Day 76 ~ Migraines and Clutter Bombs

My life has gone crazy. Well, not more than anyone else’s life goes nuts, but it hasn’t been normal. First, my little one got sick with a strange infection. Then my daughter was in the state poetry recitation finals. Then I got a migraine – my first “real” one all year, and it incapacitated me for about three days. I still have the hint of it playing around the periphery, so I’m being very careful not to move my head too quickly. All this has caused me to be amazed.

I’m amazed at how many dishes are in my sink. I’m still not caught up, though the dishwasher is now full of clean dishes, so I’m almost there. I’m amazed at how three days without the 10-minute tidy results in my house looking like the Clutter Monster exploded a clutter bomb. When Mama goes down for the count, all sorts of things quit getting done. And I’m amazed at how discouraged I feel that a few days out of whack seems to take me back to the starting point.

However…

One reason I’m writing this online journal is because I really, truly do NOT want to quit. I want to reach my goals. Writing does

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Hopacrab (which I'm probably not spelling right).

several things. For one, it keeps me accountable. I know someone is reading, someone is wondering how my progress is going, and so I don’t want to let that someone down. But writing does something else. It acts as a catalyst. All those thoughts and emotions that get swept aside in the frenzy to get things done, well … they get brought out and analyzed in order to write a post. And that analysis helps me feel better, which I can’t really explain, but it’s the truth.

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Tulips in my garden.

So today, I’ll get caught up in the kitchen. Then tomorrow, maybe I’ll accomplish some of those things I’ve been writing and re-writing on my action items list for days. Then, because my children are on spring break, I’ll be absent for a few days as we’re heading out to soak in some therapeutic mineral springs and enjoy springtime in the Rockies. I’ll post pictures when we’re back.

Springtime has landed here, too, with tulips and fruit trees in bloom. There’s beauty all around, and it has inspired me. After a few days off, I will come out swinging. Beware, Clutter Monster…

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Day 72 ~ Stollen

Today, my older daughter had to bring a food to school representing her ethnicity. With all the blue eyes and fair skin in this family, that landed us in the north – either the British Isles, Scandinavia, or possibly Germany (on her papa’s side). Since my Scandinavian mother taught me to cook, I told my kiddo to pick something from Norway or Sweden.

She immediately jumped to lutefisk. If you don’t know lutefisk, count yourself lucky. (To all our Scandinavian friends who eat this stuff by choice, please forgive me). Lutefisk is a white fish, preserved in lye, with the consistency of the jelly that oozes out when you open a canned ham. Seriously.  If you think I’m kidding, this is the definition in my dictionary: a Scandinavian dish prepared by soaking dried cod in lye to tenderize it, then skinning, boning, and boiling the fish to a gelatinous consistency. Yum. I’ve eaten lutefisk many times out of duty, but wasn’t about to cook it. So I made some suggestions, and she chose Stollen, a bread eaten by both Scandinavians and Germans and which I’ve made before with my mother for Christmas.

Normally, since this was her school project, she’d help me. But yesterday was the Colorado Poetry Out Loud state finals, and my daughter, having won her school competition, got to attend. At thirteen, she was the youngest participant and we are enormously proud of her performances. (The mama in me had to give a shout out, because she did great). But … this meant I had to make the bread alone, and because I hadn’t thought through the timing, I almost didn’t start in time to get it done before the competition. So today, I’m writing about the Stollen, because that’s all I did yesterday (besides hours of poetry).

Stollen is a mildly sweet, glazed yeast bread. It is filled with currants, dried or candied fruits, almonds, orange peel and lemon peel; and it’s seasoned with cardamom, a spice frequently used in Scandinavian dishes. I considered cleaning up before I took the picture, but this is more authentic. I was in such a rush putting it together that my kitchen looked like something exploded by the time I was finished. My house smelled deliciously of oranges though, which is so much better than the smell of lutefisk…

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Stollen

4+ cups of bread flour
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup currants
1/4 diced dried cherries
1/4 chopped blanched almonds
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Glaze:
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon butter

In a saucepan heat and stir milk, butter, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt till warm (120˚ – 130˚). Butter will be almost melted. Add to yeast in a large mixing bowl and stir. Add cardamom and 4 cups flour, and stir until combined. Add additional flour until dough comes together without being too sticky. Stir in currants, dried fruit, almonds, and orange and lemon zest.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (5-8 minutes). Shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl; turn once. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double – about 2 hours.

Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into thirds. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Roll one portion into a 10×6-inch oval. Without stretching, fold the long side over to within 1 inch of the opposite edge – press lightly to seal. Place on greased baking sheet. Repeat with remainder of dough. Cover; let rise until double – another hour.

Bake in a 375˚ oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden. Remove to racks and cool for thirty minutes. Mix glaze and brush over the warm bread.

