Purge Is Not the Word

Downsizing is also not the word. What I experienced starting last April was so much more. My 50-4-50 list included “Purge 50 items at once,” but The Purge actually encompassed weekly, and sometimes daily, sorting and discarding over five months. It began in my home office area on a Saturday in April. That first purge lasted five hours, included a car trip to a recycling dumpster and half-filled our home’s recycling bin. I shocked myself as I discovered many of the papers I’d stored for so long. After living in our house for 23 years, raising two daughters, obtaining 3 college degrees, and teaching 23 years, the types of papers I’d collected ranged from manuals for kitchen appliances no longer in our home to students’ writing for my research papers to our daughters’ school work to tax returns from more than 10 years ago.

I’m not sure what prompted the first purge, but once I started, I didn’t stop. The Purge also led me to decide I was ready to sell our home and move into a new one. A call to a realtor and a quick purge by Todd and I of some basement items, resulted in us signing a Buyer’s Agent contract and one ticked off daughter. How could we sell her childhood home just as she was leaving for college?

With the prospect of finding a new home, selling our current home, and a move, the urge to purge increased. For the next one-two months, I surveyed every item in our home. “Do I need this? Do I want to move this?” By July, my hope of finding a new home dwindled, but The Purge mindset continued. I enjoyed surprising people with that little something. I gave a former student her 7th grade magazine project from at least 12 years ago. (The Purge spread to include my classroom.) A former colleague discovered an “I Love Cincinnati” magnet on her back porch railing I had planned to give her for at least the last three years. Along with the wooden student desk their mom planned to refinish, bottles of bubbles delighted two young cousins. I wanted to purge and kept purging.

In July when we signed a purchase agreement on a new home and the paperwork to actually sell our home, the purging continued.   Needless to say, by the time we moved at the end of August, I’d purged 50 items more than once. A drawback of The Purge though is that it, and the selling/buying of homes, took precedent over the rest of my 50-4-50 list. I’m still writing in my gratitude journal but my other writing, including blogging, is woefully behind. Now that The Purge is done, I can refocus my energy on attacking that 50-4-50 list. I’ll keep you posted…

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The Blank Refrigerator

Once upon a time there was a blank refrigerator.  It dutifully kept its contents cold for its owners.  Over time the refrigerator held more than just perishable food; it kept memories.  These memories were not found on the inside, but on the exterior of the refrigerator.  There were candid snapshots of family, magnetic momentos of trips and special surprises, a handmade poster, report cards, certificates of achievement, grocery lists, menu ideas, and more.  These physical objects meant less to outside observers but still provided a glimpse into the owners’ lives.

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A few of the items found on our fridge.

Over time the refrigerator tired and was replaced, but each new replacement refrigerator’s door became a display–until last week.  

You see, last week one of the owners started packing for the family’s move to a new house and the refrigerator isn’t coming along. Even though that particular owner isn’t sentimental, once she took all the items off, she found it odd to look at the blank refrigerator door. The move became more real to her, and a tinge of nostalgia hit her heart.

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Waiting for another family to fill the blank slate.

In the next house with a new refrigerator, the owner will post many of the same items but life is changing.  There are more transitions happening other than the move across town. College Dean’s Lists will replace the K-12 report cards. New UMD magnetic momentos will be added. Some photos will include new friends.

The owner finds it a little ironic that the new refrigerator will be slightly skinnier to fit in the new space.  It’s as if there’ll be less to post. Her heart is saddened a bit, but she’s certain there will be plenty of memories to share with the outside observer who takes a moment to glimpse at the new refrigerator’s door.

Hidden Benefits

When we bought our home 24 years ago, I pictured how it would look after our 10-year updating plan:  no suspended ceilings, fluorescent lighting, paneling, printed wallboard, or orange and black shag carpeting. The plan also called for a deck off the patio door, a new custom kitchen for me, and a big garage for Todd. Surprisingly, the 10-year plan only became an 11-year plan by the time all the major renovations/additions were complete. I enjoyed helping with all the projects, and living in the finished home, but that level of love and enjoyment has slowly diminished.

For the past  few years, I’ve mentioned possibly selling our home sometime in the future and that possibility could become reality soon. People ask me why I want to sell and my answer is  simply, “I don’t enjoy it anymore.” It’s the same reason I’m selling my piano. I don’t play it, and it’s time for someone else to love it the way I once did.

Twenty-four years ago I imagined raising children in our house but knew it would be a bit before a child would keep me awake all night crying in the panda-decorate nursery or learn to walk across the living room from the couch to the recliner.  What I didn’t know was just how wonderful our location would be for raising our two daughters. I thought about our yard’s hill and the sledding fun my kids would have, but I never thought about how they’d grow into the “big” hill at Harlow Park.  I didn’t realize how the alley and the American Legion’s parking lot next door would be where they’d learn to ride their bikes, drive the Power Wheels jeep, Todd’s truck, and for Ali, the 5-speed Ford Focus.

I also didn’t realize Park Cemetery would become our after dinner excursion spring through fall so the girls could learn to ride their bikes around corners, up and down hills, and end the adventure feeding the ducks.  

Then there’s Harlow Park.  It’s so close I would sometimes dish up our dinner and we’d walk down to have a picnic supper followed by playtime in the park.  The Fit Strip provided nature walks and snowshoeing excursions. So why sell? Because we don’t do any of these things anymore. It seems just a few years ago exploring our home’s interior and the yard proved enough to satisfy Amy and Ali’s curiosity, but soon came the requests to sled at Harlow Park without my supervision, then walk home from elementary school and a few more years later, bike to a friend’s home or Subway for lunch.   

Our girls’ worlds are ever-expanding and our home and it’s location isn’t big enough for them.   Yes, I’ll miss my neighbors (especially Sue Ann who has watched all of our home renovations and our babies grow into adults) and the quick access to the bike path, downtown and all my banking and shopping, but with each passing day, I know it’s time to leave our home and find the hidden benefits of another location.

How an Oil Change Reminded Me How To Be an Effective Teacher

Nervous. Stupid. Weak. Incompetent.   I didn’t expect to have any of these thoughts when I decided I wanted to revisit how to change oil on a car as a part of my 50-4-50 list. I spent many hours in garages with my high school boyfriend and his friends, so these feelings caught me off guard. Why was I so nervous? I’ve done this before.  I even thought of backing out at the last minute.  Was I really that concerned about looking incompetent in front of my husband of 25 years? I guess so.  Luckily, my confidence built quickly as I found the hood release, propped the hood up, and pulled the oil stick. A moment of doubt followed when I pushed the floor jack under the car and Todd asked, “See the frame?”  “Sure???” He pointed out a few different parts, and then we jacked up the car.

After successfully retrieving the proper tool by name only, my increasing confidence showed. Todd offered to help me unscrew the skid plate. “No. I got it.”  I struggled a bit (bifocals are a bitch when lying on a creeper under a car and trying to put the screwdriver into the screw), but I was able to chuckle at myself by this point. My confidence continued to build as I independently found the oil filter.  Then, when I tried to loosen the filter using the filter wrench, it happened again, that feeling of incompetence. Luckily, Todd struggled releasing the oil filter too, so I didn’t feel as bad.

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Todd continued being patient as I looked for the drain plug and struggled to loosen that too.  He taught me how to add leverage by hooking two end wrenches together and then lovingly offered to hold the wrenches and provide a little extra umph when my weak upper arm strength still showed. Once the oil drained and it was time to put everything back together, my confidence allowed me to work (almost) independently.  Of course, Todd checked in and didn’t wander away. He continued to answer my questions and even chuckled with me as I continued to complain about my bifocals, my weak upper arms, and my understanding of why my uncle’s garage was built with a floor pit.

One of Todd’s many sayings includes, “I’m only a dumb plumber but…” Without his guidance, I’m almost positive I would’ve never attempted the oil change or would’ve cried Uncle early on. He nudged me by asking a simple question, “Do you see the skid plate screws?” then when I wasn’t sure, he’d point one out and let me find the the rest. He provided the physical assistance I needed when I just wasn’t strong enough to budge the filter or drain plug, yet once loosened, he let me take over.  His patience and persistence, allowed me to eventually chuckle at my struggles. His genuine heart, belief in my ability, and careful balance between helping and pushing me guided me to my end goal and feeling of accomplishment. But more importantly, my “dumb plumber” husband reminded me just what I need to do, say, and believe to be a good teacher. Love you dear!

I Shouldn’t Be One of Those People You Envy

“You’re so lucky. I wish I didn’t have to worry about what I ate.  How do you stay so thin?”

I’ve heard these statements many times in my 50 years of living, and during my teens, it was especially tough.  I knew of girls struggling with eating disorders, and I felt guilty that I didn’t need to worry. Regardless of what I ate, I never gained weight.  But I also got tired of being told, “You’re too skinny; you should gain some weight.” Trust me–I tried. My doctor checked me for hyperthyroidism. I met with a dietician whose suggestion included eating more food. Maybe a nightly bowl of ice cream?  Considering my mom rationed my ice cream to one five-gallon bucket a week, I figured I met my ice cream quota already.

By my mid-twenties, I heard comments such as, “What until you have babies,” or “What until you turn 30.”  Those milestones occurred together. I gained close to 40 pounds with my first pregnancy and planned to keep about ten of those pounds after the baby was born. Nope.  Six weeks after the birth, I was back in my size 4 jeans to the chagrin of many of my fellow new moms. Pregnancy #2 didn’t help. Neither did the ages of 35, 40, or 45.  I don’t expect 50 to be much different.

So why am I the lucky one?  I’m not. During my teen years, it seemed as though I was told I should gain weight at least once a day.  Even my caring high school teachers would express their concern during parent-teacher conferences. I became self-conscious about my body.  I tended to wear baggy clothes more often because I hated how my hip bones protruded and my rib bones showed. Sure, even today, I still never have to worry about my clothes becoming too small, but I’m not the lucky one. You see, I also don’t have the visual reminder to eat healthy.

Being thin isn’t the perfect sign of a healthy eater.  I love chocolate and anything sweet. Remember my mom’s rationing of ice cream?  In high school I’d eat a pound of M&Ms during a Friday night movie. My mom would find chocolate bar wrappers hidden in my pillowcase and realize why her baking supply cabinet was missing some.  Luckily I grew up in a home where fresh fruit was always available and our family dinner always included vegetables that had to be eaten before I left the supper table.   Yet, I didn’t have to worry about my weight, and as a teenager, my heart health wasn’t even in the back of my mind.  

As I’ve grown older and raised my daughters, healthy eating habits are prominent goals. Do I eat as healthy as I should?  No. I’m still not a big fan of vegetables and that’s why part of my 50-4-50 list includes eating more of them. When I realized I eat fruit more often because they are sweeter and they require less prep, I used that idea to help increase my vegetable intake. 

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Honey Mustard Chicken & Vegetable Pasta Salad

This past year I started taking a daily Bugs Bunny moment and chomp down a full carrot.  I try to remember to cut up vegetables so they are readily available in the refrigerator, and I try to find recipes which incorporate vegetables. Will I ever be a big fan of vegetables? Probably not. Will I ever get to a point when my clothes are too small? Probably not. But I certainly won’t let that be an excuse for not taking steps to improve my diet because even skinny people need to eat healthy.

20 Recipes, 30 To Go

At Christmastime Instapots were all the rage, but instead I asked my mom for a cast iron skillet. My schedule during the school year results in a rut of suppers, so I figured something new would result in new recipes. For Mother’s Day, Todd and girls bought me two more skillets. img_1152My new skillets paired with my 50-4-50 list worked!  I’ve tried 10 cast iron skillet recipes and 11 other recipes. Many thanks to my family who have tasted all of them, even if it was a courtesy bite.

Cream Balsamic Mushroom Chicken aka “Stinky Chicken”  Ali is hesitant to try new foods and even though it “stinks” and she doesn’t care for mushrooms, she’s asked for this one numerous times since.  

Chicken Parmesan Chicken Parmesan is an old favorite in our house, and my family is used to me tweaking recipes, so I felt safe with this one. It is a hit including my individual tweak of using panko instead of bread crumbs.

Chicken Pot Pie  Another recipe to repeat.  I used a homemade Bisquick mix for crust.

Skillet Garlic Butter Herb Steaks: Using the skillet for steaks was completely new to me. Recipe earned repeat requests.

Lemon-Blueberry Dutch Baby  I found this recipe in the Parade section of the Sunday paper. My freezer is empty of hand-picked blueberries so I used frozen blackberries instead.  After making this dish, I realized it’s basically Pannukakku (Finnish pancakes).

Cinnamon Apple Dutch Baby A different version but still tasty!

Easy Pan-Fried Chicken  I made this w/canola oil and instead of dipping, served the pieces on a salad bed.

Skillet-fried Bratwursts from the Food Co-op:  I’m lucky to live just one block away from our local food co-op.  Ali requested bratwursts the other day so I stopped at the Co-op deli to purchase individual ones.  I chose the Turkey, Basil, Tomato Sausage. Todd enjoyed the Jalapeno-Cheddar while Ali chose the regular over Oberon.   

Cheesy Tex-Mex Cauli Rice  I prepared some cauli-rice as a side dish recently. Ali refused to try it since I wouldn’t tell her what it was, but both Todd and Amy liked it. For this recipe I used cauli-rice that already had some peas and carrots in the mix.  I skipped the tomatoes since I didn’t have any. Amy enjoyed the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Other recipes

Slow Cooker Scalloped Potatoes Not only is this a new recipe but the cheese (Gruyère) is new too. Though not a favorite of Ali’s, the rest of the family enjoyed this recipe.  I figure I’ll use it when she’s off to college next fall. One tweak: I added leftover ham.

Another Scalloped potatoes  If you’re interested in keeping it to basic ingredients, here’s one to try. Since Todd was off of work healing, I found the recipe and he made these.

One pot turkey taco skillet  I’ve made a similar recipe but usually don’t put the cheese and tomatoes into the skillet as this recipe calls for.

To Die for Crock Pot Roast For the past few years, I’ve made my own Ranch and Italian seasoning mixtures so for this recipe I only purchase the gravy seasoning packet.

Garlic Herb Tuna I made this one for myself and loved it.

Sloppy Joe Bowls  I can only ask my family to change their eating habits so much.  For this we still used buns instead of the potato.

Lentil Sloppy Joes I make this recipe in smaller batches for myself as my family prefers “real” (meat) Sloppy Joes.

Mini Turkey Meatloaf Ha! Tricked the family on this one.  They never even knew they were eating sweet potatoes and loved them.

Honey Mustard Pasta Salad.  One of the benefits of being invited to parties is the chance to try out a new recipe.  I found this recipe card stuffed in with some of my other recipes. Even though I’m not a big fan of mustard, I enjoyed this one.

Last night I used an all-purpose seasoning mixture as a rub on steak for steak tacos and today I’m using a Mediterranean seasoning mix in the slow cooker with pork tenderloin. Both of these recipes are from Beach Body. I already use a taco seasoning similar to their Smoky Southwestern combination.

Over the summer break, I know I can find more recipes to try.  As for the rest of my 50-4-50 list? I’m making progress, especially continuing to write in my gratitude journal, logging 50 miles per month for my 2018 Run the Year team, and scheduling my colonoscopy for early next month.

23 Years

My classroom is ready for summer now.  All the student desks are pushed together, the computer is unplugged, the bulletin boards blank, the cabinets filled with miscellaneous office supplies, and the door is locked.  As of 6:40 pm yesterday, I’m officially done with my 23rd year of teaching.

Each year brings its own successes and challenges, with one of the biggest challenges being the last week of school with a group of eighth graders excited, but still nervous, to become high schoolers. Every year I try to embrace the last few days, and this year I truly did.  

I don’t know what was different, but this past week didn’t seem as trying to me.  Sure there were times when I was forced to take a deep breath before reacting, but even those moments only needed me to pause for one breath, not 10 or 20.  Part of me thinks it’s because I have a graduate in the house and can compare senioritis with eighth-grade-itis, but then again, there’s lots of events this past year that helped me to react differently to each moment (Growing Down, Barometer Check).  This past week I relished each positive more, especially yesterday. Who can’t help but laugh and smile when four of her students dress up as Greasers Dally, Sodapop, Ponyboy and Johnny on the last day of school just because? Or when the students put her desk chair on the standing desk because, “You said to get as much as possible off the floor.” Or a few minutes later when there’s a student sitting in the same chair even though the chair is still on the standing desk? “Look we gave her a heart attack!”  Or when that one kid sees her in the parking lot and says, “Thank you,” twice because she didn’t think she heard it correctly the first time? Yes, these were the moments that made me feel a little more sentimental this year, yet I still know it’s time to let go. As I tell my colleagues and students’ parents, “They’re ready. They need to move on.  If they didn’t act this way or I didn’t feel ready for them to leave, I wouldn’t feel as though I’ve done my job.”

PS:  As I prepared to post this, I happened to read Bud the Teacher’s post.  He summed up what I’ve been doing, “take the time to notice and appreciate when things go right, too.”  What difference it makes.

Celebrating Our One Year Anniversary.

It’s been one year ago today when Todd reached over and squeezed my knee in the middle of the night to wake me up. We can joke now about my first thoughts, Really?! Now? I need to work in the morning,  but that night, it took me only a few more moments to realize he was squeezing my knee and he was squeezing it hard.  When I rolled over to look at him, he told me he was having chest pains. My cynicism turned into the realization that one of my worst fears was probably coming true–Todd was suffering a heart attack.  

I knew by the time I drove the few blocks to the hospital, the ambulance would only just be arriving at our home.  I also knew an ambulance at 1:15 am would cause too much excitement for Amy. I decided to take a chance.

“Can you make it to the garage?”

“I think so.”

I quietly woke up Ali and told her I needed to bring Dad to the hospital. Within seconds Amy called out from her room. I don’t remember what I told Amy, but it was something quick with the hope she would go back to sleep.

I found Todd struggling to walk the stairs to the garage. Don’t make me regret not calling the ambulance. 

With him finally slouched in the passenger seat, I pulled out of the driveway and then sped up Seventh Street. It’s only a few blocks to the hospital.  What if he passes out? Do I keep driving or stop and call the ambulance?

This wasn’t our first middle of the night drive to the ER, but I knew this one was different.

 

“Wheelchair.” The only word he said as I parked by the ER doors.

My fear increased.  Todd asking for a wheelchair? I remembered a friend saying, “If you say ‘chest pains’ in the ER, you’ll get moved to the top of the list.”

The moment I pushed Todd through the entrance doors, I said, “Chest pains!”

In the ER the doctor confirmed my fear; Todd was having a STEMI. The cardiologist was on his way. Todd would be headed to the Cath Lab very soon.  A hospital employee offered to move my car. I called my dad and Cheryl to have them come down to be with the girls. Todd joked about the shaving job the nurses were performing. I watched the clock, the monitors, and the nurses charting his medications. The ER doctor gently rubbed my back as I turned away for just a few moments to wipe the tears which had formed in my eyes.  

I refocused on my left hand which was engulfed by Todd’s. I tried wiggling my fingers. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him he might cause me to end up in the bed next to his with a broken hand. “Sorry,” he said as he loosened his grip and smiled. I returned the smile and somehow knew hewas going to be alright.  

 

Now, I can smile again as I think back to that night one year ago. It’s been a trying year for all of us, but I know his grip is just as strong and his heart just as soft.

Barometer Check

Today as I compare the past year to Ali’s 18 years of childhood, I realize time warps depending upon the circumstances.  It’s a cliche to say, “It only seems like yesterday when Ali…” but it’s true for the most part. It doesn’t seem as though 10 years have past since sticker-pox covered her body or she answered “Cirque” when asked about her favorite part of our Disney trip.  It doesn’t seem as though it’s been almost five years since I told myself that I was in a holding pattern. I wasn’t going to look for anything new in my own life. I knew I only had the next few years to help Ali become the strongest, most independent young lady I could. During the first four of those years, time felt as though it was moving in warp-speed. Ali spent a good portion of her summers living away from home. She flew alone twice to spend Christmas with my sister’s family instead of here at home.  She also decided on a college we visited exactly one year ago.

Circumstances resulted in time warping from light speed into slow-mo during that drive and college visit. It doesn’t “seem as though it was only yesterday” that Todd’s health issues began or that Ali picked a college to attend. This past year proved difficult, but yet when I think back, I realize it might be because I’ve slowed down.  I’m sure many of my friends (and family members) would say I haven’t slowed down, but I know I have. I leave a much longer to-do list at school and at home. I’ve always known a teacher’s to-do list never ends, but enjoying a breakfast date or spending time with Todd and girls almost always comes before school work. Even though I still plan for the future, the have-tos on my calendar are different. Church on the weekend, walking the dog and generally finding more time for myself is a priority. I’ve learned to be more patient, to be a little more spontaneous, and to be even more grateful.  Part of me thinks the change is due to turning the big 5-0, but I think it’s more than that.

By the time Amy was about 8 years old, I learned to use her most challenging times to stop and refocus myself. She’s my barometer, but as she’s matured, my personal barometer didn’t check me as often in the past few years. I suppose Todd’s heart attack and leg issues acted as a check for me.  Challenging times ground us by slowing down time and forcing us to find moments to breathe. I want to say I’ve learned some good lessons in the past year so maybe when time tries to move into warp speed again, I’ll remember to still take it slow.  If not, I’m quite certain there will be another barometer checking my pressure again.

50-4-50 update:

Celebrated my 50th on Friday the 13th with some friends and family.

Travelled 250+ miles to spend time with Lisa, then we visited Vegas together

Received 50 gladiola bulbs for my birthday from my sister.  Now to remember to plant them.

50 push-ups, but only 40 before I need a short break to get in the other 10.

 

Unstuck Thanks to a New Decade

April is Poetry Month so what better way to reflect upon my birthday than to read some poems. When I turned 39 I read Billy Collin’s poem “On Turning Ten” and reflected on how 40 was basically the halfway point of my life.  Our children were old enough for me not to want to revisit the joys of pregnancy again, a career change wasn’t in the near future, and our mortgage needed at least 10 more years of payments. I felt stuck.  

Now that 50 is here, the feeling is different.  No, I’m not expecting a baby again, but grandchildren could be in my future. (After you finish college Ali.) Our mortgage is paid, and I’m looking at downsizing.  I don’t expect to make a career change, but I certainly don’t feel stuck in my job.  Most days I love my job, and even when mandates dictate my class time, I can find joy by focusing on what I truly believe is important for my students. I feel freedom.

I plan to start Growing Down thanks to Shel Silverstein and the freedom 50 provides. Without realizing it, I started by spending a few days in Vegas with my buddy Lisa relaxing.  Yes, I felt older each morning as I rolled out of bed and tried to reach my toes. No, I didn’t eat 47 ice cream cones or spend twenty dollars on chewing gum. But we rode the NYNY roller coaster. I screamed, laughed and smiled just like a kid again.  I smiled more, worried less, and started growing down.

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