Saturday, November 30, 2013

Last But Not Least.....

Friends.  Who isn't thankful for them?

I have the very best friends.  Over the past two and a half years I've really seen exactly what kind of friends I have!  The friend who braved knee-deep rain to bring Babygirl her first prayer shawl. The church friends who supported us financially, emotionally and spiritually.  The work friends who covered all my missing shifts at less than a moment's notice.  The neighbor friends who fed us and walked our dog.  The family friends who've sheltered us over and over.  The friends of friends who've fed us, prayed for us, and supported our family through the stress we brought them.  The friends who went and got tested to see if they could give Babygirl one of their kidneys. 

Our friends have never given us the appearance that they were tired of hearing us go on and on and ON about the stress in our lives.  They just hung in there and held our hands, wiped our tears, brought us drinks, made us laugh and LISTENED. 

The heart and soul of all of this was Babygirl.  She wouldn't really believe it, but people really, really love her.  She's sweet, she's funny, she's loving and she is the kindest soul I know.  Every single old lady in our church asks me about her every time I seen them.  Everyone there has watched her grow from a pale, tiny toddler through her clumsy 'tween years to a beautiful teen.  Her teachers love her.  I would guess that 80% of the support we get is because she is who she is.

Gratitude is an interesting thing.  The more you give thanks, the more you realize that you have EVERYTHING to be thankful for.  I owe thanks to more people than I can possible ever say. 


Friday, November 29, 2013

Year Three, Week Thirty-six - Thankful For A Healthier Kid.....

Thanksgiving Day was lovely.  Busy - but lovely.  Hubby and I did all of our cooking in that one day, and managed to have a good time doing it.  I was funny that several people commented on how much less chaotic the last hour before dinner was than usual.  Putting mashed potatoes in a crock pot seems like such minor genius, but it did significantly decrease the last-minute rush. 

Turkey, ham, smoked turkey covered in bacon. Homemade cranberry sauce, challah, Brussels sprouts, stuffed celery, fresh salad. Pumpkin bread, stuffing, squash, sweet potatoes.  Pumpkin, apple, and berry pies.  Amazing food, amazing family, amazing riches.

Gratitude for family, a working kidney, snowplows and grandchildren.

There really is no end to our blessings.  But there was on thought in my mind that came and went all day:  One year ago we were unaware that we were standing on the brink of Babygirl's worst hospital stay.

One year ago today she came down with the mystery bug du jour, had her spinal tap, and survived a week of sepsis, nerve pain, and grief.  One year ago we were in the middle of a hopeless, endless run of horrible, horrible headaches that cost her an entire semester of school.  One year ago I felt like I was losing a battle, losing my grip.  Losing my mind.  Losing my child.

Clearly I can still not think of that hospital stay without being awash in those feelings.  The arrival of the 29th of November triggered it all, a cold, ugly flood.

So I stepped back.  I took a moment to stand over my peacefully sleeping, healthy-appearing child.  I took some time to give sincere thanks.  Thanks that we survived that illness.  Thanks that the kidney is still working well despite her body's best efforts to reject it.  Thanks that she hasn't been admitted to the hospital for any illness for an entire year.  In my magically-thinking mind I view that milestone as proof that she is going to be fine and never need to go back in.  My logical, less superstitious self understands that this is arrant nonsense but is willing to just go with it for now.

Another family whose child received a kidney transplant last year was told by their transplant team that the year after transplant would be the worst year of their lives.  Given how little fun the year BEFORE transplant was, I had a hard time imagining why anyone would say such a thing.  I certainly understand it NOW.

So this Friday doesn't seem so 'Black' to me.  I'm going to have another cup of coffee, put in some laundry, get dressed and do a little shopping.  It's time to start the Christmas Gift Master List and give thanks for having so many people I love.

Right after I give thanks to God for a healthier kid.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Night Before......

We always get excited the night before Christmas.  We are TOTALLY stoked the night before we leave for the beach.  The night before the first day of school has its own brand of excitement.   But I think we rarely get excited on the night before Thanksgiving.

Most of my co-workers just rushed out the door to start or continue baking.  Some of them have been stressing about who is doing what, and when, and where.  Some have been agitated about the weather, about travel plans, about balancing work and a holiday.

The night before Thanksgiving is a quieter thing for me.  We know that we are 'it' for Thanksgiving.  We have the big table, the extra oven, and all the tools for the job.  And Hubby and I have done this together for so many years now that we barely even think about it.  We might peel potatoes after church tonight.  Or we might share cocktails.  Or play a game.  Or all of that, who knows? 

I've said it before and I'll say it again:  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Everyone is grateful.  Everyone is happy.  And besides some back-scene grumbling by the cooks (a Thanksgiving tradition - we're entitled!), there is no complaining.

We've been through enough to know when to be grateful.  Babygirl's long, ongoing illness has taught us to take the happy moments as they come and not look for the bad.

While I was writing yesterday's post about pets, Babygirl and I discussed why I was doing a thank-you a day for November.  She listened, got thoughtful, and simply said, "I'm thankful for my kidney."  I agree. 

Every. Single. Day.

So I'll go to church tonight, and give thanks with the people I love, and who love me.  How could I not be grateful?


Tuesday, November 26, 2013


No pet lover could let a month of gratitude go by without thinking of the animals that have made us so happy over the years.

Simon is our current dog.  He's a cockapug (yeah, try not to think about that), a very puggy dog with a spaniel's gift of swimming.  He's sweet, loving to all the babies, and always ready for a snack.  His brother, Garfunkel, died a few years ago.  He was a doofy little guy, but my hubby loved him and misses him still.

