapped inside of me, like someone stuffed a sock in my mouth.

Over the next 24 hours, I grow increasingly alarmed. After all, I have noticed two lumps (who knows, maybe it’s just one super bumpy one) in that same vicinity for years now and have always mentioned them in my annual practitioner exams. A few years ago during my own breast exam this spot (spots?) was so tender and felt much more pronounced than before that it prompted me to call my doctor’s office. So began the process for a mid-year diagnostic mammogram which revealed nothing and yet another consultation about my fibrocystic breast tissue and how sensitive it is to caffeine, stress, and hormonal changes. I know the first two of the three are shorthand for my life.

I’m told the more I share my anxiety with the world, the more normal that makes you all feel. You’re welcome.

Laying on the gurney at that moment, I calculate that this is my third breast imaging since I raised my concern two years ago, and only now they’re seeing something worth examining? If it’s problematic, hasn’t it been problematic for years now? Couldn’t this have been prevented? Yes, the radiologist says that the newer technology of a tomogram reveals more questionable spots which means more biopsies to investigate them properly. Many of them turn out benign which is both good and bad. Better safe than sorry. I can’t argue with that logic.

But what if this is a different spot than what I’ve been noticing? What if this is something new but in the same area? How do they know they found what they were looking for? Was it just one spot or was there a possibility of a few? Why isn’t there a conversation going on with me about what I have been feeling and what they now see on the images? Why can’t I see the actual mammogram images so I can tell them about what I’ve been feeling? Don’t I know my own breasts better than they do?

See, years ago my doctor explained that I have fibrocystic tissue so my breasts naturally feel lumpy. We talked about how underwire bras can irritate the breasts, especially along the breast wall.  Since my left is bigger than the right, the underwire on the cleavage side of my right cup tends to poke me on the right, in the same questionable spot.

Or it is possible this is the result of injury? Over the year, all three kids climb over me into bed to snuggle, and I can’t count how many times someone trips and nails me in the chest. It always hurts, in the same place. I don’t want to think they caused it, but maybe they helped me notice it more. I mean, is that a possibility?

Can somebody connect the dots for me? What is GOING ON and why now? I don’t feel anything different! This was supposed to be my normal annual screening, nothing more. Why is this happening?


Basically, I’m shocked and bothered the entire day I get the order for the biopsy. I sleep much of the weekend. I have a whole freaking week to wait to have it done and then almost a whole ‘nother week before I get results. Freaking awesome.

I call my sisters that evening and get different reactions. One tells me not to freak out. Uh, yeah. Too late. The other tries to reassure me that they’re being extra cautious and that women my age have biopsies that turn out negative plus the whole spiel about how today’s improved technology produces better images that also mean more biopsies that turn out to be nothing. Uh huh, except this is ME we’re talking about. They both have backgrounds in the medical field so I know to trust what they say. It just doesn’t penetrate the wall of fear I already built. Baby, that thing was erected in seconds.

That evening I asked my friends on Facebook to pray for me without really sharing why. This story is the why behind that request, and I thank all of you who did.

I tell a few of my immediate coworkers the next week and for whatever reason the conversation is more reassuring. I can’t tell if this is because they’re repeating what I was already told or they just don’t know how to feed my anxiety. One reacts by saying she is certain I am healthy and fine. The other says she’s gone through the same process, it turned out negative, and it will be ok. Yes, the news is a shock but chances are it really is a false positive.

I look up the stats. Two-thirds of all biopsies are non-cancerous. The odds are in my favor.

Strangely I am pretty upbeat throughout the rest of the week until Friday when it’s time for the appointment, at which point it really hits me on the drive in. My sister and a coworker kindly offered to go with me so I wouldn’t be alone but I poo-pooed it, and insisted I was fine to go alone. My husband misunderstood and thought the procedure was the following week. Nevertheless, I am by myself on the drive in mainly because this whole incident feels so out-of-body (am I in denial?) and they told I could drive home myself afterward. Yep, I’m a practical person, completely ignoring the emotional support I really do need. This will become obvious to you before long.

Anyway, the final turn onto the road where the breast center is located is when I can feel my heart racing. I catch myself repeatedly holding my breath. I wonder if they’ll take my blood pressure first. Is this a necessary part of the protocol? Probably not. Should they? Should they do something to monitor the stress level of the individual? Probably. But no. They don’t check that. I continue the deep breathing from the diaphragm whenever I think of it.

