Life Hacks

The other day I was thinking about how helpful it could be to share the everyday shortcuts that I use. I’m all ears to hear about what other people do to make their household run smoothly. My “hacks” aren’t just for moms, or women for that matter. Anyone can benefit from the laundry idea! I’m sure there are more things that I do that are considered a shortcut- but these stood out to me as hacks that I use on a daily basis.

We have a large family, and keeping up with laundry was a pain. Getting behind was never a problem for us, because I’m a stickler for cleaning often! However, I was on the lookout for ways to make it easier. Enter the Daily Laundry Hamper- it gets filled and emptied EVERY day. Everyone in the family (ok, usually kids but sometimes James and I will use it as well) takes off their dirty clothes at the end of the day and tosses them in the hamper. We keep it in the laundry room right in front of the machines. I am usually the one who empties the hamper into the machine. After they have been dried, we fold them, and put each person’s on a step. They get carried up to the bedrooms when each person goes to bed. That’s it! Daily laundry, all mixed together, done once a day rather than doing each person separately once or twice a week. For us, this works!

t-3 Our family hamper for daily laundry.

The bane of our existence as parents is socks. My husband and I hate asking “where are your socks?” ninety-two times a day. Each child has 2 feet, and yet I always find one sock at a time- always. How do you take off one sock at a time? EVERY time? and they are usually thrown in two opposite corners of the house. It seems to me that this would like way more effort than putting the socks together in the same place, you know? They multiply- like fungi- on every surface of our home and yard!! haha. My husband reached a breaking point where he had HAD IT with the socks getting lost, and being all over the house. His solution was to get a zippered laundry bag off of Amazon.

This purchase was life changing for us! When everyone disrobes and takes off their dirty clothes, they put the socks in the hamper as well. After clothes are washed, the socks do NOT go to bedrooms or closets; they stay in the laundry room. When people are getting dressed, they go to the sock bag and grab a pair when they are downstairs and about to walk out the door. This was supposed to completely solve the sock problem- it did not. However, it is a vast improvement! Do the socks always match? No. Are they the wrong size, i.e. a big sock for a preschooler, sometimes. The kids are responsible for putting their socks into the hamper, and then dumping them back into the sock bag- clean. Somehow, a magical sock troll eats one from time to time so we wind up with an odd number. So, all of my kids share socks. No one has their own drawer or bucket in their room, because it was a waste of time (to me) to track down each person’s socks, keep them clean and together, and in separate closets. We share! A lot easier. Proviso- Lana has a few of her own that I keep in my room. She also wears some out of the laundry room grab bag!

 

After socks, the second worst part of our day consisted of the great shoe hunt. Oftentimes, the shoes outsmarted us and remained unseen, neatly tucked away under the dining room table, behind a chair in the basement, or beside the toilet in the powder room. It used to drive me nuts when my husband and kids would take their shoes off right inside the front door when we lived up north. The house was small, and the front door opened right into the living room. I was always carrying them to the tiny mudroom off of the backdoor. This way, we had more room and we weren’t tripping on the every time we opened the door. I understand how their way is easier- the shoes come off of your feet, and you don’t track dirt or germs around the house. They are right where you need them as you are leaving the house. When we chose the house we live in now, one of my favorite features were the shoe cubbies! The “lockers” reminded me of something I would have spotted on Pinterest. We have 4, and I wish we had more! I love the lockers.  If you are able to build some, or are looking to buy a house- I highly recommend these! They have been a game changer for us. It’s easier to be organized, keep the floors clean, and find the shoes when you are getting ready to leave.  I also bought straw baskets from IKEA to keep random sports paraphernalia in, and cold weather gear: baseball hats, baseball gloves, scarves, hats, mittens, and umbrellas.

 

Several years ago, I developed a femoral hernia that caused very sharp pain when I walked up and down stairs. During the pregnancies especially, I tried to avoid any activity that could make the pain worse. It was really tough for me to run upstairs and grab clothes for the kids. If they spilled something, or needed pajamas- I would have to have help. Now they are a lot more independent and my hernia got fixed (lol) but we still get pressed for time. It took me a few years to figure this out, but boy am I glad I did! The next life hack that helps our days run smoothly is having a place for clothes in the kitchen! That sounds a little odd. It started out as something to help me, because walking, in general, was difficult. Now, it’s a time saver and a way to help the kids be more independent. They can pick out their own pajamas by the age of 3, help put laundry away by the age of 3, and change clothes without a big hassle. We keep a lot of underwear, t-shirts, play-out-side-get-muddy shorts, and pajamas in a little storage area in our kitchen.

 

On the rare occasion that we forgot to make lunches the night before, we found ourselves running around like chickens with our heads cut off, throwing anything we could find into a lunch box. The kids wouldn’t have a thermos or anything to drink and forget about a napkin! Preparing lunches ahead of time is a MUST for us. We shop in bulk for healthy, quick snacks that the kids can use to make their own lunch, and my husband and I set up an assembly line to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches en masse, ahead of time. We stock the freezer with the pb&j, and for nut-free places, I keep pigs in a blanket in the freezer too.  Keeping the freezer well stocked helps with making lunches ahead really easy and uncomplicated. However you choose to make meals, I am a firm believer in doing it the night before- not the morning of an event!

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I cannot get going in the morning without coffee. Have you seem those memes about people who can’t walk/walk/make any decisions before they’ve had their coffee? That’s me. I used to tease my husband about using a French press, because I thought it looked a little fussy and high maintenance. Then…I tried it a few times. I made my own cold brew and I changed forever! I am obsessed with cold brew. And chocolate. The two things are a marriage of my favorite substances on Earth- coffee and chocolate. Cheesecake is a close third. I pre-make my coffee ahead of time so that in the morning, all I have to do is pour and go- no brewing. My tastes may change in the cooler weather, but I have been drinking iced coffee for a while now and that’s my favorite. I use a creamer with cacao in it, coconut oil, and a super food blend with a lot of vitamins. It’s not from a direct sales company- just something that I read about, and ordered online here.  If you are a stickler for eating clean, it fits the bill. If you want more superfoods with dense nutritional value, this is a winner. It tastes ah-mazing!

