Fishtastrophy

On Tuesday I received a panicked call from my daughter. She told me to come home right away. Thankfully my school district is very understanding when those rare moments come up and I need to dash home. For that I am so grateful.

For MY 53rd birthday, my favorite man bought himself a 55 gallon fish tank. It’s been a longstanding family joke and it always makes us smile. Let’s just say that dementia patients should never have free access to a debit card! Weekends are often spent frequenting the local fish store and he has quite a collection. Most do not have names. However, we have a few that he enjoys more than the rest. For example, there is the white catfish that he saved from bullies that chewed off his whiskers, the Pleco who hides in the castle and rarely comes out, and the two orange and black striped fish that settle onto the leaves of one of his decorative flowers. He often spends hours watching the fish while I’m at school, listening to old music videos on the big screen.

This week my favorite man decided to clean the tank without me. I asked him to wait, but he doesn’t wait well- he never has. Moving fish over into a holding tank, he emptied the nasty water and cleaned out the tank. He was exhausted when I called to check in at noon, and I tried to get him to wait until 4:00. I urged him to nap. He refused, worried that the fish were overcrowded, wanting to get them back to the larger tank.

Tired dementia brains make big mistakes.

He hooked up the hose to the warm water in the laundry room, somehow flooding the floor twice. My daughter was a trooper, telling her father that she needed to wash the floor anyway. He filled the tank and checked the temperature. He thought, “Wow! That is WAY too hot.” Then he started putting the fish in the tank. Exhausted, he sat in his chair to watch his fish begin to float to the top of the tank. He wondered what was happening and thought that maybe they were having a hard time adjusting. The thermostat on the tank was blinking RED. He said he wondered why it was doing that. It is always green.

All of a sudden, he realized that his fish were boiling to death. He became panicked. He felt terrible, crying, telling the fish how sorry he was, and that he was a terrible fish Dad. Our daughter sprung into action, helping him to cool down the tank with ice, ice packs, and even frozen packaged meat. As my husband placed his hands on his face and sobbed, she called me to come home.

As I drove, I thanked God that it was just fish that I was rushing home to. He kept people out of my way so that I could safely go as fast as I dared. SItting in his chair with a tear stained face, he kept saying that he was sorry, that he knew better, that he didn’t know why he did it, that he was a terrible fish Dad, and that he hoped that his fish knew how much he loved them. God gave me the strength not to cry. He reminded me of my morning devotions that instructed me to listen, not give advice, and to “lean in and feel his hurt”. So that’s what I did.

I am so grateful for my daughter who is gifted with compassion. She is a natural caregiver, who loves deeply, reads her father like a book, and is all I could ever ask for in a caregiver. Without her, I would not feel comfortable leaving him. How would this have looked if he were home alone and I wouldn’t arrive for a couple more hours? I thank God for the sacrifice that she has made to care for her Dad so that I can continue to work and not worry.

I’m grateful that she called, calmly filling me in, helping to get everything settled, then tagged out, so that I could console my sweet man. Thankfully, we saved about 26 fish, and although we lost a few of his favorites, his Pleco survived to return to hide in the castle for another day.

Most days, thankfully, are not like Tuesday. Most days are just fine, but the bad days are generally pretty awful. That’s when I am reminded that this dementia-thing isn’t going to go away. In fact, it’s going to get worse. That’s when I start to feel myself go into a slump. I self sabotage with food choices, overeat junk food, and feel like crap. I don’t understand my thinking, “I am an emotional wreck. I’ll just eat some junk food, feel sick, and put on some extra weight so that my clothes are too tight. Then I can REALLY feel terrible about myself. Really Cindy?”

On awful days, I try to reach out to a few people. However, it takes a lot out of me to write it down and respond by text to very many. There are just a handful of people in my circle who I think really care enough to know. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just a lot and I get it. I am thankful for those that ask how I am and actually stop and wait for an answer. I particularly enjoy the thoughtful gestures. On Wednesday, a coworker presented me with an iced tea and it truly made my day. It’s nice to know that I’m thought of.

When things like this happen, it takes a lot out of my favorite man. It often takes many days to return to baseline. His brain becomes overworked, put into crisis-mode, which leaves him unable to speak making word retrieval a huge challenge. Wednesday night, he couldn’t even formulate words to pray for a friend. He generally reverts to staring, playing with fidgets, and rocking. Even his favorite red-head struggles to pull him out of the fog.

Sometimes I feel lonely, although I’m not alone. My heart hurts and I don’t want to bother anyone because I don’t want to bring anyone down. I’m thankful for my colleagues at school, although I don’t see many of them now that we do online meetings. I miss them. I have really great friends and family that I love very much that I haven’t seen or heard from for a very long time. I get it. They have their own busy lives. I just miss them. The good news is that my husband has returned to going to church since the quarantine. It’s a lot easier to navigate in a church that has reduced it’s numbers so drastically. The bad news, is that there are members that we haven’t seen for a very long time. We miss them.

