Saturday, October 22, 2016

The way my mind works...

... is no surprise to my family.

I'm a problem solver.  Let's look at the big picture, eliminate what doesn't matter and start narrowing down your options.  Very algebraic, very mathematical - but when it isn't a problem involving something quantitative, I can't use my tried and true methods of problem solving.

Problems with people have too many variables.  They are too unpredictable and full of surprises.  You can try to anticipate and plan, but realize your expectations may not be met, and some new variable (change) can be thrown into the mix.  The strategy takes a turn with a possible new problem to address.

As you can tell, I'm dealing with a problem right now of how best to care for my dad.  We are in our second stint in rehabilitation following his August 22nd stroke, this time with an infection.  He is weak and frustrated (and frustrating).  There are many options at the moment and it is my job, and my job alone, to make some potentially tough decisions.  My husband is definitely there to support me, give me advice, and ask some questions of things I may not have thought of.  So while I am not literally alone, I am alone.

One thing is constant however:  God is Creator of the universe and loves all of us.  Jesus is the Way, THE Truth, and the Life.  I feel His presence every step of the way, especially when there are no words to my prayers.  His presence under-girds me when I am especially exhausted and provides clarity when I am confused.

I am grateful my mind works the way it does.  It helps me to detach sometimes from the emotional side of things and works on those things I can actually accomplish - checking things off the exceptionally long to-do list.  And then the Lord says, "Look how I made you.  It's all okay.  Get some rest.  I've got you."

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Assumptions can be a dangerous thing.

If you assume someone is acting a certain way without knowing context, you could lose a potential friend or alienate them.

If you assume something is gluten free when it isn't, you will end up feeling sick, if you are gluten intolerant.  This happened to me last week and it was totally my fault.  I ate tortilla chips without confirming they were 100% corn chips. My bad. Still working on the side effects but at least feeling better.

If you assume someone is a Christian, you may never talk about faith with them.

If you assume a "fact" is indeed true without verifying it, you could reach a false conclusion.

Many times we just don't know.  But we owe it to ourselves and to others to find out about what is unknown. It could make a difference in someone's life.  It could make a difference in your life.

Ask questions. Be curious (but not nosy). Care enough to be involved.

That's all.  I'm glad we had this talk.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Recommendation letters

It's that time of year for high school teachers - especially if you teach juniors.

Recommendation letters for college applications.  It is a job which is a chore, yet is a privilege. Students seeks teachers who know them well (sometimes they don't want one who knows them TOO well) to write recommendation letters.  They have to be honest.  They cannot be form letters.  There is one college where many of my students apply - a small college in Alabama.  They actually compare the letters written by the same teacher to see if they are a form letter with the names changed.  If that teacher writes a form letter, the recommendation is discarded.  Yikes.

This wasn't a requirement when I was applying to college - I only applied to two.  Sometimes, I wonder what my teachers would have said about me.  "Sarah Ellen is very quiet, but studious."  "Sarah Ellen doesn't reach her potential."  I do not remember talking out of turn or intentionally trying to break the classroom rules (like some of my students do - I wrote two up yesterday for sneaking in snacks).

The truth is school was my refuge and happy place.  I could dive into books and studies and I actually enjoy learning.  If I wanted to socialize at recess and lunch, I could.  But if I wanted to be alone in the library, I could do that as well.

I can tell it is going to be a busy season of letter writing - a month in and I've had four requests.  I think of the four young ladies who have asked for my recommendations and I wonder what the future holds for them - I wonder how God intends to use their gifts.  And I marvel that I have been allowed to be an influence - no matter how small - in their lives.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

One month

Hello dear readers (all both of you).

School started two weeks ago and I can tell you - I have the sweetest, most respectful students this year.  I love teaching them and learning about them.

I ended my last post wondering if I could maintain my 10,000 steps a day after school started.  The answer is - YES.  There are two days a week I don't push to get there - Wednesday and Sunday.  The reason doesn't matter why but it is a decision I'm comfortable with.