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My husband keeps track of a google calendar that integrates which shift he’s working at the hospital, with sports practices and games, with my doctor appointments, with everyday life commitments. I have that icon on my phone so that I can see when he’s working at any time. Personally, I still need to have something in front of me- a tangible calendar. I use Erin Condren’s life planners, because once you’ve tried it, nothing else will do!  She says that you are 42% more likely to reach your goals if you write them down! I’m kinda nerdy when it comes to organization, so I get a wide variety of colored pens to write in my calendar. Each planner is highly customizable. I am able to do meal planning, write down every practice for sports, long term goals, well-visits for the kids 9 months out, and a whole lot of other things! I have stickers to mark birthdays and special events also. A great day planner is invaluable. I keep it in the kitchen- where I can see it when I’m cooking, drinking coffee, unpacking/packing the kids’ bookbags, and watching the news in the evenings.

 

Before I leave the house I put on a little make-up. Like a LITTLE little. I have to take my kids to preschool in the mornings, sports events and church on the weekends. For weekends, doing something social or going on a date with James, I’ll spruce myself up even more. Since most of my social contact revolves around the kids at school or sports, I don’t need to look like I’m competing in Miss America. I would, however, like to cover up under eye circles, brighten my complexion (I can get pretty pale when not in the sun), and put some color on my lips. I look healthier and feel more confident when I make a small effort to look pulled together. My go-to for all of the above is Maskcara. It’s quick, doesn’t look heavy and product can be used for multiple purposes. For instance, I take the cream blush and it looks great and lasts as lipstick, I can use the illuminator on my eyes as well, to brighten them up! The contour color gives my face more dimension and cheekbones more definition! I am known for having very round cheeks- which is really cute when you are 5 years old, a little less so when you are 37.

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Each one of these hacks helps make my life easier. I can go from one activity to the next with less stress, more planning, more intention, and saving money. We don’t lose as many socks and shoes, I buy fewer groceries when I can meal plan and stick to it, I only use a little bit of make-up and I love it, I don’t brew more coffee than I can drink before it tastes stale or bitter, and my children can more self-sufficient because I’ve given them the tools to do things at their level. The laundry, the bookbags, purses, socks- everything is easier to keep up with, keep organized and I don’t feel overwhelmed as often. Of course life gets to me and I feel like I’m drowning from time to time! Doesn’t everyone know that feeling? Coming up with hacks definitely helps me feel more put together.

August 31- A Day to Celebrate Life

Today is the 2 year anniversary of my hernia surgery. I had been suffering from a right, femoral hernia for about two years and I kept thinking the pain would go away. The summer before my surgery, the pain got so bad that I had to use my grandmother’s old walkers to get around. I was READY to have the surgery. It was supposed to be no big deal, laparoscopic, the surgeon had done “hundreds of them.” Overall, my health was good, I was young, it was an uncomplicated procedure done by an experienced physician. I really didn’t think that much could go wrong. If anything, I figured a problem with anesthesia could be the only complication. As it happens, the anesthesia went very well. However, the moment I opened my eyes in the recovery room, I knew that something was wrong.

surgery Me, right before they wheeled me back 8-31-2016
Unfortunately, the searing, burning pain and the shocks of what felt like lightening through my core, are very much imprinted in my memory. I asked the nurse immediately to please call my doctor, something was WRONG. Hazily, I saw her make the phone call, shake her head, and hang up. She returned to my bedside and said that the doc wouldn’t be coming. I should take my Percocet and motrin and go home.

It’s a LONG ordeal to describe, so I’ll hit the highlights. I had urgent follow-up appointments, ct scans, drainage of a hematoma that they thought might be causing a problem (it wasn’t), in and out of the ER, admitted to the hospital multiple times, more procedures, work ups, etc. My surgeon said that my insurance wouldn’t cover anything in terms of a revision for at least 6 months. He couldn’t fix anything that went wrong, for half a year. He told me to go find my own pain specialist until the 6 month mark. That was it. I was curled in a ball, in the bed all day every day. Intermittent fever, couldn’t walk without crutches because of the pain, sit in a chair, go to the bathroom, or sleep. I knew I couldn’t make it 6 months.

Finally, I called the surgeon’s office and explained that something HAD to happen, he had to see me, DO something- I couldn’t live like that. They called me back and oh so benevolently, admitted me to the hospital- without decent orders for over the weekend. I lay in the bed, in a ball, shaking from pain. I had a fever. One young nurse cried and left the room- she wouldn’t take care of me any more because she couldn’t hold it together. An older male nurse came and stood by my side- I was in a haze, but at some point he stormed out saying “this just isn’t right!”. There was nothing that they could do to alleviate my pain- my physician was gone for the weekend and hadn’t left instructions for adequate care. They weren’t able to get an IV in, because I was so dehydrated from being denied water for so long. James was working, and I retreated into a bubble, mentally. I prayed over and over, nothing intelligible, just begging for mercy. Then, I heard voices- a song.

“Thank you for being a frieeeend!! Travel down the road and back again…”

Golden Girls

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Click the link to hear the song! You’re welcome.

My dear, wonderful friends from high school completely shocked me and all came to the hospital (one lived in New York, one in Miami, one in Atlanta) for a surprise visit. They were singing the theme song from the Golden Girls as they entered the room. My angels had arrived! They went to bat for me and very long story short-they got a wheelchair and busted me out of there like it was Alcatraz! One of them drove me to the hospital where James was on call and I was admitted there for the weekend, with the intention of getting a direct transfer to Emory on Monday. They took great care of me, and it took until Tuesday, but I made it up to Emory. I sat in a triage room for 13 hours. THIRTEEN. That’s not an exaggeration. My mom came up to meet me there, and I remember the immense relief we both felt when they finally got me to my room, at 4am.

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Me, in the wheelchair right after we got outside the hospital. I managed a real smile. Hard not to when surrounded by so much love. They were my answered prayer that day!

My prayers were answered when my dear, loyal friends came and helped me. I prayed that there would be no complications getting me admitted, and although it took FOREVER, I will never forget the feeling of relief when I fell asleep that first night. I was scared, but I felt like I was in the right place. Surely, they could fix me.