People tell me that as his diagnosis progresses, it is important to take care of myself. I’m not really sure how to do that. I suppose that leaving the junk food alone might be a good start. I’ve started putting smiley faces on the calendar on days that I’ve taken good care of myself. So far, I’m up to two. My favorite man has always enjoyed a drive and a car wash. He still enjoys the drive, but is becoming less and less tolerant of the car wash. It is simply too loud and too stimulating. Today I am going to bring a pair of noise cancelling headphones with me. He’s bought a wood burning machine that requires a computer with Windows compatibility, so we may need to find a cheap computer to use in the shop. I just can’t say “no” to the man, although I pray that it isn’t too complicated for him.

The good news is that after three days, my favorite man is starting to return to his old self, which will make me feel better, and in turn, I just might get another smiley face for the calendar on the refrigerator. Today I thank God for the good days and for a Heavenly Father who holds my heart on the bad.

Choose LIGHT over darkness

We are quickly coming up to the anniversary of the world shutting down from Covid-19. Being a teacher, I normally use my prior year’s lesson plans and notes to create plans for the current year. It seems weird that I am almost out of lessons and will need to revert back to the prior year. I, like everyone else on the planet, had hoped and prayed that by now, we would be free of this and that things would be back to “normal”. Sadly, it is not.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am hypersensitive and I get my feelings hurt really easily. I run from conflict at all costs and if forced into a debate, will concede, because I can’t stand the idea that anyone might be upset with me. I can’t even watch the news when opposing viewpoints are being discussed. It makes my stomach hurt and gives me anxiety. I tense up when people raise their voices. It makes me want to retreat and hide. I know that people write on social media to “scroll on by”, but my personality doesn’t allow that, since I feel that I have to read everything that comes across my newsfeed. As a result, I’ve had to put restrictions on myself with how much time I invest on various media platforms.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t watch much of the news any more. I just can’t. A friend suggested the Victory Channel on YouTube, that I have enjoyed more than anything. So, when I need an update, I go there. It is faith based reporting and easier on my nerves. I also listen to podcasts from Focus on the Family, Turning Point, Dr. Dobson’s Family Talk, Joyce Meyer, Family Matters, and Max Lucado rather than the radio.

Without becoming political in my post, I will just say that November-January 20th has been very disappointing. Our flag on the mountain flies at half staff and we are faithfully on our knees, seeking guidance from our Maker each day. We are grieving for our country. Ultimately, we know that God is in control and we know that He is at work, which is what we lay our confidence in. None can dispute that our country is a hot mess and it is very scary.

As a child my mother used to use word pictures to teach us lessons. When one of us was grumpy, it spread through the house and soon we were all walking around like little storm clouds. She would use the following analogy: “The farmer is having a bad day, so he yells at his wife, the wife takes it out on the child, the child kicks the dog, the dog barks at the cat, the cat chases the rat, and so on…” It seems to me that one way we can stop the HATE, is to stop spreading it like a bad day on a busy farm.

I’ve been doing a bible study since October called: How Can I Love Those Prickly People, by Juanita Purcell. I thought that I would be learning how to work with challenging people. Surprisingly, it’s about how I need to behave. It’s about how I need to conduct myself. Last week, I was reminded that even small white lies, not intended for destruction, can be harmful. This week, I am learning that I need to have a servant’s heart and make other people a priority.

All through the bible, God used evil people to teach Christians important lessons. It is my opinion that God is allowing the corrupt and the evil to overwhelm our world in order to bring people to their knees. Believers need to rally together in order to shine a bright light on this dark world. We have an obligation to stand up for God. Today, more than ever. We need to live honestly, make others a priority, lifting them up, encouraging them, and showing them the light through what we say and what we do. There have been enough storm clouds.

United, we can be a light in a dark world. I choose light, how about you?

Then and Now

If I knew then what I know now, I would tell myself that the next 10 years would contain the best kind of healing, the most wonderful blessings, answers to prayer, and true JOY amidst loss, disappointment and significant challenges.

In late November of 2010, we moved from the family farm to the mountain. It was a difficult time in our lives and we were looking for a fresh start. We didn’t know it at the time, but my favorite man had been exhibiting signs of Early Onset Dementia for more than a year.

It was challenging to diagnose at first. In 2002, Rusty rolled his 4-wheeler at a Men’s Retreat and ended up in the Trauma Ward for two weeks. He shattered his ankle, broke his collarbone, broke a few ribs, and came home in a wheelchair. Later, he would roll his pickup, fall head-first off a ladder while home alone, and slip and fall against a snow plow blade. Thus, the dementia was most likely caused by too many blows to the head.

It was only natural that doctors would first treat depression. In addition to the 4-wheeler accident, my husband’s mother was hospitalized, passing away with oral cancer on our anniversary at age 59. This was particularly hard on the immediate family. Just one month before we purchased our property, my favorite man lost his father to lung cancer. It was a pretty stressful 6 months with lots of trips to the hospital. So in 2009, our family was not surprised when doctors diagnosed a classic mid-life crisis, which I referred to as a “mid-life temper tantrum”. It would be 5 years before we received the official diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia.

In April of 2013 my favorite man was crushed when he lost his job of 17 years as a result of an error in paperwork for a customer’s insurance claim. After losing his second job in April of 2014, we actively pursued what was going on. By July, we had the diagnosis and two and a half years later, Social Security Disability agreed to an onset date of April 2013.