The whole procedure is over in an hour. The tech used the ultrasound to guide where to make the incision. A new radiologist comes into the room, introduces herself and explains that she will numb the area. Sure, the needle poke into my breast burns a teeny bit at first but it isn’t bad. Yes, my mind raced over whether I would be allergic to it since I am allergic to contrast dye, but no…..I’m watching the numbing fluid enter my breast on the ultrasound monitor and nothing is happening. It’s a little strange to see something I don’t feel. Then she inserts the hollow biopsy needle three separate times and presses the button for each. It makes a loud click and you can see it shoot into (through?) the white spot to collect a tissue sample. I see it and hear it but I don’t feel it. So weird and yet so cool. I wonder if I’ll suddenly have a panic attack watching the procedure even though mentally I don’t think I will. But you never know…  And……I don’t. Ok, so far so good.

Then she goes in a fourth time to permanently place a tiny little titanium “clip” to mark the place where she sampled. It will show up on all future images but it isn’t big enough to set off the airport security monitors. I chuckle and call it my bling. I tell her it’s like she’s planting the flag on the moon, going where no man had gone before. Now she laughed and said she hadn’t heard that one before.

One butterfly bandage later and I’m ready for home. I don’t feel too sore, but I’m a little black and blue.

She tells me it will take 2-5 business days to get the results. She explained that she isn’t working the following Wednesday and she knows how people’s minds race, so if she had the results Tuesday, she’d call me even if it meant calling into the evening. She almost scoffed at the idea that I wouldn’t have results on Tuesday. But there I was confirming aloud that I shouldn’t freak out if I don’t hear from her until Friday.


At this point I feel like it’s a 50/50 shot for me. It defies all logic of what I had been told, but that’s where my head was.

And where is Tom Petty when you need him? “The waaaaaaaaiiiiiiting is the haaaarrrrrrrrd-eeeeeeest paaart.” Seriously, he had to go and die this month?

You know how when you’re trying to get pregnant and you can’t, all you see are pregnant women everywhere? October is breast cancer awareness month and all, but still. The Friday night of my biopsy, we hit up the high school football game and oh, I don’t know, count ’em: 100 students in the spirit section are wearing breast cancer awareness pink shirts. Oh yeah. And yet I’m trying to keep my mouth shut about my ordeal. I desperately want to talk about this but I really should not talk about this. No sense alarming people, myself included. I really, really don’t want to be a drama queen. Really.

Besides, my husband and I decided not to tell the kids what was going on until there was something truly substantive to tell them. If anyone ought to know, they should first, but that’s not what we did. Collectively they’re a little too young to understand not to mention how my youngest is very protective of me and he would worry. Yet part of me thinks that’s a cop-out because they are not that young. And we as a family have been discussing health as a family value – wait for it – during this entire month of October during our family meetings. Timing is everything.

Serendipitously two days later, my middle-child pre-teen daughter asks me how you know whether you have breast cancer. Little girl say whaaaaa? Did I hear that correctly? Did she pick up on it somehow? Are they wondering? Am I doing a bad job of hiding what’s going on?

Obviously if this essay is any indication, I had a serious need to talk about this….and I wanted to blurt it out right then and there but I kept it inside for several more excruciating days. I mean, I answered her question as thoroughly as I could but of all things she would ask me, that random question arose. How does that happen?

The handful of people I did tell start pinging me Tuesday, asking if I heard. No, which meant I knew it’d be two more days before I had news. [Insert sad face emoji.]

I convinced myself the phone would ring Thursday at 9 am, despite how many other patients the radiologist saw who were likewise awaiting results. No, this is ME, and surely my phone will ring Thursday at 9 am sharp.

At 3:30 pm Thursday I finally break down and call my practitioner first, even though I know the radiologist said she would be the one to contact me directly. The nurse gets back on the line with me and confirms that the radiologist is the one who would give me the results, and that they don’t have them yet.

She said she would call the radiology department on my behalf, and ends our conversation with, “Hey, don’t worry about this, ok? I’m telling you: you don’t have to worry. It’s going to be ok.” Part of me thinks she has my results right in front of her, and she can’t be the one to say so. The other part of me thinks she’s being the compassionate healthcare provider I need. Yet another part of me thinks no matter what the results, breast cancer is treatable when it’s caught early, and that’s why she’s trying to reassure me.


My husband texts me. “What do you think?”

I respond, “I’m thinking about how one of my next conversations will be with a surgeon and how long chemotherapy will be, and whether I will be on disability for it. That’s what I’m thinking.”