The rest of the story is to be continued… Sometimes, people have the privilege of hearing God answer their prayers in the moment and other times, it’s only evident what was happening in hindsight. Still in others, it doesn’t make sense at all on this side of Heaven. I can honestly say that all three have applied to me throughout this journey.

Today also happens to be the Feast of St. Aidan! August 31st was a day worth celebrating in our home, for the past decade. St. Aidan is the patron saint of firefighters, and my oldest son’s name means “fiery one.” It could not describe him more perfectly. St. Aidan was an Irish monk and missionary, who spread Christianity to all of northern England in the 7th century. He travelled without ceasing during his lifetime, spreading the Gospel to everyone from the upper classes, to children and slaves.

aidan  Recent pic of Aidan

We like to acknowledge and honor each one of the children’s saints- whether from their first name, middle, or birthday. It’s so sweet how each of them feels a kinship with these special souls throughout history, who loved our Lord. We tell stories about St. Rose of Lima, and St. Matthew the Apostle. Not gonna lie- St. Nicholas day might be everyone’s favorite because we do the traditional gifts, which include the all-important chocolate!!!

Earlier in the week, Aidan asked me what we were going to do for “our” special day. August 31 will always be significant to me. Best way I can think to describe it is, it’s a second birthday. The new “me” was born that day. My life changed, drastically, and I will never be the same. I’ve told friends and strangers alike that I feel like George Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve been given a second chance to live my life- that seemed ordinary before, but now, everything is in Technicolor. EVERYTHING is brighter, sweeter, a privilege. I was driving to the grocery store with the kids in the car, and I had a migraine the other day. I thought “oh, I wish it would go away, I want to feel fine.” Then it hit me- I’m driving a car! Taking care of my own children with no help! Going to the grocery store to buy food to cook! I didn’t do ANY of those things for well over a year. Over. A. Year. I’m lucky enough to grocery shop with a migraine! All of a sudden, my mood lifted and I started to sing along with the radio with true joy.

 

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A picture of my high school friends in April 2018, Savannah girls!

My “bad” day was what I had only dreamed about a year ago. What a blessing a grocery trip can be. Cleaning up a spilled sippy cup isn’t a burden because my legs used to be so weak I couldn’t squat and then stand back up. I couldn’t hold my daughter in the bathtub, couldn’t rock her to sleep. Now, if she pops up at 2am, I relish the chance to hold her close and rock away. Yes, August 31 is a big day for us. My oldest son’s namesake, and my second birthday. It IS a wonderful life!

Meal time + a Recipe

I know that meal time can be a challenge for families- nowadays, so many people have food allergies and intolerances, as well as the usual picky eating that is common to children. We are incredibly blessed to not have to struggle with food allergies in our home. As for picky eating- I’d say I “lucked out” in that department as well, but it really isn’t luck, it’s our approach as parents to food.

My first child loved food so much, it was actually a hindrance to our lives. I tried to take him to story time at the library once- only once! Another mom opened a cheese snack for her child, across the room from us. That was it. He saw it and started yelling. No one could eat in his presence unless he had food as well. Restaurants? Oh dear- awful. Any time a waiter walked by with food for someone else, he took it personally. Needless to say, we didn’t go to restaurants for a couple of years. Aidan ate anything- still does.

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Right after he ate a LOT of blue icing at a bday party, 2011

Second child came along, and low and behold- was very similar! She wasn’t picky, and we would serve her a wide variety of foods. I made their baby food, and we introduced different spices and textures when they were teeny. I know that this isn’t really common- to have two “good” eaters, who will try Thai food, sushi, veggies, etc. and not complain. My third child wasn’t quite as voracious an eater as the other two! He actually turned down some dishes but for the most part, he wasn’t overly picky.

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Pic of baby #2, bless her heart, those cheeks! She wasn’t hungry, EVER.

During my health struggles, I was bedridden and I couldn’t cook a meal for over a year. I don’t think I made a meal for almost 18 months. Wow. We were the recipients of so much love and charity- it was hard to accept, but it was completely necessary. In hindsight, I can see how much this helped our family in ways I didn’t realize at the time. Food isn’t just something yummy or social, it’s necessary for life itself. I think most people in first world countries, who don’t know what true HUNGER is, take it for granted, just a little bit. We have the privilege of being picky and choosing what we feel like eating. What an incredible thing. I’d have to guess, that a majority of the world’s population doesn’t have the luxury of being very picky. They know what real hunger feels like, and they view food as a precious commodity necessary for life.

As a family, we learned that you don’t have to love every food put in front of you, but you do need to be grateful for it. People from our church, homeschool community, friends, neighbors, and family all took the time, money and effort to help provide for us. What an amazing blessing- THAT is what I want my kids to remember at the dinner table. The full plate in front of them is a blessing. I am not going to get in a fight at the table about them not wanting to eat a certain vegetable on any given day. Fine, not a big deal. I am not advocating this philosophy for everyone, and I know that some children can’t stand certain textures or flavors. Maybe the parents fix two or three different meals to appease people. I will never judge how anyone else chooses to make things run smoothly in their home- I’m not in your shoes!

Here, we don’t fix two meals. There’s one thing that’s served for everyone. Sometimes, everyone likes it, but usually, they don’t! There are some common dishes that I really don’t like- I won’t mention them, because they are served all of the time by my friends! I will smile, say “thank you” and really mean it, and then I will take a bite. I don’t feel like arguing over food with my family on a daily basis here. Gratitude is a huge part of the meal- are we really grateful for what is in front of us? Do we realize what a blessing it is, to know where our next meal is coming from?

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Eli helping in the kitchen. This kid will leave a biscuit behind, and just eat the meat! Doesn’t take after his mom, who loves carbs:)

I can’t force my kids to like certain foods, and I don’t try. I don’t need for them to like everything! I hope and pray that they are thankful for food, and that we are all mindful of how much disparity there is in the world. Be grateful, say the blessing and mean it, and if you don’t like a certain food- that’s ok! It’s really not worth arguing over.