Specialists gave my favorite guy 6-8 years to live from the time of onset. In fact, at one point they reduced it to 5 years because he was progressing so quickly. Our minds reeled. We researched, prepared, probed, tested, visiting numerous doctors and specialists. Then we mourned, planned for the worst and braced ourselves with every observable change. We cried and prayed…a lot.

When my husband had a stroke in 2016 as a result of uncontrolled blood pressure, we braced ourselves for the worst, but over time he once again recovered after 10 months of intensive therapy and being wheelchair bound again.

Why do I relive this today?

It’s simple. How can I adequately celebrate where we are today, if I don’t revisit the past. I want to acknowledge where we’ve been, so that I can celebrate where we are now, because I am beyond grateful for where we are today.

Today, we can’t explain it, but my husband is doing amazing! In fact, we often forget that he even has the dreaded diagnosis and that is why I share the pictures. I do it to give encouragement to those who have loved ones who may have a similar diagnosis. Look what he has done! It’s amazing what a few boards, windows, paint, and a whole lot of elbow grease has done for our little piece of heaven on the mountain.

Sometimes he forgets names, gets anxious in crowds, rocks, stutters, and stares, and then he goes to the garage and he builds. Sometimes he uses the wrong words. The other day he asked me to hand him his “rooster”- his leather jacket. Today he closed the curtains instead of closing the window so that the generator wouldn’t wake my daughter while she slept. He no longer likes the car wash. He says that he “likes the car washed, but not the car wash”. He has always enjoyed the car wash- squealing with the kids as if on an amusement park ride.

Best of all, he enjoys his redheaded bestie who lives 13 steps down the stairs, the fish in the fishtank (that he bought for himself for my birthday last year), Pepsi, coffee, trips to Home Depot, and returning to church. He loved ZOOM church, parking lot church, and is now enjoying social distancing church. It is a dementia patient’s dream come true. The best part is that he has reunited with friends at church, is attending a small bible study, and is inviting friends to visit two by two. Surprisingly, this year he took it upon himself to send Christmas cards to many of his church buddies with a personal message in each one. (Exceeding expectations of specialists- he shouldn’t be reading, writing, or talking at this stage.)

Honestly, I’ve never loved my husband more than I do today. As a result of his forced retirement, he has become a doting husband. His life’s purpose is to make our home a comfortable place that is easy to manage, so that when the time comes, I will be alright. He does what he does for the kids and I, and I know that.

So, if I knew back in 2009, what I know now, I would tell myself that life would only get sweeter, that my husband would become much more attentive and loving, and that he would leave a legacy for his family so that when the time comes that the Lord calls him home, we would have so much surrounding us to remind us of his love and devotion to us. I would tell myself to celebrate each day and not to ask questions- just keep thanking God for answered prayer and for meeting our every need. I would remind myself to thank God daily for the precious gift of TIME.

May 2021 be a continued time of sweet fellowship and may I continue to remind myself daily that God works all things for the good to those who love Him, and we do. Very much.

So, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas and our 55th birthdays, my cup runneth over. May you be encouraged on this Christmas Eve Eve of 2020. Sometimes when life looks bleak, there are blessings right around the corner. Just stay the course, take a deep breath, and keep your eyes focused upward.

Dearest Russell,

I dreamed that you died last night. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to school just like I always do. I carried on as if it were a regular day, because I didn’t know what else to do. Once at school, it dawned on me that I needed to contact people and make plans to put you to rest. I thought I should tell someone at school, and once I said it out loud, I cried and cried. I felt as if the life had been sucked out of me. Then I felt guilty. How could I simply carry on, after losing my soul mate? That’s how I awoke. 

I don’t know why I had such an unsettling dream after having such a wonderful day with you yesterday. We enjoyed 12 hours of a local vacation at one of the state’s most beautiful areas. Perhaps I felt guilty that we had such a good day, because you were so clear. Nobody who came in contact with you would have ever guessed that you are nearing the 8th anniversary of your dementia diagnosis.

Today we were reminded to not get distracted by the mess going on all around us. We were challenged to be purposeful about how to live and to react and to remember that God has got this. Is that what I was doing in my subconscious? Did I take my eyes off my Maker, and allow the devil to make me afraid?

We talked on our drive today about Peter taking his eyes of off Jesus, while walking on water. As a result, he began to sink. I don’t want to do that. I want to keep my eyes fixated on Him, loving our Creator with all of my heart, all of my mind, and all of my soul.

I’ve never been alone in my whole life. If someone were to ask my what my greatest fear is, I would say, “being alone”. I went from growing up on a busy dairy farm, to a college dorm, to living with 5 roommates, to getting married, child-rearing, and teaching full time. Why is my greatest fear haunting me while I rest?

I was blessed with sitting with a wise friend for lunch. As I shared a portion of my dream, I was reminded that JOY is a choice. As I listened to the message I was encouraged to LOVE with everything I’ve got. As I took you to your favorite store this afternoon, you encouraged me to seek counsel from LIKE-MINDED people, and during my devotions, I was reminded that WISDOM and UNDERSTANDING was more valuable than silver and gold.

Tears flow a little more frequently these days. I’m not sure why. I try very hard to concentrate on the here and now, and not give way to the devil with fears of my future. I have been so blessed with all you have done to our home to make it comfortable and easy to manage when the time comes that I am alone.