Day 70 ~ What Once Was Lost

This morning I fell back to sleep after turning my alarm off. This is something I almost never do and I’m blaming Daylight Savings Time – I can still play that card, right? I got up at 7 A.M., 1/2 hour late, and this turned into excuse #1 not to do my morning exercise. Then, as I got up, I felt a pain in my right hip. This is something that has bothered me off and on my whole adult life. I can go months with no pain whatsoever, but I can also have pain so extreme it becomes debilitating. Because of this, I’m very careful if I feel even the slightest twinge. This became excuse #2 to skip the morning routine.

However, as I thought about it, I had to admit that I can come up with about a dozen excuses a day to avoid doing what needs to be done. Life is all about choice. I can pretend I have no choice (by making excuses) or I can choose to do the hard thing. So this morning, I chose.

I did my morning exercise. Then I attacked my action item list, because I’ve been getting precious little done lately from my list, writing the same things over and over (and over). Today, I decided to create a new storage place for my sweaters. I chose this under the bed box with wheels. I was so pleased – but it couldn’t go under the bed because of the bizarre collection of things that have been pushed or kicked under there over time.

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This meant I had to start by cleaning out everything under the bed. I pulled out such a variety of things: books, miscellaneous papers, a pillow (?!?), empty pill bottles, and … my pom-pom maker! (Read here if you’re wondering how this is in any way relevant). I knew I’d find it a some point, and it is now living happily with my other knitting supplies.

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The elusive pom-pom maker.

I felt so satisfied. I cleaned up a bunch of junk. I found something that was lost. So, with a happy heart I pushed my rolling box under the bed and … it didn’t fit. It’s too tall. I couldn’t believe it. I was so pleased. It was going to be a perfect solution. And now I have no where to put it.

Never, ever, ever – not once did it occur to me to measure. It’s at times like these I think I could use professional help. Or something. *deep sigh*

Day 67 ~ Five Year Survivor

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Bald (with a cute hat).


Five years ago today, I had surgery and began nine months of treatment for breast cancer. It was an extremely long haul, and continued six months later as I had the first of four surgeries to reconstruct my body after my bilateral mastectomy, having my final surgery in March, 2010. In many ways, this illness derailed me. It was during this illness that “the lair of the clutter monster” (a closet I’m still working up my courage to face) became the mess that it is. It was during this illness that I lost my energy, my stamina, my flexibility, and my sense of myself as being whole and beautiful. I went through a horrible struggle to accept my new body as “good” because it is literally covered with scars and doesn’t work quite like it used to. It was during this time that I stepped back from being the author of my own story, and became a passive participant. Life was happening to me, but I wasn’t actively living.

However, cancer taught me many things as well. It taught me to never take anything for granted – seriously, not anything – not my time, not my health, not my relationships, not my blessings. I am grateful every single day. Since my cancer was aggressive, complicated by two life-threatening infections, I am acutely aware that each day is a precious gift. I do not feel a sense of entitlement, and every morning when I wake up, I rejoice that I am alive and that the day holds the potential for really great things to happen. As I left cancer behind me, I also awoke to the fact that getting back to life only involves two things – faith, and choice. I can (and do) choose to author my own story, and I build that story every day with small, consistent steps.

I wrote about my cancer experience. If you’re interested, you can read about it here. I didn’t write about everything, only those things that were particularly hard for me. When I go back and read those blog posts, I sometimes cry for that girl. God has done such an amazing healing work, not just physically, but emotionally too, that it’s as if I’m reading someone else’s story.

So, today is a day of joy. I am a five year survivor! I think I will shout it – I AM A FIVE YEAR SURVIVOR! Today, I acknowledge to the world that I am undeniably blessed. Today, I celebrate.

Day 65 ~ Journey Oriented

I recently finished a book (fiction) where one of the characters so inspired me. This character, a woman in her 50’s, had been walking four miles a day, five days a week for seventeen years. Over that time, she’d lost a pound a year, and her body shape had changed causing her to drop a couple of dress sizes. At the same time, her friends had hit a point in life where they were gaining about three pounds a year. I loved it. She walked to keep active and stay healthy, but the result was that she was trimmer, fitter and more energetic than her compatriots who were starting to put on the mid-life bulge. This woman was a testament to consistency, and I was inspired.

simplicityI had been feeling that my own weight loss was happening at a snail’s pace. I’ve lost 12 pounds since the first of the year. Reading this book helped me feel encouraged about that, instead of frustrated. It helped me take my eyes off of some kind of destination, and focus more on the journey. I feel better – no question about it. I have more energy, more stamina, and a noticeable increase in flexibility, especially in my right shoulder. My shoulder is stiff and sore every single day because of scar tissue, inelastic skin (resulting from radiation therapy) and reconfigured anatomy (because of muscles which were moved to reconstruct my body after a bilateral mastectomy). I can now lie on my back on the floor, reach my hands over my head, and touch the backs of my hands to the floor – something I could not do just a few short weeks ago. I’ve seen a massage therapist one time (last month) who practices “bone rocking”, a method for gently convincing a tight joint to relax and open up. That one visit and consistent exercise and I feel closer to normal than I’ve felt in five years.