I have a few recipes that everyone loves, that I will share. It’s rare to find something that EVERYONE will like, equally. Our all-time favorite is called “sludge.” I’m not joking! It looks like sludge, I mean, it really is the ugliest meal ever. However, once you get past that, it tastes amazing!

Oh- one little thing: I am not the greatest person at following a recipe exactly. I’m more the “a dash of this” and “handful of that,” pour liquid in until it “looks ok.” I’ll write down exact quantities, but feel free to alter things!

  • Sludge- aka Sausage and Lentil Slow Cooker Supper
    Two pounds of fresh sausage (like Jimmy Dean, in a roll)
    1 cup brown rice
    1 cup lentils
    Italian spices
    6-ish cups of beef broth
    1 ½ cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
    White wine optional- splash, for taste

Brown the sausage and drain the grease. Put the sausage in the slow cooker. Pour the lentils and rice in. I start with 4 cups of broth. Add the Italian seasoning. Turn the cooker on “low heat” for 8 hours. I check back in a couple of hours and add more liquid as needed. About 30 minutes before you want to eat, add the cheese and stir. If there’s too much liquid at the end, leave the top off of the slow cooker. Not enough, add more! Stir occasionally.

You can serve with bread, salad, raw veggies, fruit- whatever you like. It’s a one-pot/bowl meal, and clean up is easy. It looks like brown goo when it’s done, but it smells amazing! Enjoy😊

My Middle Child

I have had 6 pregnancies and 6 children. This one was the easiest- well, the only easy one and it was a foreshadowing of things to come. My third child, Matthew came into the world on my parent’s wedding anniversary, a couple of days before Thanksgiving. It was cold, and we lived in the Philadelphia area. I remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning, my first one back home with him, and experiencing a feeling of such complete happiness and joy, I’m not sure I could ever top that!  Matthew is our third child and second boy, and he has broken the mold. His personality, temperament, and attitude are unique and special, only to him. He has traits that I wish I had, and I hope to be more like him when I grow up!

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First day of school this year, I was able to drive and take him by myself (a big deal for me!) 2018, 1st grade

He was my smallest baby at 6 lb 14 oz, and he was born the earliest as well, at 37 weeks. As a baby, he never cried. He would make a noise when he was hungry or tired, but he didn’t fuss. I didn’t know that was possible! He sat rear-facing in his car seat for three giant road trips, two down the east coast, and one halfway across the country. He didn’t cry once. When he cried for three days, after we moved to Detroit for a year, I actually called the hospital! Ha- I’m sure they thought I was crazy for calling to see if we could come in because he was yelling. Before we loaded the car to go, I noticed a rash had popped up on his hands. He had hand-foot-and-mouth disease- and that was the only time he really fussed as a baby!

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Aidan and Rose holding him, his first day home.

In a house full of loud personalities, he’s the quiet one. He’s not shy, he’s just not loud. He doesn’t demand attention- ever. He taught himself to ride a bike on his first try, and he swam across the pool by himself, without anyone teaching him. He can play with a pinecone or a paper cup for hours and be completely entertained. If I could describe his personality in one word, it would be “content.” I think that a lot of adults have to strive for contentment. Being at peace in one’s surroundings isn’t a natural tendency- at least, in my 37 years of observation. Matthew is totally at peace, wherever he is. He’s not always hoping for the next best thing, asking about what’s for dinner at the breakfast table (like every other person in this house!) or coveting every toy that other children have around him.
On Mother’s Day this year, they made me cards and we had a lovely day. That evening at dinner, I thanked the children for a wonderful Mother’s Day and he looked shocked. “TODAY is Mother’s Day?!” It hadn’t registered all day! Another time, he asked when my husband was getting home from work- James was sitting next to him at the dinner table! He has a wonderful ability to block out noise and distractions and totally focus on something. I will call his name for 10 minutes, not hear a peep, and find out that he is 3 feet from me, under some pillows, concentrating on a bug crawling.
Matthew gets along with everyone. He was in kindergarten this year, and during one of his class parties, his teacher told me that he was very smart- he liked to call out the answer to all of her questions. I was pretty shocked, embarrassing for me, because I didn’t realize he could read. He never brought me books, or read out loud like the other children. When I read to him, he sits quietly. He knew the words all along, he just didn’t mention that to me.
My oldest son, Aidan, is a sports nut and he forced Matthew to be his baseball/dodgeball/golf/tennis/football/soccer/any-ball game buddy. Matthew did t-ball for the first time last year since he had learned to love it from playing so much at home. His team lost like 35-0, and after the game he came up to me and asked sweetly if they had won. He truly didn’t care either way- he just loved the game itself. He isn’t competitive in the sense that he likes to “beat” other people in anything. He really enjoys playing games, sports, tag, etc. but just for the sake of the game, for fun. He is a good sport about losing, which is something that we didn’t have to teach him- it just came naturally. See, again, he has traits that I envy! His contentment with life is so beautiful to me.

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On a date with mom and dad, before school started. This 40lb kid ate the entire $10 milkshake! He didn’t get my metabolism.

I love predicting where I think the kids will end up in 20 years. James and I talk about that, and I joke around with the kids as well. Matthew- my prediction is that he will either be like Matthew McConaughy’s character in Dazed and Confused “all right, all right, all right”, or he will be a hermit/monk who takes a vow of silence and lives in a cave with no earthly possessions, and he’s the happiest person that we know. Either way, his laid back nature will continue and he will always be every sibling’s best friend. I wish I could write down every Matthew story that I know, and preserve them forever. He’s hilarious, gentle, non-conforming, peaceful, his laughter sounds like bells ringing, and his faith runs deep. His name means “gift from God” and it is perfect for him. Thank you sweet Matthew, for being so resilient when I was lacking as a mother, and for being so forgiving. You are a gem my dear.

Fixed the Computer!