I take the time to use my senses: to smell you, listen to you as you breath when I tiptoe out of the bedroom, to see your smile, and to appreciate the meals that you have prepared when I get home from work. I don’t want to forget one single thing, so I try very hard to live in the moment. I don’t want a single regret in the end.

Things that used to drive me crazy- I don’t give much thought to any more. Yes, I noticed that you bleached yet another towel, I washed another pocketful of screws, and I saw that you created another junk drawer while I wasn’t looking. I also peeked at the pictures of you scaling the walls to swat flies, and then to wash the windows covered with bug splat.

I sucked wind last weekend when you didn’t recognize me when we awoke, but God blessed us once again, when you recovered and called me by name. I was also shaken up last Sunday when you couldn’t recall the day as we shut out the light. Sometimes it is easy to forget that you have dementia and are declining, because you are so active, are still creating and projecting, and you are so fluent with discussing current events.

I want you to know sweetheart, that when you forget who your Maker is, we will remind you. We will continue to play Christian music, share familiar bible stories, invite like-minded friends to join us, choosing JOY and LOVE. May you continue raising your hands in worship, and exhibiting your sincere faith to all who watch you from near and far.

I want you to know that I love you so much, and that although our marriage hit turbulence on several occasions, I have never regretted loving you through it. When God calls you home, I will be okay. It will be merely a “See you later” and not a “Goodbye”, and that will bring us comfort. I will cling to the Lord, our children, family, and friends and I promise you that my love won’t grow cold.

I will love you into eternity.

Love, Cind

2020 Blessings

It seems like 2 years has passed since we were sent home to quarantine. For all of the challenges that we’ve had to endure, we’ve had double the blessings at the Higgins Crib.

The number one blessing includes EXTENDED TIME. Mid April marked the 7th “Dementiaversary” for my favorite man. On average, people diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia live for 6-8 years after symptoms begin. He is currently at 7 yrs 3 mo and going strong. Extended time has been given to my husband and our family as he continues to be high functioning a majority of the time. He continues to read, write, play Words With Friends on his phone, follow a storyline, pontificate about politics and world events, and perform household duties including significant home improvement projects. We continue to be amazed at what he is able to do.

The number two blessing also includes TIME. I have been home with my favorite man since March 16th. Working from home, I have been able to provide remediation for our grandson in order to get him on grade level, while performing classroom obligations from the kitchen table. My deepest desire has always been to stay home with my husband, but I love to teach. COVID-19 and the quarantine gave our family a wonderful gift, the best of both worlds for 12 weeks, and for that, I am so grateful.

Since summer vacation, I have been able to help with home projects- our love language. There is little else that we enjoy as much as working side by side. it’s amazing what a slap of paint and a little elbow grease has done to our homestead.

These are photos from just before we moved to the mountain and the end of November of 2010, just after we moved in:

This is where we are so far in 2020:

I thank God for my husband’s health and drive to beautify our home. His goal is that our home will be easier to take care of, warmer and more energy efficient. I know that this is his gift to me, making the house much easier to manage.

The miracle is that although my favorite man regresses in social environments, when agitated, sore, or tired, he can still do the things he loves. Today he painted the trim on the scary north side of the house. I could feel the scaffolding shaking as he shivered overhead, but he finished what he started, despite feeling under the weather. Overcoming and pushing through his fear took a whole lot out of him, yet he continued. At noontime he was rocking and staring. A half hour later, he was 3 stories high on the scaffolding painting trim.

We’ve had blessings galore, including no disruption in finances, special one on one time with live-in family, working one-on-one with our grandson to catch him up and to prepare him for grade 5. Once the quarantine was relaxed, we enjoyed an 8 week visit from our daughter and 10 days with her friends from Arkansas.

116255172_897532574071194_2724625044807865478_nOn July 3rd, our furnace was condemned. God once again protected our family from carbon monoxide poisoning, explosion, and fire. Thankfully, we have had access to a portable shower while we wait for a replacement furnace and the weather has not been too crazy. This was another beautiful blessing for our family.

Quarantining for someone diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia is a dream come true. Online church services,  worship from the church parking lot, and social distancing in the sanctuary have allowed my husband to attend church for the first time in 3 years. The best part is that he has been able to see friends from a distance, that he hasn’t had contact with in a very long time.

Home Depot and ocean walks continue to be our favorite times away, including a stop at Dunkin Donuts for coffee, and an ice cream cone on a warm day. It’s amazing how such simplicity can bring such joy. I am enjoying this time, avoiding negativity and uncertainty. Instead, focusing each and every day on what the Lord has provided for me and for my family. I don’t know what the school year will look like, or what the future will hold, but what I do know is that I will cherish each day and continue to notice the blessings. One day at a time.

 

 

 

 

The Ties That Bind

I was recently asked in one of my devotionals, to write a list of the people in my life who  are my closest friends. Outside of my family, I was encouraged to acknowledge the people in my life, with whom I can count on. I was then encouraged to reflect on their characters. It didn’t take long to realize that the most influential people in my life have one thing in common: God.

