Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Thought for Today: Taking Time for Yourself

By the end of this summer I was starting to feel a little guilty for sitting on the beach yet another time. My kids and I loved every second of relaxing by the water reading, playing in the sand, swimming, strolling along the shore looking for sea glass, snacking on Cheetos our favorite beachy snack. But we weren't really doing anything, maybe this time at the beach was just too much sitting around? Then September HIT! Our homeschooling kicked off. Soccer kicked off. Homeschool co-ops kicked off. Dance kicked off. Music lessons kicked off. My roles as teacher and leader kicked off. Swimming kicked off. Our mid-week activities at church kicked off. OK! We weren't just vegging at the beach. We were recharging. As a mother of three I was restoring and healing the frayed edges of my own inner self. God was restoring my soul through the ebb and flow of the tide. I needed to gaze at beauty, feel the sand in my toes, swim in the cold refreshing water, and see my kids unwind while I did the same. 

We all need time to become new again. You can run fast for a time, maybe even a long time, but there will come a point when exhaustion will hit. Everything we need to do will still be there. The dishes aren't going anywhere. Don't worry, the toys won't mind waiting a little longer to be picked up. The laundry will patiently sit right where you left it.
It's ok to take time to rest. We were created to work and do and care for others and celebrate life but we can't do the work well or enjoy the things we love most if we never take time to breathe. When life gets crazy and tiring for me I feel so much better if I take a couple of hours to relax. After that, I can find the energy I need to tackle the next thing on my list. Life is better with breaks!
What does taking a break look like for you? Post a few ideas to encourage others!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

On the Other Side of the Wall: Walking the Tightrope of Care-giving

 As the older generation in a family begins to show real signs of aging, there is an invisible tightrope that appears. The glorious goal is to maintain balance. How can everyone get along, get on the same page, or get prepared for the inevitable difficulties that come the older we all get? Can we keep our balance as we help the elderly cross from one side to the other?
   My girls love watching Tales of Avonlea; a spin off TV series from the Anne of Green Gables movies. Each episode is woven around family life in a rural town on Prince Edward Island at the turn of the twentieth century. One word comes up repeatedly: duty. Doing ones's duty was a top value in everyday life way back in the early 1900's. There was a common idea of a required duty to one's family. One thing is for sure: if you are noticing your parents struggling as they age and especially as one of them shows signs of dementia you will start to wrestle with this idea of duty. What is your duty? Or even more simply put: what should you do? Are there tasks you are required to perform? Since our instructions for doing our duty are not exactly coming from a central community pulpit, we are on our own to determine what we feel our required actions are. The tricky part is that your perception of duty will be different from someone else's idea. How will you get across the tightrope together if you are tip-toeing with arms outstretched and someone else is on a unicycle?
   There is a slight difference between being required to take action and being responsible for taking action. The heart of these two words is the origin of the action. If I am doing what is required of me someone else is initiating my sense of duty. They are requiring it of me. However, if I am responsible  then I am the one taking that onto myself or I am initiating my own sense of responsibility. In parenting, I feel strongly what my responsibility is to my children. I am their mother. I do whatever is necessary to care for them. Everything I do is of my own volition. Nobody is telling me what I should do. Switch that now to looking after aging parents or grandparents. What do I feel responsible for? What do other family members feel responsible for?
Different Perspectives
   The day my grandmother came to live with us there were multiple perspectives on how she should be cared for with advanced Alzheimer's Disease. Our family lived the closest to my grandparents and saw on a weekly basis the difficulties they were facing. My mother was the only family member with experience in the medical field. Since my parents, especially my mother, possessed the strongest feelings of duty and responsibility for their parents, they were the ones to take the first steps onto the care-giving tightrope. Not everyone else thought caring for Grandma in our home was the best idea. They were definitely not offering up their own homes or time to help out. The tightrope was too risky, too impossible for them.
   One aspect was missing in the whole scenario of how to help Grandma as her Alzheimer's progressed. Communication was not a part of the equation between my parents and extended family. At one point I remember a family discussion at Christmas when the subject was brought up about how my grandparents were going to manage. I voiced my concern for Grandpa and how he was handling life while managing Grandma on his own. I was a teenager and adults in the room were surprised I cared. Maybe they didn't care so much themselves. They were busy. That was one of the only conversations we had with our extended family surrounding Grandma's care.
Slow Down and Talk it Out
   If you are planning on caring for someone in your home you cannot avoid huge problems with your extended family if you do not slow down and take time to talk it out with them. You can't just move forward, bring Grandma home with you, and expect everybody else to be on board and ready to help you in any way possible. Nobody likes to be cornered or pressured into care-giving. Sit down and explain what you think would be best for your parents. Listen to what other people think. Ask up front how much help everyone is willing to pitch in. If nobody wants to help, then you know you are on your own going into your life with Alzheimer's. Don't get angry at your extended family for not helping when they thought Grandma should go into a nursing home from day one.
Your Safety Net
   Life with Alzheimer's is beyond hard. It pushes you to a cliff and pokes you in the back to see if maybe you might just fall over the edge. Care-giving is the the tightrope from the edge of  your loved one's life extending to their death. If you step onto that tightrope, get the support you need. Your sense of duty and your feelings of responsibility won't be a strong enough safety net for you as the days extend into months and very possibly years. When you feel yourself slipping you don't want to look down expecting people to catch you when they never signed up for that in the first place. Your anger and disappointment won't make anyone more dutiful or responsible. Who will be your safety net? Make up your team. You need fill-in care-givers, cheerleaders, good listeners, and more. Or, take your chances and see who will catch you when you fall.
Photo by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplash

Friday, July 5, 2019

Favorite Things: Spring 2019

Here are a few of my favorite things from Spring and also Summer thus far!

Nike Running Jacket
In April I ran a half marathon (13.1 miles). This was a big goal for me because it meant training in the COLD of winter. On race day it was a balmy 37F with rain. What to wear? When you are running longer than 5 miles what you wear is a big deal. The Woman's Nike Sportswear Woven Jacket was perfect! Since there is a mesh panel in the middle it breathes well, keeping you dry and ventilated. Kohl's is the only place I've been able to find this particular jacket.

Running Cap
Another lifesaver for the 13.1 was my running cap. I found this at Walmart on sale for about $5! Functional gear doesn't have to be expensive.

Better Than Before 
I am on a Gretchin Rubin kick. Her books and podcast Happier are insightful yet fun. Better Than Before is all about habits; how we make and why we break them. Self analysis is at the core of this book and most of Rubin's other books as well. Want to understand yourself better and work better with your strengths and weaknesses? Read this book!

Bike Rack
One of my greatest achievements from the past 5 years is teaching each one of my kids how to ride a bike. So much sweat and many tears but we made it! Now I need to get us riding. Our Thule bike rack is making it easier for me to get the bikes ready for new adventures.

My favorite Spring flower is the peony. The peonies in my garden are transplants from my grandmother's garden and are over eighty years old. I love feeling connected to the past and my grandmother's favorite things, too. That feeling never gets old, especially in the Springtime.


The charms from Lasting Impressions are inspirational and can be customized. Finding the perfect thing to commemorate a special day can sometimes be tricky. I looked and looked on Etsy until I came across this shop and requested my own custom charms.

Watermelon Salsa
On a hot summer day my secret recipe for watermelon salsa is a favorite for family picnics. Nope, not gonna share it!

Taughannock Falls
If you live in Upstate NY or happen to be visiting from far away, Taughannock Falls is a fun and picturesque place to check out. Our family hiked 3/4 of a mile up small waterfalls to the tall cascade tucked into the gorge. The kids loved every second! After our hike we ate lunch and then took a swim in Cayuga Lake. What a perfect family day!

What are some of your favorite things this time of year? I'd love to hear from you! Post a comment!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

