Lessons From a Broken Air Conditioner

Late in the summer, our air conditioner went out. Just completely and totally bit it, with no warning whatsoever. Well, strike that. That’s probably technically true, but in actuality I think it warned me early on but I mistook it’s warning for a minor glitch (involving spraying what I initially thought might be contaminated sewer water all through our hvac and, by extension, our house) and thought I’d fixed the problem when, in fact, I had not.

And just in case you’re as worried as I was, there was actually no poop water involved. So there’s that.

Anyway, while Tahd was away on a work trip (because, always) while I was pounding and sweating and swearing away in the basement at the condenser, it occurred to me that we had, in fact, lived in this house for a long time without ever having replaced something major.  No furnace, no roof, no hot water heater, and, yes, no air conditioner. Thirteen years, in fact. And none of this paraphernalia was new when we moved in.  Lucky us, I guess!

We’ve done the regular house things like painting and replacing faucets and fixing fences and even some DIY flooring work. Tahd has him some skills! 😉 In fact, it seems like there’s always a house project or ten on the back burner.  Our house is old and well-lived-in, and there’s always something to do.

We kicked off our school year at the beginning of September, and it’s been gradually wearing me done.  Which is to be expected, I suppose. Homeschooling is hard. Heck, education aside, just raising kids is hard. Exhausting, even. So it shouldn’t surprise me that I’ve gotten to the whinnying of November, eight weeks, with hardly a moment for myself and feel depleted. What did I think was going to happen?

Some realizations dawn over me slowly through trial and circumstance. Usually that’s the case. A precious few hit like lightning bolts out of nowhere, and that’s what the broken air conditioner did for me. It sent me a lightning bolt.

Self-care is not self-indulgence.

Somewhere along the way for me, self-care became associated with things like getting your nails done, taking a luxurious bath, buying yourself a treat, going out for dinner, eating some (or all the…) chocolate. Hear me here–there’s nothing wrong with any of these things! Not a thing!

But they’re not the primary things that feed my soul. I delight in them, certainly, but for me, they’re indulgences.  I tend spend a lot of my life rattling around inside my own head, so the things that feed my soul typically revolve around either intentionally engaging with or intentionally quieting the deeper parts of my spirit.  My most valuable sensorial experiences bring me back to the physical world via simplicity–the foundational essentials like moving my body, making sure I’m hydrated, and getting enough sleep.

For me, bubble baths and manicures are like building a beautiful enclosure and installing elaborate landscaping around my broken air conditioner without ever actually replacing it.

It helped me so much when I thought about my self-care in terms of home maintenance. I’d never expect my house to plug along unattended under the weight of our bustling family. No one would. That’s why landlords paint after tenants move out and home improvement stores run DIY classes and I have to book my concrete guy months in advance. Homes require basic maintenance, not just for looks but for safety and functionality.

Why do I expect to be any different?

To be the wife, mother, and woman I want to be, I need to keep my body healthy and I need to take care of my mind.  Period. These aren’t negotiables. They’re minimums, not indulgences. Just like Tahd had to fix the igniter on our furnace during one of our Wisconsin winters, I have to take care of my body and mind. They’re central to who I am, who I can be, and what I can offer to the world.

So I’ve been thinking about what I need to meet these minimums, even when things are hectic and stressful like they are now.  Which is probably just a description of regular life for those of us in these middle years–the not-a-child and not-retired era that spans most of the decades of our existences.

For me, I need quiet–not a lot, but a little. A few hours every week is ideal, but even every two weeks keeps my crazies at bay. My soul comes back to itself and I remember who I am independent of my identity as wife and mother.

I need to get dressed and do some sort of makeup and hairstyle every day. I imagine this is laughable to people who work outside the home for whom this would hardly merit a mention. But when I stay at home every day, it gets easy for me to slide into inertia and “forget” to get dressed.  If I’m having a funk-filled melancholic pajama day, I can often completely change my energy if I get dressed and do a little hair and makeup.