 

 

I’ve had so many stories, thoughts and experiences that I wanted to share, but our laptop was on the fritz. I’ve tried to get the kids to be more tech savvy and losing Google Chrome was the result of them having more computer time! I have no idea where it went, or why it doesn’t work anymore. I’ll figure that out later! I wrote something a while back, in the midst of a season of change. I’m still in that season. I feel like, for two years, I’ve been redefining who I am and what my role is every single day. I’m trying to find my footing so to speak, and it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. Trials change you. You can’t walk through fire without getting burned, and I did. Badly. But the wounds healed slllooooowly. Veeeeeery slowly. The change was imperceptible from day to day. The only time I realized it was when I looked back. Where was I a few months ago? Where am I now? It wasn’t a giant boom, I didn’t wake up one day and shout “I’m healed!” What a cool story that would have been, right? No, it was gradual, and it’s still happening. I’m a work in progress.

This is what I wrote back in May:

IMG_1091      A lot has happened around here over the last few months! I keep telling myself I will write when I feel better and have the spare time. I’ve been putting off making phone calls to make vacation plans for the summer, and procrastinating about seeing a doctor whom I like a great deal- but I want to feel even better when he sees me again. Sometimes I have a very good reason for putting off plans or items on a to-do list, but frequently it’s an overall attitude of “when my life is perfect, then I will do it!” (whatever “it” is). I think that part of that mindset stems from fear- fear that has been so deeply imbedded in my soul for so long, it’s hard to break free from it completely. I always hold back some- will I get too tired? Will I make pain worse? Will I commit to something and then disappoint loved ones? The past two years have been traumatic for me, and I can’t deny that they have left an indelible mark in my mind. How will I choose to use this experience? These memories?
The past few months have been a leap of faith for me, and a process of letting go of fear even more. I had been on nerve pain medication (Lyrica or Neurontin) as well as pain medication (fentanyl, oxycodone, etc.) for a year and a half. I tried over half a dozen other medications as well, and suffered through every awful side effect that came in tiny print, in the little booklet from the pharmacist. My body lost all muscle, appetite, I lost a third of my body weight, and my hair thinned a lot. I always knew that the medications were temporary, and I was very hard on myself for taking anything for pain. I carried a lot of guilt over that. My dear friend Kathleen told me at the beginning, “Amy, you can worry about pain, or medication. Pick one, not both.” So, I picked pain and took the meds that my kind, conservative pain management doctor said would help.
The timeline to come off of everything was all my idea. Once we FINALLY found the right combo of interventional procedures like nerve blocks and injections, I was SO ready to be done with the meds that had allowed me to have some sanity in the midst of great pain. I cannot put into words just how awful that part has been! Fentanyl withdrawal is a special kind of torture. That was last year. The past three months I stopped the last of the nerve pain meds and oral pain medication. I even stopped motrin, because of nausea all of the time. I still had chronic pain every day when I stopped taking meds, so I think of it as a leap of faith- faith that everything would be ok, and I would be strong enough to handle life with some pain. After the first two months passed, my nervous system calmed down a lot. There’s a long, technical explanation for that, that I understand, but I won’t explain fully, since it might bore everyone!
I finally have an appetite! I would literally lie in my bed, curled in a ball, and think of all of the foods that I would eat one day, when the nausea was gone. Krispy Kreme topped the list- every time! I did research, James did, my parents did- everyone was so supportive about this next phase of trying to get my overall health back. Not gonna lie- it’s been brutal. B-R-U-T-A-L. I read that the hardest part of stopping any substance that the body is used to, is the mental battle. People use the substance as a crutch of some sort. I know how blessed I am to say that I never had that battle. At all. I have experienced every physical symptom of tolerance and withdrawal, but zero mental symptoms. I give God 100% of the credit there. Everyone has struggles in life, and I don’t think that I am better than anyone who did have to struggle with addiction.
While I am SO glad that this particular struggle is behind me, I am grateful to have gone through it. Yes, I actually said that. I have a deeper understanding of people who have addictions, and who are afraid to live their lives without a crutch. I am less judgmental- I never realized that I was before! Oh, my heart goes out to people who have to suffer through the physical symptoms that I did, AND fight a mental battle as well. If I could wrap my arms around someone suffering right now, I would do it. One of my favorite docs told me that I didn’t have the cravings or miss the meds because I didn’t let them become part of my identity. They, along with many, many interventional procedures, were a means to an end and not who I am.
Every day, I have some symptom- something that reminds me that I’m not perfectly well. Like the thorn in Paul’s side, it’s always there. I put off doing a lot of things for the past few months, because at first, I was dealing with withdrawal and increased pain while my nerves adjusted. Then, I felt weak because I hadn’t eaten well or exercised for years. Yep, that would sideline just about anyone. Daily, I started to obsess over small improvements and mark my existence and my success by how my body felt or looked. I realized last week (yeah, it took me that long!) that I had made physical well-being an “idol” in my life. I don’t think that wanting to feel healthy and strong is bad, not at all. However, obsessing over it and thinking that life will “begin” when everything is perfect- that is wrong. I failed to appreciate the progress I had made, because I was always looking on the horizon for something better. Anything can become an idol, and frequently, it’s something that appears to be good and just. Who doesn’t want to feel good? Ok, another question- who has perfect health? Hmm… Silence.
No one has perfect health, and I’m not sure why I kept thinking that it was an attainable goal. These mortal bodies are just that- fallible, fragile, and will not last forever. If I set my sights on things above, our Lord’s steadfast love, and I search for contentment in my soul, then anything that comes my way in life won’t knock me down. Like a strong wave crashing onto the beach- did you ever walk out into the surf at the beach as a child, and let the waves hit you? Sometimes they can knock you down, but usually, if you know just when to jump, they break and you are still standing. When you are lying in bed at night, after a day at the beach, sometimes you still have the sensation of waves hitting you…but you are snug in bed, and not being rocked by the ocean anymore. The waves have left their mark.

 

 


I looked at James the other day and told him I was just going to embrace whatever came my way- good or bad, but I didn’t want to wait anymore to enjoy things. I can lie beside little Lana and admire her profile and her little dimpled cheeks, even if I’m dizzy or tired. I can laugh, hard, even if I’m sore. You’ve heard the phrase “progress over perfection”? I lost sight of that. I am incredibly grateful for the progress that I have made. I will focus on that, and I’m not going to wait to celebrate anything.

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First swim meet of the 2018 season, on my 37th birthday. I was able to attend the whole thing!