  • Yep, what would surgery be like? I’ve never been entirely knocked out. Will I do ok with anesthesia? Will the sutures hurt? Will I wake up and find they took the whole breast? What would recovery be like over the holidays? How long would chemotherapy be?
  • I’m the breadwinner, so what percentage of my salary gets paid out again while I’m on long-term leave? Can we do this? Thank God I have disability insurance through work. Do you know how many people don’t have that?
  • Holy criminy, we just agreed to send our oldest to China on a school trip that maybe we can’t afford now. Will my daughter have to stop dance? If I’m too weak to take her to competitions, who will?
  • OMG, I already have bad hair and now I’m going to lose it? Suck it up, Denise. You know people including a good friend who went through chemo just last year, don’t fall apart. It can be done. She did it…they did it. Don’t wimp out when they didn’t.
  • OMG, my body is a 50-year-old game of Jenga and is cancer or chemo the block that will knock the whole thing down?
  • Great, yet another “pre-existing” condition, I am so f—ed. Why is our health care system so broken?
  • OMG, this lump is six inches away from the spot on my chest where I had a teeny tiny melanoma 25 years ago. Are they related? There is just NO WAY it metastasized after all these years….they excised all of the skin cancer the first time! But maybe they really did find something I didn’t feel, and it happens to be in the same general area.
  • How do I tell people this news? Do I call some or would I just broadcast, “I have breast cancer” on Facebook with the classic mic drop? Would I blog about this? Oh, hell yeah, I’m blogging about this. I don’t know where this fits in the “Live Laugh Love” part of the blog theme, but hey…I’ll  make it work somehow.
  • One in eight women get breast cancer but I know so few who have. I know there are more follow-ups due to the better imaging that is now done, leading to more biopsies that turn out to be false alarms. But what if my turn is up? Will I be like Julia Louis-Deyfus, strong and confident in the face of this disease? Be a spokesperson and strong advocate for breast health? I sure as hell don’t feel strong at the moment. But I can do this, right?
  • Is this how it ends for me? Or will I forever be Denise Louie, breast cancer survivor until I am no more? This was SO not the time to try weaning off my anti-anxiety medication.
  • Obviously, I haven’t reach Zen master status with my meditation practice. Oh? What gives that away, you ask?
  • Geez, oh Pete, Denise, why aren’t you praying?!? You should be praying real prayers, not the “baby Christian” kind. Your Dad prayed, on his knees. Every. Single. Day. You asked other people to pray for you! Praying gives everyone else peace of mind…why not you? Why do you have to be such a doubting Thomas in times like this?
  • Oh Lord, I haven’t even seen any bills for this come across yet. We’re hitting the annual deductible this year, for sure! Shoot, may as well schedule all kinds of elective stuff now…but who has the wallet for all of these out of pocket expenses now that the holidays are upon us? Oh crap, I wanted to get stuff done at the house too… There goes the budget.
  • Who are you kidding? You don’t do real breast exams every single month…you think you’ll notice it in the shower. You act like the guidelines don’t apply to you!
  • Should I have gotten the tomo instead of the conventional mammogram? Who are you kidding, you should be glad they found what they did when they did and now you’ll know once and for all and get some peace of mind.
  • Should I have gotten this done earlier in the year? Did I forget when I had my last mammogram? It’s been a year, right? How fast is this thing growing?
  • Sigh, I know I should be wearing wireless bras instead of underwire but do you SEE the cantilevering I need? Big, flabby boobs drooping down to your elbows are just not attractive. Trust me on this.
  • Wait, isn’t this the week several years ago my beautiful neighbor Geeta died way too young of breast cancer? Geeta, the brightest light I’ve ever met? Geeta, who inspired me to write a breast exam manifesto that I myself don’t even live up to?
  • God, Denise, what the hell is wrong with you? Are you listening to yourself? GET A GRIP.

Uh huh. People tell you not to worry.

My job as an enterprise risk advisor involves me taking an event and thinking through all of the bad things that can happen including likelihood and impact so you can prevent them or at least try to minimize the impact. Uh huh. Can you see where perhaps my line of work poses an occupational hazard in real life?

10 am Friday morning, and I cannot take it anymore. I call the biopsy radiologist and talk to Jennifer in her office. She says they don’t have the pathology results yet. It’s Friday and they don’t have the results yet?! What could be the problem?

