Family ties

We are in the early stages of a 20 plus hour drive from the land of my childhood family (Iowa) back to the land of my adult family ( Maryland). For each of the last ten days, I have spent a portion of the day with various members of my birth family. I have eight sisters and four brothers and on this trip, I saw all of those who continue to live in Iowa, which is three brothers and two sisters. I enjoyed the time I got to spend with each of them and their families.

Growing up in a big family has many challenges, but I believe the benefits are greater than those. For many years, I took for granted the massive support system that I was lucky enough to be born into. Growing up there were fights, name calling and hurt feelings, but there were plenty of good times too. There are still moments when we fall back into our childish roles and we behave badly. We have a tendency to pick out someone and gang up on them. Usually it is good natured teasing and some of us take it better than others. It isn’t always nice, but it is mostly in fun and we can laugh it off.

In the last ten years since I have had my own family, I have really come to appreciate my sisters and my brothers. When I feel overwhelmed by the demands of having three boys within five years, I can call or email any of my sisters for advice or sympathy. They give me advice on clothes, hair, cooking, health and life in general. There are times, when I don’t speak to any of them for weeks, but I take comfort knowing they are there. I consider my sisters my best friends and I feel incredibly lucky that I have so many to choose from to bounce ideas off of and to have a good time. Since starting my blog, my sisters have been my biggest supporters and I will always be grateful to them for that.

I have noticed that when the times get tough for any of us we all rally around and do our best to help each other. Being in a large family isn’t always good times. We do get together sometimes and “discuss” what we think is best for other members of the family especially our aging parents. Some people might think this is butting in each others business, but I believe we each have our strengths and try to use them to help each other out.

Of course, I live on the other side of the country from my parents and most of my siblings so I don’t have to worry too much about people butting into my business. The downside to this is my kids do miss out on seeing their many cousins and aunts and uncles. They love when there is a large extended family gathering and they get to see their cousins. They have good relationships with all of them and are able to pick up where they left off at their last meeting and play together as if they had just seen them the day before. I keep seeing a Facebook post that says, “cousins are your first best friends”. I agree with that wholeheartedly. Not only am I blessed with so many siblings, my parents come from families of 15 and 8 children apiece so I had many cousin of my own to have fun and get into mischief with.

As I watch my three sons growing up playing together and having their own fights, I hope that they will come to realize they can rely on each other for help and support. I also hope they continue to nurture those relationships with the extended family they have on both sides. Family is really a blessing that not everyone is lucky enough to have and too often those of us who do have it, take for granted.

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Final Plans

Today I had a conversation with my brother that I didn’t expect to have with any of my siblings for many years to come. I was visiting him in the hospital where he is in the ICU being treated for possible pneumonia and sepsis complicated by an immune system compromised by chemotherapy and radiation treatments for his pancreatic cancer. My sister and I asked him what life support steps he wants to take if it comes to that. He was diagnosed with his cancer six months ago after a bout of pneumonia and sepsis and he is still coming to terms with the fact that his condition is likely terminal. He doesn’t want to die and he doesn’t want to believe he is.

We also discussed a “final resting” or burial place and cremation versus burial. It was an awkward uncomfortable conversation but we got through it and even managed to joke. I know joking is a defense mechanism, but it also helped put him at ease. I am not sure we resolved anything, but the lines of communication are open and we will continue to have the conversation. There is still much to discuss and learn.

We learned that Bob had cancer about six months ago after a series of hospitalizations for pneumonia, excess fluid buildup in his stomach, removal of a mass in his liver, sepsis, and finally the cancer diagnosis. He is lucky that he went to the hospital when he did and he is lucky he recovered sufficiently to have the cancer surgery and then go on to have chemo and radiation. He has a tremendous will to live and I pray that he does not suffer immeasurably. He was having a lot of stomach pain when we visited him yesterday after he ate. The doctors are telling him he has gastrointestinitis or flu, but I suspect it is more. My uncle also has pancreatic cancer and his diagnosis was a few months earlier and he also has a great deal of stomach pain.

Prior to Bob’s diagnosis, he had not seen most of our family since 1999. It is a long complicated story, but Bob also is schizophrenic and that disease caused some behaviors that made it difficult for him to leave his home. His living situation was not conducive to welcoming family and friends. Cancer for him, has reunited him with his brothers and sisters and also allows him to receive medical care regularly. He is only 47 years old, but he lives in a nursing home. He is happy to be there, because he is well-cared for and his basic and medical needs are met.

Part of the reason, Deb and I were able to discuss death with Bob is that we have seen a lot of it. All four of our grandparents have died, we have both lost various members of our husbands’ families, but the hardest have been the deaths that have occurred in our other sister’s family. Just over four years ago, my nephew was killed with his girlfriend when they were driving home from dinner and a movie. It was an awful time for his sister and his parents and everyone who knew Chris. It was a terrible tragic accident and changed the lives of many forever. Navigating the sorrow and grief has been difficult and painful and is still an ongoing process.