After being off gluten one month, I can decisively say it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.  EVER.  There is no doubt in my mind it was keeping me sicker.  I have had a great reduction in my body wide inflammation.  My mind is less foggy - even my thyroid medicine didn't completely fix that.  Why?  Gluten.  I have lost 12 pounds.  My current clothes are no longer tight on my body.  My muscles are less tight and I have much more energy.  My mood has stabilized.  My husband wouldn't bring it up, but when I asked him, he confirmed my thoughts.  Bless that man - he is my number one support and cheerleader.

Three weeks ago I had one of those life scan/heart health tests.  I was very nervous about it because my blood pressure has been a little wacky lately - my doctor isn't worried, FWIW - but everything came back clear!  There is moderate risk of heart disease due to my family history and my current body composition but I'm working on that and my risk is decreasing.

In addition to embracing the gluten free lifestyle (and it is a lifestyle - you can't do this half-heartedly) I also decided to eat a low-glycemic diet.  This is not low-carbohydrate.  It means I made better decisions on when or how to eat certain fruit and starches.  Along the way I am more in touch with how my body responds to things I shouldn't have - last week I had just a few pieces of popcorn.  It was prepackaged but apparently had some gluten in how it was processed.  Saturday was a very painful and stiff day.  It doesn't affect my stomach violently but my body just aches - a lot.

I'm finding I don't care that I can't eat the chicken biscuits sometimes provided at school or I have to refuse some of the tasty treats offered by parents. I do miss Fini's pizza and sushi.  But I can tell you - they are NOT worth it.  The last time we had communion at church, I took a big step and went to the gluten free station.  I was doubting whether I would until the sermon, and even the sermon gave me the courage to do what was best for me.  The Lord has been so good to me during this process.

I have been on weight loss journeys before.  This is different.  I made a decision to make permanent changes, not just adapt long enough to lose weight.  It really wasn't about the weight in the beginning, but I'm so happy it has been a nice side-effect.  How I'm eating now I can maintain easily.

This is just part of my journey - the part that affects my physical being.  But you know, it is more than that.  Much more.  Tune in again sometime and see what happens.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Four Women Who Inspire Me

I have written several time about some of the women who inspire me.  Two notable ones are my grandmothers - two of the most intelligent women I ever knew.  Two of the best cooks and they could sew!  They made my Easter dresses for many years.  Several others were high school teachers who saw something in me and made school meaningful and fun.  They encouraged my search for knowledge and my need for acceptance.

But today I have four women I want to mention specifically because we are all fighting a similar battle right now and they set the bar.  Three of them share my last name and the fourth was my mother - also shared a last name.

I want to start with Nicole.  She is my husband's great-nephew's wife. Don't try to think about the relationship except she is part of our family and I love her.  That's what matters right here.  Nicole has started on a monumental journey of becoming healthy.  Seeing her joy in learning how to eat and move inspires me. Seeing her face her fears and just trusting the Lord when she feels weak inspires me. Thank you, Nicole, for setting an example for me and so many others.

The second is my husband's niece, Christie.  She has also had a monumental journey of faith and seeking to be healthy.  It is hard for her because she is chronically ill and sometimes her body just will not cooperate.  But she gets up every day and moves her body, even when it hurts.  In the last several years, she allowed Jesus to take over the darkness that was within her and has become one of the most mature, faithful Christian women I have had the pleasure to know.   Christie is an example to me of a quiet, beautiful, inner strength that can only be fueled by a life surrounded by prayer and the Word of God.

The third is my daughter.  Oops - we don't share a last name anymore.  Well, it's Leah.  Leah has gone through many changes this year: name, home, city, school, job ... Like me she struggles with hypothyroidism and has worked to find a doctor in her new city who will listen to her.  She found one. From his recommendations, and knowing the truth in her heart, Leah has embarked on a gluten-free lifestyle to see if it will help her disease.  It has.  Obviously, I love this girl, too.  I am proud of her and am her partner on this journey of becoming healthy and fit.

