Friday, December 27, 2013

St. Mary Magdalen Church 2013 Christmas Concert

This song, "I Was Touched and I Believe", was my favorite of all the songs we performed at my church's Christmas concert this year.

Yes, I have joined a choir.  The last time I sang with a group was as a college sophomore, 8 years ago.  The reason I stopped for so long?  Damage caused by Sjogren's-induced dryness.

Which, at least to me, makes this that much more of a surprise, and a miracle:)

Anyway, I loved this song because it had a beautiful harmony (I sing alto), and the lyrics were just so amazing...
I believe the little child born of Mary, meek and mild, came to touch my aching soul, and by his touch has made me whole.
What's not to love!

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!  Best wishes for whatever winter celebration brings you together with your own family, friends, and passions!



(Video is an excerpt from the concert recording by Jon Dorfman, permission is granted to share with proper credit and citation.  Read more about Jon's work at his blog http://aspieepilogue.wordpress.com/)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care

To all my activist, patient, caregiver, and professional friends, this is something worth a little more than four minutes of your time. 

I'll leave it to you to take from this what you will, but I can say that to me, a patient, it said "SOMEONE out there has their priorities in order, and is trying to teach that to everyone else", and that's extremely comforting.

If you're up to it, leave a comment on this post with your reactions!  I'd love to see what a little crowdsourcing could accomplish with this striking kickoff.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Weeds

Snazzy pot pic found for free, here.
No, not that kind, silly!  Geez, what do you take me for, really?

Although, while I've never tried pot myself, as it is slowly becoming legalized in more states across the country (and is already in use in other countries around the world) for medicinal purposes which may be relevant to our UII community, perhaps it will bear further scrutiny at a another point in time.  I may need to find a subject matter expert on this, though.  Hm....

Anyway, no.  I'm not referring to reefer.  I mean the regular old garden-variety weeds (ha, yes, literally in my garden!) which have overrun my home.  In case I forgot to mention it when I started to blog again this year, we bought our first home at the end of December and until now, I never had much of a garden.  I was aware I don't have a green thumb; in fact I think it's downright brown.  I've frequently joked that when they see me coming, houseplants simply die of their own accord to save themselves from suffering at my inept hands.  (Hey I didn't say I was funny, I only said I try to be.)

Then we bought this house.  With roughly a half-acre of land.  And lots of trees, and shrubs, and bushes, and   over a half-dozen flower beds depending on how you count it.  Which abuts an arboretum next to a state park, further fostering the spread of indigenous flora.  Oh my.  At settlement, the sellers told us a bit about all the planting they'd done and how they picked some varieties specifically for certain reasons, yada yada yada, leading me to the conclusion that I would have some impressive blooms come spring and summer and should probably learn how to tend these gardens.  What I didn't expect was that these beds (not to mention the perimeters of the property) appear to be the most fertile soil I've ever seen, as evidenced by the epic proliferance of weeds that have tried to reclaim the land as their own.

That's right, I'm waging war.
Several times already this season, I've taken the largest sheers we have to the front and sides of the house, where the forests of weeds have all but hidden our front door.  My mother in law, who does garden (whew), came over to help me start pulling weeds and thinning the herds of other plantings.  I recall we spent 3-4 hours at it that day and only got about 85% of the way through one flower bed.  We're discovering that there are only a small handful of actual plantings in each bed but the beds have no mulch or anything and are completely overrun.  Speaking of overrun, say hello to the back 35-40% of my property:

Welcome to wisteria gardens...hey, maybe I can make this a destination and charge admission...!
Because what does a beginner (and bumbling) gardener needs on top of hundreds of well-rooted weeds in her flower beds?  Why, a yard full of very mature wisteria of course!  Let me just add, when these vines intertwined in all the trees and shrubs burst forth with these somewhat grape-scented clusters I took to the Google machine and found out what wisteria actually looks like.  I believe this is Japanese Wisteria which, as you can see, has made an impressive climb into these tall trees across mine and my neighbors' yards.  It is beautiful and I don't want to obliterate it altogether, but holy shnikes people, this is a bit much don't you think?!  Oh, and amid the low-lying vines, there are other shrubs and plants and ... dun dun DUN ... poison ivy.  Which means these two little homeowner newbies aren't going in after the vines on our own.  We're thinking of waiting until the fall when it all starts to die down for the season and hiring professionals to hack it back.  Which of course puts images of machete-wielding treasure hunters in my head...
Another amused gardner commented about the use of machetes, here.
(((Shakes head))) Enough of that!

With all of this in mind, I celebrated our nation's birth on my day off Thursday by venturing out to one of my flower beds to claim my independence from these tyrannical weeds.  To guard against excessive sun exposure, bugs, and contact allergic reactions, I donned long jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and my UII baseball cap, and still only got in about 45 minutes of work before the heat was too much.  I was fairly impressed with myself, though, because I took on the absolutely enormous tall weeds along the side of my garage.  You know how they tell you to lift with your legs and not your back?  Apparently I follow these rules, including while pulling weeds, as evidenced by my strungout hamstrings and bottom muscles for the last day and a half!  I also somehow managed to get six - yes, SIX - bug bites on my shoulder blades (THROUGH my shirt) and two on my FACE in that space of time.  For comparison's sake, I haven't really been bitten at all while sitting around the firepit in the evenings.  Seriously?!

