how to start your own family-action team

A Family-Action Team is a term I made up, but it perfectly explains what I was trying to go for: I wanted to create a group that let families come together, take action, and serve their community. My efforts were in response to a lot of the negativity I was seeing in the world. I wanted a way to show my daughter that not only are her parents active and striving to improve their community, but lots of other kids and adults are doing the same thing. I want my daughter to see that there are good people, making good choices, all around her. And of course, I want to be active in my community – though I am very active in volunteer work, it rarely involves the whole family, and is rarely even a visible portion of the organizations I’m involved with.

The Plan

  1. Find Your People: The first step to starting to Family Action Team if to find like-minded people. These could be friends from church, your neighbors, or a mish-mash of your social circle.My group currently has 15 families. If each person brings a spouse and just ONE child that’s already 45 bodies that you have to find space for. Fifteen is the perfect number of families, because you want to aim for 5-7 families at each event. If you only have 5-7 families in your group, then if too many people back out you won’t have enough support. Any larger than 15 and you may end up with 60 people crammed in to a small space feeling a little bit like their presence isn’t necessary. Find the right balance for the types of projects you want to do.I’d suggest trying to keep your group to a manageable size, as finding meeting space and age appropriate activities gets more difficult and requires more management-skill the higher your small group gets. It’s okay to have a small group, and to encourage others to start more small groups.
  2. Involve The Kids: As I mentioned one of my main goals as a parent was for Ginny to be involved. Part of what makes this possible is that my Team is made up of families with similarly aged children (though we may have a few outliers most of the kids are early elementary aged). This makes finding projects easier, as the difference between what a 4 year old and an 8 year old can do is astounding, and trying to engage and accommodate a wider age range can get challenging.
  3. Goal: Have some goals in mind – this will help guide what kinds of projects you choose. Our main goal as a Team is to involve our children in reaching out to under privilaged and under represented groups in our community. I’ll address the benefits of having a goal-oriented Take Action Team in a little bit.
  4. Meeting: We are busy people, surrounded by even busier people. But every one on my Team has committed to being involved, and to one meeting a month. How is this possible?! I set my group up in a way that means we only need to meet for the projects.We have a private facebook group where families sign up to host a project during a specific month. During that month the host family chooses the service project (we have an on going thread for ideas and to measure general interest and approval), they will let the rest of the team know what prep work needs to be done, and then at the end of the month the host-family either opens their home or finds a larger location for the Team to come together and complete the prepared project with the kids.
  5. Get it Done: Our first project involved making blankets to donate to a local emergency/short-term homeless shelter. The adults took care of getting all of the supplies, and on the day of our project we came together and the kids helped to make the blankets. And when the kids tired of sitting and tying blankets, they played – but they played in a room where their parents where doing something for some one else. Don’t get tied up in the details, don’t take on too much – this is a team, and every one takes responsibility for making it work. What makes it even better is that the time commitment for the non-hosts is a couple hours, once a month. We can’t change the world, but hopefully we can raise compassionate, kind, civic-minded children who will go out in to the world knowing that their actions have meaning and that every one can make a difference.

    Our first project was to make fleece tied blankets that we donated to a program called Warm Winters, whose goal is to make sure that the homeless members of our community have sufficient protection for the cold months ahead. We made sure to make the blankets big enough to cover a tall adult male, double layers of fleece to be extra warm.

If you are unsure of whether starting a group is really your thing – I hope I’ve assuaged the idea that it has to be complicated. By delegating the organizing responsibilities, the entire thing becomes very manageable.

 

The Benefits

  1. Lead by example: My daughter sees me do a lot of things. But one of the things she can’t see is what I do when I go to meetings. It’s difficult for her to grasp the larger concept of the value of time at this age. But when the three of us get together to do something for some one else, it shows her directly that I think helping other people is important.
  2. Opens the door to conversation: There are people who don’t have what we have. There are children whose parents can’t take care of them. There are people who have fled their home countries and are starting life with nothing. And we should love them all, regardless of how they look, or what they’ve done. Empathy, kindness, and a willingness to see past what separates us to see what connects us. These projects let us as parents address the perils and positives of humanity in a natural, powerful way.
  3. Empower our children: I’m teaching my daughter that her time has power, her thoughts have power, and her efforts matter. I’m showing her that we are not singular beings in a world, but part of a system and that it is our responsibility and privilege to take our bounty and help those in need – and that doing so will lead not only to a stronger community, but makes your own life more meaningful.

I want to live my life to be good, for the mere sake of being good – and this plan lets me share that endeavor with my little love. If you have any questions just let me know, and I’d be happy to help you organize your own Family Action Team!

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let’s make a plan

I’ve had a (mostly)love-(with a little)hate relationship with paper products for most of my adult life. I’ve always loved keeping a planner, and a few years back “planning” became a legit hobby for a lot of people. Expensive, pretty, sticker-laden planners are all the rage among young women with disposable income and addictions to Micheal’s. So I spent two years testing out the options, from Erin Condren to Happy Planner, and a couple of Target options too. But nothing every really fits just right. In fact, I’ve fallen in love with Google calendar and haven’t been keeping a paper calendar in almost a year.

Part of my problem is that pre-chemo all I had to do was write it in the calendar, and I never needed to refer to the weekly spread to know what was going on: my mind just kept it all and I didn’t need to be religious about it. But now, post chemo, my brain is literally Swiss cheese and keeping track of lists and events is so incredibly difficult, and important. Because forgetting to drop off the library books isn’t a big deal, but forgetting a doctor appointment or tee-ball game is something that’ll ruin the whole day.

