This is what January looks like

As much as I love the holidays with all of their festivities, food, time off from work and extra sleep, there’s always a major buzz-kill in returning to the realm of alarm clocks, rush hour traffic and typical work days. And the recent dose of extreme winter only added to the challenge of this annual adjustment.

20150110aThis week’s below-zero temps caused school closings around the state and contributed to the development of black ice on our roadways. And then there was a pretty good snowfall to boot. My typical half-hour commute twice turned into a two-hour adventure, once on the way to work, and again the next day when trying to get home. Thursday evening’s commute saw something like 300 accidents around the metro area. My white-knuckled, teeth-clenching drive exhausted me. When Friday morning arrived, I just could not drag myself out from under the piles of blankets. And the cold was beginning to get to me.  I couldn’t convince myself to go exercise before getting ready for work. I did the thing I said I’d stop doing and snoozed the alarm for an extra hour of sleep. I forgave myself this once. Sometimes you’ve just got to listen to your body.

During this point in the winter, I’m so grateful we have a warm home and a cozy beds to sleep in at night. One morning upon hearing that a major school district remained open while many others closed, I questioned the sanity of the district officials. I thought of children standing on bus stops or walking to school, knowing many would be under-dressed while a very real danger of frostbite and hypothermia existed. And then I was reminded that a large number of that district’s students are homeless. My sense of righteousness went straight out the window once I understood that school might have been the safest place for those kids during these days of life-threatening weather.

So instead of griping about the weather, I’ve tried to remind myself how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head, food to eat when I’m hungry, and the luxury of a vehicle with all-wheel drive and a remote starter.  I can drive to and from work in comfort with an added measure of safety on snowy roads.

While tempted to wonder yet again why we choose to live here, I instead made a conscious effort to remember that I am lucky enough to be able to look for the beauty in all this frosty scenery from a safe place.

Morning Moon - January 7, 2015

Morning Moon, January 7, 2015

View from my parking spot - January 8, 2015

View from my parking spot at work – January 8, 2015

Weekend Sky - January 10, 2015

Weekend Sky – January 10, 2015

This week also meant enjoying the company of my daughter at home during her last week of winter break before returning to classes. I love the conversations and laughter she brings. I love seeing her across the table from me as we enjoy family meals again. That made for a pretty good post-holiday week in spite of all the extremes.

Happy Goals – Week 11

Well, Thanksgiving came and went, and along with it, a lovely, long weekend. And now it seems, it’s time to march on toward the next holiday! No complaints from me. This is one of my happiest times of the year.

Christmas Season

 

I thoroughly enjoyed my long weekend, busy as it was. Thanksgiving flew right on by with hardly a moment to really stop and appreciate it. I spent most of the day cooking in the kitchen and trying to time everything just right so I could haul it all over to my sister’s house for dinner. By the time we got there, I was busy helping in my sister’s kitchen. We ate. We cleaned up. We had dessert. We went home. I never even took a single photo. :-(

But that’s not to say I didn’t accomplish some goals!

  • Family and Home – The absolute best part of Thanksgiving Day was working in the kitchen with Kacey. We work well together, and I just enjoy her company so much that all that work seemed fun! On Friday, we decorated for Christmas. And on Saturday, Brad, Heather and her mom came to visit. We girls spent the morning at the bridal shop with Heather trying on wedding dresses and Kacey trying on bridesmaid dresses. Heather looked so beautiful that I started tearing up already at the thought of her marrying my Brad. We feel so lucky to have such a beautiful person to love our son and join our family.
  • Mental and Educational – I declared Sunday to be mental health day and spent it in the living room, with my pillow, watching Christmas movies and napping here and there.
  • Physical and Health – I’m slowly getting back to exercise, but not nearly as quickly as I’d like. I still have a twinge in my back, but overall, it seems to be improving. I’ve limited myself to the treadmill for the time being. I think Jillian Michaels is out of the picture for a while. I think I’ll give yoga a try.
  • Financial and Career – Busy days at work… I often feel as if I’m juggling responsibilities. But I’m still feeling positive and productive.
  • Social and Cultural – Had dinner out with friends, bowling league and a HUGE surprise birthday party, all on Saturday night. I think this fulfills the goal of socializing. And might also explain why I allowed Sunday to be lazy mental health day.
  • Spiritual and Ethical – The bell ringers are out in full force with their Salvation Army kettles. I kept my commitment to be charitable and managed to keep a few bucks on hand at all times last week so that I could contribute a little each time I encountered one. And I’ll keep doing this as often as possible this holiday season.
Lucy and Kacey

Lucy enjoyed the long weekend too. We love when Lucy shares her furniture with us.