95896116_883583788713908_4852034144953171968_nIn my younger years, I had friends that I enjoyed from Youth Group. I had one in particular named Martha, who I went to camp with each summer. We would run through the corn fields behind her home, crawling on hands and knees, following paths and eating raw cow corn until we were sick. I remember one Sunday when we tried to share a camp song in front of the congregation. We were so nervous that we couldn’t stop laughing. I loved spending time with my free-spirited, life-loving, friend who enjoyed the outdoors and God as much as I. To this day, we keep watch over each other via social media.

95821222_703206753785953_5931605622553313280_nIn High School, my best friend was a rebel named Laura. I loved her and she loved me. We were complete and total opposites but we complemented each other perfectly. Until my JR year in High School, I didn’t really have a best friend. I had a lot of friends that I enjoyed- some more than others, but Laura and I were inseparable. I was her yin to her yang and vise versa. She was brilliant, catching on to new concepts with such great speed, that I was in awe. She was a talented artist, who captured life in a way that I never thought about. A free spirit, natural athlete, and hilariously funny, she complimented my weaknesses. She was a believer. As a child, she attended the Catholic church. I loved how she would quiz me about my faith. It made me a stronger believer because I needed to search the Word in order to answer her challenging questions. The only real difference between us, was that she was an extreme extrovert and LOVED any opportunity to gather. I did not. Sometimes her extroverted self would get into trouble, so I took to inviting her to my house on nights that I knew there was a party. She would almost always choose an overnight, in order to milk cows and feed the animals with me. She loved it. Her parents were goat farmers and she thoroughly enjoyed farm work. Sadly, a few years ago, Laura was killed in a car accident on Route 1, and in a blink, she was gone. I pray that she is in heaven enjoying the greatest party ever, drawing, playing soccer, and making everyone laugh.

My parents have always said, “find a friend who is like you or who you most want to be like”. They also reminded me often that just a handful of genuine friends were much better that a whole bunch of acquaintances. So that’s what I looked for as I entered college.

In August of 1984, I walked tentatively into the Lord Hall parking lot with my flute under my armpit, for marching band sign-ups. My mother was with me. Little did I know that the first person that I met would be my future roommate, not for freshman year, but my sophomore year. She said, “It says here that you play the trombone.” I responded with, “Not very well.” Long story short, Mom drove an hour south to fetch my trombone.

I loved college. It was stressful and challenging. Education is not easy for me. I have always had to work really hard to get good grades. However, I have a really strong work ethic, that carried me through. Growing up on a dairy farm trained me well for the rigor of academia.

My social circle in college became the “bandies” who watched over one another like siblings. They were silly and sincere, making me feel talented, even if I wasn’t. I played the trombone (with lots of help) in the marching band during the Fall semester, and then played the flute during the Spring, until my schedule wouldn’t allow it. I joined the Honorary Band Sorority (TBS) in 1985 and our pledge leader was the same young lady who convinced my mother to go home for the trombone in the Fall. Carol didn’t know it then, but I was watching her. “You need to find a friend who is like you or who you would like to be like,” rolled around in my brain. At the end of my freshman year of college, I asked Carol if she wanted to be roomates for the following year, and she agreed.

In the fall of 1985, Carol and I moved into Ballentine Hall, an all girls dorm, across from Jenny and Cyndy. When an opportunity arose early on, to get a local apartment together, we snatched it. So off we went to 13 Fellows Place, located within walking distance of the University. While at Ballentine, we were also introduced to a bright eyed spunky gal from the county named Lynn. I remember saying, “if an opportunity arises and we can take on another roommate, we should ask Lynn”. So when Cyndy moved out the following year, Lynn took her place.

When summer arrived, Joann came to us, needing a place to stay for a summer course. We had gone home for the summer break, so we sublet our apartment to her. The problem was that we absolutely loved her, and encouraged her to stay on for the school year. Our two-bedroom apartment was very full… of love, excitement, talent, encouragement, and genuine kindness. All 5 of of these women were and still are people that I admire. What do they have in common? Faith. I have praying friends who pray for me, encourage me, and help me to be the best version of myself. To this day, I could call any of the 5 of them and they would move heaven and earth to help in any way they could. I have no doubt about that.

As an adult, my friendship group (outside of my family) continues to be fairly small. I have lots of friends at church, at school, and within the community, but I’m talking about raw intimate friendships where you can empty your pockets, put it all on the table, and feel safe & comforted. You can cry, yell, not be judged, and receive good Godly advice.

One, is a teaching partner of 13 years. 45770683_10216228761505773_5992801974444097536_nTo this day, I can’t really talk about how much she is missed. We complemented each other, and I enjoyed every precious minute of working with her. Teaming with Nancy continues to be the highlight of my teaching career.

 

 

God brought Jodi and I together about 22 years ago. Although I cannot dance, my daughters can, and their teacher and I became very close as a result of hours and hours, which led to years and years of time together at the studio and competition trips. I’m so glad that the dance connection, created a lifelong friendship. She allows me to reach out to her during desperate hours of confusion, frustration, and fear. She’s often what I need, even when I don’t have a clue what to ask for.

57079821_10217385059332496_2801563594737582080_nI also have a long-time friend who checks on my family and I nearly every day. Alton lives in Tennessee, but he used to work as a custodian at our school about 20 years ago. He moved to a warmer area, but continues to make our family a priority. When he comes to Maine to see family, he brings cleaning supplies, clothes from southern thrift stores for the kiddos, and a hot cup of coffee for all of us. I’m not sure who looks forward to his visits more: Rusty or I.