Our last dog was Katie.  We're not entirely sure WHAT she was - greyhound rear-end, beagle ears, and yellow fur?  She could run like the wind.  She and one of our cats were best friends.  She used to carry her around in her mouth.  I suspect she might have swallowed her if she could have figured out which end wasn't sharp. 

I had a horse when I was in high school.  She was freedom, and responsibility, and growing up.  She was a challenge, a listener, and a loving heart.

But the one pet who will always be THE dog was Lady.  She was a long-haired dachshund.  She fully believed that she was ten feet tall, willing to stand up to anybody or anything.  She was my dog, from age 13 to age 28.  She could do tricks, although it's hard to tell when a really short dog is rolling over.  She walked without a leash in the city neighborhood I lived in in my early 20's.  She soaked up a lot of tears, barked at a lot of strangers, and once bit my landlord on the ankle because he walked in without knocking.  I have not the slightest doubt that she would have died to defend me.  Simon, I'm not so sure about.

Pets.  Thank you.


Only Once a Week....

Dang.  I was determined to put up a post a day for a full month, and was managing fine until yesterday.  Monday, Monday - can't trust that day.

I didn't post in the morning.  I had my work computer at home and was determined to knock off as many "tasks" as I could.  Each task takes a measurable amount of time, and getting rid of a couple dozen prescription refills before you hit the door of the office simply means you start the day less, well, behind (because there is no 'ahead' with medical records - not even when we were on paper). 

The day went well enough.  I wasn't overbooked and a couple of kind folks did me the service of not showing up (just so you know, not showing up for your doctor's appointment without calling to cancel is rude.  I'll either be pissed or grateful depending on the sort of day I'm having LOL).  We found new ways to help each other out - the prescription line has been eliminated for a week to see if that improves flow for the nurses, and we've explored some other ways to short-cut refills that allows me to actually use my time seeing and talking to patients.

Despite system improvements, I was exhausted when I got home.  My 54-hour-long migraine culminated in a night of no sleep.  I crashed.

My gratitude for yesterday?  We only get one Monday a week.  I can do anything for one day, so thanks be to God that we only have to do one Monday at a time.


Sunday, November 24, 2013


Downtime is not something I get a lot of.  And forced downtime is not something I do well.  I've spent the weekend fighting migraine after migraine, and accomplishing nothing.  I'm sure the flare has to do with the incredible amount of computer screen time I'm facing while learning the new medical records program at work, and the stress that goes with it.  It's considerable stress.

So I've had to let my body shut down, sleep when it needs to sleep, wake when it needs to be awake, and do nothing in between. 

I'm grateful that it hit on the weekend (not counting Friday afternoon I suppose).  I'm grateful for medications to take.  And I'm grateful for a warm, cozy blanket to snuggle under.  I can't really read, and I can't really concentrate, and I surely cannot listen to music.  But I can, between headaches, enjoy the freedom to do nothing.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Grocery Stores.....

I lived in Pakistan for  a little while when Citygirl was a baby.  I learned to love the bazaars, both the ones that were made up of small shops more-or-less permanently located in shopping districts, and those that appeared like magic once a week.

My mother-in-law and I would go weekly to one such bazaar.  It was, for her, grocery shopping.  In a dry, dusty, empty field, a tent city would miraculously arise for one day every week.  Beautiful cotton cloths reminiscent of oriental carpeting were strung from tent pole to tent pole, 12 feet off the ground.  Since it rarely rains in Karachi, their chief purpose was to shade the shoppers.  There was no electricity, no fans, no refrigeration.  And Karachi is similar to south Florida for climate, only dryer. When the wind blows through the bazaar, the air becomes hazy with dust.

We'd stop at the chicken stand first.  My Appi ('Mom' in Urdu) would select a live chicken from and unshaded pen of listless birds.  While we did our shopping, the chicken would be beheaded, drained of blood in Hilal fashion (similar to Kosher killing), and plucked in a hand-cranked chicken-plucking machine that sent feathers flying through the bazaar.  We'd pick it up on our way out.

There were people everywhere.  Shopkeepers sat on small rugs with their wares surrounding them.  There were piles of peeled garlic cloves that looked like they had been dumped out of a full wheelbarrow.  If you preferred, you could buy it unpeeled in the shop next door.  The next stall would have fresh herbs, and the next, spices.  Further down you could find stands selling socks, linens, materiel for sewing.  Piles of fresh fruit, nuts, dried figs and raisins were all out in the open.  Each shopkeeper had his own scale, and kept his money safe by squatting on it.

Yogurt was for sale out of open clay bowls nearly 3 feet across.  Appi came with containers from home.  Cheese was rare and usually purchased in tins.  Cream was sold in bags.  Freshly butchered mutton was also available.  Meat was ground by smashing it between flat rocks.  Flies were simply part of the process.

When Appi came to visit us in New York City she was always impressed by the sometimes wasteful  lengths our shops went to to keep food fresh and safe.  I could understand her point of view to an extent - after all, she'd survived Pakistani food standards, right?  Of couse, that's a bit like us saying that we don't need seatbelts because WE didn't die of not having them.

In third world countries, as many as half of all children die before their fifth birthdays because of infections caused by unclean water.  Food contamination is a very small problem compared to that, so until the water is safe, there is very little incentive to improve food safety.  Or add seatbelts to cars.  Or worry about motorcycle helmets.