The last is my mother.  I have written about her and her battles and our relationship enough, but I want to write about how she inspires me to be healthy.  She died in 2004 from complications of her diabetes.  But there was so much more.  She gave up on treating her thyroid in the 1970's due to incorrect, conventional medicine.  That is a challenge many of us face.  She had been diagnosed and successfully treated in her teens and early adulthood.  But that changed.  Weight control, heart disease and her desire to fight this all went away.  Not the heart disease.  Her battle is why I fight.   I want to be a grandmother someday who can play with those babies - and maybe even keep up.

Now, at nearly 50 years old, I am once again focusing on my healthy - physically and spiritually.
When I saw what Nicole was doing, I knew I could do better than I had been.
After walking and talking with Christie last weekend, I knew if she could get up on her pain days and move, I could do so much more than I had been
After talking with my daughter and seeing her renewed energy and joy in her diet, I knew I could change mine to match hers.
After seeing the struggles of my mother, I knew I had to break that cycle and set a better example for my daughter.

It is hard.  Today after my 4 mile walk (indoors - I love AC), I realized I had strained my knee.  Darn.  It make me mad.  I have wrapped it and taken some Advil and will mostly take it easy the rest of the day, but I refuse to give up.  My body is a gift from God and I will not abuse it anymore by feeding it incorrectly and keeping it still.  It has started to protest when I don't do what I should.

Today I was feeling especially grateful and I believe in encouragement.  So Christie, Nicole, and Leah, I hope you know the impact you are making on the middle-aged women.  You are loved SO very much.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

My Summer Project

It's me.

I like to set a goal for the summer.  Last year, it was my daughter's wedding.  Sometimes, it is deeply cleaning my house.  I tried that once and then got diverted by a family crisis... which then became my summer project.  Sometimes I set a goal of how many non-educational, non-mathematical books I want to read.

I had not really set a goal this summer, so it kind of fell in my lap, smiled, and said, "Here I am.  Take care of me and nurture me.  I'll be here the rest of your life."  Here is what happened.

A family member made a decision to take care of herself - the work is hard.  She became very public about her personal war and she is now starting to win some battles.  I'm proud of her.  I remembered I had done something similar, then hit a bit bump in the road and didn't manage to stay on track.  Having an autoimmune disease that affect metabolism is that bump and being under-medicated causes fatigue and weight gain no matter how much work you do.

Now, I eat well.  Very well.  But I haven't been very active.  Even when I lost 50 pounds in 2008-2009, I mainly did it by diet and didn't do a lot of activity.  So, I saw her becoming active and thought to myself, "I can do that", but didn't.  But what I eat is on track - I did Weight Watchers before and it taught me what to do and what not to do.

In June we went to San Antonio.  While my husband sat in conferences in air-conditioned comfort, my son and I went on walking tours.  Ya'll - San Antonio in June is really, really hot.  Like 90's with a heat index of over 100 hot.  HOT.  But we love history so off we went.  Some time during that week, after going to Dallas and Texarkana, I knew I needed to get up and move.  Oh... here's what happened before.  I realized around late April/May that my feet and ankles hurt much more after long periods of sitting, so I started getting up more and stretching and walking.  Helps so much.

Since about June 18 or 19 (I had to reset my tracker and lost some data) I have only missed one day of walking a minimum of 10,000 steps.  I use Leslie Sansone's Walk At Home videos (I love AC, ok?) which doesn't just walk.  Kicks, side steps, knee lifts and upper body movements, sometimes with light weights, use the whole body.  I already put in 2 miles today and my quads are not happy... but I am because I can tell a difference in my clothes, a little bit on the scale, and a whole lot with my energy level.  I feel great.