I thank God for my many friendships, most especially those that make me a better me. Some friends drift in and out for a season. Others remain. Today I thank God for those that I can call out to in a moments notice, and I know they will move heaven and earth to support me in my time of need. 78850471_10220407380324307_2637549561186353152_oThank you Gail, for your quiet devotion to uplifting me when I am drooping. We walk a similar path, and your passion to encourage me while remaining faithful to God is paramount to my survival.

To the others that lift me up in so many ways, I have say thank you. I just want you to know that no matter where you are in my circle, I am so grateful for your contribution. You are most definitely part of the ties that bind and you do not go unnoticed. You make me a better human, and for that, I am so thankful.

So today, on what seems like the 976th day of quarantine, wherever you are in my circle, I want you to know that you are loved and appreciated more than you will ever know. Thank you for being a friend.

 

Nothing to Say

Time just keeps moving on, and I have found myself short on words. I don’t know what to say or what to think. I suspect that I’m in good company.

Despite recent world events, I have had the best year. I’ve had the sweetest little class this year. My peers have been so kind and encouraging, and I have looked forward to my days at school.

And it came to a stop.

I have mixed feelings. I have often said, “I’d give anything to stay home with my favorite man.” Now I’m home and I feel terribly guilty. I miss my babies. I’ve been asked to move to on-line teaching, which is challenging. I feel like a dinosaur and I miss the face to face contact with my children. Phone contact, emails, text messages, and Google Meetings don’t take the place of the classroom.

Go home.

This is the beginning of week 6 of the social distancing/quarantine/stay home order. I think we are doing the right thing. We can’t ensure that children are going to participate in social distancing or practice hygiene. Heck, adults are struggling with it. How can we expect children to follow best practices?

Practice safety.

So during this pandemic, as we try to understand COVID-19 and what is safe and what is not, I will try to follow the rules of the day. Quarantined with two grandchildren, and three adults, I follow a new routine filled with Homeschooling, binge watching Call The Midwife, looking forward to the next on-line meeting, and Facetime with family that I cannot see and miss terribly.

Surprised.

I’m surprised that I am not worried. For the past 7 years, we have learned to take one day at a time, not to plan too far in advance, and to enjoy each and every moment. As much as I miss our “normal”, I enjoy being home with my family.

Pampering helps.

Thankful.

I am thankful for my faith and God’s promises to me and to my family that no matter what, He will be with us. More than anything, in this time of uncertainty, I know that I will spend eternity with many of those that I love most.

May you all find JOY amidst uncertainty and comfort in knowing that God is still in control even if the world is not. May families be reunited soon. Until that time, may God lay his hand of protection over our sweet babies.

 

Simply Sitting

Today is the last day of the year, and naturally, a day of reflection. So as the snow flies, and I watch Fried Green Tomatoes for the 50th time, my mind wanders.

“How is he?” is a common question and a little difficult to answer. He’s mostly okay, but to be honest, there have been some subtle changes.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, Frontotemporal Dementia is caused by damage to the frontal and/or temporal lobes at the front and sides of the brain by the ears. These are the areas responsible for our behaviour, our emotional responses and our language skills. Damage to the left side affects language and the right side, behaviour.

A person with behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia may appear uncharacteristically selfish and unfeeling. They may behave rudely, or may seem more easily distracted. Other early symptoms may include loss of inhibition, ritualised behaviour (eg tapping or repeatedly walking the same route) or compulsions and a liking for sweet foods. It is much more likely for those around the person to be aware of these changes than the person is themselves.

In a small number of people with frontotemporal dementia, the first symptoms are problems with recalling the names of objects and understanding words (semantic dementia) or with producing fluent speech (progressive non-fluent aphasia).

As frontotemporal dementia progresses, differences between these types lessen: people with the behavioural variant develop language problems and those with language problems develop behaviour changes.

Each person’s experience of frontotemporal dementia will be different, but on average people live for six to eight years after symptoms begin. In April we will reach milestone (year) 7.

Although we have seen many of the “typical” changes, it should be noted that my favorite man is not “the norm”. For example, he built a deck this summer and a “He Shed” addition to the back of the garage this fall. He still reads, follows politics, watches movie series, and follows the plot so long as it doesn’t become too complicated. He watches Youtube videos when he needs reminders about how to fix things that are broken or to build things that need building.

This Christmas Eve was the first service that my favorite man didn’t attend in 32 years of marriage. While I struggled to swallow, I forced myself to praise God for the blessings. Although anxiety keeps him from large gatherings, he still bakes, decorates, wraps gifts, keeps the fire going, and the house clean. Best of all, he still knows the kids and I.

This year for my birthday, my favorite man bought himself a fish tank and yesterday we traveled over an hour away for neon fish to fill the gigantic tank. $200 later, he became the happy Papa of 12 new fish, and a “fish playground”. Placing his chair next to the tank, he has enjoyed chatting with his new colored friends. Last night, he even snuck into the livingroom to turn the lights on to insure that they weren’t scared. He just melts my heart.

He has spent the day cooking chicken with his new air fryer, 2 at a time and the Christmas tree has come down. Secretly, I think he’s anxious for me to return to school on Thursday so that he can get back to normal. Hopefully he will return to his nap schedule and back to baseline. But if he doesn’t, it’s okay. We will recalculate and love him through it, just like we always do.

