Garden Serenity and a Family Update

Right now, in between our sluggish attempt to finish the school year and staying up-to-date on COVID-19 news, I’m sourcing most of my inner peace through gardening. I have a few experiments underway regarding placement and planters, but most of what I’m doing I’ve done before. It’s immensely gratifying to raise edible plants, even if I’m the only one doing most of the eating. (I live with a bunch of carnivores.)

Hanging strawberries
Japanese eggplant
Oregano and Boxwood Basil
English Thyme

Not pictured is the zucchini, yellow squash, two types of tomatoes, cucumbers, and rosemary. There’ve been a couple of frosty nights when I’ve had to cover the baby plants, but we should be past those days now.

I’m also enjoying the flowering plants and trees around our house.

The magnolia won’t bloom until late May and early June, but I can see she’s getting ready!

So far, I’m successfully keeping the birds away with shiny pinwheels around the garden and luring them elsewhere with strategically-placed bird feeders.

I’ve been watching more videos from Gary Pilarchik (The Rusted Garden), who I’ve followed for years and recently grew his garden into a full-on homestead. He gives more information than my brain can retain, but I love seeing what he comes up with.

I’m also watching current and old episodes of Gardeners’ World with Monty Don through my BritBox subscription. English gardens are truly divine!

I’m spending the rest of my time working on the magazine and teaching online classes, running, reading, and staying in touch with my parents and Grandpa Thomas (whom I delivered groceries to yesterday). I miss my girlfriends terribly, but I am grateful for the technology that keeps us connected.

As for the rest of my family, Chuck is loving his new schedule of traveling some but being mostly at home. He hasn’t spent this much time at home in years, so he’s balancing relaxation with home projects. The yard has never looked better! He’s also gone turkey hunting and fishing, and we’re sharing the responsibility of cooking dinner more often (which I personally love). Sitting on the porch with him in the evenings is one of my favorite hobbies.

Jackson keeps in touch with his friends via text and FaceTime, and he’s taking “social distancing” walks with our neighbor, each keeping to opposite sides of the road. He leans toward introversion, so while he’s bored at times, he’s not suffering a slow death like Jeremy is.

Jeremy is marathon texting and gaming with friends and cousins like a champ. He is wholly uninterested in school, but that’s not new considering none of us is interested in school by late-April. We are all unmotivated. He misses soccer and seeing friends the most, but he’s gaining more driving time and getting plenty of rest.

We also celebrated Dad’s 68th birthday with a Zoom party! Sometimes technology is nice.

It looks like several southern states, including Tennessee, will begin reopening this week. I continue to be skeptical of this decision while also feeling badly for small businesses that are suffering. I guess we won’t know what happens until we try, but with Florida beaches reopening, along with salons, bowling alleys, and other places where people gather and touch the same things, I think the experiment will tell us how serious COVID-19 is this month or if we’ve truly flattened the curve enough to start reopening the world in phases.

We’ve been watching BBC News in the evening, and I recommend you all do the same. It’s easy to view the coronavirus through our American lens, but it’s affecting other parts of the world more drastically. It’s important that we all see the big picture.

A Hike in the Woods

Almost daily I feel overwhelming gratitude for where we live. Not just America, not just East Tennessee. I love our little town, our corner of the county, our neighborhood, and our home. I recognize this is a huge blessing, as many people wish they lived elsewhere in the country, elsewhere in their city, elsewhere in their county.

We are doing what we’ve been told to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission: We are keeping to ourselves unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out. Obviously, I’m still accompanying Dad to radiation (today begins Week 4 of 6). We have made quick trips to the store, and we’ve ordered take-out from our favorite Mexican restaurant. Otherwise, we’re laying low.

Yesterday we had a break in the rain, so we took the opportunity to surgically remove the boys from electronics and go for a hike. Jeremy drove us!

This was my first time riding with him other than a quick spin around the mall parking lot months ago. Chuck has been handling all the instruction, and I’m happy to report that I felt safe and secure in the back seat with my seatbelt on. It helped that the roads were mostly empty.

The trail we walked is a 13-mile drive from our house.

When Major was younger, we’d let him run off the leash and wear out his energy on trails like these. He’d never go too far ahead of us or stay too far behind, but with his nose to the ground, he’d enjoy the adventure. Now, at almost seven and a half, Major’s energy wanes more quickly. Yet, he’s still an explorer and always plays around in the water if he can get to it.

Thankfully, the boys didn’t resist the hike. They didn’t even complain. Perhaps they too realized the air in our house had become stale and a walk in the fresh air would do them some good.

It still looks like winter in places where we live, but spring is poking through. There were little tufts of green scattered throughout the forest. In a matter of weeks, green will replace all the brown and create a canopy of shade over the trails.

I thought this felled tree looked like a dragon’s head.

A quick song for the forest animals:

We went roughly three miles, and honestly, we could’ve stayed out longer. We have all kinds of time on the weekends since we can’t visit my dad and everything is closed (rightfully so).

Today we get back to homeschooling, working from home, and taking almost-daily trips to the UT Cancer Institute. I have no idea how long this quarantine will continue, but I have a sneaking suspicion that our spring semester will end like this – communicating online and participating in virtual classrooms. It’s not a huge adjustment for us since we’ve been homeschooling since 2012, but it’s not what we prefer.

If you’d told me 2020 was going to look like this, I never would’ve believed you. How is it only March?