Here's my main motivation besides pleasing God by taking care of the body He gave me; family.  My grandmother was diabetic.  My mother was diabetic.  Both had congestive heart failure.  My mother had a hypothyroidism diagnosis and quit treatment in the 70's.  Both were obese.  My sister died at the age of 44 due to obesity - super morbidly obese.  Her heart just stopped.  She was probably also hypothyroid and was a compulsive over-eater.   I loved these women but I refused to give up and say, "oh, it's genetic."  Maybe that's true but I can DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  And I have for years.

My future family is what I look forward to.  With both of my children being adults, I am looking forward to being a grandmother someday.  I want to play with those children.  I want to be around to see their weddings. I want to sing with them, horseplay, and cuddle them to sleep.  My children didn't have that - for a variety of reasons.

Since I have started this phase of life, I have also read my Bible daily.

Here's where the real challenge will lie: when school starts back my leisurely days are over.  It will be hectic at first and I'll get used to the pace.  But, I have decided to start my work schedule July 18 after our vacation - at least by the clock. 5:30 alarms will resume and I'll be on my school schedule, trying to figure out how to make the 10,000 steps fit.  I know I can do it.  I've done it before.  I've just decided to face it head-on and anticipate what's to come.

So, here it is.  All laid out for you in the name of accountability and transparency.

Monday, June 20, 2016

June 21

June 21.

To some, it is usually the first day of summer.  Communities in Alaska celebrate with a midnight baseball game, happy it is sunny at midnight.  No kidding... we were in Fairbanks in 2007 and in July the airport clock read 80 degrees at 11:00 PM.  The sun had also just started to set.  Amazing.

In 2008, my daughter had major jaw reconstruction surgery due to a congenital defect.  She's fine now in case you were wondering.

In 2014, we buried my almost 45 year old sister who died suddenly on June 9th.  It was a difficult day, and it still is.

But, in 1986, a very young couple (ages 22 and 18) made a commitment in front of God and their families and friends to begin a family of their own.  It has been hard.  It has been wonderful.  We have had more fun than we deserved learning how to be grown ups (although my sister in law says we were both born grown up), how to make a living, how to be parents, and now how to be alone again as empty-nesters.  The college student is home now, so the nest is only half-empty.  But we are dreaming about when and where to retire and how to make retirement meaningful for us.  We have no idea when that will happen, so no details ... yet.

After 3 decades, we have grown closer to the Lord and He has been our sustenance and provider.  I can honestly say I do not believe any other woman has been more blessed than I have.

So Happy Anniversary to a man who has always been a gift to me, snoring and all.  Let's go for 30 more years.  We got married early enough to make that a reality, after all.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Tales from the Classroom - Seniorits

Most years, I teach a class of high school seniors.  Some times not, depending on enrollment and such.

Every year, at varying times, we have to deal with the annual outbreak of "senioritis."  "Itis" - inflammation.  So "senioritis" = inflammation of the senior.  I get to play tough teacher, reality breaker, and at times mom.

They always ask, "Why are we stiiiiilllllllllllll heeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeee?", thinking that close enough is good enough to be graduated and gone.  Well I'm teaching a dual enrollment class, so they have to stick with me until their final exam.

Some day they will learn the realities of having a job:  you do it until it is over on the last day.  There is no just showing up.There is responsibility and accountability and tasks that must be completed.  But for these high school seniors, finishing the job will mean saying goodbye to their friends, teachers, and school.  Some have never attended a different school - so this will be leaving home.

Some students I know I will never see again.  Some I really hope to see again.  I hope they take the lessons shared with them in their hearts and move out into that big world.  Some will bloom where they are planted while some will still be looking for that fertile land in which to be planted.  I know they are ready for change and the excitement their next steps will bring them, but I hope they aren't finished learning.

I hope to never be finished learning.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Tales from the Classroom - episode 2

This is a more current story.