 

So google calendars it is, and it’s nice because B-man and I can share the calendar and it’s an easy way for him to see what’s going on without me having to constantly give him a run down. The downside is I don’t get to doodle. Two years ago Brandan bought me a phone case from Erin Condren, which ended up breaking. They gave me a full refund, and I used that money to purchase a spiral-bound notebook. Probably the most expensive spiral-bound notebook in the whole world, but it’s blue and green and has my name on the front and I like that sort of silly thing. And it was a gift.

Moving past the expensive planning hobby that I dabbled in, I learned how to set up a bullet journal from a friend and decided to try that out too. You number the pages of your journal, and keep an index of everything. It’s perfect for my list keeping tendency, and helps me keep track. BUT… some times it would be nice to have a calendar in there. So… I have the brilliant idea to print a 2-page spread calendar, trim it up, and glue it in. I’m quite pleased with the idea. Nicer than I could’ve drawn, and it blends in to nicely.

 

On the next page I made a record of my goals for the upcoming year.

  • I want to have good days. So the first thing on my goals page is a daily mood tracker. We’ll see how that works out.
  • To help with my Swiss cheese brain I have been trying to read more. I’m not sure if it’s helping, but I have really enjoyed it, and am hoping to do more of it this year! The goal is one book a month, so at least 12.
  • Last summer we were so busy with Nature Camp, birthday party, and our trip to Sweden and Finland – we didn’t do any camping! Ginny is still giving me a hard time for it, and so I have set a goal to go camping three times this year. I’m not sure if it’s doable, we have done two trips in one summer, but since we’re not planning any international travel this year, I think we may be able to pull it off!
  • The next thing on my page is a “DECLUTTER ALL THE ROOMS!” chart, each square represents an area of my home that needs attention. Some just need cleaning and better routine. Others need serious overhaul.
  • I want to go on three adventures. I don’t know what that will entail yet – but I have some ideas. More on that in the future I guess.

Lastly I included a few personal goals, like walking Trooper more often, being more kind and thoughtful in my words, and making healthier choices.

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I’ve never been very good at making resolutions. Usually it’s so specific that one mistake makes things impossible – so I tried to go vague and hopeful this year.

I’m accepting book recommendations, and want to hear about your resolutions too!

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Lemons & Cake

When I was in high school a friend of mine had a t-shirt that said something to the effect of “when life gives you lemons squeeze them into a squirt gun and shoot life in the eye.” It must’ve been more succinct than that, because that would be a lot of text for a t-shirt, but it always made me laugh.

Life gives a lot of lemons. Lots. To every one. And some are peak season, lots of sugar and just a little bit sour. Some come in 5 pound bags.

People spend a lot of time comparing their problems. Some people have problems that only seem like problems because their neighbor hasn’t had to deal with it. Some times people have problems that shake the very foundation of their existence as a human being.

One year older and wiser too! Twenty-eight and feeling great!

I’m two years from being 30 years old now. It’s the first year where I really feel older. In this year nothing has changed, and yet so much has changed.

I’ve gained a new perspective into how other people live through hosting our exchange student. It’s been challenging in ways I never imagined. That seems to happen to me often.

I’ve been declared “cancer free” for the zillionth time – a feeling that never feels good enough because there is always an “if” lingering in the background.

I’ve connected with friends on a level I’ve never experienced before. I’ve signed up for volunteer positions that require a lot of time and dedication.

I’ve researched career options for my future, and settled (and re-settled) on what I (maybe) want to do with the next few years.

I’ve made decisions that will impact little G for the rest of her life.

I’ve faced rejection and abandonment.

I’ve struggled, and watched people I love struggle. The latter having affected me more emotionally than the former. I’ve been accused of caring too much, but I think it makes my experience in life more human. I don’t only get to experience my joy and pain. A blessing and a curse by some accounts, but I like who it makes me.

I’m laughed and cried and wondered and analyzed and over-analyzed. And despite that I’ve made good decisions and I’ve made bad decisions and I’ve loved deeply and been loved even more.

And it’s always the same, and yet nothing has changed. I thought when cancer took over my life that I would never be the same. That I would never experience that same day-to-day joy that used to saturate even the tiniest moments of humdrum life. And yet I find myself thinking “I love my life.” And it’s true. It’s coming back. Light, or happiness, or maybe just the peace that comes with acceptance. Satisfaction is permeating my moments again, and it’s something I never expected. Certainly not every moment, but I don’t think life was meant to be lived in a constant state of happiness. But those little moments can be happy again. Snuggling in the same spot where just two years ago I told my husband I had cancer – it’s a happy place again. The couch where I spent months laying in pain and exhaustion has regained it’s rightful place as “official family gathering spot” (though it does serve nap duty on the side). I can drive to Wegman’s without having a panic attack. Lack of regular panic attacks is definitely a reason to celebrate!

A sweet treat from my neighbor. Yum!

After all of that, I’m forced to remember that perspective often means more than the experience itself. The lemons in my life might be unbearable for others, or might seem like #firstworldproblems to others. I’m glad to be getting back to my equilibrium. An equilibrium that now sees cancer as something that can be conquered and the ability to appreciate, but not stress over, the less than enjoyable bits of life that make the good bits even more valuable.

 

 

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Claytor Lake

My mind has a very distinct memory that surfaces when I think of camping. I don’t remember where we lived, maybe Texas? But maybe not, there were a lot of trees, but I was definitely in elementary school and it was before we moved to England.

Exact location isn’t important. I remember the camping though. The giant two room tent with wide, hallow aluminum poles that had to be fitted together just right to hold the tent up. I was certain that tent would last forever, my guess is we lost a pole. I remember that burning feeling in my nose from breathing fresh air all night, the hazy sun light dripping through the tree canopy.

That’s all I remember though. Setting up the tent, I know we went a few times, and with friends. But the tree canopy and fresh air – that’s what stuck.