On the Eve of Chemotherapy and Super Tuesday

Those two things, in theory, should be unrelated, but sometimes things fall together on a calendar for a reason.

For what it’s worth, I have no idea why or how my father’s first chemotherapy appointment and the primary election in Tennessee have aligned this way, but here we are.

It’s been a little more than a month since my parents returned to Tennessee from their two-month stint in California. Dad has made tremendous progress in these last few weeks. His goal is to walk independently (with a walker), and he’s as stubborn as ever, God love him. I spent Sunday afternoon with Mom and Dad at the rehab center, and his resolve is solid. Up and down, left and right, he was practicing. He wants so badly to go home. We all want that.

For now, though, he needs to stay put since he’s in the best possible place. We have no idea what chemotherapy and radiation will do to the tumor or his body. We don’t know what side effects he’ll have, how tired he’ll feel, or whether or not this treatment will have any impact at all. We don’t even have statistics to rely on. That’s how rare this cancer is.

But I digress. We will do what we’ve always done as a family – keep moving forward and laugh as much as possible.

As far as Super Tuesday is concerned, I’ll slip in to vote tomorrow on my way back from the hospital, and then I’ll stay up tomorrow night to watch the returns. It’s been a wild election year already, but I’m feeling the way I always feel – the people I vote for don’t get elected. That’s what it means to be politically homeless.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings for us as a family or us as a country, but faith is good for times like these. I may not know what’s going to happen, but I’m not worried in a philosophical or theological way. Life goes on. The sun sets, and then it comes up again the next morning. God is faithful. He’s near. And, we have each other. These are the things that truly matter.

The rest, I guess, is left to the wind.

When you don’t take your own advice

Chuck and I are going on a trip, but before we leave I have eleventy billion tasks to complete. I’m not entirely sure how I got here, but I’m certain it has to do with the number of times I said yes compared to the zero times I said no. 

This is exactly what I tell others not to do. 

When I should be looking forward to our vacation and planning itineraries, I am managing tension headaches and working at my desk from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. almost every day scratching items off my to-do list.  In between assignments and the professional work I’ve committed to, I’m training for my 21st race, getting the boys to their respective places,  and tending to myriad daily details, such as making food for people to eat.

Some of this is expected. There’s always a rush of tasks before a trip, and if you’re like me, in order to leave with a clear head, everything must be in order – from finishing laundry and restocking toiletries to paying bills early and thinking of all the things that could happen and mitigating potential disasters ahead of time. 

It’s nonsensical.

Something’s gotta give, so I’m going to spend the next few weeks discerning what needs to change because since our school year started I’ve spent exactly zero minutes writing fiction. I’ve spent no time querying. I’ve done the bare minimum when it comes to race training, so I’m legitimately concerned about suffering an injury on the days I increase mileage to double digits. I’m not cooking the kind of meals I prefer to feed my family and instead am piecing together quick and easy bites. That’s fine sometimes, but…

Something’s gotta give.

Maybe the problem is more about how I manage my time and less about the assignments I accept (or give myself). Or, maybe I’m just doing too much and my inability to handle the workload proves that I am, in fact, not Wonder Woman. 

I could’ve sworn I was.

I deleted my professional Facebook page last week, which is a start, because I no longer want to advertise photography and work with strangers. Instead, I’ll keep photographing friends and family as my schedule allows and leave it at that.

I also need to devise effective strategies for assignments I give in the four co-op classes I teach. It is a colossal mistake on my part to assign papers in three classes with due dates at the same time. The single thing I dislike about teaching is grading, so I do myself no favors to have 40+ papers to read and grade in only a few days. (Seriously, Jennie! What were you thinking?)

I will never be the girl who gets up at 5 a.m. to run, but I need to reevaluate my exercise routine and carve out non-negotiable time to focus entirely on running. Despite reaching my goal of running 20 races by 40 years old, I have no reason to stop. I’m running my 21st race on Sunday and have already registered for a local half marathon in December. I love it, it’s good for me, and I need to make it a priority.

Finally, I need to be selective about the freelance assignments I accept so I can be more available to help the boys with their co-op classes. (High school is no joke.) This is probably the most essential reconfiguration because it’s the main source of time suckage. 

I am desperate for downtime, fleeting moments when I can turn off my brain and let it rest. Recently I interviewed a professional with a local Alzheimer’s foundation and she said the constant go-go-go and juggling ten thoughts at once (which is basically the description of every mom I know) is not good for our brains. Instead of strengthening our brain function, it’s taxing. It was like a two-by-four to the head. Not only does my frazzled disposition shift the energy in the house, I’m actually hurting my own health in the long run.

So, all this is to say that if I tell you no in the near future, it’s not personal to you. It’s personal to me. 

Part Three: Don’t Waste Time

You can start here if you like. You can also start with Part One where I talk about the importance of self-care and move through Part Two, which is about caring for those closest to you, but starting here is fine because this is a rule I adhere to with fervency. I push it onto everyone I know. I am the pusher of Don’t Waste Time. It is likely I’ve said this to you in person if our paths cross in any way.

A history: I am a recovering Yes Person. I spent my 20s working in church nurseries because I was asked to. I helped with children’s choir, despite the fact that I cannot sing. I agreed to participate in groups and outings and events because I felt obligated to. I went places I didn’t want to go and did things I didn’t want to do because I was a people pleaser, and HEAVEN FORBID SOMEONE NOT LIKE ME.