I've got a student who has a little math anxiety.  Actually I have several students with a little math anxiety.  Sometimes they express it as hate... sometimes they decide in advance to accept defeat and just don't try.  Their problem is their teacher (me) has high expectations of all her students and I do not accept the lack of trying.

I believe all students, at some level, can succeed at something that is hard.  We all can't be good at the same thing - how boring would our world be?  I feel part of my job is to hold their hands a little bit and, at the right time, let go and let them fly solo.  The first time they do something independently is something wonderful to witness.

So one student with this anxiety has decided to trust me with her feelings.  She knows I don't judge if she tries hard. And she does try very hard and mostly, pretty successfully.

The thing that frustrates me are the students who do not take advantage of offered help in a timely manner, preferring to wait until right before the test.  Many times they will stare blankly and doodle on their notesheets, not filling them out, and then consequently not understanding the content.  Then they are the students who complain about homework when half of it could have been completed before they left school.

I am fortunate.  I love my students.  I love my job.  I feel so blessed to work in a place that puts faith in Jesus above all else, where I can openly share my faith with my students.  So, when I have to be tough with them, and I am, they know it is in love and with the hope they will choose to learn something that may challenge.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tales from the Classroom

Today I was inspired to write a series for this blog - Tales from the Classroom.
I teach in a Christian school, but I teach teenagers so it doesn't really matter the setting, except I am allowed to read Scriptures and pray with my students.  I get to blatantly, lavishly show the love of Christ to these students.  It is a privilege, truly, to share their joys and tragedies, anger and joy, even the pranks and silliness.  July will begin my 10th year back in a classroom.

Here's my first story.  My first year I only taught seniors.  They were a rough class as a group, kind of like walking on broken glass.  But there were some that took my heart, made me cringe, and made me laugh out loud on a regular basis.

I saw some students who dealt with clinical depression and they would break down in the classroom.  It doesn't matter what it was.  A test.  A bad morning at home.  It was raining.  And truly it didn't matter - except that they let me help them.  Sometimes I just sent them to the office to call home.  Sometimes I went with them into the hallway and let them cry on me.  Always it broke my heart and sometimes I still wonder about those kids.  It just proved to me all the more that we do not know the baggage a student walks in with, but my prayer is that they are able to leave that baggage at the door and enjoy high school.  Then there are those for whom high school is their baggage and being in school is truly miserable. I think I hurt for those the most.

Several of the high school couples married each other.  I'm a sucker for a high school romance since I had one.

The students I tell you about do have names.  I know them but you won't.  But if you recognize yourself here, former student, know that it is with love and respect for the adult you have become.

Monday, January 11, 2016

In the thick of it

The school year has re-started.  A new semester with new beginning and even two new students.  They are both Chinese and a little bit lost, I think, but excited to be here and smile with and at me.

I'm teaching Statistics for the first time - the prep is more intense than with Algebra, mainly because I've never taught it, but I love the subject.  The thick part is I didn't get my textbooks until the day before class started - not my school's fault - or my teacher's text until several days later, so I am one day ahead of my students and now trying for two days ahead.  I'm really in the thick of it.

I'm doing 9 or 10 hours at school, coming home and working another hour - sometimes two.  Sometimes I'm cooking dinner but sometimes I'm too tired or have too much to do and we decide to eat out.  I'm in the thick of it.

But there is balance.  I'm making time for myself every day.  Sometimes it's Facebook, sometimes it's genealogy, sometimes it's cooking.  Today I cooked something new and my dear son stated, "You can make this again."  Bacon cheeseburger soup - nothing wrong with that.  Now that is thick.

So what is all this thickness?  It's meaning.  Love.  Purpose.  Caring.  Being busy with things I LOVE.  Yeah - right now there's a mixture of tired and exhausted - joy and happiness - burdened and lightness.  So much wonderful and so much so much.  So much to be thankful for.  So blessed.

It's thick, I tell ya.