So my gratitude today is for grocery stores. I'm grateful for the luxury of clean water, safe (for the most part) food, and the fridge I keep it in. 


Friday, November 22, 2013


I am grateful for coffee.  The smell, the taste, the sound of beans in the grinder.  The atmosphere of a coffee shop - mmmmm.

It's heavenly.

The smell of coffee in the morning is one of the blessings of our lives. 

Maybe for you there is something else that makes you take a deep breath and say "thank you."  Whatever it is, I'm grateful.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Year Three, Week Thirty-five - Music....

Ever since I can remember, I've sung.  Sunday School, church choir, school choir, shower, anywhere.  Anywhere but a stage, alone.

It wasn't until I was in High School that I had a teacher who was willing to let me take a chance on a difficult solo for the county competition.  I picked "Oh Thou That Tellest."  It's an incredibly difficult alto solo from The Messiah.  It requires a big voice with a lot of support and the ability to breathe in while singing out. 

I sucked.  Really, really sucked.  Too quiet.  Too breathy.  Too shy.

My long-suffering mentor, facing a deadline for solo competition, gave me a deadline.  Nail it in one more week, or switch to something less challenging. 

Converting from science geek to musical superstar is more than a small challenge.  But I'd read about subliminal messages, operant conditioning, and the work the subconscious does while the rest of the brain is asleep.

I bought an album of The Messiah.  And I set my little record player up so that "Oh Thou That Tellest" played over and over and over.  I played it from the time I got home from school until I left again the next day.  All day, all night, all weekend.  I didn't sing.  I listened.  Timing.  Breath control.  Volume.  Emotion.

At my 'last chance' rehearsal, Mr. A began to play.  And I opened my mouth and SANG.  I scared the crap out of him.  When he landed back on the piano bench and rubbed out the whiplash, he said, "Where the HECK have you been hiding THAT???"

I took that song to competition and won. 

I found an entirely new side of myself.  A crack in the shell of the shy bookworm, one that allowed me to eventually become a different person - somebody who can walk into a room that holds a total stranger and get that person to relax and tell me things no one else ever hears.

Many people think that the arts and the sciences are separate; that people are either one thing or the other.  I think that they cannot exist without each other.  Scientists are, by definition, intrigued by mysteries.  The more we find, the more we need to search. 

Music is just the audible expression of that need.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Few Extra Minutes....

Every once in a while you look around and realize, "Hey, I have nothing to do!"  I'll grant you that everyone always has something that needs doing at every single second of every single day, so by 'nothing' I mean 'nothin urgent', but you know what I mean.

Mom is still in the hospital this morning, which means she doesn't need to be awakened, weighed, medicated and coffee'd.  Depending on her level of cooperation this can take up to 15 minutes out of my morning routine, and I confess that even though she's been here for six months now I still can't get used to that.  So, this morning I realized that I had 15 extra minutes - a longer shower, an extra cup of coffee, a Sudoku puzzle, anything at all that I want!

Until I realized, after my second cup of coffee hit my brain - I have a meeting at work at 7:30, so I have to leave the house a half an hour early. 

Such is my life.

The thought of fifteen extra minutes was so intriguing that it made me relax, really relax, for the first time in probably two or three weeks.  So even though I really don't have any extra time it did me good. 

So I'm grateful.  All time is an illusion of sorts.  We never really have 'more' or 'less' time - we simply have, all of us, the same amount of time.  The perception that we have the freedom to use that time as we wish is an illusion also - we cannot 'trade' one kind of time for another, can we?  In truth, we have no control over time at all.  Every minute of every day is a gift given to us to use for good or ill. Learning to view time in a less stressful way is something I need to work on.

I can only do what I can do.  And I can only do it just so fast.  I can view time as 'free' or not no matter WHAT I have to accomplish, right?  My thanksgiving is to THE timelord, the one who graces us with time so that we can eventually learn to live outside of it with Him.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Grateful for Grace......

Being human is a wonderful, scary thing.  Being dog would likely be simpler.  The dog need seems less complex - a sense of belonging and value to the pack, food, and something to make life interesting.  Hmmm... maybe more in common there than I thought.  But I digress.

We entered the hall of human frailty this morning.  Hospitals are like that, caring for the frail.  But today was a long exercise in coping with the frailty and limitations of the health care providers.

We arrived promptly at 6:30 AM.  The first sign I had that it was going to be an interesting day was noting that my mom's name was not on the printed list of people having procedures.  It was scribbled at the bottom.  The clerk scolded us a little for not preregistering.  Odd, since I distinctly remember calling registration yesterday right before work started at 8 AM.  The correct information was located and we were sent to the short stay unit and assigned a room.

Old people move slow.  So rather than waiting for someone to arrive and tell me to get her in the hospital gown, I just went ahead and got her ready.  One blanket wasn't enough for her, so I looked for someone to get me another.  Since I found the linen closet long before I could spot an aid or nurse I helped myself and added a couple of layers for her. 

Back in the room I continued the conversation we had been having since about 5:15 AM:  "Why am I here again?"  To have your pacemaker fixed.  "Why does it need to be fixed?"  One of the wires broke.  "Are they going to put me to sleep first?"  Only if you let them put your IV in without fighting.  The three questions of the day, rinse, repeat.  Again and again and again.