I need to drink water. I forget all the time, and I drag when I’m dehydrated.

I need to move my body. It regulates my mood and manages my depression like nothing else–better, even, than antidepressants.

I need some sort of creative outlet, some way to add beauty and soul to the world. I think this is why I love writing and photography, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be these two things. Sometimes just a beautifully-lettered heading on the next page of my bullet journal makes me happy all the way to my toes.  Sometimes, engaging in creativity feels indulgent to me and seems unnecessary, but without it, I get cranky and restless and paralyzed, and I remember that God created this need within me and honoring Him means honoring this part of me.

I need to cultivate peace–peace within myself, within my relationships, within my environment, and on behalf of others.

Maybe you’re geared to be more of a sensory person, and the feeling you get in a hot bath of the water floating your cares away speaks to you. Maybe the sight of your weekly manicure reminds you that you’re worthy of investing in yourself. Maybe the taste of a decadent, gourmet meal brings you together with loved ones who feed your extroverted soul.

It’s not about guilt over how simple or elaborate your self-care techniques are.  Nobody gets points for being super simple or for going above-and-beyond. Self-care is not a game. The extravagance of your self-care (or lack of it) does not define your worth. It’s simply about knowing what you need and doing what it takes to tend to your minimums.  If you have leftover resources for indulgences, great! Enjoy!  But the first level of work–your minimum–must be done, or we become like houses with immaculate curb appeal but are falling apart on the inside.

It is not indulgent to take care of yourself. It is necessary. Full stop. And that…well, that is what I learned about myself from a broken air conditioner.

Confessions of a First Year Homeschooler

We’ve just kicked off our second year as homeschoolers. On one hand, you’d think I’d feel like my experience prepared me for the second year, and it did, at least a little bit. But since Isla was due to start kindergarten, we added her to our mix, which means this year is an entirely different ball of wax–another year of growing and learning for me, I guess? Anyway, I’d been meaning to put down in black and white some of my observations on our experiences as novice homeschoolers. I wonder what my list will look like at the end of this year as “second time first year homeschoolers?” lol

On pulling a child out who had already been in public school for a while || this worked to our advantage. Gabe has a strong personality and dislikes it when others are in charge of him. Had we homeschooled from the get-go, establishing authority would have been a challenge. But because public school had done the work of setting up the structure and expectations, I could simply slide into using them without having to face confrontation after confrontation with him resisting.

On deschooling || I’ve seen a number of discussions about how if you’re taking your child out of public school, you should take a period of time to do basically nothing as a “deschooling” period – a chance to reset the norm and reengage with a love of learning. We didn’t really do this, but I don’t regret ignoring this piece of advice. What I did learn this year is that for the health of our relationships–not the health of our education, but the actual relationships–we all need some level of structure, and deschooling would have quickly devolved into chaos and power struggle. I’m not saying deschooling is bad or no one should do it; I’m just confident that it would have been a problem for us.

On independence || I didn’t foster much of it last year. Gabe wasn’t particularly motivated to take responsibility for his learning (unless it was learning Minecraft moves/commands/building structures). This is an area in which deschooling might have helped us, but probably to the detriment of our overall relationship. I’m hoping to foster more independence during the 2017-18 school year.

On being with my kids all. the. time…… || if there’s structure, this is okay for me. If it’s all free-form time and people are asking me to play with them/get them a snack/help them find xyz/whining about being bored every few minutes, I lose my mind. Structure gives us a framework around which to hang our day – me included. Granted, I didn’t do a great job at implementing structure. I treated our first year as an experiment in which we tried to figure out what kind of homeschoolers we’d be. However, now I know, or at least I have a better idea. Over the summer, I gave a lot of thought on how to muster the discipline needed to stick to a routine. Left to my own devices, I’m not great at this.  But with three people depending on me, I really need to hone this skill.

On finding curriculum || starting out, I bought things that looked fun and interesting to me. I’m not an all-in-one traditional curriculum person, so this eclectic method appealed to me. However, I quickly realized that a highly eclectic method puts a lot of the burden directly on me, and I started burning out. Around Christmas, we made some curriculum changes, and this was for the better.  It also meant we didn’t finish all of our curriculum by June, so we’re continuing much of it this fall. We’ll see how that pans out.

Fun things we did || beach days, poetry tea times, going to the children’s museum, staying up late to chart election returns, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, (mostly) daily morning meetings, keeping a year-long weather tree, an archery field trip, creating a time capsule…Fun stuff is where I imagine homeschooling to shine, right? There’s so much room for creativity and exploration! We did some things but not as many as I imagined we’d do.

Things we didn’t do || participate in a co-op. I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by commitments, so I decided to stick to the things we could do close to home or group events that were one-time things. We’ve joined two co-ops this year, so we’ll see how that’s different and which is a better fit.

Things I wouldn’t do again || I signed Gabe up for an online writing class, which was like pulling teeth for him. I wish I hadn’t done it because it created so much conflict and the benefit he gained from it was insignificant. It wasn’t a particularly interesting class. I also picked too many things that required hands-on planning and instruction on my part, which was exhausting and hard to keep up on.  Another area in which we struggled was getting our hours. In Wisconsin, you have to do 875 hours of instruction; however, I didn’t anticipate Gabe’s level of anxiety kicking in so much at varying points of the year, and this made sticking to a schedule difficult.  This year (along with some other interventions), we’re going to front-load the year with hours so that if we run into similar situations, we won’t feel as pressed for time as we get toward the spring.

Best books we read || by far, our favorite family read-aloud was By The Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman. I also loved doing Lentil with the little kids in the Five-In-A-Row manner. Gabe and I enjoyed reading The Omnivores Dilemma together, too. I’m hoping this one has some long-term payoffs in terms of his dietary choices.  Also, can I just say how much I love family reading aloud? Even with Gabe, who is plenty old enough to read himself. It’s just a really fun time of bonding over interesting stories!

Books we disliked || we super disliked The Phantom Tollbooth. What was that about??? So bizarre. This book has quite a committed following, but we did not get the allure. We also weren’t crazy about Danny, Champion of the World. It was okay but went very slowly for us. I’m not sure why because it’s not a long book. But it took forever!

I’ll be back another time with an update about things we’re planning for this year. We’re about a month into it so far, and it’s going fairly well!

If You Give A Girl A Hysterectomy…

She’s going to want a nap to go with it!

Or at least that’s what I’ve been wanting most of all lately!

(Side note: I wrote this right after surgery, which was June 13. It’s now September 12, which should tell you how crazy my summer was. Yikes. But I wanted to get this out there because I liked reading other people’s hysterectomy and recovery experiences.)

I had surgery on Tuesday the 13th, and 9 days later, I’m feeling really quite well. My procedure was done laparoscopically by robot, and I have 4 incisions – one just above my belly button, one each about a hands-width away from the center incision, and a final one further around on my right side. I’m told they have stitches on the inside, but all I see is the surgical glue holding the surface together.  My surgery lasted about two hours and went as expected, with the surgeon telling Tahd there were no surprises and no oops, for which I was very glad.

  1. Bladder spasms are a thing. I guess this wasn’t surprising to me, but what was surprising to me was that after I used the restroom, they did some sort of random ultrasound to see if my bladder had completely emptied. It had not, and from the sounds of things, had that not settled down, I would have had to stay in the hospital longer. A savvy nurse told me that I should pee as much as possible, stand up, sit down, and pee again. I did this over and over again, but it worked. I’m convinced this trick is the only reason I was able to go home the first day.
  2. Everything felt weird afterward. I actually went back to get checked because it felt like things were falling out, which, thankfully, they weren’t. Apparently that can be a medical emergency. The nurse said that sometimes things feel strange because nerve pathways are rerouting, and I think post-surgery constipation might affect sensation, too. Fun times. Also, the pelvic floor can also spasm as everything starts waking up from surgery, too, and that can feel weird.  That sensation had subsided after about 5 days.
  3. The worst pain during the first two days was the gas pain in my abdomen and shoulder.   Also, my belly felt HARD and immobile for several days afterward. It has gradually gotten softer and less swollen, but evenings are always swellier than mornings and some days are swellier than others.  A hot rice pack helped some with the gas pain, but it was, thankfully shorter-lived than the same pain I had after my c-section.
  4. Post-surgery nausea sucked even though they’d given me loads of anti-nausea medications. I was glad I had taken my essential oils and some mint tea along with me. On the flip side, all the nausea meds made me loopy and gave me a very dry mouth. So I was also glad I’d purchased gum and hard candies beforehand.
  5. I needed very little pain medication–several of the prescription pain pills the doctor prescribed and then some ibuprofen.  I’ve actually been surprised at how little pain medication was needed in the first few days! As my activity increases, I’m finding myself getting more sore now than I was earlier, which I wasn’t expecting. But it’s nothing a little Advil wouldn’t handle if I’d remember to take it.
  6. The top right incision feels worse than the other three. The doctor told me to expect one to be more bothersome, and he was right. I’m glad he told me because I would have thought something was wrong with it otherwise.
  7. It feels like I’m pregnant. All of my pregnancies have been very crampy in the early weeks, and this feels exactly the same. It’s a bit of a head trip, actually.  I forget I had surgery, feel the cramps, think, Oh my gosh…am I pregnant? And then remember that no, in fact, I am for sure not pregnant.
  8. In spite of the fact that we weren’t planning to have anymore children, it still feels sad to know that phase of life is over. The doctor explained, however, that the people who struggle most with recovery are the people who weren’t prepared for the emotional side of things, so I worked hard to prepare myself in advance.
  9. I could do stairs right away, and I could gingerly get things off the floor after a few days. I can lay on my stomach in bed. It’s still uncomfortable to do any sort of forward bend or to twist. I’ve driven, but the position of the car seat and the twisting to look over my shoulders make it less comfortable. I don’t lift much and I tire easily, so I’ve been napping most every day.

I’ve felt so well that we even went out on a little date last night! Pictures or it didn’t happen, right? 😉

I’m sure I’ll have more to share later on, but so far, so good. I’m really glad I took the plunge.  We’ll see if that holds up!

Bits and Pieces

Life’s a little crazy lately (more on that below), so it seemed like a good time for a little list-making!  Here’s what’s been going on around these parts lately…

loving || Living Proof Restore shampoo. You guys, this stuff. This stuff!!! It is changing my life. Let me explain. I do not love the grooming portion of my day. Especially the hair-washing portion. Maybe in another phase of life it won’t seem like such a chore? But for now, it’s just a necessary evil. In an effort to speed along the process, I try to wash my hair less often. It’s long, so washing/drying/straightening can be quite a process. If I use regular shampoo–even good regular shampoo like Pureology–I really have to wash every other day. I can maybe eke out a third day with a healthy dose of dry shampoo, but I won’t feel good about it. However, with this shampoo, I can get FOUR days. The first two to three days are fine, and the last one or two I need a bit of dry shampoo. But for real…it’s crazy. I know it’s expensive, but for the amount of time and hassle I save, it’s worth it.

watching || The Office. I just finished my second run through The West Wing. I felt so demoralized after the November election that I wanted to numb my political heartbreak with the help of my good friends Josh, Donna, Sam, CJ, and Toby. I liked to imagine their sagas were real and this circus we’re currently experiencing was the fiction. Alas, my binge is over but the circus continues, so I decided to lose myself among Jim, Pam, Michael, Dwight, and the others. However, I never watch the “Scott’s Tots” episode because of the horrifying disappointment aspect, and I decided that this time, I’m not watching the stuff after Michael leaves. It just wasn’t the same.

reading || The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner, and highlighting practically the entire thing. It is so, so good. It’s about identity and relationship with God and the intersection between the two. It makes me want to investigate the contemplative practices of faith. I’m also reading the Emily trilogy by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I recently finished the first one (Emily of New Moon) and was absolutely enchanted. What a delightful and vibrant novel! I actually didn’t start the second one yet because I wanted to sit with the first one for a little while. As well, I don’t want the series to end too quickly!

wondering || about the Young Living weight loss/cleanse program. I’ve seen what appear to be some great results, but I’m reluctant to take essential oils internally except on the rare occasion. But I’m super tempted!

struggling || to wrap up our school year. I’ll have more on our first year of homeschooling another day, but the quick version is that we still have a few weeks’ worth of hours to do, but everyone is feeling really burned out. I’ve learned a lot this year that will help me to adjust our structure for next year, but for now I’m just trying to keep us focused on finishing (at least somewhat) well.

enjoying || the sun. It wasn’t a long, hard winter this year, but it sure has felt like it took a long time to get warm enough to open the windows. We spent much of the holiday weekend outside and I even got to enjoy a few outdoor runs.  And we had dinner on the patio tonight, too. Lovely!

missing || photography. I used to take so many pictures, and it just hasn’t been happening lately. I don’t know if this is true for every woman, but I’ve found my soul thrives when I have a creative outlet.  But when life gets crazy, those soul-care items shoot straight to the bottom of my list. I’m thinking I have it backwards.

and finally, the biggie…

preparing || for surgery. I’m <gulp> having a hysterectomy in 2 weeks. I’m terrified. I don’t want to do it. What I really want to do is roll the clock back about 5 years and have one more baby. But since time travel hasn’t been invented yet (although Gabe would really like to try) and since I’m nearly 40, and since my last pregnancy was so difficult, I just don’t feel comfortable going through one more pregnancy, let alone if I could even actually get pregnant given my history.

Since Jude was born, my cycles have gotten progressively more difficult. I’ll spare you the details, but I’m at the point where it’s entirely unbearable. Also, I spend 2-3 days a month (stretching into 4 now) unable to do much other than walk back and forth from the bathroom to my kids. All. Day. Long.  I can’t do much of anything with them and I certainly can’t make any fun plans to leave the house. Add those days up, and I’m spending approximately one month of every year house-b0und and practically nonfunctioning. My period takes up nearly 10% of my year.  It’s too much!

Long story short, nothing the doctors tried has appreciably improved things, so this is all that’s left (this, being a robotic laparoscopic removal of my entire uterus and fallopian tubes but retaining my ovaries). I considered options for a year, and I decided that reclaiming a month of each year would be worth it. I’m nervous about the surgery, nervous about complications, nervous about recovery. My eye has started spontaneously twitching, which only happens when I’m super stressed, and I’ve and inhaled three different dip/chip combinations in the last 36 hours (thank you, Tastefully Simple), which amounts to something like two bricks of cream cheese and a cup each of sour cream and mayonnaise? Perhaps that essential oil cleanse is a good idea…Despite my anxiety, I think this is the right decision. If it goes well, I expect I’ll feel incredibly relieved (and probably not constantly anemic anymore, which will be nice), and odds of it going poorly are super small, while odds of things getting worse if I do nothing are pretty high.

If you’ve had this procedure, I’m all ears for any tips or insight you might have to offer!

Hope and Beautiful Things

It’s always one of the most tender part of my spring, the blooming of our magnolia tree, a passage of seasons I mark each year. To be sure, I do love that tree, both for what it has represented in my life as well as the unabashed splendor it displays while covered in giant white-pink saucers of blooming flowers.

The tree has just one fault–it drops all those gorgeous petals.

It makes a giant mess and, in the process, becomes decidedly unbeautiful.

It reminds me of our time spent living in northern Maine. Winters there were notorious and protracted, with snow often falling during eight months of the year and snowbanks that didn’t weep their final farewells until June. The first signs of spring were much coveted and long awaited, but each year as the early shoots of green appeared, they were quickly replaced by an ubiquitous layer of sticky brown dirtying everything in sight. Mud–the fifth season of northern Maine. Just when you think beautiful weather is on the horizon, everything looks like death again.

Such as it is with my tree, albeit our midwest winters aren’t nearly as tiresome. I look forward to its beauty every year, but before I know it, my lawn is a mess and the tree looks dead and brown and bare again.  Blah.

Of course, it’s not dead, just like spring is never destroyed by a little mud.  But it can do a surprisingly good imitation between blooming and leafing.

Hope, I’m finding, is much the same.  We struggle through difficult situations and seasons, thrilled when the first displays of relief appear. Much like my magnolia tree in full bloom, that relief can be quite breathtaking, as it was for me when after five years, we finally saw two pink lines on a pregnancy test. Other times, it’s more like the first shoots of green grass in the northern Maine spring, barely peeking up above the surface of a difficult winter but beautiful just the same

But sometimes, hope fades–the petals fall or the mud covers, and everything looks dead again.  And then, it feels like we’re back where we started, but this time we have no idea where we’ll end up. We saw those pink lines during four different pregnancies before we ever brought home our rainbow baby.  Or my dear, sweet, terribly colicky Jude. He teased us many a time with a few consecutive full nights of sleep, only to land squarely back into the “wake up 6 times a night” crazy-making phase for no reason.

This is where I’ve been lately with my anxiety and depression–unexpectedly slipping backward into territory I thought I’d covered already. More days than not, I’ve been finding my heart pounding and mind racing without even knowing why.  How is it that I’m almost 40 and I still feel like I’m a newbie when it comes to emotional management??? I wonder. I’ve done All The Things…the reading, the journaling, the exercise, the meditation, the medication, the counseling. I thought I had more coping strategies than this. I thought I’d done this before and learned some lessons. I thought this wouldn’t be so hard anymore!

I often get stuck here, too discouraged to hope any longer. I’m ashamed to realize my inner dialogue often goes something like this: You thought things were finally looking up. How ridiculous! Don’t you know the other shoe always drops? The petals always fall. Good things don’t last forever! 

Blah.

Tahd’s work took him to Brazil this month, and while he was gone, my mother generously offered to keep my kids on many of the evenings so I could have a bit of a reprieve.  Since my my parents only live a few doors away, I traipsed back and forth through the mess of fallen magnolia petals to and from their house many times during those nine days.

I’m not sure, but I suspect several neighbors find the fallen petals a nuisance. If they had their druthers, I’m sure a magnolia tree wouldn’t be anywhere in their landscaping designs because of the colossal mess, and understandably so. For some people, the mess isnt worth it. The beauty is short, the mess is huge, and it can be quite a bother.

But it’s worth it to me. I deal with the petals because I know they mean something to me.  The mess is temporary; in a few short weeks, the tree won’t look dead anymore, but will rather explode in vibrant greens, creating a canopy of happy shade over our front yard.  The tree will be strong and mature, beautiful in a new way.

Just because something looks like it’s taking a few steps backward doesn’t mean it necessarily is. My tree needs to shed its blossoms to make way for leaves. That’s life, too; sometimes, good and beautiful beginnings dissolve to make way for stronger, more mature growth that can go the distance.  The interim is not always pretty, but it’s not a reason for discouragement. It’s all part of the process.

That’s exactly what hope is–a process. A roller coaster, even. True hope is much grittier than the sweet, fluffy and frilly thing we imagine it to be. It’s tired and uncertain. It wears the pads of your fingers bare while you hold on with all your might, all the while believing that even though everything looks barren–again–energy and vigor still teem within, readying to unfurl their vibrant, mature beauty at the right time.

This is what I’m telling myself right now. When things are no longer picture-perfect or seem to be regressing, don’t lose hope, Heidi. What looks bleak one day may be making way for a beautiful, new growth in your life that takes you into your next stage of maturity.

It reminds me of a line in Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet:

 

If you’re in a dark, confusing or backward season, don’t lose hope, friend. We may not see the resolution from where we stand now, but we can be sure that just as in nature, the things taking place under the surface and just out of our view will continue to propel us toward progress and maturity.

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