Brandan and I have been camping for as long as we’ve been together. We started going to Claytor Lake state park near VT, and what’s not to love? Of course, our most recent visit was a little rough in the beginning. We arrived fairly late in the evening – after the Virginia Tech football game – and of course it was raining! You don’t know “fun!” until you set up a tent in the rain! Thankfully I’ve set up our REI Kindgom 6 many times, and so it took Brandan and I just a few minutes to get the tent up while the girls slept in the car. A few more minutes for the air mattresses, and we were set!
The next morning I woke up with a peace that only waking up with the birds can bring. I set-up our borrowed pop-up canopy so that we’d have a dry place to eat, and then set to cooking bacon and pancakes from breakfast. Yum!

Normally I’d be jealous of our neighbors – hammock camping feels so live-and-let-live, but to be honest… I wouldn’t want to be doing *that* set up in the rain!

While the girls ate breakfast Brandan and I re-arranged and tightened the tent a bit so that it was more water-tight. We knew this day would be rainy, so we’d brought some coloring books, cards, and other little games to play while we hung out.

One of my favorite things about camping is actually the preparations that go in to the trip. Planning the menu, packing the bags, fitting it all in our Prius. It’s like a game of tetris, and I’m pretty good at it. This time I tried out a new system, I liked the premise but will need to rework it a bit. We usually all pack in one bag, but this time we took three smaller backpacks.

It made packing easy, but then I forgot to bring something to keep the dirty clothes organized. That’s easily fixed though.

Another new thing for this trip was the sleeping bag I purchased for Ginny. Several months early I’d purchased sleeping bags for Brandan and I. I chose the Marmot Trestle 30 series (womens/mens) and purchased the men’s and women’s version for Brandan and I. They’re really nice, a pretty green color, but very functional. They zip together very nicely, and are roomy enough to not feel like you’re suffocating. There is a full zipper on one side an easement zipper on the other side, as well as a small pocket inside the bag for storing personal items – like a phone or wallet. Since I was so happy with my bag I purchased the child’s version for Ginny. It’s a little big, but I stuffed the end of the bag into the storage bag and tightened it so that it was the right length for her. Unfortunately she was still a little too cold for comfort, and ended up in our joined bags. No biggie – still plenty of room!

Just as we were starting to feel a little stir-crazy from spending all day in the tent the skies cleared and we decided to go for a walk. We explored the camp groups a bit, then hit Poplar Leaf Trail. It was short, easy, and paved – so not muddy!

To escape the rain we visited a nearby restaurant. It was small and family owned – just outside the park – and the food was good! The entire place was mismatched dining room tables and and random chairs ranging from wooden chair with floral patterns to fabric covered high backs. Eclectic, and kind of cute.

The next day made us glad we’d come all that way! A good night sleep, sun in the sky, and most of the park to ourselves!!! We headed down to the lake and rented two kayaks. It started out with Ginny and B-man in one, then I paddled with our exchange student. It ended up with a girls’ kayak and a boy… kayak.

We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. Low wind speed, 60’s and still plenty of leaves on the trees!

Brandan took himself on a private tour of the edges, while the girls and I stayed toward the center. We were out for about an hour, plenty of lovely autumn sun!

SUN! Just looking at these pictures is making me miss it!

And finally, one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip:

I love that I get to share these adventures with my little one. She enjoys camping, and has gotten better at it with every trip. I hope she grows up with fond memories of getting out and just enjoying each other and the beauty of nature. Seriously, there’s nothing more beautiful than dappled sunlight dripping through the autumn leaves.

We spent our last evening just relaxing at the campsite and enjoying each other’s company. I set up the hammock, but was quickly over run by the wee-nut and her pseudo-sister. The two laughed and giggled as Ginny crawled all over. And seriously – it’s not comfortable to have those little knees and elbows poking into you!

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Thankfully our trip home was a lot faster than our trip down – though we still faced a little traffic as we got closer to NoVa. I snapped this picture at one of our rest stops. She makes my heart so happy.

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Life as I know it.

Well, a flashback of life as I know it.

Some times you spot a moment in life and it feels like if you don’t take a picture maybe that moment didn’t happen. I feel like I have those moments daily. Each moment feels so special. Silly as that must sound.

I guess part of it is that I’m afraid of forgetting the day-to-day. The things we do without thinking about it. The things we forget we did last month. Like this moment. We played Minnie Mouse dominoes and Ginny probably won. It’s not an important moment. Not one we would scrapbook or publish in a Christmas letter, But looking at it makes me smile, my messy-headed kiddo, my husband not ready for the camera, and some how there are no dogs on the couch.

Speaking of dogs, last May we adopted this fur-ball into our family.

Trooper, the troublemaker.

His eyes reminded me so much of my sweet Gretel that I had to bring him home with me from the shelter. Who knew window-shopping at the shelter would turn into buying a dog? (The answer is “B-man”. B-man knew.)

But I did, I brought him home, pulled about 60 tics off of him, bathed him, medicated him for several weeks, and the nursed him through surgery…. and though he didn’t handle it as gracefully as my sweet Gretel handled life, Trooper is young and improving so much. Of course, before these more recent improvements we had other things to deal with – like when he broke the door handle.

This used to be a door handle.

The doors to our backyard are lever handles, and Trooper… the troublemaker… figured out that he could open them, and when jumping on the handle didn’t open them, it at least made a good amount of noise.

Eventually the handle actually broke. While waiting to figure out what the replacement would be, I improvised with a ribbon and some painters tape… ya know…. because bugs and the need to actually open the door. I was actually pretty proud of this innovation. 🙂

Then I replaced the door handle with a regular knob. I’m pretty proud of that too.

A working lunch.