By my 30s, I began to recognize that I have certain skill sets and running children’s choir was not one of them. By the time we joined our current church almost six years ago, I was able to say with confidence, “I am not interested in working with children, but I’m happy to help with communications and photography.” This wasn’t just about using my time and talents wisely; rather, it was about recognizing that I had wasted a lot of time doing things that were not meant for me, and I no longer wanted to do that.

It was a personal prison, and it wasn’t exclusive to volunteer or work-related choices. I’d hung on to friendships that weren’t really friendships. I engaged in conversations that were not my concern, and I spent a lot of energy worrying about inconsequential, unimportant things. I cannot calculate how much bad television I have watched. 

It nagged me as my 30s unfolded. Why hadn’t I learned the power of No earlier? Perhaps that’s the natural progression of things. You don’t understand how necessary No is until you’ve wasted so many Yeses.

Then something happened in our family that anchored Don’t Waste Time so deep in my gut that I started saying it loudly and clearly to anyone who would listen. My sister-in-law, Tami, died suddenly at 47 years old. One day she was moving along in her wonderful life. The next day, gone. Just like that. At 47.

What. the. hell.

In the shock of her death I stamped out an email to my closest girlfriends telling them all sorts of things that should happen if I die suddenly – an actual list of things to do – and OH MY GOODNESS how does this happen to someone who is ONLY 47.

From that moment on, to the best of my ability, I have not wasted time. I’ve said no to the things I don’t want to do and YES to the things I know will be good for me or good for others. It’s rampant, I tell you. I AM ALL ABOUT IT.

No, I will not serve on that board right now, but ask me again in a year.

No, I will not teach elementary age classes at co-op, but yes, I will teach high school.

Yes, I would love to take a group photo for your non-profit for free.

No, I will not watch This Is Us anymore because I’m tired of being manipulated each week.

Yes, I will accept this freelance assignment, but no, I won’t accept that one.

On and on it goes. My No is No and my Yes is Yes. Occasionally, I will take time to consider my options and make a decision after some thought, but my instincts are strong. I know what’s meant for me and I know what is not. When I’ve been unclear, a quick chat with Chuck or my sister or a close friend clears it right up.

How does this connect to self-care?

In a dozen different ways. Consider your time and energy like a bank account. How much you spend and where you spend it is a reflection of your priorities. Are you investing in what matters to you most? Or are you blowing your precious, limited time on a bunch of life-sucking nonsense because you lack the confidence or courage to say no?

Hear me: Don’t Waste Time.

Don’t waste time on relationships that aren’t mutual and restorative. Be friendly to all and be generous when you can, but don’t dig into the reserves of your time and energy when the returns aren’t there.

Don’t waste time on projects, activities, and other participation-based events that don’t align with your priorities, talents, and availability. Don’t say yes out of obligation. Don’t agree to something when your gut is screaming no. Please, oh please hear me on this. Say yes only when you know you’ve got the time, energy, and passion to devote to it.

Don’t waste time on bad television, bad food, and bad company. Junk in, junk out. It’s that simple.

Don’t waste time wishing something would come your way. CLAW AT IT. Be aggressive. You have a dream? Turn it into a plan. What in the world are you waiting for?

Don’t waste time scrolling. I’m still learning this, if I’m honest. I enjoy social media, but at the same time, I despise it. We are meant for personal connection, and social media is not personal connection. People are not interchangeable with screens.

A few more things…

Rest is not wasting time. Rest is restoration, a necessary recharge. How I rest may not be how you rest, so I won’t tell you how you should rest. Just know that it’s important to find a way to log off, shut down, and be still.

Time spent thinking and waiting is not wasting time. Did you know that Bill Gates schedules time specifically dedicated to thinking? He weeds out all distractions and funnels his energy into thinking. He’ll read, go for walks, have light, easy meals, and think. There’s a lesson to be learned here, especially since our society is entirely too focused on glorifying how busy we are. If you need time to think, take it.

Finally, trying something new is not wasting time. Don’t be too quick on the no. Say yes to things you’re not sure about because you may learn something. Don’t like it? Never do it again. Love it? Make it your new hobby. Going through the experience of trying something new, no matter the outcome, is time well spent.

I think I’m done here. I’ve written down all the things I keep saying to people in real life. It is from my deepest heart that something has resonated with you or helped in some way. God bless you for hanging in there and reaching the last paragraph. I hope, sincerely, that I’ve not wasted your time.


Part Two: Caring for Others

Read Part One first.

The reason to take care of yourself first can be summed up with a simple analogy: You can’t draw water from an empty well.  How well (or poorly) I care for my family is almost directly connected to how well (or poorly) I care for myself.

If I’m not good mind, body, and soul, they suffer for it. It’s that simple.

So why, when talking about self-care, do I even consider other people? They aren’t me, nor do I expect them to be like me, but their lives are wholly intertwined with mine. These precious people – my husband, my children, my dearest friends – are an extension of me. Their wellness, on varying levels, is directly connected to mine. When they hurt, I hurt for them. When they need help, I want to offer a hand. When they need a hug, I want to be first in line.

Because my personal hierarchy of care moves from me to my husband, we’ll go there next.

You might read these questions and think, “Wow, girl. Sounds like it’s all about him!” That would be true if 1) I wasn’t already taking care of myself, and 2) he wasn’t already an attentive, connected husband.