All this motivates me to keep going, regardless of the physical manifestation of weight loss or lost inches. I’m even motivated this week, with the bane of Daylight Savings Time which has resulted in doing my exercise, once again, while it’s still dark out. (There is definitely a temptation to stay under the covers). I write about all this to remind myself that I am seeing progress. The steps may be small, but they keep taking me in the right direction. A year from now, I’ll be so glad I started this journey and didn’t make excuses. My home will be peaceful. (It’s already more peaceful than it was). My body will be fit. I’ll have more vitality. My life will be new.

What journey have you been thinking about beginning? Change is hard. The first step is hard. Getting back up after you trip and fall is hard. But you are brave – I just know you are. Take the first step. A year from now, you’ll be so glad you started today.

Day 63 ~ Satisfaction

The best things in life are nearest:  Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.  Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.  ~Robert Louis Stevenson

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Spring is in the air.

Once, at the women’s Bible study I go to twice a month, I was bemoaning the drudgery of running a home. No task is ever completed. One does the same things over and over and over. I sometimes feel that I was created for something else, something that would use what I perceive as my giftedness. But instead, I’m asked to operate in the area of my greatest weakness all the time by managing a home and educating my children, activities which require organizational and administrative skills that are in want. Well, a very wise friend gave me this advice that day. She said I should live life like a monk. She said that everything my hand finds to do, I should do as an act of worship to God. In that moment, I felt my perspective shift. If those things I find painful and occasionally mind-numbing, actually bring glory to God, well… it gives them infinitely more value. But the clincher is this – if God really receives those actions as acts of worship, then the act itself takes on a spiritual component. Doing the laundry becomes quietly honorable, because no one else may see it for what it is, but the Lord does. Laying aside what I want to do, in order to do what must be done, becomes not just a sacrifice, but a sacrificial act of worship.
Today was a day of “have-tos.” I had to take my little girl to the doctor. Then I had to spend twenty minutes convincing her to swallow the antibiotic, all the while she’s weeping and I’m telling her she’s brave. I felt a bit defeated knowing we had to do this twenty-nine more times, but tonight’s dose only took about 30 seconds. (Maybe it was the homemade chocolate milkshake chaser I made…) I had to buy groceries, and I had to make dinner, and a variety of other things that were non-negotiable. I never got to my action items. Hence, the Stevenson quote. Even when my well-thought-out plans go awry, I know the best things in life surround me – my husband and children, my extended family and friends, books that I love, a family dinner table that brings us together, a teen-aged daughter who likes to spend time with me, coffee (yes, coffee) and healthful food at my fingertips, and a deep and abiding knowledge that God loves me like crazy. It’s like a little miracle, but doing “life’s plain, common work as it comes” really does increase the pleasure of all these things in my life – especially when I do them with an eye toward eternity. I am satisfied. And, after all, there’s always tomorrow…

Day 60 ~ The Quiet Voice of Courage

simplicityI’ve been at this now for a couple of months, and I figure it’s a good time to take stock.

I’ll start with the positive things. My daily routine has become just that – routine. I almost never skip those few things that keep the house running smoothly. This includes morning exercise, 10-minute tidy, kitchen and 90-second hard surface clean in the bathrooms. It’s amazing to me, now that the system is in place, how easily I’m keeping up.

The morning exercise is having a great effect – along with reducing sugar intake. Increasing hydration isn’t going as well, which should be the easiest thing I do, but, well… I’ll keep working on that. I stepped on the scale yesterday and I’ve lost twelve pounds (hopefully to never, ever be found again). I actually had a fabulous little moment this morning. It’s quite nice here – in the 50’s and sunny, so I pulled a lightweight, long-sleeve cotton shirt out to wear. The last time I wore this it was fall, and I had to wear it open with a tank top under it because it wouldn’t button without straining in a very unattractive way. Today, it buttoned with no problem and is hanging loosely on me. This makes me happy.

The thing I’m really struggling with is using my notebook to keep a to-do list and an ongoing list of three daily action items. I did so well with this at first, but I find I’m keeping more and more of my tasks in my head (where they inevitably get lost). I need to revamp this and try again, so I’m going back to the original plan of reviewing my day right before bed each night. I’ll review my lists and make my action list for the next day right then, when there are no distractions. The added benefit of this is that I can release anything knocking around in my brain by writing it down, which will encourage relaxation and a good sleep. I started afresh today, with two items on my action item list that contribute to organization and peace. The first (which is already done) was to clean out my email inbox. I deleted 1,056 emails today!!! (You think I’m joking…) Whew! The second is to collect all the little piles of things I have to give to charity, box or bag them, and put them in one place.

I know no matter how many times I trip up, as long as I stand back up and go again, I will see change and progress. That’s pretty exciting. With this in mind, I think it’s appropriate to end with this quote:

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher