Reviewing Observations

Last June I resigned my full-time teaching/school administrator position to relocate to Michigan from Missouri.  I did this because a) I love my husband; and  b) I have a life-style changing auto-immune disease. I took six months off from work and have been gradually introducing more and more work into my life since January. I’m almost a year into this grand experiment, and  I’m eady to review some of my observations.

After the initial dust settled from our cross-country move, I spent a significant amount of time on the couch watching Netflix, in my bed resting, at the gym exercising, and on my computer blogging.  I really needed that time to recover after over 20 years of parenting, schooling, and working at or above my human capacity.  It was lovely — I had time to make friends, I began to listen to my body, I reconnected with my love for writing. It was healing physically, yes, and also emotionally.  For the first time in twenty-two years, my husband and I were living alone, enjoying a slower pace, and sucking up every minute of it.

But, I couldn’t quite rest easily because I didn’t have any students in my life. I know, I know –over the past umpteen years I have fussed and fumed about the menagerie of kids that have sat across the table from me — they are egocentric, they don’t meet deadlines, and, indeed, they smell bad.  But, you know, I love them. I can’t seem to get enough of them.  Something magical exists within each of us — an innate ability to learn, to process, to interact and be changed — that will never cease to take my breath away.  I had to have students back in my life.

It started with just one guy — a graduate student who needed help on his dissertation.  What a joy that was!  I got to have a text-based conversation with him about educational practices and how they impact learning!  That taste just whetted my appetite, so I moved onto a retired writing instructor who had written a novel and just wanted a final proof for grammar and punctuation errors.  That led me to set up a profile on an online service connecting teachers with students for one-on-one assistance.  In six months I have logged over 120 hours with almost twenty different students ranging from sixth graders to graduate students.  I’ve worked on research papers, vocabulary lessons, dissertations, speeches, and test preparation.  Each lesson is different, each student a challenge.

So why didn’t I stop there?  While tutoring independently, I could still maintain my exercise regimen, still build friendships, still find time to rest.  Why did I have to push the limits and take on a job that will soon be at forty hours a week for the duration of the summer? Because I had to know. I had to know if I was imagining my limitations or if they were real.  Maybe I was just burnt out from teaching and sorely in need of a vacation.  Maybe I had imagined all my symptoms.  Surely I didn’t have that much pain, that much fatigue, that much stiffness.  How could a regular job be too difficult for me?

Because it is.  This week I worked thirty-two hours at the agency and an additional seven hours tutoring.  Not quite 40 hours, but it was a bit too much.  Yesterday, at the end of an eight-hour shift, I met some friends for drinks and dinner.  I called one of my friends by the wrong name — twice!  This is a friend I have known since the fall! I was mortified. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, but I was home before nine and crawled straight into bed — no reading, no television, no nothing.  I was entirely depleted.

This morning I woke up crabbily.  I can feel the inflammation through my body like an electric current.  It is as if I am electric blanket that has been turned up to ‘high’ —   I can feel all the wires as they heat up.  My lips are dry and tingling. My back and hips ache.  My eyes are screaming, “If you think you are going to put those contacts in, think again!”

Yup, it’s too much.  And, just to be sure, I am going to push it a little further.  This week will be a little lighter because of a trip I am taking for the second half of the week, but then I am certain I will be working over forty hours a week for the duration of the summer.  Why don’t I just walk away now?  Because I know me.  If I walk away right now, I will rest up for a few weeks then start thinking that perhaps I was imagining my fatigue, maybe I didn’t really have all that pain, maybe my symptoms weren’t real.

Nope, I’m not going to walk away right now.  I am going to finish the experiment all the way to the end to be sure I come to all the right conclusions. My hypothesis is that I am going to be utterly exhausted and ready to slow back down, but I’ve got to complete this experiment to be sure.

Psalm 103:8

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Finally time to blog

What a week!  I’ve been so busy, I’ve barely had time to eat, let alone blog!  I know, I know, I have a tendency to speak in hyperbole, but I really am not kidding this time.

In the past seven days I’ve picked up one family member from a trip to Chicago, sent another on a trip to Chicago and the Twin Cities, worked twenty hours, tutored an additional ten, gone to two doctor’s appointments and one hair appointment, grocery shopped, attended a new member class at our church, and that was all before yesterday!

But yesterday — yesterday was the icing on the cake.  I just can’t move on with today before I write about it.

I woke around 5:30 am because our family car was being used elsewhere and I had to be to work at 8:00.  I showered, drank my smoothie, chugged my green tea, donned the clothes I had set out the night before and dashed to the bus stop for a 6:50 pick-up time.  I had placed cash, a chapstick, and my debit card in my pocket in advance so that I wouldn’t have to carry a purse.  I was checking emails on my phone when the bus pulled up.  I slid my hand into my pocket to grab a couple of singles to pay the bus fare.