At 7:30 we had our first visit from any staff.  It seems that no orders had been written, so no one knew quite what to do with her.  So while one nurse placed an IV in her right hand, received new orders and then had to switch it her LEFT hand, another nurse went over her medications with me.  She had mom's medication list in her hand and kept asking, "Is she still taking _____?  Did she take it this morning?" even after I pointed out that the medication list was current and clearly marked as to what meds were to be taken at what time.  When the time came at last for them to wheel her off into the OR, they realized that they had no signed consent for the procedure.  I got to walk with her stretcher to discuss consent with the cardiologist.  This was the first time that she was so clearly confused that they did not offer to let her sign for herself.  They'd heard all three of the questions of the day at least twice each.

In the waiting area I caught up on letters and thank-you notes (seventeen of them - and you all know that when I write, I WRITE).

The cardiologist came out, told me everything had gone well.  He managed to thread an extra wire to the heart by following the old wire.  The non-functioning wire was left in place since it was fairly firmly attached to her heart.  He then went on to sheepishly inform me that he had stuck himself with a needle contaminated with my Mom's blood, so... would I mind telling him if he had anything to be concerned about??  LOLOL oh my goodness.  Well, most of my Mom's wild and crazy days were pre-HIV, but feel free to run whatever tests you need to reassure yourself that you'll be okay.  I am absolutely certain that confessing that problem to me, a fellow physician, was the most embarrassing thing he's had to do in a LONG time. The last time he did that, he told me, was in the 1980's.

Mom was transferred to a room upstairs for observation, a planned admission.  When she arrived she wanted to eat and drink but there orders.  The nurse came in to check her in:  "Is she still taking ______?  Did she take it this morning?"  Seriously?  Are you using the same computer program as the nurse downstairs?  I had to leave to run errands with Curlygirl.  I hope they eventually fed her.

God is full of grace.  In our humanness, He still works.  Despite the chaos and general disorganization (which is, after all, only a reflection of who we all are inside), Mom received the care she needed at the time she needed it. I wouldn't have the courage to go to work each day if I didn't trust that God could overcome my human weakness and use me to care for people despite myself.

Those of you pray, ask God to bless your doctors and nurses with grace.

PS  I have had two accidental needle sticks.  One was with a clean needle - I simply needed to reglove and start over.  One was when I was a student, in the heart of the early AIDS epidemic.  The surgeon actually stitched THROUGH my finger.  Yeah, that was a painful boo-boo.  Stuff, as they say, happens.  And by God's grace neither I nor my Mom's cardiologist were seriously injured - in those days there were no anti-AIDS medications available to treat needle stick injuries.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Common Sense......

Tomorrow morning my Mom is having her pacemaker repaired.  One wire is working fine, the other is either disconnected or broken.  The immediate risk is minimal.  The long term risk didn't seem all that bad to me either. So she gets lightheaded, right?  But the cardiologist is a practical man.

"What if it happens while she's standing up?  Or walking down a flight of stairs?"

Um, right.  Yes, by all means, let us avoid a hip fracture.


To keep her from eating or drinking after midnight we have duct taped her refrigerator door and hidden her snacks.  

Wish us luck.


Sunday, November 17, 2013


I went out to the garden today and harvested enough broccoli for seven people to eat for dinner.  Given the space the plants take and how little they produced I think we won't be growing it again, but it is still wonderful to be able to just go outside our door and find something good for dinner. 

We've tried a lot of different foods in the garden, and our best successes remain the somewhat mundane tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and herbs.  And I never eat anything from the garden without being thankful - thankful for the soil, the sun, the rain, and the gift of food. 

But there are obvious limits to what I can grow in a few square feet on the side of my house.  And there are even bigger seasonal limitations.  When I think about how our ancestors managed to maintain some semblance of a balanced diet by preserving foods for the winter (without the benefit of refrigeration!) I am awed.  Of course, when I also realize how relatively brief their lives were, and how much poor nutrition played a role in that, I am even MORE grateful.

We don't think about farmers much.  The disconnect between growing food and eating it is very, very big in these times.  We go to the grocery store and buy foods like mangoes that cannot be grown in our climate at all.  We eat meat without ever having seen a living steer or chicken.  We eat bread without any grasp at all of how much work it is to grow and harvest wheat, let alone thresh and grind it.  But imagine how little time we would have to pursue our daily work if we had to grow and preserve all our own food.  Imagine if we had to grow our own linen and cotton.  Imagine if we had to provide our own fuel from what we could find on the land. 

Farmers.  I'm grateful. 


Saturday, November 16, 2013


Home ownership is a never-ending saga of minor repairs and fix-its.  Hubby has fallen behind after 6 months of Grampa Day Care and some of what needs to be done is becoming more crucial as the cold weather moves in. 

Our contractor for the new bathroom had to change the position of a heat duct and install one extra.  We didn't immediately notice that the replacement duct work was not at all like what was originally there.  Instead of metal pipes, they used insulated plastic - bulky and fragile and unattractive.

Of course, if any of you have seen our basement (and I sincerely hope you have not!) you would immediately note that "unattractive" is a rather relative term.  But hey, it's my basement.  In the process of plumbing for the dishwasher hubby had to take down the "new" ugly ducts, leaving us with no heat in the bath.  This was clearly not a problem until the weather cooled.  Since the bath is under our bedroom it was impacting the comfort of that room as well.

So today, we tackled it.  I've never done this particular repair, so I learned some useful skills.  The whole thing took a couple of hours total and we did a very nice job, thank you very much. 

But the thing I am thankful for is that Hubby and I can work as a team. 

My parents tended to work together by staying away from each other.  Dad would be putting up drywall in one room while my Mom painted in another.  I know they did a lot of remodeling.  I tried to think of a single time when I saw Mom holding something so Dad could work on it.  Aside from spring and fall yard clean-up, which was a team sport (and even then it was more Dad), I don't recall them working together on projects.  Even Christmas decorations were solo acts - Mom would wait until Dad got the lights on the tree. Dad would watch her hang tinsel. 

I like the teamwork.  I like that he can tell me an easier way to do something, and that I can do some creative problem-solving with him.  I like the feeling I get when we build something together, maybe because it feels like we are building "us". 


Friday, November 15, 2013

Novocain. Who Wouldn't Be Thankful?......

The ongoing saga of dental disaster that began nearly two months ago continues.   Well, 'disaster' is probably too strong a word for it unless your talking about the ugly financial end of things.

The sinus infection is better.  The root canal has been completed.  The tooth has been reconstructed so it can hold the new bridge in place.  This has involved a total of FIVE dental visits so far, most of which far exceeded an hour in length.  All of them involved numbing my entire right top jaw since there are six teeth involved in the bridge process. 

My jaw aches for three days after each visit from the shots and from holding my mouth WIDE open for hours on end.  Everything on that side of my face itches, including teeth I don't have anymore.  And the other day I had a twitch in my upper lip that made me feel as if there was a large earthworm squirming just under the skin.

And I have two more long visits to go.

Despite all of that, I am grateful.  Grateful for the two skilled dentists who are working on this.  Grateful for the dentist who made the original bridge last 25 years, and the one before who managed to rescue as many teeth as he did.  And I'm supremely grateful to whoever discovered Novocain. 

Being able to chew is something that I pretty much take for granted in my own life, but I see daily the price paid by folks who can't afford dental care - daily pain, frequent infections, malnutrition.  There was an article I read recently about a 12 year old child who died as a result of a dental abscess, news that sadly did not at all surprise me.  I've had patients who had some pretty severe infections, one that resulted in a stroke in a 28 year old. 

Novocain.  Dental insurance.  And the ability to come up with the money to pay for what the insurance doesn't.  I'm grateful.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Year Three, Week Thirty-four - Thankful for CHOP....

Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia is the number-one-ranked children's hospital in the U.S.  While we wait for our visits we can admire the "Best Doctor in America" awards given specifically to most of the doctors we see.  The hospital is designed for kids - radio station, play rooms, Child Life specialists, video games, movies, library.  It is designed to make it easier on the parents as well - a reasonably comfortable daybed in each room, a computer desk, WiFi.

I've lost track of how many times, how many days, how many horrible nights we've spent there.  I recognize, however, how much more horrible they could have been.  Our one experience with a different children's hospital taught us far too much about that. 

So, although I cannot be grateful that Babygirl has been ill, I CAN be grateful for the staff at CHOP.  I can give sincere thanks that there are so very many people dedicated to the health and well-being of my child.  I can give unending gratitude to God for the fact that it is close enough for us to go there. 

When we 'age out' of our nephrology clinic it will be a VERY sad thing.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Sense of Smell......

Three days ago Babygirl and I went out the door for some errand and she stopped dead, sniffed the air and said, "What's that smell?"  I paused, sniffed, and pondered.....

"It smells like snow!" 

Babygirl and I spent some time inhaling that crisp, elusive, impossible to describe aroma before returning to more prosaic pursuits.  And since then, I've spent some time focusing on the gift of smell.

Oh, we all know that sometimes we wish we couldn't smell so well!  Any dad changing a toddler would happily give up his sense of smell for an hour.  Sometimes I'd pay money not to be able to smell my dog, and I have no idea on this earth how plumbers survive their daily dose of EWWW.

But the good smells so outweigh those moments.

Autumn leaves.  Campfires.  Lilacs.  Baking bread.  Crayons.  Freshly cleaned floors.  Apple pie.  New babies.  Puppy breath. Roasting turkey.  Your lover's skin.  Basil.  Freshly turned earth.  Christmas trees.   Home.

The sense of smell is linked to primitive memory centers in the brain, which is why any one scent can make us pause, smile, cry, or ponder more than any single sight or sound. 

So today I'm grateful for my sense of smell, and all the happy thoughts and memories it triggers.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Being Full.....

The kidney failure diet is terrible (  The dialysis diet is worse.  One of the hardest realities of those early days was realizing that my child was going hungry to follow the demands of those diets.  Her hunger and our inability to find food she both could and WOULD eat was one of the very frightening aspects of dealing with Babygirl's kidney failure.  It was horrible to me that in a home with cupboards and refrigerator full of food that anyone could go hungry.

Our world today is the same.  There is food enough and still people go without. 

I am supremely grateful that I've always had enough to eat.  I'm overwhelmed with thankfulness that we figured out how to take care of Babygirl's needs.  I'm grateful enough to challenge myself this month.

We won't eat out for the rest of the month.  I'm not buying coffee on the way to work.  I'm not going to the store for ice cream on a whim.  Instead, I'm going to use that part of my budget to fill bags for our church's food pantry.  I'm going to supply food for our office Thanksgiving baskets.  I'm going to look for extra ways to fill in some of the gaps for my neighbors. 

And I'm going to really mean it when I say grace.


Indoor Plumbing....

Writing about gratitude daily for a month makes you really, really think.  What AM I thankful for?  In all the history of my life, what gifts make me say "Thank you" the most often?

Indoor plumbing.

It's a daily "Thank you" for me. 

When I was a freshman in high school, my parents decided to build a new house in the country, away from the village where we'd grown up.  I'm not sure what motivated this, really.  Our house was big enough, we had a great yard, the neighborhood was full of playmates.  I think my Dad may have thought that a new house would be less work to keep up than an old one.  Who knew?  One of the main reasons I appreciate my old home is because I learned early that new homes are not necessarily 'easier'.

Our old house went on the market and sold immediately.  The new house ran a couple weeks, and then a month, and then a FEW months behind schedule.

We moved into a local park in  a pop-up tent camper and a couple of pup tents at the beginning of July.

During the summer it was okay.  Weekdays, we'd move camp to the sites across from the restrooms.  Weekends, we'd move further out to make room for the folks with reservations for those sites.  Our friends would come out for sleep-overs.  People from church would drop off pies and other things that simply cannot be cooked on a camp stove.

School started.  We'd cut through the woods, hop over a guard rail and catch the bus at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.  What the district thought of our pickup location I cannot imagine. The limitations on our wardrobes due to the lack of storage space was daunting. 

Fall weather hit, with daily frost in the morning.  Crawling out of the tent and running barefoot to the john was no longer an option.  The days we awoke to four inches of snow on the tents?  Sneakers were not enough.  My brother and his best friend took to sleeping in the bathrooms because they had HEAT.

Sometime after November 1st we moved into our unfinished new house.  It had very few interior walls, one toilet and cold running water coming out of one pipe in the bathtub.  But it had a furnace, was warm and dry, and I could get to a toilet without a coat or wet feet.

There is never, ever a time when I don't say a fervent "Thank You" when I step into a warm shower or crank up the heat on a cold snowy day.


Sunday, November 10, 2013


This weekend's ever-growing story about Typhoon Haiyan and the destruction it has wrought in the Philippines  has been in my heart.

We've had enough severe storms and flooding locally to make all of us empathetic.  It represents a massive loss of life and property, and damage to cropland almost guarantees a year of food shortages for the survivors. 

But sometimes it helps if we have a personal connection, a specific reason to pray for or contribute to a disaster.  We have three big reasons to be concerned.

All of our Compassion-sponsored children are in the Philippines.  I have no idea yet whether they and their families are safe, displaced or even dead.  At least one of my girls lives within sight of the ocean, a very risky proposition at this time, indeed.  One of my girls is raising a baby alone with no financial breathing room.  Since we are not given the specific location of any of our kids, we are in the dark, mostly.  The Compassion website ( is keeping sponsors updated as information becomes available.

So in your prayers this week, include Dinah, Kristine Jude and Grethel Joy and their families.  I'd appreciate it.  And say a big "Thanks" for your own and your family's safety.


Saturday, November 9, 2013


Twenty-one years ago, freshly divorced with a three-year-old daughter, I went house hunting.  We went to open houses every Sunday, looking through house ads, studying neighborhoods, and finally settling on a two-family house in an historic district.  Hardwood floors, working fireplaces, a tenant to help pay off the mortgage - perfect.

Over the years we've moved out, moved back in, switched sides a time or two, remodeled, opened up walls and closed them again.  This house has sheltered many, many people through good times and bad.  Our backyard has seen many a pool party and barbecue. Christmas has come and gone in peace and prosperity many times. It's been our Home. 

The mortgage will be paid off within the next two years.  The house's value has remained stable through the bipolar real estate swings of the last 20 years.  Purchasing this house in this neighborhood might be the only solid financial decision I ever made LOL. 

Today, I'll clean.  I'll prepare dinner for my daughters, my grandchildren, and a dear friend who was one of the fledglings who found this home a safe place from which to launch herself.  We'll rake leaves and throw grandkids into the piles. I'll be At Home.

We so often take for granted the security of our homes.  The price of this house figured heavily in our decisions about Babygirl's health care during that first scary year where the bills just kept coming, and coming, and coming.  We knew we could cover it all if we had to by selling or mortgaging (and thankfully had to do neither).  Those of us who have at some time in the past lost a home or been homeless never, ever lose our appreciation of a stable, safe home.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Thanks For The Job....

I once bought a mug for an office White Elephant party (yeah, I know - buying is verboten but this was so PERFECT).  It said, "Thank you, God, for my great job and my wonderful co-workers...."  It dripped ninja-level sarcasm without actually being overtly offensive.  Perfect. 

My office is, well, unorthodox.  We care for the poor, uninsured, underinsured, and desperate.  We hear sad stories all day, and somehow the hallways still echo with laughter.  We take our work very seriously.  Ourselves? Not so much.  We throw insults, ignore tantrums, tell jokes and funny stories.  Nothing is sacred.  Everything, however tragic, has a funny side.

I am entirely grateful for my work, and without an ounce of sarcasm I can say I am incredibly grateful for my co-workers.  The go the extra mile in everything they do.  They lift up the broken-hearted, support the needy, and compassionately reach out to the lonely, the misfits, the poor and the misunderstood. Almost no one ever leaves our office without having sincerely laughed.  Yesterday I even made a patient laugh out loud about not being able to afford her own funeral.

When I first found out Babygirl was ill, patients and staff alike surrounded me with love and support, never once complaining about the extra work that fell to them because of my need to be with her.  My life would be so much poorer if not for my co-workers - my friends.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Year Three, Week 31 - Blessed by Marriage.....

Once upon a time I was married to Citygirl's dad.  Citygirl is one of the biggest blessings of my life.  Her dad?  Not so much.  We divorced when she was only three.