Introductions are in order

My amazing daughter Rose deserves her own post and introduction. I picked her name way before I was even married- and I have a twenty-five year old diary entry to prove it! It was the most beautiful name I could think of for a little girl. Her first name is Carolyn, after my grandmother. I had the honor of meeting all of my grandparents, but being close with only one of them. My other grandparents passed away when I was a little child, but my paternal grandmother, Carolyn, was a big part of my life. Carolyn Rose was the name, before she even existed:)

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My first-born child, Aidan, was a tough kiddo. He broke any mold I thought kids should fit in to. I felt inadequate and anxious as a mother, and I remember thinking, “oh my gosh, I don’t want him to be an only child, but I am terrible at this parenting thing!”  From the moment I found out that I was pregnant with Rose, I started praying that she would be different from Aidan. I pleaded, Lord, I can handle challenges, but can they please be different ones?? Ha. He delivered in spectacular fashion.

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Right before the pregnancy, I was working out and I pulled my back out. I never fully recovered and I didn’t want to take muscle relaxers or any medication that could affect the baby- so I lived with back pain for 9 months, in addition to unending morning sickness. By the end, I was so tired from not sleeping, I was too tired to eat. When I delivered her, I was the thinnest I had been in years (not a good thing!). She was an easy labor and delivery- opposite of my first. She came out, eating her hands. Literally. She was hungry from the first moment I met her! It was hilarious to us that night.

She was the polar opposite of her brother in every way. We used to joke and call her “Gilly” like from Saturday Night Live, the character that was so accident prone. Rose had a way of attracting extreme danger and not thinking anything of it. She would casually bring me steak knives and scissors, in case I needed them, while reading a book. She was devoid of all fear. When she learned to crawl she would go head first down the stairs over and over again- she never had a fear of heights or ledges. I always said “if the entire world went right, she would go left.” Rose was always unique- she picked her own clothes, and went through a phase when she wouldn’t leave the house without a cardigan and a necklace, at 2 years old. Who is this kid? Jackie O? She has always been SO sweet-natured, and patient. She is my opposite in so many ways. Where I try to create order and structure, she thrives in any situation- any. No boundaries? That’s ok. When we went to Disney World, I was afraid she would wander off with a stranger- she’s that friendly.

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There are two times that come to mind in particular, when Rose met new people. Once, she met a man who was physically deformed. I warned her ahead of time not to stare or ask him a lot of questions. My warnings were completely unnecessary. She walked right up to him, hugged him, and chatted him up like he was her oldest friend, never once breaking eye contact. His body was very broken, and different from anything she had ever seen, but she only saw his eyes, and his smile. The other time, she was going to meet an elderly woman with severe tremors and speech problems. Again, I gave the heads up- no staring. Rose ran to the woman and jumped on her lap! She wrapped her arms around her neck and asked a million questions. My other kids were present for both of these encounters, and they were polite, but they showed a little trepidation and uncertainty at how to handle themselves. Not my girl.

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When my health took a very sudden turn, we had to come up with a new plan for the kids for school this year. It was decided that Rose would start at the local public school, which is well liked and highly spoken of. I can honestly say, I was not nervous at all for her. I was more concerned that her teacher wouldn’t be able to contain her exuberance, outgoing personality, and her joie de vivre.  Rose would thrive anywhere, anytime. When her baby sister came home from the hospital, she was colicky for months. Rose would walk up to me and take her and say “I’ve got this!” in her mature, 6 year old way:) She would rock Lana, pace with her, and shush her for an hour or more, so I could collect my wits. I call her Saint Rose for her patience around here.

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Rose has so many qualities that I wish I had- fearlessness being one of them! She has a photographic memory- it’s unreal. It took us a while to realize that. She couldn’t hold still while we read to her- ever. Later, I realized she was an auditory learner, and she could recite, verbatim, exactly what I had read while she had been bouncing off of the walls.  She does a youth ministry group called Awana, and when she was in kindergarten, she finished memorizing all of the Bible verses in her book. They gave her extra verses, to finish out the year. By the end, she had an entire page, single spaced, to memorize. She was upset and so was I. That is a LOT of pressure to put on a kindergartener! I went in to speak with her leader and point out that I considered it unreasonable to give someone her age that much to memorize. She said that other children had done it, and I asked if any of them were Rose’s age. They were not. Rose went home, looked at that paper for a little while and then said the whole Scripture passage, perfectly, from memory.

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Her love of animals is what makes her tick. She wants to rescue all of them, from frogs that unfortunately fall into the filter at the pool, to worms in the backyard. Her favorite, by far, are dogs. She has memorized textbooks of breeds and knows EVERY trait of every dog I can name. She knows every dog in our neighborhood, their temperment, who they belong to, and their personality. Rose loves all of God’s creatures and is thisclose to becoming a vegetarian. I think her love of bacon is the last hold out! If this continues, her brothers predicted she will be the crazy cat lady with 52 cats and dogs, who feeds every stray animal in her neighborhood. Our dog, Gus, who we had since right after James and I got married, died last year. She took it the hardest and has been begging for a new puppy ever since. It’s just not the right time for us now, but that doesn’t slow her down- she still checks with me, daily.

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Sweet Rose is a night owl, who is my only child who will sleep in! Bless you for that. When she talks, it’s a mile a minute and she is very persuasive when she puts her mind to it. She sees things in shades of gray, she is definitely not as rigid as I am. Thank goodness for that! She has taught me more as a mother than I have taught her, I think. I see my own weaknesses and my tendency to want everything MY way. She sees the world differently than I do, and takes after my husband more. What a treasure you are my dear. She challenges me every day, and I am SO glad that we survived your toddlerhood- Gilly!

Child Most Likely To: Jump out of an airplane, join PETA, know everyone’s name on her college campus.

Hindsight is 20/20, or pretty close

Around here, we have a bit of a Star Wars obsession. It happened by accident. All of my kids had seen bits and pieces of the original trilogy, but it wasn’t until Eli the Wildman, my 3 year old, saw it, that a love was born. He was two and a half at the time. He saw Star Wars, A New Hope IV, and he LOVED it. His favorite character is Darth Vader, everyone else is just a distraction. Star Wars and its role in our daily lives deserves its own post! The rest of the children have seen the movies now, because of Eli. I was sitting with them one day recently, and they asked in their sweet childish wonder, “Momma, is the Dark Side stronger than the good side? Is it stronger than the light?” I think I stole the answer from Yoda, when I answered, “No, but it’s easier to follow.” Oh, how that simple statement affected me. I thought back, to a year ago, when I felt a pull to the “Dark Side.” Seems a little silly to make the analogy to Star Wars, but it makes sense, in a weird way!