This moment still tickles me. It’s just a simple thing, Ginny playing while I was folding laundry after a camping trip. She pulled her little laptop in and told me she was going to “get some work done”. Then of course she needed a snack, and a drink, and a chair from the playroom. My silly girl.

Also, she loves that silly little laptop.

And I love that silly little girl. So much. And, for the record – I love this dress too. It looks so good on her, bring out her bright blue eyes, and it was a steal on ebay!

A silly compilation, but my life none the less.

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Fall

My couch cushions are spread out over my living room as Ginny bounces from one to the other. It’s a rainy day with a chilly bite in the air, but our house is warm, and living room forts add that special sense of whimsy that turns rainy days into fun adventures. It’s a race to see how long we can go before a certain little one asks to watch TV.

But that is beside the point. While I have a few moments of fort-distraction I wanted to share some pictures from the autumn. School is full swing, our exchange student joined the basketball team which added another layer to our lives.

 

In September our neighborhood hosts an “Oktoberfest” for the residents. This was actually the first year I’ve gone. I usually avoid crowds, but have been trying to be better about taking advantage of opportunities instead of talking myself out of them.

For the first part of the event our exchange student and I volunteered in the food tent. We set up an assembly line and got everything going. We also got free t-shirts for volunteering!

T-shirts on and ready to serve!

After our shift we met up with B-man and Ginny who had walked over to the beach. It’s about 2 miles, but doable. Unfortunately we were rained out. Before we left I snagged these pictures though!

Ginny and our exchange student!

I actually painted this photo prop! It took me a couple of days, and occupied a space in my kitchen far longer than B-man approved of. But it was fun to stretch my artistic muscles.

And then I’ll throw in this hot-mess!

Duck lip are in, right?

My good friend Joey-poo and I cheesing it for the camera!

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We took the kids to SweetFrog to share the joys of frozen yogurt with our exchange student. Naturally she is quite fond of the nutella. 🙂

See… duck lips are *SO* in!

Good times. I’m always surprised by Ginny’s ice cream choices. Lately she loves Mango flavored froyo. She’s definitely her own little person.

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A little more photo dump from early October. At our house we have a good sized front and back yard, the latter of which is fenced. Ginny calls the fenced backyard “Zuko’s backyard” (Zuko being our dog), and the front yard “Ginny’s backyard”. She loves playing under the Magnolia tree and climbing on the large landscaping rock to the side of our house, and a particular bush has become her secret hide-out. I won’t betray it’s whereabouts though.

Our little slice of paradise is definitively suburban, but still full of interesting natural occurrences, from the large array of birds that grace our feeder, to the plants I haven’t managed to kill yet (or the grass that I have killed). One day though we found this mushroom circle!

My little pixie!

Of course, after she did a little dance we picked them all, put them in a bag, and threw them out. I haven’t seen any more, so it was probably the right thing to do.

And lastly some B-man & Ginny loves!

My favorite people.

Autumn is my favorite time of year. The weather is perfect, the colors of beautiful, and it’s like the Friday to Christmas!

Deep thoughts, I know.

Coming soon: Virginia Tech camping trip, Halloween, and B-man’s birthday!

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New School

All ready for her first day of school!

Getting the exchange student accepted to the local high school was a pain. Finally I had settled in to the idea of driving her 30 minutes each way to and from school every day. Thankfully my neighbor saw the lunacy in that concept and quickly called in a few favors. It was a mess, lots of phone calls, I may have cried once or twice, and then some more e-mails and phone calls and on the third school day of the year she was finally able to hop on the bus at the corner near our house and head off to school!

Also at the beginning of the year Ginny and I have joined a local pre-school co-op. It was a group of moms who all had young children but did not want to go the traditional pre-school route. I thought we were a good fit, unfortunately time would not agree.

Ginny all ready for her first day of preschool co-op.

I only knew one other mom in the group, she’d invited me to join. Unfortunately at the end of October, having only hosted twice, I got a phone call that they had decided to kick me out of the co-op.

And Ginny.

Of course they said something like “It’s not Ginny, we love her and she’s great, but we really don’t think you’re a good fit.” They said I didn’t choose healthy foods (my broccoli and pasta were not organic), I wasn’t involved enough with the children (because three year olds should be told to stop playing and sit down to do guided activities), and that I’m combative and too aggressive. There was no second chance, and no warning.

Ginny still asks about her preschool friends, four months later.

It’s weird, how these women I barely knew held such power over me – but I was sincerely crushed. I don’t think I’ve felt that kind of rejection and so much pain since elementary school.

Thankfully my sweet girl is resilient, and her life is still full of nature and play and people who love her and interesting experiences.

Her mother on the other hand is fragile. This experience spiraled me into panic attacks and added to my already mounting pre-scan anxiety that comes every six months.

This experience was also a big factor in the decision to send Ginny to public school next year when she starts Kindergarten. She’s going to love it, and I know she will do well. Crazy how fast time flies though! Only six months and I’ll be Mama to a kindergartner!

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Let’s do this.

We all make mistakes, and I guess the most important part is to be able to look back, accept that it was a mistake, and learn from that mistake. More than once I’ve been told that I’m… too nice. Or a pushover, or that I do too much for other people. Lol. I’ll be honest… I don’t mind. I don’t see that as a fault. I’d rather be nice to people who don’t deserve it, than be mean to people who don’t deserve that.

Regardless, I have made mistakes, one of which was giving up blogging. It’s like a hole, the further I get from the last time I wrote something, the harder it is to start again. But I’m starting.

Last August we welcomed a young woman from Spain into our home. She and I have a similar background – in that we both had cancer, and are both in recovery right now.

Ginny helped to make a sign for our new visitor!

We picked her up from the airport, and she had been travelling for the better part of the last 24 hour, so it was no surprise that she was tired. We stopped to grab dinner at an all-American restaurant — BBQ! — then headed home.

Stopping at Texas Roadhouse on our way home!

The first few days were busy, she arrived just a few days before school started and we had a few house-keeping items to take care of before she could attend the local high school.

In between getting her settled we spent some time collecting much needed items for our local food pantry. ACTS does so much for our community, so Ginny and I often collect food or household items for the organization. I grew up in a home where serving others was a top priority, and it’s something I like to involve Ginny in. It’s an easy way to introduce topics that aren’t always easy to talk about. We talk about how every one has hard times, and the best thing we can do is remember that every person deserves to be treated with kindness.

Dropping off macaroni & cheese, and lots of peanut butter (among other things!). I let Ginny pick things from the list of “much needed” items, and she picked a few of her faves.

We also collected items from neighbors and friends, and Miss. P helped me deliver those items!

Helping other people makes me feel good, for many reasons. Some altruistic, like knowing that I am helping members of my community, and exposing my daughter to the realities of this world, while also teaching her that she can do something about it. But some of my reasons are selfish. I like feeling useful, it makes me feel better about myself, and feeling connected to my community really helps me to feel grounded.

I’m going to get better at this. I want to leave this record. I want to be able to love and relive these moment with Ginny now and when she’s older. Here’s to resolutions, and doing things for myself.

 

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Time flies

I’ve probably named a million blogs that title. But it’s true. My life is measured in distance from events. Two years from my cancer diagnosis, Ginny is almost 5 – she’s starting kindergarten in September, and we’ve had an exchange student living with us for five months. I feel like my life revolves around other people, all day, every day – is that how it always is? Is that just part of being an adult?

Being further away from cancer feels good. I’m getting my issues better under control. Leading up to my 18 month scan I was having severe abdominal pain. Turns out it’s stress induced IBS. I literally need to take a chill-pill. Go figured.

I have thought for a while about Ginny’s  education. I’d love to be able to give her the very best, and I think she will thrive at our local public school. I do worry that because she’s never been to pre-school she will struggle with the adjustment, but to be honest…. she’s a control freak. A place with rules and a tight schedule will do her some good. I think. We’ll see.

As for our exchange student – it’s been a very eye opening experience. A peak into the future, if you will. Thankfully we haven’t come upon any insurmountable issues, though it’s probably an experience I’m likely to repeat.

And, for the record, Trooper is my biggest trouble maker, and my sweetest little love.

 

My brain spends a lot of time planning for the future. Right now I’m planning to go back to substitute teaching while I work on getting my teaching license. I don’t know what I want to do with my life, but I need to do something to keep my mind off the aches and pains that come when I am allowed to let my mind wander.

 

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Rainy Day Activities

Just wanted to throw together a little list of some inexpensive local options for entertaining those little ones when it’s raining. I know that it only takes Ginny and I a day or two to go stir crazy. Most of these activities are geared towards children younger than 5 years old, those a few may be good for children up to 10 years old. So keep an open mind and remember: it’s only water.

  1. Visit your local library!
    Cost: Free
    Entertainment value: 1+ hours, depending on child’s attention spanIf you time it right you can probably hit a story time or other activity, but remember these will be more crowded on rainy days, so be sure to show up a little early. If there aren’t any organized activities, there is still plenty to do the library. Compile a list of interesting subjects with your child, then just spend some time finding those books, a comfy chair, and you’ve created your own story time. The atmosphere makes it easier to encourage relaxed, still behavior. You don’t even have to check the books out!
  2. The Marine Corp Museum
    Cost: Free
    Entertainment value: 2-3 hoursThis is a multi-purpose option. It’s perfect for a date with the little ones during the week, or the whole family on the weekend. There’s usually something for every one, and special events on the weekends. Adults and teenagers can appreciate the movie theater, interactive activities like the target practice and gear pull, and the traditional museum portion of the building. Younger children will appreciate the dress up, coloring station, and story time area. There are full size planes and tanks as well, that most little kids find fascinating. Be sure to throw a towel in the trunk, and if the sun peaks out you can go to the playground (and wipe off the slide!) on site for a quick chance to get some wiggles out! When you’re done
  3. Leesylvania State Park
    Cost: $4 weekdays, $5 weekends per vehicle
    Entertainment value: 2+ hoursOn those days with “scattered” showers, this is a perfect option! The visitors center at Lessylvania has two areas. In one area you can explore the animal world – with live examples of invasive species of fish and a little albino snake. The table in the center has pelts from various local animals that children can touch and try to guess which fur belongs to which animal. There are also many taxidermy examples of local birds. It’s truly fascinating, and the perfect place to play a little game of “eye spy”. A small display of local types of rocks is also surprisingly entertaining.On the other side of this building are colonial era artifacts and interactive displays. Dress-up like people used to, try your hand at spinning yarn and weaving fabric, then you can take a little while trying to play the colonial era children’s games. If the sun decides to peak out, just a short walk will take you to a play ground (bring a towel!), nature pond (you can almost always see turtles there), and a nice walk along the Potomac River.
  4. Go to a Matinee
    Cost: ~$7/person, some theaters have free admission for under 2
    Entertainment value: about 2 hoursGoing to the movies is such a special experience, and going during the day is the perfect time to take kids! The nice thing is that most of the other patrons at that time will be parents – and a little more understanding of a child who needs help adjusting to the theater experience. Additionally, if you are polite, most theaters will give you a replacement ticket voucher or refund if your little one just can’t handle it, and you have to leave in the middle of the film.5. Go to the Mall
    Cost: your will power will decide…
    Entertainment value: maybe an hour, maybe moreAll off out local malls have small playgrounds inside of them! Perfect for the third day of rain! Pick up a little cup of pretzel bits at Aunty Anne’s (or bring your own snack!), sit back, and let those little ones expend some energy.

    6. Ikea… yes… Ikea!
    Cost: your will power will decide…
    Entertainment value: ~2+ hours

    This one is a little out there, but I’m serious: it’s our go-to rainy day activity. I go with the intention of just buying lunch (on Tuesdays you can get two free kids meals with the purchase of an adult meal – kids must be present at check out). So for about $6 both of us can eat lunch, walk around indoors, hang out in the toy area for a bit, and then if Ginny is feeling adventurous she can spend 30 minutes in the ball pit while I sip my coffee and surf my phone… or walk around some more. Either way, it’s a cheap, dry, opportunity to get out of the house!

    7.  Go for a Walk or Hike
    Cost: Free/park entrance fee
    Entertainment value: varies

    As a child in England we had rain clothes, and we went out in the rain, and we played in the rain and biked in the rain and existed in the rain. When it rains constantly it’s really the only option.

    When all else fails, just remember that it’s only water. Being wet does not make you more likely to get sick, and with the right gear (poncho, rain pants, and a good pair of wellies!) you can even spend hours in the rain enjoying the wonderful smell of freshly wet earth.

What to you do when you’re going stir crazy and the weather report threatens to hold you prisoner?

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the chemo brain is strong

I rolled my eyes when I read about chemo-brain. I couldn’t begin to fathom what it could possibly mean. “Impaired memory.” I’d experienced my fair share of mommy-brain moments, but nothing could prepare me for forgetting some one’s name the instant they introduced themselves. So, for your reading pleasure: a list of things I – a 27 year old woman – struggle with after chemo.

1. Recipes. There is a certain finesse to following a recipe. A quick read through should give you the gist, so that you can then start at the beginning and have a good idea of what’s going to happen. Not me. Not any more, at least. Long gone are the days that I can read a recipe online and recreate it in my kitchen at a later date. In fact, the only way to make sure I’m going to not screw up a recipe is to re-write it, by hand. I guess it saves on printer ink.

2. I was never fantastic with names, but pretty good. I could remember the names of people I’d met, or characters from a show I enjoyed. Now? Forget it. If I don’t write that person’s name down it’s going to be gone in about five seconds. I usually abate this problem by asking them to add me on face book, but it has lead to some fairly embarrassing face-to-face challenges. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing some one, and not being able to remember their name.

3. Productivity. I’ll be honest. I wasn’t incredibly productive before my cancer diagnosis. Mostly because I was tired all the time. So I guess there has been some overall improvement in this department, but I am so easily side tracked. I lose half of my day when I start doing the dishes and realize I can’t find the sixth part of the damn onion chopper so I decide to organize a draw which leads to emptying the entire pantry onto the kitchen table which leads to ordering pizza for dinner. #doesntmattergotpizza

4. Time. I find it difficult to measure the passing of time. Never mind that I am still almost constantly tired (especially if I stay up late… like I’m doing now…), but my day just disappears. Most of my friends know that I keep a timer on my phone. It goes off every day at two o’clock. Mostly so that I know that it’s two o’clock. That means I should eat now if I haven’t eaten yet. That means B-man will be home from work in a few hours. It means I should take my medicines if I haven’t. It means my day is slipping away. It means my daughter is running around singing a song about two o’clock because my husband did it once.

5. I’m a rude friend, or a lousy acquaintance. Picture this: the magazine photo of a fun motherhood. Coffee with a friend across the kitchen table while the kiddlets play in another room. And yet, I can’t enjoy it as much as I would like to because the second I want to respond I have three choices. First, the rudest option, interrupt and say what’s on my mind. Second, stop paying attention to what my friend is saying and repeat my thought to myself over and over again and hope that it stays relevant to when I get a chance to say it. Or third, forget my thought and come across as uninterested. With close friends they have been fairly patient on my toddler-level conversation skills. With every one else I just nod and smile.

6. I have to write everything down. And by “write down” I mean literally, with a pen, on paper. This is actually my cure-all. From grocery lists to daily tasks: if it’s written down, there is an incredibly improved chance that I will remember it. Thank goodness. The hard part here is that I then end up keeping a ton of lists, and an actual paper planner (I’ve actually had people ask me “what’s that” in regards to my planner. Bite me people. It’s not THAT crazy!).

7. There’s probably a million other things, but that’s the joy of chemo brain. Ignorance is bliss and I’ve completely forgotten. And that’s okay. This is where I am, and nothing changes over night.

 

It’s not glamorous, most people don’t understand that some one my age could actually struggle with most of this, and people always say “but it’ll get better, right?” The answer? Supposedly. It can take 4-5 years, and not every one regains complete function. Until that point I will be forcing myself to do things I don’t feel confident in doing (like writing!), and keeping a mountain-sized-pile of lists.

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beverage

So much rests in that simple addition.

Merely an expected presence,

expected and useful

to help with those stale bites of bread as you wait.

 

“I’ll have a coke.”

 

Noted,

the legs leave, lacking levity.

Her shoes slapping the sandstone.

We sit, thighs touching, waiting.

 

“More bread?”

 

The answer is always yes,

but it shouldn’t be based on the size of my thighs.

 

Five cups rest before us,

green plastic bumping with a hollow clink.

Five cups emptied and filled

Emptied and filled

Emptied and filled.

 

The bread, food, whatever, passes.

Delivered, consumed, removed.

 

Then we’re left with a mass of cups

forming the altar where we exchange minds.

 

“How was work.”

 

I contemplate the seven hours old

cold cup of coffee on my kitchen counter

and my brain spirals into domestic dances

while his voice peacefully drones, dips, duly dulcet.

And though my mind traces the steps

of that day’s dithering dance

the jobs left undone

I relax for the first time

in the liquid that fills holes,

washing over the dry

scabs left from tireless efforts.

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Sweet Summer

While the winter and spring months disappeared quickly, the last few months of summer have left a bigger impression on me. I didn’t realize how catatonic I’d become, sleeping in until the early afternoon, then going to bed early in the evening. It’s a wonder I have any memories – most of which involve driving in the snow and sweet things others did for my family.

We did a lot of travelling, which I will document eventually, but my favorite moments have been the little things. Little things like seeing Ginny love the same trampoline I grew up with.

 

Or when we find the best in our flooded carport: built in puddle jumping! Ginny got to pick those polka dot boots out at the L.L. Bean outlet when we were in Maine.

 

We managed to squeeze in three camping trips in just two months. One trip was a three-day adventure in celebration of our five year wedding anniversary. Ginny loves it, outdoors is definitely her element.

 

 

My favorite moments over the summer though are when I get to play witness to Ginny and her Daddy. The way they interact, it makes me jealous! She’s full of giggles, he’s incredibly patient. Any person who dares to say that men can’t be as nurturing as women need to spend a few days in this household.

 

Ginny has grown a strange fondness for lizards and the name “Jeff”. A neighbor gave her a small rubber lizard, which was named Jeff. Since that point every stuffed animal, doll, and living thing without a name has been named Jeff. Jeff is also the name of the guy that makes my salad at Panera every Tuesday. Go figure.

While I was sick people helped us out in so many different ways. One of those not-expected ways was the people who brought over hand-me-downs for Ginny. Every penny counts, and I’m thankful to have such thoughtful friends. Below is a picture of Ginny in her “running shoes”. She’s convinced that wearing them requires running. It’s endearing.

 

Ginny got her first umbrella this summer, as a birthday gift from a neighbor. It has Mickey Mouse on it, and her name. Of course she is enamored.

I think one of my favorite things to do with my little love (and my big love) is to get out of the house. I’m a bit of a wimp still, and “getting out of the house” might be code for “I’m too tired to cook so lets go somewhere”. It’s a nice treat, and a good experience for Ginny. She’s been learning how to order for herself, and she always asks so nicely!

 

 

I move slowly these days, but I try to move a lot. I’ve found that if I spend all day on my feet, I have joint pain the next few days. It’s hard. I want to do things. I want to feel better. I want to be motivated. So when that moment of energy comes I grab on to it, and I push and do and go and get things done. Then I pay for it.

I’ve been going through our things, I have a large collection of donate stuff by the front door just waiting to be taken. My house is coming together, and the spot I’m most fond of right now is this little table with the house plants I’ve managed to keep alive. Our the window you can see our extra-large umbrella that makes the patio slightly more appealing. Thankfully the weather should be cooling off soon, and then we will be spending our morning out there. Just need the mosquitoes to die.

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zeroing in

Respond “unsubscribe” to the e-mail in your inbox if you would like to stop receiving my blog updates. Though there will be new cancer related updates for the next few years, that information will be available on my facebook page. My blog is going back to being my blog now. A place for me to decipher my thoughts, record my intentions, and a reminder of how far I’ve come. I’m so appreciative to all of the support I’ve received over the last 7 months, and cannot say “thank you” enough times.  <3

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Life moves on in a fluid, strange, crazy way. As my life’s visible perils pass and fade, those around me seem almost obtuse to my new reality. It’s difficult to know people think you’re lazy or selfish, when in fact you’re just bone tired, having spent your day’s energy in the first four hours of the day. I guess it’s difficult for people to see, as my hair grows back and I do my best to move on. A smile on the outside doesn’t mean there is a smile on the inside.

 

When people ask you how you’re doing, there are people who just want to hear that you’re doing fine, so you can move on and talk about something else. Then there are people who actually want to know. Then there is that weird group that should be the latter but have morphed into the former. I don’t know what to say to people any more, do people get bored with my responses? Shouldn’t I just magically be better now that I’m done with the drugs that… killed off my entire immune system and messed with every system in my body? I find myself sympathetically shrugging as I try to pass off my struggles as “nothing”. Wouldn’t want to burden any one with my problems.

 

I am guilty of apologizing when I’ve done nothing wrong.

 

It’s already the end of July. The trips I’d idealized in my head while I struggled through the last seven months didn’t go as well as planned. It shouldn’t be a surprise, nothing is ever as perfect as you imagine it. For a realist, letting my expectations get out of control was nothing short of irresponsible – but the alternative was having nothing to look forward to. If nothing else, I made it through my trips, and was able to spend some much needed time with Brandan and Ginny. A mental reset, time on the open road, and a week without mountains dishes and laundry has left me feeling better. Our summer travels ended on a high note – so I’ve decided that is what matters.

 

Now that my first “something to look forward to” has passed, it’s time to create a new one. It’s a little bit more abstract, but a lot more “my style”.

 

My goal is to be happy with myself. I’d be interested to know what first comes to mind for other people, when you think about transitioning into a state of personal peace. For me it involves de-cluttering my house, establishing a new schedule that works with my new (although forced and hopefully changing) pace of life, and always improving my well-being. I won’t say “lose weight” or even “get healthy”, because I don’t think that goal has an end point. Just a constant journey of re-evaluating myself periodically and making sure I’m doing good things.

 

In with the good, out with everything else.

 

You would be surprised how much energy it takes to just stand. I spent a good portion of my day re-organizing my pantry, cupboards, and drawers. Walking five feet in one direction, then five feet back, then three feet to the left, then three feet back, wash, rinse, repeat. It’s not done though. My pantry looks great, my counters… not so much.

 

Why is minimizing so difficult?

 

Establishing a new schedule is almost a joke of a goal. What I really want is to have my house on a schedule, so that all of the monotonous things are done and I have time to do the fun things. In the near future there will be potty training. I want to spend my weekends out in the fresh air. There is something so renewing in a gentle breeze.