So today, I’m simply sitting. I’m thinking about how my husband is the best thing that ever happened to me. I’ve been so blessed to have been a part of his life for 38 years.

So for 2020, I pray that he continue to beat the odds and that the Lord continues to lead us by the hand one day at a time. May you too, be blessed by God and have a new year that is mostly okay.

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Choose Your Hard

Life is hard. I have recently been reminded that everyone has their hard times. Honestly, it’s been a huge “ah ha” for me over the last few years. I think we all get into a mindset, and think that we are the only ones on the planet who struggle, but in reality, we have a lot of company.

People are always telling me to take care of myself. Ever since our children became adults, well-wishers tell me to find my passion, find a hobby, and enjoy freedoms that I couldn’t enjoy to the fullest while raising our family. The problem is that I don’t know how to do that. Please don’t roll your eyes- I really don’t. I haven’t played my flute since college (1987). I don’t knit, crochet, sew, or draw. I am definitely not a games and puzzles type of person.

So, my dilemma has been: How am I going to take care of myself, especially when life is hard? Two years ago I began to make some changes. Honestly, it began because I was a stressed out mess. I was 50 pounds overweight, my knees hurt, my stomach hurt, I was tired all the time, and depressed. I had good reason to be in the state I was in: life was hard. Really hard.

Through the encouragement of friends, family, and my doctor, I worked to gain control over the one thing I had control over: me. I couldn’t control my husband’s illness. I couldn’t control my aging parents and their challenges. I couldn’t control my crazy classroom, or the challenges in my adult children’s lives. I also couldn’t control how people treated me. But, I could control myself and my obvious sugar addiction- yes people, this is a real thing.

I started to find things that brought me joy that had nothing to do with food. I like travel, sappy movies, taking walks, sitting by the ocean, reading in the sun, lighting candles- fruity smelling ones are my favorite.

Everything is hard. I decided to choose my hard, and that was to get healthy in an unhealthy world, with a whole lot of unhealthy choices.

My hard now includes drinking at least a gallon of (unflavored) water a day. That was tough in the beginning. I love crystal light and bubbly flavored water, but I knew that just plain water was best for my body. It was doubly hard, because I am a teacher and we have limited time to use the restroom. It also includes getting 7 hours of good REM sleep a night. I go to bed at 9:00 pm every night, and I get up on week days at 5:30 am. According to Fitbit, this is still my hard. I do well most nights to get 6. I am generally awake/restless for 2 1/2- 3 hours every night. My biggest hard is that I am trying to eat clean: real foods, with very limited carbs & sugar and keep my calorie intake for weight loss to around 1000 calories/day. When I am trying to maintain, I try to stick to 1200 calories a day. I use a free app called: Lose It to track my nutrients. My goal is to eat 60% fats, 30% protein, and 10% carbs each day with no more than 25g of carbs after fiber intake is factored in.

Things I have learned:

  1. Most everything has carbs in it. I can even go overboard on vegetables. Vegetables like corn are very high in sugar.
  2. Most fruits have too much sugar in them. I need to stick to berries and eat them in small amounts. Melons and watermelon have the highest sugar content.
  3. I cannot eat potato, rice, bread, pasta, or sugar.
  4. I really can’t cheat. For me, one small bite leads to finishing the entire package and it takes a week to get back on track. What’s worse is that I get a belly ache that keeps me up at night.
  5. Organic Protein for my coffee, Quest bars, sugar free jello, 2g sugar yogurt, Progranola 12g protein (on line), cocoa dusted almonds, cottage cheese, bacon, eggs, broccoli/cauliflower and ranch are my best friends.
  6. I need to go easy on cheese as it is high in protein but calorie dense.
  7. I have to step on the scale every day and record my weight even when I know that I messed up. I have to own it, otherwise I get off track.
  8. I feel better when I eat just 2 meals a day: lunch (noon) and supper (5:00) with a mid-afternoon snack.
  9. I have to meal prep on Sunday and plan ahead for the upcoming week. My husband helps me with this. He’s amazing.
  10. I need to always have prepackaged snacks and meals ready to go. Hard boiled eggs, pickles, and beef jerky are my friends when on the road and in a pinch.
  11. I can eat pre-packaged sandwich meat and hotdogs, BUT they are full of salt and my weight will go up temporarily. (Chug water.)
  12. Zero carbs does not equal zero sugar, and zero sugar does not equal zero carbs. I need to pay attention to the labels.
  13. I need at least 20g of fiber every day to keep things moving. For me, that isn’t even enough.
  14. Vitamin D3 needs to be added to my daily routine if I can’t get 20 minutes of sun each day, as well as extra magnesium. (I’m currently looking into this.)
  15. Stop eating at 6:30. Brushing my teeth helps me to quit.
  16. Fasting between meals is actually good for your body. It’s okay to be hungry.

The biggest things I’ve learned is that weight loss isn’t about exercise. It’s 100% what goes in my mouth. Yes, I need to exercise, but if I want to get the weight off and keep it off, I have to monitor what goes into my mouth.