Five months ago, tragedy struck Mary’s family again. Her husband was killed in another horrible accident. Everyone who knows and loves this family was saddened that my sister and niece had to go through such a loss when their grief was still so fresh. Those of us who are closest to the two of them are amazed by the grace and strength they show every single day. They continue to move forward even when they don’t feel like getting out of bed. They have kept busy and are honoring their son/brother and husband/father by making the most out of each and every day.

I don’t know that my brother will ever be able to live life in the fullest the way many of us are able, but he is enjoying his life and his family has rallied around him and are helping him. I don’t know how much time he has, but experience has shown me that none of us really know how much time we have. Enjoy your life and don’t wait until another day to start. Life really is short even when the days can be long.

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Going Raw

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A few years ago, a good friend of the family was visiting and he was following what I thought was a strict food plan. For breakfast he was eating Irish Oatmeal soaked overnight in soy milk in the refrigerator. At the time, I thought he was crazy and suggested he cook the cereal before eating it. He was polite about his response and ate his concoction. Whenever I seem to make a judgement about something, life has a way of bringing my words back to me and making me eat them. Yesterday, I ate my words in the form of oatmeal soaked in almond milk with blueberries. It was great and was truly the best oatmeal I have ever eaten.

For the first three days of this week, my husband and I were on a raw food mini detox. We ate nothing but raw foods. Well actually, I slipped up on the first day and we ate hummus, not even thinking that the chickpeas were cooked before being ground up. My whole life I have battled with my weight. This year, I made a promise to myself to be healthy. No more diets, no starving myself, but I was going to adopt a healthier lifestyle permanently. I have three young boys and I want to be around to see them grow up and to be able to be active with them.

Since January, I have been eating healthy whole foods, exercising regularly and keeping track of it all on MYFitnessPal, an app for my iPad and smartphone. I have done well, but the last month or so I have been on a typical plateau. Was I building muscle? Maybe, but it was frustrating not to see the results of my hard work. Matt and I talked about replicating the 7 day detox that we did after New Years which involved eliminating caffeine, wheat, dairy, meat and all processed foods. During this detox, we did not limit our calories extremely, we just cut out ALL the junk in our diets. At that time, he lost 10 pounds and I lost 6. Most of the weight had been holdover from holiday treats.

This time, we decided that we didn’t have a full week since the kids and I are traveling to Iowa this weekend, so we heard about a 3 day raw detox from http://bitchindietitian.com/ which is actually the same blog we learned about the longer detox in January. The bithcin’ dietician is the mother of our middle son’s classmate and she is a dietitian, cookbook author and vegan. We didn’t follow either of her detoxes step by step, but we used them more as a guide and followed in the best way that we could.

The idea of going raw was a little overwhelming and we probably should have done some more research before going forward because we could have used more protein in our meals. I would say it was a success. We had fresh fruit and veggie juices or smoothies for breakfast, fruit and nuts for snacks, salads for lunch and a heartier meal for dinner. As I said,t he first day, we slipped up and had hummus. We ate a lot of nuts and avacado, flax seed, chia (as in the pets) and more fruits and veggies than most people do in a week. We both felt great and I was able to move off my plateau. Will I go raw again? Maybe for a day or two, and we frequently eat no meat meals, but I must confess I really enjoy a filet or burger or sushi every now and then. I can’t eat as much meat as I once did, but I am not ready to give it up permanently. Next time we go raw, I will find some more raw food sources of protein. We didn’t limit calories, in fact a much higher percentage of the food we ate while eating raw, was fat. Both Matt and I had success and saw the numbers move down on the scale this week.

One other good thing I noticed about this raw stage is that I seemed to have a lot of energy both mentally and physically. I didn’t seem to need as much sleep and in fact, it was difficult to quiet my mind at night. I was pleased with the outcome and enjoyed the energy I got from this way of eating.

Time to Stop Procrastinating TODAY

I am a procrastinator. I don’t like admitting it, but it affects everything that I do everyday. I make lists and don’t always get everything done on it, but I am so proud when I can cross things off. Today I heard that you should never put anything on your list that you aren’t going to do. When you don’t finish things on your list, you fail to keep your promise to yourself. Over time, you begin to believe that it is ok not to complete your to do list and you fail to get things done. It becomes easy to break your promises to yourself and ultimately others. You should only put things on your list that you promise to get completed.