Jennifer tells me I should call the ordering doctor. I ask who that is. Let’s get real here: I’m just a ping pong ball getting bounced around. My breast doctor didn’t actually order it. She ordered a routine annual mammogram for me when I saw her in the spring, which I complied with in the fall a year after the last one when my insurance allows it. That turned into the scheduling office directing me to get a follow-up ultrasound where the attending radiologist suggested a biopsy that was performed by another radiologist, who said she would call me with results likely on Tuesday and now it’s mid-morning Friday and I still have no answers. Who here is really calling the shots? Do you all talk to one another? Do I have cancer or not? Can someone tell me what is going on? Tears are streaming down my face and my voice is trembling. I may or may not have said all of that to Jennifer on the line. I really can’t remember.

breast cancer

Finally, the radiologist calls me back shortly after I speak with Jennifer. It’s her lunch break and she is slammed with people to call with results and apologizes she was just simply unable to do it the evening before. This doesn’t jive with what I heard from her when I met her on biopsy day, but oh, who cares….she’s on the line with me right now.

She has good news for me. My lump is a fibroadenoma, a benign growth that does not become cancerous. She said she looked again at my films after she saw me, since I mentioned the lumps I always felt in the area where they were conducting the biopsy. (Hey, there’s an idea!) This allowed her to confirm that this is all one and the same thing but the lump never appeared on an image until I had a tomogram which located it confidently.

Now we know. And honestly, she was as gracious, professional, reassuring, knowledgeable, compassionate, and relatable as I could hope for in a healthcare professional. They all deserve the love for helping me on this journey, and I haven’t been loving.

And the thing is, I know me well enough to know I will forget what the pain of all this felt like, probably by Thanksgiving ironically enough. Kinda like how you forget what labor pains feel like after you have a kid.

But for now? Excuse me while I go find a way to celebrate life.


PS – ladies, please do your monthly breast exams. Yeah, yeah, I know I’m a complete fraud for coaching you to do it but you and I both know it’s the right thing.pink ribbon

So raise your left hand, then place your right hand over your heart and repeat after me:

The Breast Exam Manifesto

I, [insert name here], do solemnly swear

that I will perform my monthly breast exams

starting right here

right now

in this position

by pressing gently with my fingers

in search of lumps and other abnormalities

then moving my hand in clockwise position

and pressing again

until I have examined

the entire surface of the left breast.

Then I promise to switch hands

and examine the right.

Ideally I will do this while laying down

for best results.

So help me God.

Family Dinner is Precious

Sigh. It’s been a go-go-go kind of year and I’m so tired. But something magical happened this week! Soccer season came to an end and marching band rehearsals are almost over, which means we have one weekday night we’re all home as a family. What does that mean?  Dun dun duuuuummmmmmmm…….

Family dinner!

Yes, we actually sat around the table together for a meal Tuesday night and we’re going to try to do that until the end of the school year. NO WAY. Buy a lottery ticket, Tuesday’s my lucky day!

This is our routine: hold hands, kinda sorta doing the wave with our arms while we recite the “God is good” prayer, then dig in. One of the kids sticks their arm out and another “spins” it until it lands on someone (of their choice) who then gets to answer the questions:

  1. How was your day?
  2. What did you do?

There is so much magic in those two little questions. Everybody gets a chance to answer and you can’t cut them off when they speak, except we do try to encourage the wee ones to move along since they REALLY want to give you the minute-by-minute, excrutiating detail playback.

Seriously, our kids were so stinking CUTE reciting how their day played out from the moment they woke up, what they ate, who they got to interact with at school or extracurricular activities, what their take was on the substitute teacher and his nickname…  They were all wide-eyed, happy, animated, and forthcoming with the details of their day. And then they asked questions of us to understand better what we shared.

Parents, sibs: we should want to connect with each other like this routinely. This is healthy relationship stuff.

What happens during this time? We parents are teaching our kids to be good listeners and conversationalists. We’re teaching them to look people in the eye when they speak, and to sit still during dinner. We’re teaching them that everyone should participate in the conversation, and it’s good to ask follow-up questions. We’re showing them to start the meal with priorities straight and gratitude for what we have. And we end the meal together. Laughter is good. Sharing is good. Nourishment for the body, brain, and soul is good. Eating and talking and relaxing with no real timeline or agenda is good. Our kitchen table and the souls that sit in those chairs are sacred. Eating meals together is special. This is communion.

We all need more of this.

#2: Read More

Over the last several years I’ve gotten into some sloppy reading habits, like getting my news almost exclusively on Facebook and Yahoo, never actually reading a real book or even taking the time to digest a real, substantive article. Forget magazines, or anything that requires an attention span of longer than two minutes. Pitiful! That’s like subsisting on a fast food diet of news: sure you can hide your habit but after a while, it’s gotta be pretty obvious that’s all you know.