Once downtown, I hopped off one bus and onto another, checking to make sure I was on the right one (I have a history….).  When I was close to work, I pulled on the cord to request a stop.  I thanked the driver and walked the remaining few blocks to our office.   I chatted with coworkers, punched the time clock, set up for my first student, and made a cup of tea.

During my first hour, as I worked with an eleven-year-old, my mentor observed me, taking notes.  My second hour, the seven-year-old I was working with challenged me to pull all my newly-learned tricks out of my bag to keep him engaged.  The third hour, I was paired with an employee who is newer than me so that could show her the ropes.  (Really? I’m still getting my bearings myself!) The fourth hour I was back with my initial eleven-year-old for his fourth hour of instruction of the day — and we were tasked with outlining and finding quotes for a quasi-analytical paper on The Giver.  Yeah, that was all before noon.

My coworkers and I joined for a staff meeting with lunch provided, then I went out to find my bus home.  I checked my phone to find the closest/quickest route and walked to the stop.  After waiting for about 15 minutes, a bus pulled up.  I checked with the driver, as is becoming my habit, to see if I had the right bus.  Nope — I had missed it.  I rechecked my phone and walked about a half mile to intersect the bus a little further down the route.  I got there, waited a few minutes, boarded, and started the journey home.

After switching at the transit center downtown, I made my way back to campus, picked up our mail, and walked back to our place.  Time? Just after 2pm.  I found the inhabitants of the house napping, so I crawled into bed to edit an assignment for a tutoring client.  I was already wiped out, but her paper was due last night; I had to do it.

I rested for a bit, made some tea, cleaned up the kitchen, and then invited my daughter and her boyfriend to help me make rhubarb pie.  While they made the crust, I cleaned and chopped up the rhubarb.  While they made the filling, I prepared a chicken for roasting. Meanwhile, I started laundry so that this daughter could pack for her move to Boston — which was also happening yesterday.

At about 4:30 the pie and the chicken were in the oven so I sat down to rest for a little while.  And by ‘rest’, I mean fold laundry.  When the other daughter arrived home around 6:30, we ate chicken and rice and broccoli and the fabulous pie.  After dinner, I straightened the kitchen again then joined the kids to watch television for a while.

Around 8:00pm I crawled into bed to read Siddhartha. I knew I had to get up around 1:00 am to drive my daughter to the train station in Toledo, but I also knew that I would be writing an essay on Siddhartha with a student later today, so I was trying to kill two birds with one stone.  Too tired to engage with the text, I closed my eyes and was soon asleep.

Until I heard my phone vibrating.  At 11:40pm

I picked up.  The kids had run to the store to get some last minute snacks for the train ride, and a deer had come out of nowhere onto the highway. They were fine, but the car had some damage.  Tears. Apologies. Reassurances.

I was awake, and I knew we would leave in the next couple of hours for the train station, so I got up and worked on the puzzle for a while, comforted the traumatized driver when they returned to the house, assessed the damage to the car, and drank some water to wake myself up for the drive.

I started putting my purse together around 1:00am.  I figured we were low on gas, so I thought I’d check to make sure I’d put my debit card away from earlier in the morning.  Hmmm…where is my debit card.  That’s right, I put it in my pants pocket. Check the pockets.  Nope.  Double check my wallet; I probably put it away. Nope.  Hmmm….did I drop it at work? No way to find out at 1:00am.  I decided to put gas on the credit card, filled my water glass again, grabbed a snack in case I needed one, grabbed the keys and headed to the car.

It was a quick trip to Toledo, even with the stop for gas.  We unloaded the suitcases from the car around 2:45, hugged the kids, gave motherly advice, hugged again, reminded them to text often, then climbed back in the car.  After checking the GPS, I started driving.  Construction re-routed me and I ended up practically driving to Detroit before heading back to Ann Arbor.  I listened to music and talk radio, watched for deer, and mentally retraced my steps to see if I could picture where my debit card might be.

Not long into the retracing, I pictured myself pulling the singles out of my pocket at 6:45am — almost 24 hours earlier.  Could I have dropped my debit card as I stood at the bus stop before I even left for work?  What if I pulled over to the side of the road across from campus and checked before I went back home?  Certainly no one will be on the roads at 3:45am.  It’s a hair-brained idea — surely it won’t be there almost twenty-four hours later.  But, when I took my exit, I noticed no cars on the road, so put on my blinker, pulled over, jumped out of the car, and scanned the sidewalk next to the bus stop.  Nope.  I looked a little closer and there in the grass sat my debit card, right where I’d dropped it, now cool from the dew.

I laughed. Then I literally thanked God — not only for taking me back to my debit card, but for giving me a sense of humor at 3:45 in the morning, almost twenty-four hours after this day had started.  I pulled a U-turn in the middle of the road and turned into campus.