On the Other Side of the Wall: Daily Life with Alzheimer's

   The day Grandma came to live with us we were not prepared for what life would be like with her and Alzheimer's Disease in our house day in and day out. There was no timeline to go by. We had no idea how long she would be with us. There was just the realization that Grandpa was no longer able to care for her on his own. We had the space at home and my mom's nursing experience to lean on. My parents just sort of jumped into the care-giving pond with one thing to keep them afloat: it was the right thing to do. They had no idea how Alzheimer's would change us. They certainly had very little idea of what life would be like every day at home with Alzheimer's Disease roaming around.
   All of the daily annoyances with Grandma around make me cringe even now years later. Grandpa tolerated these frustrations on his own for years. He didn't think us kids could handle the constant irritations. He was right. It drove us crazy hearing Grandma muttering all day long her usual line of questions like "Where am I?", "Nat is that you?", "When is Nat coming?", "Where's my key?". She was essentially lost all day every day, trying to find her way home to Nat, my grandfather. After several months she became more settled at our house but those first few months the constant questions were terribly annoying.
   It was a challenge trying to communicate with Grandma. She had been hard of hearing while my Dad was growing up so her hearing was questionable now that she was in her eighties. We tried writing directions on cards. SIT DOWN. BE QUIET. She needed a break from all the pacing and questioning and so did we. We had to speak loudly and clearly to get her to understand. The understanding would last for a few minutes and then she was back to asking where she was.
Giving Directions
   Since she was essentially lost all the time we had to give her directions for everything. We thought early on that she could go to the bathroom on her own. But she needed directions on how to get there every time. When she came out of the bathroom her stockings would be down at her ankles. So one of us had to take her to the bathroom and then give her directions on how to pull her clothes back on when she was finished. Getting dressed, going to the bathroom, showering, staying in bed at night, eating, sitting down, putting on her shoes all required directions.
   Our old farmhouse dating back to the 1860's had some unusual qualities that became safety issues for Grandma. Since the house was large, it was not always obvious if a "safety rule" had been forgotten. Her bedroom suite complete with a bathroom and sitting room was on the second floor at the top of a steep staircase. There was an additional staircase in the floor of the sitting room which was very dangerous if left open. We were not perfect at keeping all of our safety measures in play but we did our best to remember to close the stairway, keep shoes put away, and doors closed. Eventually, we were forced to lock Grandma in her living space with a latch on the outside of the door. If she was upstairs she had to be locked in to keep her from wandering and falling down the stairs.
   My mom came up with a menu for Grandma that stayed consistent for nearly the whole time she lived with us. Since it was the same meal plan every day, it was easy to know what to prepare. This is super helpful if multiple family members are sharing the load of care-giving. All of her foods were soft or blended up to omit any choking hazards. Serving Grandma her meals upstairs allowed us to eat our own meals in peace and as a family.
Daily Survival
   Care-giving in your home is challenging but Alzheimer's Disease brings with it a whole truck load of daily challenges that are unique. Taking time to analyze what the every day issues are for your family will help. There is no prognosis to measure the time Alzheimer's will be in your home so how are you going to survive living daily with Alzheimer's ? 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Teaching Values in Homeschooling

Here is a blog I wrote for Global Student Network on teaching values in homeschooling. Academics sure are important but there is more at stake in our children's education. What do you want your kids to value? Are you taking the time to include that in your day?  Values in Homeschooling

Thursday, March 21, 2019

On the Other Side of the Wall: Kids and the Sandwich Generation Part 2

   Caring for a family member with Alzheimer's is a challenge. Insert your own children who are still growing up and life can suddenly feel like an avalanche. There are no easy answers and in American culture there is not a norm to follow for care-giving in the home. When I was a teenager and my grandmother came to live with us, I didn't know anyone else who was caring for a grandparent in their home. So how can you get along with kids and an Alzheimer's grandparent all under one roof?
   It is essential to talk to your kids A LOT from the start to finish of care-giving. As the adult, you make the decisions but your kids need you to talk with them about those decisions. Children and teenagers in the home need to feel valued in the process. Kids know that when something is important it gets hashed out. What to talk to them about? Change. Changes in schedules, routine, how the disease is presenting, how you all are feeling in relationship to Grandma who doesn't seem like Grandma anymore. Make a list to refer to every week and be sure you are talking to your kids about life with Grandma in your home.
Clear Responsibilities
   When my grandmother moved in with us, it took a while to figure out what the heck we were all doing with an Alzheimer's patient in the house. It would have been helpful if all responsibilities surrounding her care would have been spelled out. Lines were crossed that looking back should not have been, especially for my youngest sister who was a child at the time. Be the adult. Remind yourself and your kids what each person is responsible for. Think of what is ok and what may not be ok or appropriate for everybody. This can clarify, for you as parents, what you can be doing to ensure your kids aren't stuck feeling responsible for duties that if you took time to consider, qualify as adults only.  
Freedom to Be a Kid
   Care-giving is serious stuff. All that seriousness in your house can bring everybody down and make your kids grow up too fast. Take time to let your kids be kids. Ask them what they want to do for fun and get a grandma-sitter so you can go out and spend time enjoying your family. Have you forgotten the normal things you did as a family before all the care-giving began? I bet your kids remember what it was like to feel free to be kids.
Paid to Help
   I hated having Alzheimer's in our home. It's dark bony claws reached everywhere. One thing that helped me cope was getting paid to help with Grandma. That's sounds terrible but for a teenager it was an acknowledgment that it was work having her around. So when I was home with her while my parents were out I got paid for that time.
Gifts from Grandma
   One time for Christmas my mom splurged and got us beautiful plaid pajamas from Eddie Bauer. We knew she had used some of Grandma's money to get us something special. Mom created a positive element about Grandma: she could give us gifts. Telling your kids "Grandma wants to give you this or Grandma is treating us all to ice cream" might be the ticket to shifting the negative feelings your kids may have toward a grandparent with Alzheimer's.
No Pretending
   Is care-giving in your home fun for you as an adult? No, I don't think so. Don't try to put a positive spin on everything with your kids. It is OK for them to hate having Alzheimer's around. You don't want them to hate their own grandparent but it's ok to be mad about life dealing with a disease. Don't pretend that everything is just as it used to be but now we have Grandma here. Life is different. Disease is not fun. Be real with your kids. Will they learn to be compassionate, helpful, and more understanding of others? Yes. But you pretending this is all good will only make your kids feel like they can't show their own real feelings.
   If dealing with disease is hard for you, just think of how your child may be feeling. Finding a counselor for yourself and one for your child might be a good idea. A tricky part of care-giving in your home is that your kids know it is good to care for someone however, caring for someone is not what they want. There are so many conflicting emotions for everyone involved and a counselor could help you and your kids find healthy solutions for maintaining emotional balance.
   Care-giving is an uphill battle most of the time. Just taking time to try to see life through your kids' eyes can go a long way. Try. You won't be perfect but that's ok. Trying counts.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Thought for Today: Creating an Oasis