This year I have decided that it is time to stop procrastinating. It is time to reach the dreams I have and am even afraid to dream. Another gem I heard today is that procrastination is a strategy that allows you to produce a subpar product. If you put things off until the last minute and the result isn’t perfect, it becomes easy to justify because you threw it together at the last minute. If you work really hard on something and the result is less than perfect, that is somehow a reflection on you.

I believe I am a procrastinator to avoid failure, but it really just makes me a failure. This home truth has given me a crisis of confidence today and I really don’t like the feeling. It is not that I have not been working hard all these years, because I do every day. I think that some of the things I am “busy” with are just ways to distract me the bigger picture and allow me to keep up my bad habits.

On those occasions when I don’t procrastinate, I am able to accomplish so much more and the feeling is very fulfilling. Getting things done in a timely manner make the relaxation so much sweeter. I am making a promise to myself that I will only commit to those things that I will actually accomplish. Establishing a new habit takes time and routines and even though it isn’t New Year’s, I am resolving to adopt new healthier habits for my life.

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Marriage

wedding danceI have been thinking a lot about relationships and marriage recently. Last October, my husband and I celebrated 11 years of marriage. Before the date, I read that the tulip was the flower associated with 11 years. I did look around, but couldn’t find anyplace to find tulips to send him a bouquet. I improvised and bought tulip bulbs which were being sold everywhere I looked. I planted the bulbs and looked forward to seeing them bloom in the spring. I just noticed today that those bulbs I planted last fall are starting to come up. In the past, deer always seem to bite off any tulips I have planted, but I am hoping they will leave these anniversary tulips alone.

Part of the reason that I have been thinking about marriage is that I seem to be hearing more and more about people that I know that are separating and planning to divorce. A few years ago, my friend told me that by the time my kids were out of elementary school many of their classmates’ and friends’ parents would be divorced. I was surprised  by that, but even more surprised that her words seem to be coming true.

My own parents divorced when I was 21 and in college. People always think it’s bizarre that they separated after more than 25 years of marriage and 13 children. At the time, I realized it was for the best, but it did affect me in a way. I had often thought about them divorcing, but never really expected it to happen. At this point, they have been divorced longer than they were married. My relationship with both parents is good and they occasionally see each other at family events. Around the time my parents split, I was taking a creative writing class and had to write some poetry. I wrote a poem about my feelings one night during a particularly violent storm.

The rain beasts a drum on my window.

The thunder pounds inside my head.

Lightning severs a branch on the old oak.

The broken limb swings back and forth.

Thunder snarls in response.

The recent past fueled my anger

until finally the storm erupted.

The photos of our happy family clash

with the reality of my parents’ separation.

I hurl the memories from my sight.

There are no winners and only one loser.

An innocent picture frame flies to the floor.

Cracked wood and glass shards litter the carpet.

Keeling, I pick up each piece, carefully

examining the jagged edges.

The photos of my life have been spared –

only the framework is destroyed.

The thunder and lightning have subsided.

Only the rain taps gently on the glass.

 

I think the best piece of advice I got before getting married actually came from our parish priest and the man who married us, Msgr. Smith. He said many people go into marriage believing that it is a 50/50 partnership. When they believe that, the relationship is often doomed to fail. If you are only giving 50% of your effort, you will get used to doing that and there are days when you don’t feel so well or are just having a bad day. You may only give 30% and when your spouse sees that, they may only give 30% or possibly even less. Now you have a divide between the two of you. If you go into the relationship giving 100%, then there is more room for having a bad day. If you are both giving 70% of your effort, you are still together. He put his arms in front of him with his hands on each opposite elbow to demonstrate the 100% effort on both sides and to demonstrate the 50/50, he put his arms in front of him with just his hands touching and no overlapping.

That visual and his comments have stuck with me for the last 11 1/2 years. I think about it almost every day, during the good and the bad moments. Love does not always look like a fairy tale or Hollywood love story. All relationships take work, but the good ones are worth the effort.  I believe that I have a good one and try to put in 100%. I look forward to seeing those tulips bloom completely this year and to many more years to come.

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Wakeful

Insomnia. It’s an ugly word mostly because of its definition. Being awake. Not sleeping. The inability to sleep. Periods of wakefulness. It is dreaded by all who suffer it and it seems to be one of those things that is contagious. Once you get it, it keeps coming back. It seems to make sense that if you are tired, you will sleep, but that isn’t necessarily true.

When my oldest child was an infant, he didn’t sleep. Since he wasn’t sleeping much, neither was I. Someone (well many people actually), told me that sleep begets sleep. I think it is a quote from one of those sleep books that never seemed to work for me. I really didn’t understand or even care, I just wanted sleep. The sleep eventually came and we went on to have two more children each with their own sleep issues, which I now understand as just trying to fit into their new environment outside the womb and trying to carve out time to feed and bond with parents.