 

 

If only I coulda got away with a kick in the pants…

I’ve realized something about myself lately. I’ve become sort of bitter. I’m hanging onto a grudge or two. It took me a long time to reach the point of grudgery. I can typically take a lot before I break down and give up. But I’ve reached that point with a couple of people. And I hadn’t even realized it but in the back of my mind, I’ve been hoping for a chance to show the begrudged ones that I’ve given up on them. I don’t expect anything good from them anymore. I anticipate only the worst from any future interaction I’m forced to have with them. And the next time I’m proven right, I’ll demonstrate that I am not willing to play along any longer.  I will not bow down to their bad behavior. I’ll show them!

Except… I’ve realized something else. The only one really suffering here is me. I’m sure the begrudged ones don’t even have any idea that I’m over here, building brick walls to keep them away from me. While I’m busy waiting for my chance to show them they can’t hurt me anymore, to make them be the ones who feel hurt and bewildered, they are happily going about their lives. I’m pretty sure they are  oblivious to me and all the energy I’m expending being angry at them.

Family. Difficult coworkers. All kinds of people can make you crazy if you let ‘em. Thankfully, I’ve got a friend who’s a great listener. She’s experienced her own share of challenging relationships. She hears me out when I need it, and offers words of advice when she thinks I’m open to them. We took a break from our work the other day and walked around the pond outside our office building.

“I’m too wrapped up in all this negativity,” I told her. “I can’t stand myself sometimes, I’m so miserable to be around.”

“You’re not miserable to be around,” she defended me.

“You’re being nice,” I said. “How many times are you going to listen to me bitch about the same stuff before you get sick of me too?”

“You’re just working through it in your own time,” she said.

“Well, I have to do something different,” I said. I went on to tell her that I really need to shift my thoughts to more positive things. I want to give myself regular goals to strive for. All this free time I have now that my kids are grown can be great. But sometimes it gives me too much unstructured time to let my thoughts sink to the wrongs I have “suffered” and I end up stuck in a vicious cycle, replaying those wrongs over and over in my head, dreaming up ways to come out ahead in these relationships. It’s not healthy.

She said she could use some positive, productive things to focus on too. As we walked, I mentioned a mutual friend’s habit of setting weekly physical, mental and social goals. I said I thought I should do something similar. Our mutual friend finds an inspiring quote each week and writes it on her whiteboard at work. I said I thought that was a good habit too. As we finished up our walk, we had a new resolve to keep positive thoughts in our heads and to do random acts of kindness. Most importantly, we weren’t going to let difficult people sway our focus from the positive and healthy track.

And immediately upon our return to work, there seemed to come to both of us an onslaught of frustrating conversations and interaction with a particularly difficult person. My resolutions were so new! I was weak! I felt as if once again, I’d been hammered on unfairly. I wouldn’t think to treat others so disrespectfully, even in my own worst emotional moments. Why is it so easy for some? I couldn’t help myself. I sent an instant message to my comrade.

Me: Someone needs a Xanax.

Her: Someone needs something!

Me: Are you thinking of a boot? To go up something?

Her: YES! Or a gag to go IN something!

From my cubicle, I could hear my friend trying to stifle her own laughter, just as I was doing. Playing the role of doormat is a miserable feeling, but the burden is so much lighter when you’ve got a friend standing (laying?) right beside you. Oh, but I was so disappointed in myself for stooping to my old ways so soon after vowing to handle difficult people in a more positive and mature manner. But that didn’t stop the quiet belly-laugh I was enjoying. Laughter feels so good sometimes, and clearly, my friend and I needed some at that moment.

You know what they say! Laughter is the best medicine. Tomorrow! Tomorrow I’ll start acting on those healthy, mature responses!

My parents are getting old and it scares me

The phone calls are starting to feel too familiar. At least this time it didn’t come in the middle of the night. I was just starting to settle down to read for a while before bedtime rolled around on Tuesday night when the phone rang.

It was my dad, asking what I was doing. It was late enough in the evening that I knew it wasn’t just a casual call.

“What do you need, Dad?”

He hemmed and hawed, saying something about Mom not feeling so great but that she had a doctor’s appointment in the morning. I was aware that my mom had picked up a respiratory bug recently and knew it was not good for her already ailing lungs. It seems that Mom was now coughing so much that she couldn’t catch her breath and it was making her feel panicky. Dad said he had made a call to their clinic’s after-hours service and then he just seemed to fumble with what to say or ask next.

“Do we need to take Mom to the ER,” I aked? In hindsight, I shouldn’t have asked but rather insisted.

“Well, I kind of think so,” Dad said. “But Mom isn’t sure she wants to go.”

Dad wanted to wait to hear back from the on-call doctor. I had little faith that a doctor who doesn’t know my mom’s immense medical history would be in the least bit helpful. I told Dad to give it half an hour. If the doctor didn’t call by then, we should go to the emergency room.