   I love the idea of creating an oasis. Do you have an oasis? What do you do to refresh and replenish your soul with joy, satisfaction, or whatever makes you thankful to be alive? For most of us taking time to get alone requires effort and doing it on purpose not just waiting for the opportunity to magically appear. An oasis doesn't have to be perfect. At the coffee shop you find a cozy corner, a comfy chair, and order your favorite drink. Then all of a sudden there is that noisy guy talking on the phone right next to you. Don't worry. You are still at your oasis. It's not exactly perfect but it still counts.
   Why is it so hard to make time for doing what we love? Why do we feel guilty for taking time out for ourselves? There's one thing I've learned as a full time mother of three children: I have to pace myself. I have to make time for restoration regularly or before I know it I am irritated, dissatisfied, and even more tired than ever. Thankfully, my husband willingly cares for the kids so I can get away from the house and my daily responsibilities for a few hours every week. He needs time to be Dad to the kids on his own and I need that time away. Yes, I sometimes feel guilty but after an hour those negative thoughts fall away and I am once again reminded how much I need time to myself. In a snap, the time is gone and I am heading back home feeling more like myself, more at peace with myself. 
   How do you create an oasis? First, what is an oasis? In a very literal sense it is a source of water in the desert. Waterfalls cascade into pools surrounded by lush trees and plants right smack dab in the center of a dusty desert. Travelers can see this place of cooling refreshment from a distance and long to be there, to leave the dirty camels behind and jump into the bubbling pools, to wash the grime off, to splash, dive, and float, to drink the fresh cool water of the springs and spray it out like a Greek fountain. What is your oasis? What do you love to do that makes you feel free from the grime of your life? Do you love time alone or with friends? Do you need a massage or a walk? Do you have a hobby that has been waiting for your attention? Is there something you've been wanting to try or a favorite food that you would love to eat for lunch? 
   In January I had the privilege of coordinating a retreat for my favorite group of homeschooling moms. If I had a million dollars I would love to build a small retreat center on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, a place I visited in my twenties.
But hey, a retreat is a retreat. So, for a day a group of us ladies met together for our Rest and Refresh Retreat. We played some games, won some prizes, listened to inspiring stories of faith and rest, ate delicious food, talked, laughed, made a grapefruit scented sugar scrub and a bunch of eucalyptus lavender shower discs. For the recipes and more about our retreat check out my friend Krista's blog.
It was a blessed time of renewal and letting go of stress and the dailyness of life. It was an oasis on a cold gray January day. We were each other's waterfalls and sheltering trees in the dry tiring desert that winter sometimes feels like... only the arctic version. God brought us together and showered us with His favor. Was it a chance meeting? Did we just wing it and hope to get away for a while? No. We planned. We prepared. We prayed. We scheduled. We signed up.
   If you want more refreshment in your life you have to make it happen. You have to put. it. on. the. calendar. Get childcare. Think of what you want to do and figure out a plan for making your oasis a reality. If this is a new idea or it's just been a while start small. Create an oasis someplace in your own home. Maybe take a long hot shower while listening to music. You are worth it. You deserve it. You need it.