My parents worked as a team, a united front. We never once got away with asking one parent after the other had said 'No'.  Dad never got as angry about anything as when we disrespected our Mom - "Don't EVER speak to MY WIFE that way!" was a phrase that I'll never forget hearing.  While I can't say my childhood was perfect (they divorced just short of 25 years of marriage), I can say that I learned a lot about teamwork in parenting from them.  It was quite clear early on that Citygirl's dad and I were NOT on the same team.

I went on alone.  For almost 10 years I rarely dated, and even more rarely dated anyone twice.  I expanded my family.  I filled the gaps in my life with kids, work, friends, and family.

Then along came Hubby.  Sweet, shy, kind, loving.  A family man with no family of his own.  He walked in, fell in love, and took on a rapidly expanding group of kids with no regrets except the losses.  He traveled with me to Guatemala to bring Babygirl home and we married a month later. 

It's been over 12 years (OhDearLord we forgot our anniversary again!) since that day when we stood on the altar of our church.  Both of us remember feeling as if we were in a bubble, a halo, just the two of us as we said our vows.  He moved into a house with six (!) kids 12 and under, and became Dad. 

Don't get me wrong.  We've had our struggles.  Building a relationship in the moments between the chaos was a tremendous challenge.  We fought. Bent. Broke.  And rebuilt. 

My husband is one of the great blessings of my life.  He loves me. ME.  Not some imaginary image of 'Woman'.  He thinks I'm beautiful.  I KNOW he is. 

We forget our anniversary every single year.  It doesn't bother either of us.  I think it's because we were already family, the cement firmly in place before he made the decision to come to Guatemala with me.  We didn't 'begin' on our wedding day.  We were already a team.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Missing My Mom.....

I'm grateful that I am in a place where I can care for my Mom as her mind and health decline.  There were a lot of variables in our lives that would have potentially made this impossible, but oddly, Babygirl's illness made us make the choices that left us room for Mom in this difficult time in her life.

Caring for a parent with dementia has many, many challenges.  It's worse than handling a toddler in many ways.  I've talked with my friends who are walking the same road and we all have similar challenges.

It's frustrating, really really frustrating, to answer the same question over and over and over.  Generally I try to answer it each time as if it were the first time she asked - after all, in her mind, it IS the first time she asked.  Each. And. Every. Time.

It saddens me to see her not notice or care about the clutter that collects around her.  When my Dad and Aunt were staying here, the counter could get knee-deep in toast crumbs, the floor waist-high in newspaper, and the table have an even coating of used coffee cups and not one of them would pay the slightest attention. 

And it amazes me that all but my Aunt seemed to regard the shower as some ancient form of torture. 

Most of all, I miss the Mom I had even as recently as 4 years ago.  The one who was quick-witted, humorous, busy.  The Cool Mom who never said 'no' to a sleepover or a camping trip.  The Den Mother, the church secretary, the Mastermind of Christmas.

Yeah.  I miss her.

But despite all of that, I AM grateful to care for her.  Grateful that we can do it financially.  Grateful that we have the room both in our home and in our schedules (usually!) to do what needs to be done.  She dealt with me from birth to college, and I'm sure it was a face-smacking ride.  I'm glad I can pay it back.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Gratitude for frost?  Really?

Yes.  Although the first heavy frost signals the end of many lovely things - flowers and the last tomatoes off the vine among them - it is a sign of good things.   Really good things.

For people like hubby and Babygirl, it means the end of the eternal pollen suffering that runs from mid-August until, you guessed it! the first deep frost.  It also means that despite the unseasonably warm October, he won't need to do an unprecedented mowing of the lawn in November.  It's good for me, too.  Doctors like early frosts.  It winds down the allergy season in time for us to cope with cold and flu season!

And it signals a slower time.  Long nights, curling up at home instead of going out, enjoying the sense of 'circling the wagons' against the coming of winter.  The rest of the leaves will finally drop, so raking one last time (or in our case, the first and only time!) and preparing the yard and garden for winter are now pushed up to the 'can't ignore it anymore' section of our to-do list.  Oddly, these are 'chores' that I enjoy.

Reading.  Fires in the fireplace. Board games.  Friends enjoying soup or baked-potato dinners.  There are gifts in the cold season for those who have the eyes to see them and the hearts to enjoy them.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Year Three, Week 31 - The Art of Gratitude.....

Folks on Facebook are doing it again:  Daily November reminders of what we are most thankful for. 

I've joined in, and I'm going to try my hardest to post those things I'm grateful for.  But I'm warning you in advance:  I'm grateful for some pretty surprisingly odd things.  Here's the list thus far....

1) I am grateful for the good roads that make long trips so easy here.
2) I am thankful for the color of Larch trees in the fall.
3) I am thankful for my Pastor and her thoughtful sermons and gentle kindness.
4)  I'm incredibly thankful for the furnace on this first truly cold morning!

Most of you have never lived anywhere but the U.S.  Many of you have, however, been to places even in the U.S. that were difficult to navigate.  Twisty.  Potholed.  Dirt.  Narrow.

I've been to places where the BEST roads meet that definition.  Where getting a child to a doctor, ANY doctor, let alone a specialist, is the work of days, not hours.  So while I'm zipping along at 72 mph, I often reflect on the fact that despite our hours on the road, we are blessed, very blessed, to have roads this good.  It is unthinkable to me that Babygirl could have died already for lack of a decent highway system.

The other three are self explanatory, I think.  But you'll hear more about gratitude for indoor luxuries later.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Makes You Wonder.....