In truth, caring for my spouse works because he is caring for me in tandem. These things parallel each other in an ideal world – we’re both listening to each other, we’re both making one another a priority, we’re both saying what needs to be said and keeping quiet on stuff that doesn’t matter. We aren’t perfect in this arena but THANK THE SWEET LORD ALMIGHTY we have learned from our mistakes and try hard not to repeat them.

[Note: In fractured marriages, it is exponentially difficult to know what to do, what to say, and how to behave. When matters are dire, a check-list of questions for self-awareness isn’t enough. Seek help. Go to a professional. Yes, take care of yourself, but please – move outside the circle and wave a red flag.]

In our house, the marriage comes before the kids, barring emergencies and individual circumstances. We are careful about this too, rotating between family trips together and vacations where we leave the kids with family members to run off by ourselves. We balance date nights and family outings. We consult each other on big decisions because even if we know what the other parent will say we want the boys to see that Mom and Dad are a team. Over and over again we’ve put this hierarchy to the test and it has never failed us. Not once have we regretted it.

So what about the kids, these little people who require so much of our time, energy, and emotional strength? They have needs, big and small, and for me to be the best mother I can be, both my marriage and I need to be in their best possible shape.

Raising kids is hard, y’all. HARD, HARD, HARD. What makes it manageable, however, is being intentional, present, and willing to work through whatever is thrown our way. If I want to care for my sons in the way I feel called to, then I must pay attention to their whole being. I need to make clear our household priorities are and then draft a workable plan. I need to be flexible (because plot twists happen) and I must be willing to back up, re-evaluate, and try again.

Have I mentioned that parenting is hard? Wasn’t sure if I made that clear. (Now you see why self-care is crucial.)

If my home is at some level of peace (we aren’t talking high scores here, folks. We’re talking manageable), then I’m best equipped to care for my dearest friends and family. My tribe of girlfriends is precious to me, and they have carried me through low times. When I am healthy, I am able to help carry them. Like a marriage, these relationships work in tandem.

To have a tribe of people outside of your spouse and children means you have a touchstone for celebrating good times and a reliable place to land when everything crumbles. These relationships do not exist without their own need for nourishment. When I invest in my friendships, the returns are incalculable. 

All of these thoughts and questions were born from a couple of hours with a notepad. They may not be grand revelations for some of you, and I realize certain situations call for different questions.

However, the importance of self-care can’t be overstated. No one can take care of you like you can. Before you run on empty caring for everyone else, fill up your own tank. Invest in the short, sweet life you’ve been given and stop wasting time on what’s not meant for you.

Part Three: Don’t Waste Time.

Part One: On the Importance of Self-Care

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. Sometimes it’s hard for me to know when to share something or if I should keep it to myself altogether.

Today is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, a perfect combination if you think about it, so it seemed like the best possible day to speak on vulnerable things. 

Last summer, sometime around my birthday, I started doodling on a notepad. I was deep in thought about how to take better care of myself – a mundane topic for some, but monumentally important to me. As someone who’s always struggled with a depressive side, it can take an extra effort to move through the day intentionally, to resist the urge to crawl into bed and introvert so hard that a sturdy wall builds between the rest of the world and me.

Years ago I talked about this depressive streak with my grandmother. She, too, lives with the same little curse. She said, “I guess I’m just turned this way,” and it was then that I realized depression isn’t a cold. You don’t catch it a couple of times a year. It’s always stirring under the surface. Sometimes you feel it coming on slow and steady like a hurricane, and sometimes it pops up like a tornado, fast and furious, and you aren’t prepared at all.

There I sat doodling, drawing circles and lines and names, trying to discern how best to care for my mind, my body, my home, my relationships. Without medication (I’ve been there) and counseling (I’ve done that) and draining the energy out of my husband and closest friends (thanks y’all), I tried to figure out what is absolutely necessary to give myself the best possible chance of success in most circumstances.

While there are times when medication, professional counseling, and reaching out for external help are crucial, I have learned that how I care for myself has the greatest impact on how I move through the world. It is the core from which all the other stuff flows. 

Therefore, it starts with me, and since I’m married and view marriage as a fortress that must be rooted and built up, my husband comes next. Then come the boys, and after that, my closest friendships and family members.

This flow of care is controversial, no doubt. I know many moms whose flow of care is arranged differently, and I don’t intend to tackle or speak to their reasons why. Each woman (and man, for that matter) is capable of arranging her own hierarchies as she sees fit. Also, some of you are single with kids, or married without kids, or in various other ages and stages of life. The hierarchy shifts as life does. Of course!

WHICH IS TO SAY the hierarchy of care is fluid. There are times when care shifts depending on need, but when relationships are in good health, those shifts don’t shatter the system. Simply having a newborn shifts the hierarchy of the house temporarily. Basically, if I need to put more energy into myself, my husband, a friend, etc., I do.

So what does it look like inside each of the circles? I doodled those too.

Me First

While this goes against what we teach our children (“Others First”), I’m curious to know if we’ve made a wrong turn somewhere, like we’ve given no room for caveats. How can we care for others when we are not well ourselves? I keep coming back to this question: If I am struggling to stay above water, how can I be a reliable life jacket for any one else?

So, if my goal is to be the best possible person, the healthiest and most helpful to those I love, I need to address all aspects of my well-being (spiritual, emotional, physical, relational, and personal) with a list of specific questions.

First, the spiritual self.