My health is 100% mental. I have to keep my head in the game and stay strong. My trick: prayer. I have been praying that the Lord help me to be a good steward of my life, which includes my finances, my time, and my body. I have to remember THE WHY when it gets hard. I need to remember that no matter what happens, I do have control over one thing, and that is me. My health matters so that I can take care of others. If I’m not at my fittest, I am not going to be any good to anyone else, especially when the heat gets turned up another notch.

I follow the online lifestyle recommendations of Christy Nickel, called The Code Red Revolution, though admittedly not to the letter.  I particularly enjoy the free YouTube videos and podcasts. The best part is that she is a Christian who is transparent, and isn’t afraid to share some of her challenges. Life has been hard for her too.

So, as we enter this season of feasting, family, and food, I am going to have to choose my hard, walk past temptation, and remember THE WHY. I have to make my health a priority so that I can be the best I can be for the people who depend on me. So, if you see me pass by the sweets this holiday season and reach for some veges with dip, give me a nod, smile, and a thumbs up. I’ll do the same. Honestly, it will make my day.

Thank you Christy Nickel for helping me to “choose my hard” and to “remember the why”.

 

 

 

 

A Song In My Heart

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This week I was able to wear sandals to school. It was a big deal after a very long winter. The snow is finally melting. I’ve seen some sunshine, and taken a few walks.

One morning I was blessed with eight deer grazing on the back lawn during a sunrise. Despite some rather challenging circumstances, these blessings have carried me through the first week back after school vacation. Moreover, I have had the opportunity to have rich conversations about faith, hope, and love with some special friends and family. This has improved my mood, and as a result, I’ve been playing the radio and tapping my freshly painted toes to the radio.

As I sit in the window overlooking the valley, my first thought is that I am thankful for spiritual supports and friends who “ironically” show up at just the right moments. In my travels, special songs seem to hit the spot at just the right moment and the lyrics “talk” to my soul like the sweet dance of the ocean waves. Another coincidence?

This week I have been listening particularly closely to the David Crowder Band. “I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory… and how great Your affections are for me.” My heart melts with the message that He loves me no matter what and that He is jealous for me. It leaves me wondering why? What’s so great about me?

My recent “ah ha” is that everyone goes through crap. Some people’s pile is deeper than other’s, but we all have it and it all stinks. The difference is that those who profess faith are watched more carefully than others. Observers want to see how I respond to trials and if I “walk the walk”, and “mean what I say”. It’s how observers can tell if my belief system is genuine so I have a huge responsibility.

Another recent realization is that sometimes trials are not about ME. Perhaps I’m being used by my Maker to teach others a lesson. Wow! “If it’s true, you use broken things, then here I am Lord, I’m all yours.” (Matthew West) I’ve been broken, twisted, stomped on, and dragged through the valley. I mess up regularly, and am absolutely not a perfect example. However, I do try each day to live my life in a way that is honorable and glorifying.
There is nothing special about me, and I don’t say that to fish for a compliment. I have money challenges, battle with my weight, fight internally with jealousy, and my self-confidence wanes just like everyone else. I know that I am not the most talented teacher, parent, wife, sibling, community or staff member, but I just keep plugging along. “Though I fall, He makes me new…He pleads my cause and rights my wrongs. ” (Lauren Daigle)
I often pray for relief. I’m not going to lie. I am no different from anyone. I have a sweet friend praying desperately for her dog, doubly challenged by the recent passing of her mother. She is faithful, and kind, and doesn’t deserve the pain. I have another who is up to her eyeballs in the evils of the world and her family is saddened by recent events in the area. Why? Why do the faithful, the ones who live each day, trying to live as an example of faithfulness find themselves drowning? “When he doesn’t move the mountains or part the water, as I cry out to him, I have had to learn to trust”.  (Lauren Daigle)

His love surrounds me. I need to keep doing what I am told to do and trust that God has this all figured out. He is using me for His glory. My only hope is to trust in my Maker because he is the anchor and his love surrounds us in the eye of the storm.” (Ryan Stevenson)

There is a better life to look forward to. What a wonderful promise that I will live in eternity separated from the evil and sadness of the world. He is a “pain taker, way maker, and a chain breaker.” (Zach Williams) “See ya later”, will be a whole lot easier to say than “good-bye” and it’s my job to demonstrate to all that I am in contact with, the blessings and promises of our Lord. I have to ask myself, that if He guarded me from hardships, how could he use me for his good work?

I have to keep moving forward, and cast my fear into the fire. “Fear is a liar, he will take your breath and stop (me) in (my) steps”. (Zach Williams) “There is power in the name of Jesus” (Jesus Culture) and I prefer to follow Him. What if I’m all wrong? I’ve lost nothing and learned to live as a more quality human being, but if I’m right, I have everything to gain.
So if my faith gives me courage to face each new unpredictable day, and gives me comfort and hope in an eternal life with those I love most, and reminds me to love everyone- even the ones who have not earned it, or hurt me, I have lost nothing. So today, I thank the music ministry that has reminded me in lyrics that stick in my brain throughout my daily routines, that God loves me, and that there is “power in the name of Jesus” (Tasha Cobbs). You’ve kept me sane. Thank you.
“The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes”
(Matt Redman)
“When we realize we’re helplessly dependent on God, we’re in a good place”  
(Lisa Appelo)