There should be no doubt remaining in anyone's mind that I have an odd family.  Just the fact that I have an Aunt Squirrelly ought to cover all the ground needed.  But every once in a while, some random piece of oddness sticks out a little.

On one of the last nights my Dad was here he broke into a conversation in progress with, "What?  There are no patients left?" 

My mind went a little blank.  After all, I don't bring them HOME with me.

He went on, "WHY are your toenails painted?  There must NOT be any patients left if you are dressed to go dancing!" 

Aside from the fact that it was warm enough to wear my ugly flat sandals on the first of November, I couldn't really see what caught his attention.  My last pedi was a month ago at least but those tootsies still have sparkly bright pink polish.  I couldn't think of a single thing to ask that would bring clarity. And 'speechless' is NOT my middle name.

Patients?  Dancing?  Toenails?  Anybody?

Maybe our old Doc McMahon never painted HIS toenails unless he was going dancing.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Heart Wrenching, Gut Clenching Worry....

Let me start by saying that this post is not really about Babygirl.  Or maybe, not ONLY Babygirl.  To reassure everyone, I'll start by saying that so far I haven't called any doctors.  The highest temp I was able to record was 99.8, not the necessary 100.4 they need before I can transfer any of the worry to them.  Babygirl still doesn't feel well, but she ate breakfast.  She complains of belly pain every time she coughs and every time we hit a bump on the road.  But we are home, safe.

Babygirl has been the focus of my attention for the last 2 1/2 years.  My other girls generally deal with this without complaint, but I know it gets old for them to always be on the back burner.  But I want them all to know:

Each and every one of you has, at one time or another, from the day I first laid eyes on you until (and including) now, have had my entire, full, unremitting attention, even when it seems my head is far away.  The heart-wrenching, gut-clenching, adrenal-squeezing worry that I focus on Babygirl?  Well, you all gave me lots of practice.  In order of appearance:

CityGirl - From your first tiny tickle inside me, the first stitches in your eyebrow, the not-eating year, the dare-devil sports, to the current you-are-too-far-away life, you've squeezed my heart into an entirely new shape.  You taught me everything I know about how to be a mom, and what it means to actually have your heart walking around outside of your body.  I do give you too much 'radio silence' but there is never, ever a day when I don't live a random memory and stop and pray for you.

Curlygirl -  From the first time I met your frightened, defiant brown eyes I knew I was in deep, deep trouble, and deep, deep love.  Through all the I-hate-you-you're-not-my-moms, through the endless nights of breathing treatments when I feared that if I fell asleep you would stop breathing, high school rebellion, childbirth and the amazing gift you gave me in Squeaker, you have been the object of my ongoing prayer and love.

ChamaMama - You came to me late, but are no less a part of my heart for all of that.  From teaching you how to balance a checkbook and fearfully watching your wild bar-hopping days, to seeing you finally bring the RIGHT man home to walk down the aisle with;  from the gift of my first (and second, and third!)grandchild to the worry, prayer and hope over your postpartum blues, I think of you and pray for you every day.  And every stomach-dropping road my car travels brings you to my heart.

JuJuBee - From your silent, smiling visits to my office when you were so tiny to the loud tantrums, the running away and the coming home;  during the days when we feared we would lose you back to a system that seemed determined to do anything but protect you; to watching your beloved stroke the face of his first child, and holding her and her sister in my arms and heart, my heart has walked with you every day with prayer, and hurt with your hurt and rejoiced in your joy.

You were all here before Babygirl.  Just because you see me at my gut-clenching worst over your baby sister doesn't mean I don't remember how each of you has suffered, grown strong and triumphed over the toughest things any group of kids collectively could have.  I'll never forget the nights and days of heart-wrenching pain you all endured, and that I endured with you.  And I don't forget, not even for a minute, that you each still have struggles, pain, and growth going on and that you still need me.

So even when I seem like a completely insanely crazy stranger,  just keep tugging on my pants leg and I'll be there.  After all, as most of you already know, if the kid keeps saying, "Mom.  Mom.  Mom, Mommy.  Ma!  MOM!"  sooner or later Mom has to focus on the kid and say, "WHAT???"  LOL.

I love all my girls.  With my soul, heart, gut and squeezed-dry adrenal glands.  You are my greatest blessing.


Friday, November 1, 2013


I'm safe here in my home town.  The ride was uneventful.  We didn't leave home until 4 PM because Babygirl wanted to come along for the ride. 

That was okay, actually.  I had to go in and finish up that root canal this morning!  It actually went very well, but I am SO tired of having half of my face numb.  Now I need to schedule with my dentist to finish it all up. 

After THAT delightful start to my day (well, not the start, I guess - I went in to work for an hour first), I went off to Staples in search of some sort of computer desk-wheely cart thing to use at work to keep my wrists happier.  It's a very bad sign if you start having pain less than two weeks into the new level of computer usage.  I found one, took it to work (my day off, right?) and assembled it.  Still numb, I went home to sort Mom's meds, dress my dad's foot, and pack and load up to bring him home.

So far, so good. No flat tire.  No car drama.  No U-turns, missing tools, lost luggage.

But the bad news?  Because you know that there has to be some?

I just tucked Babygirl back into bed.  She has a bellyache, different than the last ones.  And she has chills.  Her current temp is 97, but I've thus far never seen her have chills that didn't lead to a hospital admission.

And we are eight hours from CHOP.

 So all you night owls, send up a prayer.  I'm going to crawl into bed with her and hope for the best.