 

will spend more time doing things I enjoy.

 

Lastly, being well. I know I need to lose weight. The drugs I used for the better part of this year added an unwanted 40 pounds to my body. It is completely demoralizing to look in the mirror at this point. I have never hated my body more. It’s actually a very unhealthy mental state to be in, and it is difficult to fix the physical problems when your brain isn’t in the right place. I’m working on it. It goes back to establishing that schedule, making time to get out and move. Making time to menu plan, grocery shop, and cook healthy meals. To be honest though, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise, it is not the lack of time but the lack of energy that is the worst.

 

My doctor said I should expect my energy to take at least 6 months to bounce back.

 

It’s only been 2 months, and everyday, normal things still drag me down. I know that if I’m going to make it through the grocery store I can’t go up and down the stairs before I leave. I know that if I’m going to stand and make dinner at five I need to be sitting and resting at 4. It’s not my ideal schedule, but it is constantly evolving. As my energy increases, my schedule will evolve to allow for more of the healthful things I want to incorporate into my life. It’s a slow, arduous process.

 

 

I am happy with my life.

 

It seems counter-intuitive, considering everything I’ve been through this year, but I love my life. I trust that the decisions I’ve made for myself and my family are the best decisions I can make. I am constantly fact-checking myself. Thought I realize my decisions affect other people, I cannot live my life for the masses. I have realized that it doesn’t matter how many people around me are happy, if I’m making myself miserable. I realize that sometimes my decisions might not sit well with people who have my best interest at heart. It’s a hard place to be – knowing that people worry and fret over me, and I am notoriously bad at standing up for myself. But I have come to realize that as much as I cannot control the lives of others, I must take responsibility for myself, and for my happiness.

 

When all is said and done I snuggle into bed with my sweet husband, the whirring of the overhead fan slowly fades behind the steady rise and fall of his chest against my back, and I know that everything that happened today was the best it could be. Sometimes the best isn’t that great, but I can’t lament the past. I can only plan for the future.

 

Course corrections beats perfection.

 

 

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Chapter 13: last one done

I relished in all of the compliments I received for my early posts about dealing with cancer and the stories I shared. Unfortunately my drive for creative writing has gone the way of my energy: absent, but certain to return.

 

As distractions from my myriad of symptoms I spent those first months laying in bed replaying childhood memories, focusing on the little details to include that would make it more real, more appealing. But now I don’t lay in bed and ponder. My brain is too stressed out for idol thought so I lay in bed and wait for my medicine to start working. It carries me off into a dreamless sleep where my legs feel heavy but my anxiety disappears. I hate it, but relish in it at the same time. Brains are incredible things… and mine is struggling to keep it together lately. Facing mortality does funny things to one’s brain. But I digress.

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I had my last chemo 7 days ago.

The first three days afterwards were spent sleeping. I honestly don’t remember them, family, friends and my sweet husband took over playing mom while I drifted in and out of wakefulness.

The next two days still involved heavy napping, with the added misery of nausea, leg cramps, and intense intestinal pain.

My finger tips are numb and will likely take a year to repair the nerve damage.

My hair is growing in… and still falling out. I’d guess that in about four weeks it will stop falling out. So that’s nice.

My blood levels are all messed up, and my pulse has been between 120-140 for the last few weeks. Normal is between 60-100 beats/minute. It makes me feel like I’ve run a marathon after just walking around the kitchen.

I’m anemic. It’s exhausting.

The bone pain has returned, but some how knowing that when it leaves it will be gone forever makes it easier to handle.

Some foods taste funny to me now. I thought that since I didn’t have this in the beginning it just wouldn’t be one of my issues. Wrong… it just waited until the last cycle.

Steroids makes me hungry. Eating hurts. It’s a vicious cycle. Thankfully, after a week, the pain upon food consumption has subsided.

My electrolytes are off, which has resulted in very painful, intense cramps in my legs – particularly at night. I’m using a supplement to help with the off-balance, but to be honest this was the last straw that made me realize drug-induced relaxation  was for me.  After weeks of waking up every few hours with a charlie horse it was time, and it helps with the anxiety, the cramps, the nausea and the stomach pain…. and the not sleeping. That’s five birds with one tiiiiiny little stone.

 

I’m feeling hopeless. It’s weird, as every one gets really excited and humans have this universal “happy dance” that seems to happen every time I see some one now. “Last chemo! All done! Yay!!!”. And I hate to be a downer, but honestly… I’m not done. I’m done taking the medicine. Now I have to recover from the disease, and from the medicine, and from 5 months of not doing anything.

 

I can’t open tough jars any more, I wager with my bladder to hold on just a bit so I don’t have to walk up the stairs again. I can’t pick up my daughter. I’ve got a bunch of mental conditioning to do to get over my new and intense visceral reaction to the idea of going to the doctor, having blood drawn, or the sweet nurses who helped me through this. Just the thought of a needle makes me want to hurl. Weird… because I’m not afraid of needles. Just sick of them.

 

I also know this isn’t over. I still have to face it for the rest of my life, in particular the next two years when I get scans to check and see if it’s come back. And when it hasn’t come back I have to worry that every little ache or pain is cancer.

It’s terrifying. I can’t think too far out or the “ifs” become overwhelming.

_________

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So… I know I’m just a bucket of joy. lol.

 

Today was the first day that the relief of being down with chemo hit me. I stood on the landing and the relief washed over me. Each step and each second is a little bit closer to finding normal.

 

I’m trying to be happy. I’m trying to move on. It’s just a lot harder than people seem to realize, and I feel like a whiner for not being oh-so-super-excited like every one else is for me.

 

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