Yeah, yeah….I could argue I’m a busy working mom to three active kids so who’s got time? Plus I have a strong intellectual base to work with but enough is enough. It’s still garbage in, garbage out.

Oh, and let’s talk about the impact that the news cycle not to mention various fake sources had on the US presidential election last year. I’m liberal and all but I frequently have a difficult time stomaching the headlines from CNN. But even still: somehow I can tell the difference between legitimate news and propaganda on Facebook, yet I could tell who among my friends couldn’t. Didn’t we Americans learn this in civics class or were only some of us paying attention? Sure, we don’t have Walter Cronkite to trustworthily shape the stories of the day anymore, but have we all gotten THAT lazy that anything repeated often enough is considered the truth?

Don’t answer that…. I’m pretty sure I know the answer.

Anyway, enter resolution #2 for 2017: read more.  And this being my 2017 Check-in, so far I’ve been making good on this one, too.

It does beg the question whether I am conveniently failing to mention the goals I bombed this year, but I digress. =)

Not only did I resolve to read more, I really pushed myself to improve the quality of what I was reading. Now in times past, if a friend of mine was sharing a message on Facebook, one that was clearly a hoax and it would make them look stupid, I’d provide a link to the Snopes site to debunk the myth in question and help my friend save face. However in the year leading up to the election, it became a lot harder to do because I found that I would be outright fighting with people over their blind adherence to ridiculous story lines. It became pretty clear that people weren’t interested in a conversation or learning something for that matter…they were far more interested in making their position known, essentially confirming what was already in their hearts and minds.

All that craziness made me question honestly whether I was in fact fairly considering all sides to an argument. How could SO MANY people share news articles from dubious sources as if they were legitimate? Do they have any idea how crazy they look engaging in this behavior?  And then once it was known that there were definite propaganda pages on Facebook, why did people continue to get sucked in?

Then I found this graphic, from Vanessa Otero, which does an amazing job of dissecting what’s out there. After the clickbait headlines of CNN annoyed me to no end, I found myself checking Reuters and BBC for more measured takes on the news of the day.

news graphic Vanessa Otero

I also started reading Vox, the Atlantic, Slate, and The Hill in addition to my subscription to the Wall Street Journal. I wanted substantive articles about the issues of the day and I’m looking for a balanced perspective. For good measure, most days I glance at the headlines and occasionally read articles from the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and HuffPost.

Ok, I’m so busted: HuffPost is my guilty pleasure.  Every single day I navigate to their site just to see what 50-point screaming, rhyming headline they’ve come up with for the news cycle. It cracks me up. Otherwise, I’m there for the health and psychology articles but now that Adrianna Huffington has created Thrive.com, I’ve found a new haunt.

All of this change in the news that I read has helped. I’ve stopped getting my news primarily from Facebook, Yahoo, and CNN. I feel better informed about the issues of the day. Dear heavens, never in a million years did I think I could tell you the name of more than a half-dozen senators let alone where they’re from, what party they represent, and what issues they support or what scandals they’ve been involved in but I sure as heck know now! I guess I wish I wasn’t quite so…..weary of it all. I’m not even the political wonk in the family. I just care, DEEPLY.

Honestly how can anyone not pay attention or care what’s happening in the US?

Oh well, that’s not really the point of my “read more” resolution, but the effort to take in better news sources was certainly timely and opportunistic.

No, the real goal of my “read more” resolution was to make good on reading real honest-to-goodness books. I’ve had a Goodreads account for ages but never really used it. This year I saw a reading challenge, so I set a pretty audacious goal of reading ten books. TEN! I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know if I’ve had a year when I’ve read ten books. Let’s get real: I’m not into fiction. Nope, I’m the chick that read the encyclopedia as a kid.  Really, I did. This explains so much about my dating life, but again, I digress.

I’m an insatiable information junkie, so my goal was ten substantive books, not ten Harlequin novels. (Do those still exist? On a side note did you know there’s such a thing as dinosaur erotica? I was going to say “don’t ask me how I know that” but then you’d think I was a reader. Eww…..no!  I heard about it on a podcast about side hustles. But really: dinosaur erotica? WTH? There’s an audience for that? Huh. Obviously I am not getting creative enough with my spare time.)