That’s when I saw the lights behind me.  Campus Security was tailing me.  Oh, yeah, it’s almost four in the morning.  They probably wonder why someone is entering campus.  They’ll probably turn around when they see it’s our car.  I wind down the drive to our house and park.  I am texting my daughter to see if she is on the train when I notice that the security officer, with flashlight, is walking up to my window.

“Everything ok?” he asks.

“Oh, yeah,” I explain, “I just took my kids to Toledo to meet the train. Then I stopped at the bus stop to find the debit card I lost this morning. I bet you weren’t expecting to see someone drive into campus at 4am.”

I’m sure every Dean’s wife has had this conversation, right?

More laughing, then crawling back into bed, then trying again to read Siddhartha, then giving up again to fall back asleep.

Yeah, the whole week has been like that.  A little busy.

Today? Today it’s after noon and I am still in my pajamas; I finally found the time to blog.

Exodus 33: 14

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Adjusting the Routine

I haven’t been finding time to get to my blog.  Remember back in the old days when I wrote every day? When I rolled out of bed each morning, brewed myself a cup of tea, did my Bible study, then blogged?  If you can believe it, those days seem like a distant memory.  And yet, I have only been in the house by the river for seven months.

I remember my husband saying, when I had only been here for a month or so, that routines are a great way to acclimate during a transition.  I clung to my routines!  And, you know, even though life has transitioned again a bit, I have clung to many of those routines.

I still have my parade of beverages most mornings. Back in December, I did the Ultra-Simple diet, which I can now tell you started a period of time where I was almost symptom-free.  The Ultra-Simple diet included starting the day with the juice of half a lemon in hot water, a cup of green tea, and a smoothie.  I still drink all three most mornings.  In fact, I’m drinking them right now.

I still make it to the gym or do Pilates at home most days.  One of the things I have learned about auto-immune disease is that movement is crucial to well-being.  I spend a lot of time every week tending to my body.  Back when I was in middle school,  high school, and even college, I spent hours in front of the mirror trying to get my face and my hair just right. My main goal then was to look good.  Last night I spent a hour at hot yoga stretching my muscles. My main goal right now is to feel good.

I still do my Bible study more days than not.  In fact, this morning I noticed I only had two more blank pages in the Sermon on the Mount study.  My anxiety rose just a little bit because I don’t know what the battalion will choose to study next, but then I remembered that I am still working through the other book on ten weeks of prayer — it is taking me much longer than ten weeks.  My Bible study centers me, reminds me what is important, and begins my day with truth.

I still meet with my battalion once a week — my group of ladies that come through rain, snow, sleet, and hail every Wednesday morning to spend two hours studying God’s word.  These women are at the heart of my Ann Arbor community.

My routine has been a comfort.  Especially in the midst of change.

What change?  I am working more.  On average I tutor half a dozen students every week.  I may have to start blogging about my students — they are amazing.  I have a sixth grade girl who continues to amaze me as we work through vocabulary, literary terms, grammar, and analysis.  I have a 40-something RN who is studying to become a nurse practitioner; she struggles with academic language, but not with learning. I tell her something once and she has it.  I have two high school freshmen — one girl who would rather eat than study and one boy who would rather study than eat. I have twin sisters whose similarities end in their appearance- — everything else about them is different.  I have a single mom who never graduated from high school and is now enrolled in community college and working on a degree in criminal justice.  I meet them in their homes, in libraries, and in Starbucks.  I read their writing online and respond via email, Googledocs, and Microsoft Word.  This is taking a chunk of my time, but perhaps you can tell that I love every minute of it.

So, with every change comes an ex-change. Sadly, the one exchange I have noticed is that I am not finding as much time to blog.  However, I am gathering lots of material.  So, more blog posts will be coming. All in due time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

Forgive Me, for I have slipped

Forgive me readers, for I have slipped; it has been five days since my last blog post.  And, you know, it feels a lot more like five weeks!  The reason I haven’t been blogging is because I have been busy!

Up until yesterday, I had kept up with the minimalist challenge — giving away one more thing each day since December 12.  It really has become a challenge!  Yesterday I was supposed to get rid of twenty-one things, today twenty-two, and tomorrow twenty-three.  But since I am behind, my goal is to dig up sixty-six things tomorrow, throw them in the trunk of my car, and take another trip to Salvation Army.  Actually, I got started today by mailing six items to people who had purchased them from me on Ebay.   So, tomorrow I will find just sixty more.  You can probably imagine that this undertaking has taken some time!

We also had two daughters and one boyfriend here for part of the last week and my husband has been taking vacation.  Having these extra people in the house has been extra fun — more cooking, more laughing, more Uno playing, more eating.  And, more living equals less time for blogging about living.