This is the core of the core, the deepest heart space that needs the most attention. For me, it’s my relationship with God. It’s not a perfect relationship, but it’s an intentional one. When I feel the most disconnected from actual life, I can usually point back to a disconnection in my spiritual life.

Second, the emotional self.

If I let them, the burdens of the world will put me prostrate. Burdens I create for myself keep me comatose. Holding grudges, repeating mistakes, hanging on to shame – these emotional bags wear us down, so we must learn to recognize what’s poisoning the well and deal with them accordingly.

Next, the physical self.

Almost as important as my spiritual and emotional life is the attention I place on physical health. Yes, we live in a constant state of dying, but I’m not talking about physical fitness here. Body dysmorphia is my cross to carry in this world, so daily exercise isn’t about fitting into jeans or losing those last ten pounds. For me, tending to the body is the same as tending to the mind. Exercise is my best medicine, and there has been plenty of research to prove it can mentally benefit everyone. Additionally, physical care is about how we nourish our body and how we rest it. 

Then, the personal self.

We’re all given talents and gifts, passions and interests, and it can take a lifetime of sorting through those things to make the most of them. Whether they transpire as full-on careers, lifelong hobbies, or bouts of effort over periods of time, our personal work is important. I was lucky to discern my love and talent for writing early on, but it’s not always been clear what I’m supposed to do with it. When it comes to my whole health, though, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how necessary personal work is.

Finally, the relational self.

We aren’t meant to move through life alone, which can be a challenging truth for hardcore introverts. Connecting with people isn’t what’s key; it’s how we connect with them that matters. Am I doing my part? Am I being used? Who or what am I neglecting? Living in conflict crowds the mind, and frankly, life is too short to let contention grow.

When one or more of these areas is out of balance, I’m not my best self and that leaves the door open for other areas of my life to suffer. It seems like common sense now, but it’s taken me years to recognize my poor attitude or season of depression was related to one or more of these areas being ignored. Never has my life been unmanageable, but many difficult seasons could’ve been better handled had I tended to my own well-being with intention. This may be old news to you, but for me, it’s been a two-by-four to the head.

I don’t think there’s ever a time when all of these questions are answered affirmatively. We are never 100 percent, are we? Yet, if working heartily on these areas of self-care with diligence, then we’re setting ourselves up to be better partners, parents, and friends.

Next up: caring for my spouse, my children, and those I love most.

Adios Tonsils and Adenoids

Last week Jeremy got his tonsils and adenoids taken out after we realized that more than 50 percent of his airway closed up when he laid down to sleep. A tonsillectomy wasn’t something on our radar, but after consulting an ENT in December, we realized it was a solid possibility. Then, after an early January appointment, we decided to move forward with it sooner than later so he’s all healed up for soccer season.

Having no experience with surgery, Jeremy was nervous, particularly the morning of. He was worried about needles and having things cut out of his body, along with how he might feel under the influence of anesthesia. Understandably so! He kept his anxieties well hidden, so it was only when the nurse administered the IV that his eyes got wide and I saw how scared he really was. I reassured him as best I could – telling him that it was totally normal to be nervous about the unknown, that kids have tonsillectomies all the time, that his doctor was wonderful and would do a good job. Then, having no frame of reference, I could only admit that I’d be nervous too.

The procedure took a mere 45 minutes, but when you throw in the prep and recovery time, we ended up being at the hospital nearly five hours. When I was finally able to be with him in the recovery room, I could tell he was truly miserable. He was not prepared for how uncomfortable he was going to feel.

Tomorrow marks one week post-surgery and he’s still eating soft foods. This morning he tried grits, and after eating an entire bowl he said it was the first time in a week that he’s actually felt full. (I guess ice cream and sorbet is exciting for only so long.) It’s cruel to have to limit food when, at fourteen years old, your appetite is bottomless.

When all is healed and back to normal, the hope is that Jeremy will sleep better at night because his airway will be open and clear. Thanks to all of you who’ve prayed for him, checked on him, and sent him well wishes! 

Signs of Life Day Eight

Hello, beauties! Today I stumbled upon something inspiring and I want to share it with you.

I’d never heard of Verily Magazine before, so when I clicked a shared link from one of my favorite Twitter people (@onegroovynun, and yes, she’s really a nun!), I jumped around the site to see what Verily was all about.

It looked exactly like the sort of women’s magazine I’d enjoy. Fashion stuff, beauty stuff, bits about health and lifestyle. All lovely things! I read a few pieces and enjoyed the few minutes I spent perusing.

However, it wasn’t the clean design or the quality writing or even the variety of topics that will bring me back to Verily. What sold me was its position on using Photoshop Free images of the modern woman. They are actively changing the narrative. 

It seems that despite being more educated, influential, and affluent than ever before, the modern narrative about women – what we should look like, how we should date, how to be successful, what should make us happy – can ring hollow.

Crows feet, freckles, acne scars, cellulite, all of it. It’s there. These are real women. All beautiful, and all real.

That was all I needed to know.

I appreciate their position, and yet I wish I could be as honest and accepting of myself as they are about the women they represent. Though I don’t excessively Photoshop myself in photos, I’ve been known to delete a blemish or soften a harsh line.

But here, in this photo taken on the hike that started the whole Signs of Life effort, it is just me. Nothing more, nothing less.

Photoshop free.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Three

When I was 15 years old, I was easily 70 lbs. heavier than I am right now. I was unhealthy and insecure, but when I started Rollerblading on the weekends in an attempt to lose weight (hey, it was the 1990s!), I never thought it would lead to a lifetime of enjoying exercise.