Turns out the doctor did call and of course, she knew nothing of my mom’s conditions. The doctor’s recommendation was that Mom try breathing steam. I knew this would do nothing to ease her symptoms and I was frustrated with myself for even agreeing to wait for that call. Mom’s got pulmonary fibrosis caused by Scleroderma and she’s been told she is an extreme and severe case. She is so frail, it makes me sad.

I told Dad we needed to go to the ER. Again, he said Mom wasn’t sure she wanted to go. I tried to keep my frustration in check. It’s a good thing Dad couldn’t see me rolling my eyes.

“Dad, does Mom think she can get through the night until she can see the doctor in the morning?”

I heard him relay the question to Mom and then he returned to the phone to tell me she didn’t think so. I took charge then and told Dad that I would be over to the house in fifteen minutes. He and Mom should be ready to get in the car and we were going to the ER.

ImageThe emergency room has become too familiar. I know just where to park and where to check in a patient. I know there will be a visit with the triage nurse before a room will be assigned. I know to bring a book along because we’ll often end up sitting in that room in the ER for hours, explaining symptoms and medical history to multiple nurses, technicians and doctors. There’s usually a shift change and it all has to be explained again to more doctors and nurses. I’ve learned to bring a book to pass the time.

Mom was given a nebulizer treatment and a steroid to help ease her cough and open up her lungs. She had an EKG and a chest x-ray. Her doctors this time around were wonderful… very compassionate. The medical staff seemed to understand more about her condition than I remember in the past. Her condition used to seem a bit foreign to most medical professionals who were unfamiliar with Mom’s history. This time they seemed more knowledgeable. I couldn’t help but notice the looks of pity as Mom explained how long she’d been dealing with her disease and how extreme it had become.

As I listened to my mom talk to her caregivers, I made note of many red flags in the things she told them. She knows water is important to her well-being but doesn’t drink much of it because it makes her have to use the bathroom. Using the bathroom means going up and down stairs. Going up and down the half-flight of stairs to the bathroom is enough to exhaust her and make her feel sick, so she doesn’t drink water.

If she could just sit still for any length of time, she said she might not be so wiped out all the time, but  she can’t sit around for hours each day and still try to maintain her household.She doesn’t sleep well at night because Dad is diabetic and she needs to be on alert for changes in his well-being. Dad can no longer drive, so she is responsible for taking him to his appointments, to his church activities and on errands.

More than once I heard Mom insinuate, or say outright that she was becoming a burden to her kids. I insisted she wasn’t, but it became more and more clear that staying in their house is simply more than my parents can handle. Their multi-level home has become too much for them. To be honest, I’ve thought so for a long time. A couple of years ago, they found a single-level town home less than a mile from me that would have been perfect. Then Dad suddenly decided he didn’t want to give up the house. I know it’s scary for him to think about leaving the place that’s been home for over twenty-years. I can’t make it easier for him. And so they remain where they are.

How do people do this? How do the children trade roles with the parents without damaging relationships and diminishing self-esteem? It’s so clear to me that my parents can’t manage things on their own. We, their kids, try to do what we can. We cook. We clean house and do laundry. We mow lawn and shovel snow. We take Dad to appointments when Mom is too weak to leave the house. We take Mom to appointments when she is too sick to take herself. We pick up groceries and necessities and call to check on them. We rearrange work schedules and take time off when necessary. But it’s a challenge at times. We all work full time. Some of us have young families and hectic schedules. One brother has the added burden of having gone back to school.

Dad made a doctor appointment for himself yesterday. Mom was still in the hospital and no one was sure when she’d be released. I’m pretty sure Dad scheduled the appointment before checking with anyone to see when someone might be able to take him. Sometimes he calls and needs someone to come “right now.” The doctor appointment worked out in the end, but not before three of us kids scrambled to figure out who could make room in their schedules to make the 4:15 appointment.

I’m not complaining. I want to help, but we have to figure out how to do this better. I live the closest and my kids are grown. My sister works from home and has the benefit of a flexible work schedule. We are called upon most often to help. And we are happy to do so, but it is often a challenge. Something needs to change, but the thought of our parents aging, the thought of their diminishing health is scary. I’ve tried to organize a family discussion but it dissolved into a major rift between the siblings. We don’t all share the same level of worry. Some think that others are overreacting about the severity of the situation. We don’t always each understand one another’s viewpoints and it causes such discord at times.

Mom was released from the hospital yesterday and for now, things have settled down. My sister will go over today to take care of things. I’ll take a turn tomorrow, maybe cook some meals to put in the freezer so they don’t have to worry about cooking.