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This time last year, I was in Michigan. I had confirmed nerve damage, and constant, burning pain in addition to decreased motor function of that nerve. A doctor in Royal Oak, Michigan was world-renowned for his use of neuromodulators in patients with chronic pelvic pain. Long story- very long story, but I ended up choosing to see him and try a new model of device. It did not have a box to be implanted, like every other neuromod on the market. After the mesh debacle, the idea of having a foreign object in my body, and having surgeons tunnel to attach leads to my spine, gave me a panic attack- literally. The new device did not involve tunneling and the leads were the size of a spaghetti noodle. The “box”, or controller, would be worn outside of my body on a belt, and the whole thing was wireless. It took James and I three days to drive up there, because I couldn’t ride in the car for too long without a lot of pain. I laid the seat back flat, and had ice packs covering me. I was on fentanyl, lyrica or gabapentin, and other meds to control the unceasing agony. I do not use that word lightly. It was agony.

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This was one last hug, before I left for the long trip.
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In the driveway, before we left.

James flew back home after my initial surgery to have the small leads placed, and my mom and Aunt Janet flew up to stay with me during the trial period. What should have been a few days, turned into a month. It coincided with Lent. We used the time the best we could, and read our daily offices out of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, read the Bible, said Hail Mary’s and I also read about the lives of saints. I have a diary from this time, and photos as well. It is so painful to remember- I could write for hours. Every day, I awoke, hoping that the device would work- I would be able to see SOME difference in the pain level. Instead, the pain was unchanged, and actually increased at times. I called the doctor and the device rep often to check in. I was completely honest in my review of the symptoms, but they kept telling me “it takes time to work.” I was determined to tough it out, certain that if I was brave enough and persevered, I would be rewarded in the end. Just give it time, Amy- again and again and again.

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Mom and Janet, during our daily reading time.

I was away from my children for a month. I missed my baby girl crawling, babbling little words, I missed ballgames, tears, laughing, dinners, hugs… I lived in a bubble, in our airbnb’s for a month. It cost a small fortune, and each day brought renewed hope, and then frustration at the end of it. We prayed for hours each day. Hours. I begged the Lord for guidance, not just healing, but wisdom to know what path to take. When you have a neuromodulator implanted, it is a trial period to begin with. Then, you have to decide if you want the final device- if you have seen at least 50% improvement. I knew I was one of the first people to receive it, what I did not know, was that I was the THIRD person, and the second woman… and that it hadn’t worked for the first woman. Wish that detail had been mentioned. All of my hope was riding on this working. I had already tried numerous treatments, and they all failed.

Through the haze of very heavy medication and pain, I was trying to discern the “why” in all of it. What was the reason for all of this? If I prayed enough, said the right things, would that equal the desired result? Was this suffering all for a lesson I needed to learn, and when I “got it”, the suffering would end? Guys, my head was foggy, fuzzy, and I had not had a “good” day, in 8 months. I was grasping for answers and a plan and for everything to make sense. I missed my children and husband for a month, but it was all going to be worth it because I grew in my faith, and came home healed. That was my plan. Every day, I sunk further and further down in mood because none of that was happening. I had more questions after praying so much, not fewer. The pain muddled any clear thoughts I had.

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Our former priest brought me communion during my stay.

The morning came for me to decide whether or not to get the final device. My mom and my aunt drove me to the hospital. I remember being in so much pain, I was curled in the fetal position on the floor of the waiting room- in a haze. The doctor called me back, and asked if I wanted to get the final device. He said, again, it just takes time. I blamed myself for being impatient- maybe it was my fault, I hadn’t waited long enough to see progress. I didn’t want the entire month to have been a waste of time and money, so I said, “yes.” The doctor, who I really liked (despite a difficult trial) suggested EMG testing on the nerve while I was under anesthesia. The pudendal nerve has sensory as well as motor function. He knew that the sensory part was stimulated at a certain level (Hertz, etc. on the device), but they hadn’t checked the motor part of the nerve. I had been running the device between 10-14 per the doctor’s instructions, for three weeks. When I woke up, he entered the room and explained that the EMG tests showed I should never have run the device over a level 1! I had overstimulated the nerve for weeks, and caused more pain. Just like I described, multiple times. The final lead was placed directly on the nerve, and I was assured that if I ran the device on the correct level, I would see pain relief. It was practically certain. Phew! I was so relieved- still in a haze of pain, but with renewed hope. My perseverance had paid off!

My mom and my aunt flew home, and James flew up. He drove me back down to GA, this time in only two days. When he arrived, I was afraid to tell him that I didn’t feel any relief yet, like I had been promised. Actually, I felt worse, again. The car ride home was tense because I was trying to act like I was better, but I could barely put a sentence together. James figured out that I was hiding a tremendous amount of pain, and to say that he was disappointed, is a vast understatement. I can’t imagine what went through his mind. He hadn’t seen the wife he knew and loved for way more than a month- I had become a different person. We had held out so much hope that the “old” me would return. He was noticeably angry and upset. Our drive into town coincided with the Wednesday of Holy Week. My children had created a 40 foot banner for my return! I thought I would be driving up to the house, triumphant, just in time for Easter. My own, personal, renewal and triumph. I had pictured this moment a thousand times. I hobbled out of the car, and gritted my teeth through hugs and some tears. The rest of that day is a blur. I was asked a hundred times how much better are you? Is it working? When can you do ___?

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My wonderful extended family, holding down the fort!