During this time, one of our daughters embarked on a fitness regimen which included her middle-aged mother!  For several days in a row we did forty-five minutes on an elliptical machine followed by fifteen minutes on the treadmill and several weight-lifting reps.  It really didn’t take more time than my usual workout, but it was different time.

My routine for the past several weeks has definitely shifted.  Where I had been waking, making tea, and blogging, always in that order, I have adopted the theme of ‘fluidity’ for the holidays.  I have tried not to demand structure, but instead to go with the flow.  And ‘the flow’ has not always included my usual activities. Actually, ‘the flow’ has been a lot of fun!  It has allowed for new recipes, lots of movies, some impromptu shopping, and lots of chatting.

In the midst of all this ‘flow’, to our great joy, our first grandchild — my newest love-child — was born eleven days early!  Her arrival inspired a road-trip to Cincinnati complete with lots of adoring and picture-taking, but not much time for blogging.

Today, as I lay in my bed, recovering from holiday exhaustion, I started to think about all the things I will write about in the next several days and I started feeling a little overwhelmed. Then I remembered last year. When I lived apart from husband, we sometimes didn’t see each other for a month at a time.  I would often greet him saying, “I have so much to tell you. I don’t know where to start, but I am sure it will all leak out over time.”   I am feeling that way right now.  How can I in one post describe my joy at meeting our granddaughter, my experience of laying aside my agenda to ‘go with the flow’, my thoughts about simplifying through the minimalist challenge, my new information about my health, my time with my daughters, and my thoughts about working as January 5th arrives.  I can’t.

I have so much to tell you. I don’t know where to start, but I am sure it will all leak out over time.

I hope you will join me on my continued journey in this next chapter.

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

My assignment

Several weeks ago I jokingly said to a young blogging friend of ours, “If I could get paid to blog I would be all set!”  He mentioned that actually people do get paid to blog and that if I could get Google ads and increase my readership I could actually make an income through my writing.

Intriguing.  However, since my blog is mostly me musing about my own rather ordinary life, I am pretty shocked when anyone else reads it, let alone when someone comments that it spoke to them, let alone when I get over 100 views in one day (that happened this week!).  There’s something pure about doing this because I want to, and not because I’m getting paid to do it. And actually, it’s not just that I want to, I’m still pretty compelled to write this blog almost every day, even after 107 posts!  I keep thinking I will run out of things to say, but you know, life keeps happening and God keeps showing up.  So, I keep writing.

About a month or so ago, I was bored one day and I started looking at what you need to do to get Google ads.  Step one, purchase your domain name.  Ok, so for $24 I purchased the domain name kristinsnextchapter.com.  As soon as I did that Word Press said they would be in contact with me when I had enough activity to warrant them giving me ads.  Sigh.  I figure I have to have 1000 views or so each day before that happens. My visions of living in my pajamas started fading fast.

But this morning when I checked my messages, a friend commented that she saw ads on my blog when she read it last night.  What?!  And, guys, they weren’t the sort of ads that I would endorse.  Nothing scandalous, to be sure, but not something I would select if given a choice.  Now, I have gone to my domain through several channels this morning and I do not see any ads.  Do you see ads?

Way back in July I started this blog because I had a lot of words inside of me that were pressing to get out. I was anxious about this move to Michigan and not knowing what I would be doing here.  For the past three and a half months, this blog has been the vehicle through which I have processed thoughts of transition, joy, frustration, happiness, fatigue, peace, loss, and hope.  I can’t place a value on how much it has meant to me to have the freedom and time to write every day.  I can’t tell you what I would pay for the kind of encouragement your feedback has given me.  This blog has been a priceless gift to me.

So, the thought that it might have been tarnished by ads was like an ink spot on a favorite white blouse.  Dear Word Press, don’t mess up my favorite blouse!

Ah, child, I gave you the blouse.  Keep wearing it.  It’s from me. If someone spills ink on it, I’ll use that, too.  I’ll let you know when it’s time to put on a different blouse. 

Yesterday all the gals from our Bible study sat together at the funeral for our friend’s husband. He had been diagnosed in 1997 with Alzheimer’s.  She had joyfully — amazingly joyfully — cared for him all these years, especially the last five.  She held his hand, prayed with him, sang to him, lifted him, dressed him, and was fully devoted to his care.  You should’ve seen her beam as she walked into and, later, out of the sanctuary accompanied by bagpipe music. The service was a celebration of life and, let me tell you, she was not going to miss out on the celebration of knowing that her husband was no longer suffering. Someone asked her if she will get back to the pottery that she loves to do now that she won’t be caring for her husband.  She smiled and said, “I don’t know; I’m waiting for my next assignment.”

Right now, ads or no ads,  this is my assignment.

Colossians 3:23

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart,

as working for the Lord, not for human masters.