Fast forward TWO DECADES and I’m still at it. Though my Rollerblades have long since been retired and replaced with running shoes, a gym membership, and a yoga mat, I still enjoy the mental and physical release exercise gives me. It is for my brain first and my body second.

It’s a curious thing, then, to still struggle with body image, self-esteem, and all that emotional garbage I’ve been carrying around for most of my life. It makes no sense whatsoever, but that is the nature of the beast. It is my lot. But I continue to exercise – and continue to love it – because this is the one body I have. There’s no swapping it out for another.

So today, after my workout was complete, I did the thing that I never do: I snapped a photo of myself at the gym. I felt silly doing it, but in that moment I wanted evidence that I am alive and healthy and able to do many things. 

One day I will not be able to do this. Today is not that day.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Favorite Thing: Gaiam Yoga Mat

In early December, I purchased my very first yoga mat. This was after doing a year of yoga on the bedroom or living room carpet watching Yoga with Adriene videos. Not once did I think I needed a mat because 1) why spend the money when 2) the carpet is soft enough.

And then I signed up for a Yoga for Advent class at church and actually needed a mat so I wouldn’t be on the linoleum floor.

With Kohl’s cash and coupons in hand, I perused the modest exercise section of the store and found this beautiful gem:

The original retail price was $35, which is what you’d pay on the Gaiam website. While that isn’t the price I paid in Kohls, I would have no problem paying full price for this mat.

This particular mat, I just learned, is called the Serenity Reversible Yoga Mat and I don’t think I could’ve come up with a better name. As soon as I roll it out, I feel calm, eager to stretch, ready to slow down. Yoga has become a mainstay in my exercise routine and the addition of a yoga mat upped my game.

Honestly, I didn’t realize the grip feature was important, but it is! So much better than carpet! No slipping and sliding, which are counter-productive to proper yoga practice.

Additionally, the extra cushion does a make a difference, particularly as I try new positions and poses, as I attempt new practices that I finally feel confident enough to try.

That mat is reversible, but the chevron pattern isn’t as serene as the peacock feather.

Three things I love:
1. The grip of the mat was a feature I didn’t realize I needed, and not just in comparison to the carpet. As I’ve examined other mats in other stores, I’m glad I bought the Gaiam 5mm mat, as the grip bubbles and cushion depth are high quality.
2. The graphic print is a pleaser. This could be a petty perk, but I enjoy seeing the colorful feather every time I roll out the mat. Every single time.
3. Bringing out the mat readies my mind for the practice. It’s a feeling I didn’t have when I practiced on the carpet, when I’d pull up a video and begin. Now, when I place my bare feet on the mat, with the video set up in front of me, my body is signaled.  I’m in a specific zone. The air is different, and since yoga is a practice I value for not only for my physical health but also for my mental health, the air needs to be different.


Insomnia and Manitowoc County

In 2011, I went through three months of the worst insomnia of my life. It would take hours to fall asleep, and then when I fell asleep, I’d jolt awake in twenty minutes only to start the process all over again. Ambien was my remedy of choice, and while it took care of the sleep, it led to strange behavior and memory distortion, two characteristics that do not complement parenting, homeschooling, or any level of adulting.

The insomnia waned in 2012 and by 2013 I was sleeping mostly well, or as well as a high-strung mother can sleep. I acquired a prescription for Lunesta in 2015 – a sleeping aid that doesn’t lead to strange behavior and memory distortion, but also one that doesn’t work as well as Ambien. I took it occasionally throughout the year.

I started sleeping poorly in November and used the rest of my Lunesta prescription in December (though our Hilton Head trip was lovely, I didn’t sleep well, nor did I sleep much in Montreat). Now it’s January 8 and after binge-watching Making a Murderer on Netflix and getting no sleep on a Lunesta pill, I fear I’m inching back to where I was in 2011.

104 percent tired

My to-do list is quite heavy – three big batches of photos to edit, freelance work due immediately, 18 millions loads of laundry to fold – and I’m here staring at the wall fantasizing about a nap. A good, long, warm nap with no children knocking at the bedroom door asking to play XBox.

Are y’all watching Making a Murderer? DUDE. People are sketchy. I told Chuck last night that if ever we get to a Packers game at Lambeau, we will absolutely NOT drive through Manitowoc County, and he was all, “Heck yes we will!”

Happy Weekend, friends. I hope you all get good sleep and that you aren’t wrongly accused, arrested, and imprisoned for a crime you didn’t commit (unless there’s DNA evidence, but even that could be questionable). Be good.


My Do Not Eat List and the Tennessee Vols

First, the food. I finally went to the allergist to figure out why I cannot get a grip on food. For a long time, specifically since 2009, I’ve been trying to discern which foods rip my stomach apart and which ones don’t. After reading The G-Free Diet, I was sure that gluten was the culprit. I cut out all wheat products the week before Thanksgiving in 2009 and saw a significant improvement in my digestion. I thought I’d figured it out, but over time it’s proven ineffective and I’ve spent a lot of time complaining to Chuck about why I consistently don’t feel well.

Sick of hearing it, he told me last month, “I’m done listening to your complaining. Go to the allergist.” Lovingly, of course.