So here’s where I got CLEVER with the old reading challenge….I wasn’t just planning on reading random non-fiction. Nope, I deliberately chose books on health, women, creativity, and resilience so it would support the other goals I set for myself this year. Here’s what I’ve read so far:

  1. The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes
  2. Adrenal Thyroid Revolution by Aviva Romm
  3. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
  4. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  5. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
  6. How to Live a Good Life by Jonathan Fields
  7. But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman

Most of these were ideas I got from podcasts I listen to. That will have to be the subject of another post sometime.

The first book, The Case Against Sugar, was a tough read to start the year: a lot of content in tiny print on several pages. I’d have to say I’ve been catching on for some time that sugar is not my friend. At all. Sugar behaves like a frenemy….nice to my face but awful behind my back. If you saw my butt you’d know what I mean.  Gary Taubes has written a couple of books on health and obesity but I have to say this tome about sugar was absolutely fascinating including its history as a health supplement and how candy bars were considered health food during WWII. Not to mention how tobacco leaves are steeped in sugar to give the nicotine more power. Fascinating stuff but probably not the easiest read for most people.

Regarding the Adrenal Thyroid Revolution, I heard Dr. Romm speak on an autoimmune podcast. It seems my thyroid is acting wacky for starters, and I had a setback about two years ago that absolutely put me in a tailspin. And the month I feel like I finally came out of it, I was hit with near debilitating fatigue.  Like, I felt I could collapse at my desk at any moment fatigue. As in, I have a 30 minute driving commute home from work and I could not stay awake for it; I had to pull over on the side of the road and nap in order to make it home safely. I knew that wasn’t normal. I learned that adrenal fatigue could be the culprit, and that you just don’t necessarily get better on your own. Dr. Romm discussed a number of conditions and a protocol for dealing with it that was compelling. I learned a lot more about my health and what I may be dealing with but it still wasn’t enough for me to take action.

10% Happier is a short, quick read and a great book if you’re wondering about all the hubbub around meditation. Does meditation really help clear your mind? (Spoiler alert: no.) Does meditation give you a few more seconds of pause before you impulsively react to the crap that happens to you? (Spoiler: yes!) Is this a good thing? Yes! Dan Harris, journalist and initial skeptic, breaks down all the woo-woo for you and gives you the purely practical reasons why meditation works. His journey to meditation starting with his on-air panic attack and prior drug use is raw, honest, and refreshing. I like people who get real.

Speaking of real, few people exemplify that more than Glennon Doyle of Momastery.com blog fame. That woman has a way with words. When the Syrian refugee crisis hit its news cycle zenith when that helpless little toddler boy washed up dead on the shores of Greece, she didn’t just wring her hands in despair. She took action and mobilized money to help those poor souls. I’ve been following her for a couple of years. Say whatever you may want about her back story and her marriage now to women’s soccer star Abby Wambach, she has a heart of gold and epitomizes the love warrior. I thought her book would be a bit more about that instead of the story of her first marriage. Not my favorite book of the bunch but I still like Glennon’s honesty and take on life.

Man’s Search for Meaning: how do you begin to dissect a classic like this? I chose it because I’ve seen it quoted countless times over the last 30 years and because the timing certainly seems right to remember the atrocities committed against people who were “other”. Why this isn’t required reading in every high school class in America, I don’t know. Mere words can’t do justice to what Viktor Frankl shared in terms of his concentration camp days. The second half of the book was academic but inspiring. Given all of the quotes from Frankl, I am surprised I haven’t seen more references to a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast as a bookend to the Statue of Liberty. He is definitely onto something when he said they go hand in hand. How much despair exists among Americans today because they don’t feel a sense of responsibility toward anything, just a sense of entitlement?

Jonathan Fields has quickly become one my favorite podcast personalities. I could deep think all day. Once upon a time, I tried to dissect what would make for a good life and I loved his take on the subject in How to Live a Good Life. He breaks the endeavor into three buckets, any one of which runs dry and you suffer as a result. This resonated enormously with me. I took his advice to read each chapter one day at a time, and ended up stalling my reading effort for the year. This is a book I will no doubt revisit and apply the ideas within.

Finally Chuck Klosterman’s But What If We’re Wrong? was a Christmas gift from my boss. There is a running joke in my home that I’m never wrong….whether my boss (who’s really cool, by the way), knows that it’s the running joke, I don’t know. So first thought was, “NO WAY, she gave me a gift! How nice!” then, “Hmmm….is there a hidden message with this?”  lol

Now, my career as an auditor required that I gather all the facts, trust my gut, and hold people to a (high) standard. Well, let’s just say that rubs off in daily life. I don’t just spew uninformed opinions. I do my research and I’m aware of the impact of bias, and I want to guard against it.