I awoke the next morning, Maundy Thursday, and called my doctor in Michigan. I told him not to count my experience as a success. It wasn’t working AT ALL, I had followed every instruction, perfectly, done everything they asked, and patience did not pay off. I was in more pain, and I had wasted a month of my life for nothing. He was alarmed and asked me to go get an x-ray, asap. Why? What’s the point now, I thought? James took me to an outpatient center that morning. By that evening we had the results- the lead the surgeon had placed on my nerve had migrated, immediately after the surgery. There’s only a 6% chance of that happening… so a 94% of success. I was in the 6%. I went to bed that night, feeling somewhat vindicated, but mostly hopeless. I awoke the morning of Good Friday 2017, feeling different than I ever have in my entire life.

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Wednesday of Holy Week 2017, right after I got out of the car.

The irony and importance of the date was not lost on me at all. In fact, I think that added to the pain. I had expected to return home- having beaten my circumstances, just in time for Easter. A rebirth! A new beginning, a new hope. Instead, I was more broken than ever. The morning of Good Friday, I felt pain the likes of which I have had never known before or since. It was a void in my soul. Physical pain, I knew well, but this new sensation was foreign to me. It was as if a limb had been amputated. I lost God- in my mind I had. I tried to speak to Him, and the words wouldn’t form in my mouth. I couldn’t feel God, at all. I can’t describe this adequately. I do not think that you need to physically “feel” connected to the Lord- like all warm and fuzzy all of the time. I knew that. But that day, I felt like I had lost my best friend, he had died and I would never see him again. I felt abandoned- an emptiness that was SO painful, it was actually worse than the physical agony. I had read that Mother Teresa also felt that way, for years. An absence. She pushed onward in her faith, but she described an absence of the Holy Spirit- or the perception of one, in her life. I was numb. James was numb. Exhausted. We had done everything “right” and nothing had gone according to plan.

If I had to pinpoint rock bottom, Good Friday 2017 would be it. There were many physically painful times, but that day, I felt pain in my soul. I literally had no idea what to do, how to go on living. Without God, what was the point? Oh, that day, that one day. I will never forget feeling so alone, while being surrounded by people who loved me. It would have been so easy to give in, to dwell in the darkness and wallow in self-pity at that point. The darkness was pulling me, I felt it. “Give up, He doesn’t care about you” was the voice I heard that day. I wanted to curse the Lord- full honesty here. I prayed and begged and went through SO much pain, for nothing??! I limped through Good Friday, and woke the next day, still lost. Easter morning, I woke up, and at first, I went through the motions. I forced a smile at breakfast, I tried to listen at church. There was still that nagging voice in my head, telling me to give up. I still felt a void- that’s the only way I can think of to describe it- a hole inside of me. Easter day, I started to push back- it was so hard. You would think, for a lifetime churchgoer, I could just pick myself back up and move on. I had wonderful support and love, but darkness is very tempting. It pulled HARD.

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Easter morning 2017

I had to make a choice- do I fight back? or give in? Slowly, not overnight, I found my voice again. I told God that I didn’t understand, but that I couldn’t bear to live without Him. Life without faith was worse than any physical pain I could endure. I needed God in my life. So, day by day, I trudged along limping honestly, literally and figuratively.  Some lessons in life are REALLY hard to learn- for me, trying to make sense of things is my hubris. I think if I can be logical and come up with a reason, then suffering will make sense. Ok- I admit right now, I have been so wrong. I will never, ever understand all suffering, maybe any at all. Follow that line of thinking to its conclusion- do the right things, say the right things, and you get the desired result? So, what, all of those people who continue to suffer, just didn’t have the right answers? No, of course not. This world doesn’t make sense to me, and I don’t think it is supposed to. It’s only on the other side- in the world of eternity where God exists, no past, present or future- he is everywhere, that pieces of a puzzle will fall into place.

In hindsight, I have the luxury of having my mind back! No haze of medications cloud my thoughts right now. I can appreciate the experience that I had during Lent 2017 in a fresh light. I spent so much time with my mother and my godmother, my Aunt Janet. I heard plenty of stories that I had never heard before about their lives. We prayed together, daily and I even had visitors! We had lived in that area of Michigan for James’s fellowship for one year. Dear, sweet women who I only knew briefly, all came to see me and encourage me. My family from Savannah took turns coming up to help my dad and James take care of 6 little children. I have no idea how clean my house was or what they ate, but you know what? The earth kept turning without me here, telling everyone to eat their vegetables and wear appropriate shoes. I witnessed love on such a scale, I am humbled and almost embarassed because I feel like an inadequate recipient. People from our church cooked meals for us, for a YEAR. I have one friend who brought us food every Tuesday for OVER A YEAR. It was, and is hard for me, to be on the receiving end of charity. None of us will ever be worthy on our own merit, of God’s mercy; accepting and truly needing SO much help during a difficult time taught me humility that otherwise, I don’t know that I would have ever possessed.

Last year, what was supposed to be my triumpant return, was the exact opposite. I arrived home more broken down and feeling a pull on my soul to give up my faith. Talk about kicking someone when they are down. It was the single darkest time of my life, Good Friday. Not by my own strength, but by God’s mercy, did he pull harder towards the light. I made a choice, to step out when I couldn’t see 6 inches in front of my face it was so dark. Choosing faith, and living in the light can be harder in times of great trial, but that’s when it’s the most important. Take that Darth Vader!

The epilogue to this story is that I had to go back to Michigan, lying flat in the car, surrounded by ice packs. I had yet another surgery, and woke up only to find out that the doctor took 10 tries to place the lead perfectly. (I have 10 scars to prove it) I had complications, and had to be admitted, after 9 hours in the PACU. My room wasn’t private, and my roomate had C. dif. I’m not kidding. Everyone wore hazmat suits but me. They gave her a bucket to go to the bathroom in, if she couldn’t make it to the toilet. The room smelled of excrement, and I was hooked to the bed with catheters and i.v. lines. I lay there in the dark, in more pain, crying, thinking “ok, seriously, the next time I say ‘things can’t get any worse’ someone just slap me!”. I eventually made it home, and the device never worked. After all of that effort, I never saw any relief. Because of what happened in my case, they now do EMG testing on both sensory and motor functions of the nerve while people are under anesthesia, and they place the lead in a different place to reduce the risk of migration. So, if stimwave works for anyone out there, you’re welcome! I got to be the guinea pig. Oh well!