So I did. She pricked my skin with more than 150 environmental and food allergens. Measured against my body’s reaction to histamine, seventeen different foods showed a reaction. SEVENTEEN. Continue reading “My Do Not Eat List and the Tennessee Vols”

Headaches, bathroom breaks, and reading for pleasure

I would love to tell you this weekend was positively perfect since I finished my genre paper a day early and therefore started my week-long school break Friday afternoon, but I am going on Day 3 of a headache and I quite literally want to punch myself in the face, just to see if that will help it go away.

Also, Chuck fought a stomach bug nearly all of Saturday and most of Sunday, so that wasn’t particularly pleasant either. We took his father to Tupelo Honey Cafe last night for a birthday dinner (Happy Birthday, Bill!) and Chuck wasn’t able to enjoy the food like usual for fear that the bug would resurface.

To top it off, my insomnia came back to visit me Saturday night. It was like the insomnia of 2011 when I’d lay away for four hours, doze for 20 minutes, then lay awake until giving up on sleep altogether.

The weird part is that I wasn’t even fretting Saturday night. I genuinely have no imminent worries that keep me in limbo or in a state of potential catastrophe. Life, in general, is good. But my brain refuses to shut off because it prefers to think about what might happen on Season 5 of Downton Abbey, what clothes I should donate to Goodwill, and whether or not I’ll ever lose ten pounds. Stupid nonsense nothingness that should not keep a person awake at night.

See, I stopped taking Ambien in May. My prescription ran out and I thought it would be good to wean myself off the drug and save whatever memory I have left. (Have you taken ? Has it wrecked your memory or made you do weird stuff?) I’ve been sleeping mostly well all summer, taking the occasional Melatonin or Advil PM if I wanted to ensure myself a few good hours of shut-eye.

But Saturday night scares me. Insomnia is no good. It wrecks my mood and mental capacity, and with another semester starting next Monday, I’m not willing to risk it.

BeautifulRuins_small-330The only good that came out of not sleeping is that I finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. That’s right. I read for pleasure. It didn’t matter that I was reading for pleasure at three in the morning. It wasn’t theory or philosophical drivel or some book I had to read for class. It was a thoughtful, well-crafted story of a wishful love affair between a young Italian man and an almost-movie star. Jess Walter takes you from the coast of Italy in 1962 to present day Hollywood through a series of mistakes, lies, and starry-eyed daydreams. His writing is impeccable.

It’s a book I wish I’d purchased instead of borrowed from the library.

Yesterday I started The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, and after that, it’s likely I’ll finally get to The Signature of All Things by Liz Gilbert. However, if I don’t get to that it’s because I’ll be full swing into my novel again.

Y’all, my stomach is all jittery just thinking about it.


This week gets a big WTF.

Just when I said it was too much, there ended up being more.

I learned yesterday that Karin’s mother passed away from a horrific car accident, another life taken swiftly, without warning. That makes five this week, which leaves many of us wandering around wondering what the hell just happened.

Jeremy was so tender when I told him that Ethan lost his grandmother. He said he wanted to attend the funeral with me “because I know what it’s like to lose a grandma.”

Karin and I dip our toes in the Atlantic Ocean. - June 2013
Karin and I dip our toes in the Atlantic Ocean. – June 2013

This morning we took Jeremy to an ENT at Children’s Hospital. He had his annual hearing test two weeks ago and the audiologist noticed a significant drop in the low frequencies. He referred us to an audiologist at Children’s for a second opinion, who we saw yesterday, and she confirmed the original results. They got us in to see the ENT first thing this morning and he scheduled Jeremy for a CT Scan to see if there is any structural damage behind the ear drum.

The reason why this drop is so troubling is because Jeremy’s hearing loss has been consistent since birth. It was detected at his newborn screening – a mild loss in his left ear, a moderate loss in his right. He’s been aided since he was ten months old. Now his right ear is labeled “moderate to severe,” and since there hasn’t been a change in his hearing in ten years, it’s definitely odd.

The doctor asked if Jeremy has sustained any head trauma and I told him the only thing I could think of was playing tackle football. The doctor nodded knowingly. He said that could be the culprit and Jeremy is to refrain from it until we know what’s going on.

Jeremy kept it together in the doctor’s office, but as soon as we were in the car, he was noticeably distraught. He said, “So he’s saying I can’t follow my dream?” His eyes were wet with tears. The boy loves playing football. If we get a red light on tackling, we won’t have a choice but to withdraw him.

I’ve joined the club.

These were my doctor’s exact words on Thursday: “I don’t want to use the word extreme, but that’s pretty much what we’re talking about. You now have to go above and beyond.”

It was at my annual appointment, where I whined and complained about how my body seems completely different from what it was just two years ago. She told me the same thing my friend, Meredith, said:  “Welcome to the club.”

After seven years of running half marathons (and one full marathon) and nearly twenty years of eating sensibly, I’ve been told it’s no longer enough. To combat a declining metabolism and the signs of peri-menopause (yes, she’s still using that word, dammit), my workout routine and mostly-clean diet won’t cut it. My doctor told me that all that stuff I’ve been doing for the last decade is now the starting point for making more cuts (in my diet) and increases (in exercise).

When I told her I was weight training again, she said, “That’s great for preventing osteoporosis!” Right, because that was my motivation.

When I told her how little grain I eat, she said, “Well, there’s always the Paleo Diet.” Right, because there’s endless amount of money in the grocery budget for that.

When I told her that I’m frustrated over working so hard and making so little progress, she said, “There’s a little bit of self-acceptance that has to go on too.” Right, because that’s so easy.