This stage of life is icky and scary. I have constant feelings of worry and constant feelings of guilt over not doing enough. I am often the one who takes Mom to the emergency room and this time, I heard such worry in her words. I sense that she doesn’t want to ask someone else to make decisions, but that if her kids stepped in and took charge, she might be relieved. At the very least, my parents need some in-home assistance. Soon – they need to get out of that house with all of the stairs and the big yard with the steep hill. I’m not sure all of my siblings would agree, but I was in that room in the ER with my mom. She is scared. She needs relief.

At least I know we’re not alone in this situation. I talk to so many of my friends of the same age. They are experiencing similar things with their parents. Mark’s family is battling the same problems. His dad’s health is going downhill quickly.

God, life is hard sometimes.

Inside the IT guy’s head

Big things are happening at the office! We’ve been working our butts off and we’ve finally completed the first phase of our project. We’ve been holed up in a conference room for months now, three of us. Sometimes the other few members of the team come in and touch base, but mostly we three create tests and run files and study the results. We document what needs fixing and the IT guys fix it. Then we do it all over again. I really have never worked so hard in my life and for the most part, I love it.

Much of the time, if you were to walk by and peek in, you’d see our heads bowed over our documents as we stare at Excel spreadsheets. Sometimes there is conversation. Sometimes we are so deep in our own thoughts and it is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Recently, the IT guys have joined us in the conference room. As our phase one deadline approached, we could be more efficient if we could just verbalize problems and the IT guys could fix it on the spot.

The IT guys are a little… different. Yes, I know IT guys tend to have a reputation for being slightly off. Our guys do voices. It cracks me up. They make up nicknames for various reports and sing them into songs. They walk around in their socks. One of them drinks gallons of Diet Coke every day. He’s not to be messed with before noon, but after he’s had his fill of caffeine, he’s happy as a clam. That’s when I ask him to fix things for me and I’m most likely to get the desired result.

I had a conversation with Dale today. I had evaluated some online stuff and found things that weren’t working right. I needed to show him what wasn’t working so he could fix it. I pointed to a particular report.

“See these records,” I asked? “Everything displays except for the names. Why aren’t the names showing up?”

Dale spoke out loud as he took notes, “Names are being shy. Help them come out of their shells.”

I laughed, then leaned over to peek at his notes.

“You actually wrote that,” I exclaimed.

“Hell yeah,” Dale said! “The report’s a party! We gotta make sure everyone has fun there!”

Mmmm-kay…

Later, we were back to having our heads down and buried deep in our own thoughts. Dale left the room for a few minutes. When he returned, he slid back into his chair and broke the silence.

“You know how Spiderman shoots a web from his wrist?”

Joe and I both looked up.

“Yeah,” we both replied.

“Why do you think he doesn’t make better use of that? I mean, he could just sit in his chair and shoot the web across the table to grab a pen and pull it back to himself. Why would he ever get up to go get something? Do you think he’s just being lazy by not using the web more?”

“Hmmm,” I responded. “You’re right. If he wanted a beer, he could shoot a web over to the fridge and pull it open. Then he could shoot another one to grab his beer!”

“See,” Dale asked? “You get it.”

He seemed really excited that I’d caught on to his theory so easily.

“Yeah, but maybe he’s being green,” I said. “If he shoots the web all the time, that’s a lot of web to have to pick up.”

“Not an issue,” Dale replied. “The web dissolves in like an hour.”

Who knows these things?

“Okay, then maybe he’s being health conscious,” I argued. “If Spidey sits around all the time and brings everything to himself with his web shooter, he’d never have to get out of his chair. He’d get fat.”

“Nah,” Dale disputed. “He came around in like the seventies. They weren’t health conscious back then.”

Suddenly I stopped and looked at Dale. “I can’t believe I’m actively participating in this conversation!”

Joe smiled, amused. He’d been smart enough to keep any opinions he may have had about Spiderman to himself.

“You should work with us more often,” I told Dale. “You crack me up, making me contemplate things like the Spidey web.”

Dale just smiled. I couldn’t tell if he was really being funny, or if he seriously contemplates things like this in his head on a regular basis. Didn’t really matter to me anyway. I realized that Dale was probably some of the best stress relief I’d seen in weeks.

I wonder what we’ll debate tomorrow? World peace? Why fun-size candy bars shouldn’t be cut with a knife and eaten in smaller portions? (Actually, we already had that conversation.) Anyway, I’m fascinated with the strange way his mind works. I just hope it doesn’t rub off on me too much.

Blizzard!

It snowed all day long on Saturday. Twenty inches of snow fell in our area! It’s been a very long time since we got that much snow all at once. All day long, I kept looking out the windows in awe of the power of a snow storm.

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