Regarding this book, took me a few months to pick it up but it ended up being a great read and a welcome gut check. It essentially reminds us that there are ideas we hold dearly as rock-solid answers that later turn out to be wholly false, such as the sun revolved around the Earth. Or things we say are the color blue today were always called blue. It cautions us that we may now hold certain rock-solid ideas as a definitive fact when we will find out in later years that we were completely wrong.

Not that I’m looking for internet trolls to spew hate at me, but I need a swift kick in the butt now and then. I need a compelling argument to allow me to see a side of the conversation I could not see before. Kinda like the concept of white privilege. When I first heard about it, I mocked the idea because believe me, I didn’t grow up with privilege to speak of. But when I listened to what is meant by that turn of phrase, I realized that I was wrong.

Not sure what’s on tap for the rest of the year. Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat, Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala, and Angela Duckworth’s Grit are the likely candidates.

Read more. Listen. Never stop learning.

 

 

#1: Travel More

Growing up, we didn’t really vacation. A couple of times we drove down to Florida to visit my cousin, once or twice we went to Washington DC to do the same for another cousin, and every summer we made a road trip to Cleveland to see the aunts and uncles, and that was about it. In the meantime, I discovered my childless aunt and uncle traveled most of the national parks in their camper during their vacations. It was fascinating to imagine doing that.

But that wasn’t us. No, I was the kid in the backseat of the family’s light blue Chevy Impala driving down I-95 at 60 miles per hour, in the thick of the summer with all the windows down, head sticking out of said window to stay cool, as if I were the family dog. My long, fine, light brown hair would be a wild mess from the wind….and I’m surprised I wasn’t sunburnt. My cheeks always felt numb after hours of riding just like this, but hey, we didn’t have air conditioning in the car, so what did you expect me to do? Nevertheless, we were going on vacation!

Now why I didn’t think to craft a career in the travel industry, I don’t know….

But after college I found work in public accounting and along with it came the need to travel to different client sites wherever they happened to be. It was awesome. I used to go go go… and man, I loved it! At some point I was traveling five days a week for weeks on end all over the US, and I liked it so much I traveled more for vacation, visiting the friends I made all over the country.

Still, traveling constantly got old after a while, and I wanted a ‘real life’ so after several years I quit that job, married at an age you could say was a little later in life, and then finally had kids. Waiting as long as I did to have all that, I would rather spend my time with my family.

Actually, I’d rather travel with my family and we do. Rarely do my husband and I go anywhere without them, although that’s almost a function of there being very few options to watch the kids so we can have some alone time.

Still, for several years while the kids were young, the wish list of places I wanted to visit was growing faster than I had a means to satisfy it. I kept saying “one of these days”….and it never came.  3D Realistic Travel and Tour Poster Design Around the World

Enter my high school friend Barb who set a girls weekend away one of as her 2017 resolutions and she invited me to go. Me. I hadn’t seen her in roughly 30 years. I was humbled and thrilled.

Boom! That was the avalanche that started it for me. Yes, I definitely had “More Travel” on the list of 2017 resolutions but before you knew it, 2017 became a year of “yes” and “Why not?” Between fun and work this year, long weekends and bigger trips, I’ve been to New York, Chicago, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Bedford Springs (PA), Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Scottsdale, Traverse City, Orlando, the Bahamas, Savannah, and Amelia Island (FL). These weren’t trips with the whole family each time…these were just the trips I happened to make. Before 2017 is over, I will sneak in Raleigh, and maybe Dayton and Hocking Hills (a beautiful, hilly region in southeast Ohio). What can I say? Wanderlust is in my blood.

I’m not even sure which was my favorite! Amelia Island was beautiful. Barb and I were supposed to go to Cumberland Island to see the wild horses, but we didn’t plan properly for that. Plus the weekend we went was blistering hot. I mean, Denise-is-dripping-wet-hot. I think she realized there was a good chance I would DIE on Cumberland Island had we tried to hoof it for a day. I’m grateful she was cool with hanging at the pool.

Bedford Springs was wonderful in that it was a celebration for a friend after her winning battle against ovarian cancer. The Omni Bedford Springs is a beautiful venue, and we enjoyed our long weekend in April at the hot springs and spa.

Traverse City was a joy to see again. It had been nearly 20 years since I had been there. We took the kids over Spring Break when it was a bit too chilly to enjoy hiking the sand dunes but overall we liked it enough to want to return.