On the whole, I’m quite healthy. Actually, we all are since it’s a big focus in our household to be active and eat well. So to be told that now I have to go above and beyond, I’m miffed. I want to argue:

But I don’t eat processed foods. 

But I don’t drink sodas.

But I eat fresh fruits and veggies every single day.

But I eat organic, grass-fed meats.

But I cut back on coffee and wine.

But I exercise five days a week, or more.


I digress.

In going above and beyond, I do have my limits. I’m not going to live life on artificial supplements, meal replacements, and other nonsensical things. I love food, therefore I will eat it. Life is too short for that crap.

The good thing is that Chuck is on board with all of this. He’s always been in fantastic shape, but he’s also always willing to work harder. This means we’re in it together – food, exercise, and all. The other day, I moaned, “I can’t decide if I want to run today or not” and he replied with, “Yes, you do. Go run.”

The only run

He also split a Peep with me yesterday, so there’s that.



I pulled oil.

Since I’m already doing a cleanse this week, I decided to go full hippie and try oil pulling. (I’m building a slack line in the backyard this afternoon, right after I get back from the hookah bar.)

I don’t know what’s gotten into me.

Actually, that’s a lie. I know exactly what the problem is. I’ve not once worried about age or aging until a few months ago when my face broke out like a teenager, my metabolism bottomed out, and my gynecologist dropped the word  perimenopause in a routine exam.

I’ll pause here for dramatic affect.

Even in my early twenties, I wasn’t a bit worried about my thirties. Nor was I scarcely worried about my forties. I’m healthy (mostly) and make good food and exercise choices (mostly), so what did I have to be worried about?

Then I was blind-sided with acne and fatigue and perimenopause.

I hate that word now, but let’s keep moving forward.

I’m on Day 3 of a week-long cleanse and felt adventurous last night while watching Mr. Selfridge. I was sitting all cozy in my new bed and thought, “Why not now?” So I took a small scoop of coconut oil and put it in my mouth.

Oil pulling

It tasted like nothing. The texture was… not great. Once the little hard bits that felt like mucus broke down, the swishing was much better. I didn’t make it to twenty minutes, nor did I make it to ten. I’ll be honest and tell you I swished the oil for about five minutes and then I was bored. My cheeks started to hurt and it felt like the oil was dissipating, like maybe it was seeping down my throat.  Was I digesting coconut oil? Was it slowly creeping down my esophagus? 

That’s when the gag reflex kicked in and I decided oil pulling wasn’t for me.

The cleanse, for the record, isn’t for me either, but I’m continuing with it for three more days (or so) just to see what happens. It’s not entirely inconvenient, but it’s not my favorite way to spend time. It’s helpful that we don’t have many places to go this week, if you catch my drift.

Yay health.


Let’s all take a minute to observe the warmer weather.

SunbathingWe’re all jumping for joy over 45 degrees, which is leaps and bounds better than 2. I didn’t like 2. I hope you were all good pet owners and cared for your outdoor family members appropriately. (Condolences to those with busted pipes, flooded rooms, and other Polar Vortex-induced calamities.)

Our family has been quarantined for the week while dealing with coughs and sneezes. Since we haven’t had temperatures or vomiting, I’m not calling it the flu. I’m not sure what it was, but I’ve sufficiently disinfected the house and crossed my fingers that we’re on the tail end of it.

I’m back to working on the novel every day, though progress is slower since I’m intentionally not rushing. In my free time (i.e., running on the treadmill), I’m indulging in British dramas, which I find far more entertaining and creative than most of what’s being made here. I highly recommend Broadchurch, Mr. Selfridge, Sherlock, and White Chapel, if you’re into that sort of thing. And of course, Downton Abbey. Not sure I could love the Dowager more.


Salsa, baby!

With a healthy yield of ripe tomatoes, the only thing a girl can do is make a ton of salsa.

how I make salsaSO GOOD. I have one more batch of salsa to make before I pull up all the plants (which are all dying a slow death) and prepare the beds for a fall garden. To date, this has been the most satisfying season of gardening I’ve ever experienced. Thanks be to God for making the earth so rich.

everything you need

Happiness is…

…best friends coming in town for a much-needed visit:

Millers and Valocvins 2013

Jennie and Amy 2013

Chuck and Matt 2013

Grace 2013

Jeremy 2013

Jake 2013

Jack 2013

…sitting by the fire:Fire…and watching your garden grow:Red Bell Pepper


LavendarHappiness is also finding out that the dog finally vomited that sweat sock he swallowed four days ago, but I don’t have any pictures of that.

He’s the boss of Major.

This mischief happened earlier in the week. I considered it a challenge of authority:Major on the tableBut then this happened shortly after, and then I was reminded of who’s really in charge:Who's the bossIn other news, I saw something on Pinterest that I had to try. Actually, there are dozens of things on Pinterest that I’d like to try, but this seemed doable. Instead of tossing my romaine lettuce cores in the garbage, I stuck them in water and placed the glasses on the window sill. I was surprised to discover that the lettuce leaves actually grew back.

Growing lettuceThey aren’t spectacularly long lettuce leaves, and it’s taken a while for them to grow, but nonetheless it worked.

And finally, I got word today that the insurance claim to cover Jeremy’s hearing aid was denied. This is a very expensive denial, so I will be putting on my boxing gloves and going into the ring to fight it.