Even when the children were finally sleeping, I still had sleep issues. If I am honest, I have always had periods of chronic insomnia. I used to get up in the middle of the night and go into the bathroom to read so I wouldn’t bother my sisters who I shared a room with. Last summer the sleeplessness was really bothering me so I talked to my doctor about it. I had been taking one Benadryl at bedtime for years just to be able to go back to sleep in the middle of the night once I woke up. The doctor offered me something stronger, but I really wanted to stop taking the Benadryl NOT take more drugs.

Her other suggestions proved more helpful. She suggested I get up and go to bed at the same time every day. I try, but sometimes nighttime after the kids and hubby go to bed, I get most of my work done. The most helpful suggestion really had to do with limiting “screen time”. No computer, tv, smart phone, iPad, etc. an hour or two before sleep and none of those things in the bedroom. Apparently the blue light interferes with our body’s sleep cycle and our natural melatonin. Getting rid of screens in the bedroom was easier for me than Matt, but he has gone along with my ban. We never had a tv in there anyway. I can feel myself getting agitated when he is using a laptop or other screen when I am trying to sleep. I just get up and wait to go to bed until he finishes, but he rarely does it anymore so it isn’t a problem.

Why am I writing about insomnia an hour before my alarm is due to go off? The answer to that is simple. I have been awake since 4 o’clock and couldn’t go back to sleep. Matt had an early train and he left the house at 5:15 so I decided to get up and shower and start writing about at least one of those things that was running through my mind. I am also going to get a jump start on my day.

Today’s wakefulness may have something to do with my three cups of highly caffeinated tea that I had yesterday, or a holdover from Daylight Savings time, or just one of those things. I do know though that I awoke instantly and a blue light was shining down the hall into my room. The computer had updated and rebooted automatically. Coincidence? Maybe. I don’t really have an exact answer, but I hope that today’s insomnia isn’t contagious and tonight will be a better sleep.

Happy Place

It was difficult getting out of bed this morning. The whole family is still adjusting to the time change and losing an hour of sleep on Saturday night. We all went to bed early last night, but it was hard to wake up when it was still dark. We moved slowly, but everyone got off to school and work on time. After everyone left, it was time to do some exercise and catch up on my chores.

I started out riding my bike for about 30 minutes. I rode almost twelve miles on the trainer and I am closer to achieving my goal of doubling last years mileage. At the end of the ride, I got a phone call from a friend who was struggling with some sad news that her father is very ill. Since she is far away, it was really upsetting to me that she was so sad and there is really nothing I could do for her other than listen. Our conversation was brief, because my friend had to go and make some other phone calls.

2013-03-11_10-59-30_973My nine year old lab mix hadn’t ventured outside yet, so I decided to take him for a walk. We headed straight for our favorite place “the woods”. We are so lucky that we live within walking distance of the Northwest Branch trail and we can escape into Nature within ten minutes. As soon as we were outside, I noticed the gorgeous day. The temperature is warm and climbing and even though it is slightly overcast, hints of the sunshine were peeking out from the clouds. Birds were singing and Spring flowers are beginning to pop up all over the neighborhood.

The best part of the walk was when we got to the woods. I let Jack off his leash and he happily stayed near the trail and me and sniffed around enjoying the day and doing his business. We hiked down toward the water and began to walk around. The first sight of the water always takes me someplace else. Whatever thoughts are on my mind seem to float along the current. I can only focus on the still naked trees, the running water and the rocks and signs of life all along the path.

Today I was noticing animal tracks, new buds on trees and plants and just thinking about my friend. Sometimes when I am in the woods, I do think it could be dangerous if we ran into the wrong person or if either my dog or myself got hurt. I carry my cell phone and watch out for people and animals and keep Jack close by even when he is off leash to minimize any danger. Even when I lose myself in nature, I still pay close attention to my surroundings. When we had been walking about 20 minutes, I ran into a man who was whistling and calling for his dog. His 12 year old hound, Trixie had run off and he had been searching for her for over an hour. I told him that I hadn’t seen her but that I would look for her. It was just at that moment that I saw a large wingspan of a bird I didn’t immediately recognize. I believe that it was a blue heron and I caught a glimpse just as it was settling itself on a rock to enjoy the day. I watched the beautiful bird for a few minutes, but it was really difficult to see because it was so still and blended into the surroundings. I did get couple of photos with my cell phone that I am posting below.

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On our way out of the woods, Jack and I saw the man searching for his dog again. He hadn’t found her and I said that I would keep looking and alert my neighbors that there was a missing dog. When I got home, I sent an email to the neighborhood list serve. Luckily I have since heard from the man and Trixie was found several miles from where she had been seen. Apparently while she was enjoying the warm Spring day she had found her happy place too and lost track of time.