California was the big family trip this year. We crammed a ton of activities into our 10 days in the Los Angeles metro area and San Diego. This was our first time using AirBNB and our apartments were perfect. The kids thought California was exceptional and I’m so glad we got the chance to take them there. We visited Zuma, Venice, and Huntington Beaches, the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Hollywood sign, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers Studios, USC, UCLA, Santa Monica Pier, Beverly Hills, La Jolla and the sea lions, the USS Midway, San Diego Zoo, and Coronado. Just incredible.

My husband and I even managed a cruise to the Bahamas in early September for my birthday getaway, but it was cut short given Hurricane Irma. I’m telling you those Floridians are fearless in the face of doom. There we were, disembarking at Port Canaveral, and they showed up to their jobs to help us, cheerfully, with the storm nipping at our heels. Humbling.

So you think with all that travel, I’d get rid of the travel bug. Nope.

For the last few years, I had been targeting Iceland for my 50th birthday trip but that was before I turned the whole year into a travel adventure. I haven’t abandoned the idea: I WILL go to Iceland ideally within the next two years.  I took it as a sign from God that I’m meant to go now that Wow Airlines has cheap direct flights from Pittsburgh today and from Cleveland this May.

Iceland is not as easy to plan, though. I see pictures of places I think are breathtaking, but the names are, like, 20 letters long and well, ICELANDIC, so I have no idea how to say things like Eyjafjallajökull.  Do you? I mean, come on. Wikipedia says it’s pronounced [ˈeɪjaˌfjatlaˌjœːkʏtl̥].I still say, “huh?”

So I’m tabling Iceland for the moment, and letting the travel bug wind down for a brief moment so 2018 can be focused on some other goals.

But 2017? You were AWESOME in terms of travel. I spent a lot more than I had ever planned on all these trips but it was worth it. And I no longer feel like time is getting away from us and all the places I want to take the kids as a family. We will hit the road again in 2018 for sure, but 2017 will be a year for the memory books. 2017 New Year resolution #1 achieved, with gusto.

2017 Check-In

I really believe you need to drive the narrative of your own life, ya know?2017 plot twist

I came into 2017 with several wishes, serious resolutions, knowing that this was a big birthday year.

Man, knowing that you’ve lived half a century puts a lot of stuff into perspective. Time to stop wishing for “some day” because this is it. THIS IS IT. This ain’t no dress rehearsal, this is the show, sister!

Having taken an assessment of how things were going, I have to admit that some things in life are going better than ever, marriage and child raising among them. Don’t ask me how we pulled that off…all I can say is my husband Ryun and I have stuck together no matter what through some pretty trying times. We’re a team and we raise our kids that way. Good thing we see eye to eye on nearly everything when it comes to kids.

Don’t get me wrong, child raising – and marriage for that matter – kicks my butt. I can’t tell you how many times I feel like I am submerged in water, flailing on my tippy toes, grasping for air. I can’t imagine not working while I raise kids (ok, while we raise kids, but hey, this is my blog, so there…) but there are not enough hours in the day to devote to the kids the way I’d like. I wish I knew that going in…but I’m the breadwinner and I prefer the lifestyle I can provide for us by playing that role. And while I have always tried to succeed professionally (academically, intellectually…), I hold that Jackie Kennedy Onassis quote close to my heart:

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

In a departure for myself however, my goals for 2017 were not kid, marriage, or even spiritual ones. They were of the “put the oxygen mask on yourself first” nature, more personal, along these lines:

1) Travel more

2) Read more: real books, not just quick articles on LinkedIn or Facebook

3) Reboot my face, body, and overall health

4) Specifically take steps to boost my immunity

5) Move, for crying out loud: reclaim some flexibility with yoga, my favorite exercise

6) Begin writing for real

7) Finish redoing the laundry room once and for all

8) Resurrect the other home improvement I put on old until the laundry room remodel was finished

9) Start thinking about the next phase of my career

10) Get out of the house and socialize for crying out loud

I had all kinds of reasons for these goals in particular, and despite the large number of them, I made good on them the first 10 months of this year.

Why so many, you ask? What’s that definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result? I wanted different results in life. I knew it was pretty ambitious to name 10 big goals for myself but I once upon a time I was a life coach so I know a thing or two about setting goals and keeping them.

No matter how you look at it, my 2017 was much more ambitious than 2016.  Last year I specifically set one goal, and that was to eat more bacon. Everything is better with bacon. I mean, really. More bacon should be on everyone’s new year list.

I’m going to take the next several days to break down how I did with each of these goals so I can give some thought to what’s on my agenda for 2018. You may have figured out that I like quotes. This time I think of that line from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Are you with me?