My approach to my weeding has been simple - if it looks like a weed, or I simply don't like it, it comes out.  I realize some of the things I'm pulling may be intentional plantings, but I don't like them and there's far too much going on out there!  And after all, it's MY HOME, so it's my choice:)  (That never gets old, haha.)

But I also made one exception.  As I go around yanking and yoinking, I skip over the clover.  I know they're technically weeds too, but it's this cute kind of clover, growing only in small clusters in the beds, and just as I can arbitrarily rule that some non-weed must go, I can dictate that this weed shall stay!
Cutie pies found here.
Besides, in the otherwise unpleasant task of weeding where I see things I don't like (worms, beetles, spiders, ick blech ack ugh), I get a peaceful satisfaction from scanning the surprise clover patches I uncover for that elusive four-leafer.  Haven't found one so far, but I keep looking.

And afterall, I reminded myself, you can't find a four-leaf clover if you pull all the weeds!

I just love it when I sneak a little wisdom in on myself.  Kind of catch myself by surprise, and am reminded of things bigger and greater and grander than me.  I can play demi-god with my flower beds, but ultimately it's not up to me to determine which things should stay and which should go in life.  There are a lot of weeds in my world and in my past, but if all of the negative things went away what kind of person would I be?  I'd have no drive, little ambition, no sympathy, and no purpose.  I'd likely be alone, having run off Shawn and any other worthwhile companions either through my coldness toward others or my blasé approach to life.  Perhaps I'd be living with my parents or worse, in deplorable conditions, never having been inspired to manage money.  And I certainly wouldn't know any of you without a reason to write this blog.

Maybe I am a four-leaf clover.  Maybe my life is the rare find...what are my leaves?  My gifts, my treasures, my capabilities and blessings that make me unique?

  1. My husband and family, who are unique because they give me so much support, and not everyone is this lucky.
  2. My business/financial perspective, which helps me maintain some level of stability in my unstable life and lets me dream big knowing the small will be ok.
  3. My faith, which I know is something every person has a unique relationship with but I have to acknowledge that for my many sickie peers who feel forgotten, I know I am not.
  4. My diagnosis, which underlies everything else.  I need my family's support more than I should because of these medical challenges.  I crave stability for many reasons, including as a counterbalance to the uncertainty about my medical situation even from day to day and over time.  My continued faith is, to some, surprising given the unpleasantries of being diagnosed with a chronic illness in my teens and the chronic challenges that come with that.  
To come full circle, this is my weed.  Without it my life may be cute like the three-leafers we see above, but nothing special; with it, I feel like a rare find:)  And don't think I don't "get it" - I don't think we should necessarily pretend we enjoy the weeds, but we do need to take that step back and look at the whole picture sometimes.  I think it's those moments when we think "just when something was going well, this weed popped up and spoiled it" when we're seeing our fourth leaf and just don't know it.  Keep an eye out for those times that show you how rare a find you are too.

Monday, May 27, 2013

You Don't Say

As some of you may know, I recently started at a new job.  Yes, that's right, I've moved out of the world of the frazzled auditor and into that of the in-house accountant.  My new coworkers are very nice, and I get to be part of some process analysis and revisions which are very exciting to my inner dweeb.  But the best aspect so far?  I leave every day before 5:30!!!  That's right, I'm bragging:)  (Ok yes there will be critical times when I have to stay 'late' but that's part of the biz, and late here will mean 6-7ish.  Holy mackerel.)

I've come into the team as a Senior Accountant, commensurate with my experience and the need to complete my CPA (yeah...that didn't die).  The same day I started, another new hire from a different Big 4 firm came in as an Accounting Manager (he had been a manager at his former firm).  I think we need a nickname for him...hm...let's call him New Dude, Too (NDT for short).  NDT and I have found that it was beneficial to start together because we can relate to each other's backgrounds and help each other transition to our new worlds.  None of our direct peers and few of our extended coworkers come from a similar background, making our connection that much more valuable.

There are aspects of the transition to a new role that I anticipated, such as learning to express myself in ways my new team understands and establishing my reputation anew.  Naturally, there are also things I couldn't prepare myself for, like the different approach a small company has to onboarding and training.  Figuring out how to more autonomously structure my days based on the combination of ongoing tasks and special projects on my plate is a surprising though welcome learning curve.  I realize these types of challenges are familiar to most people, but this is my first job change as an "experienced" hire so I find myself marveling at the experience itself!

NDT and I find ourselves on the same page about most things so far.  We like the same people, we note the same peculiarities with others, and ask ourselves the same questions as we learn how the company functions.  Since we are at different levels, we have been asked to take on different tasks, but we've leveraged that too. He's been working on projects related to mapping accounts which he explains to me, and I've been learning the nitty gritty things like how to work parts of the accounting system which I show to him.

I'm aware that as we're each establishing our images with the rest of the company, we are also developing our understandings of each other.  Maybe I'm not supposed to say this, but men at the Big 4 just tend to be more traditionally polite; some might say chivalrous.  They offer to carry things, volunteer for errands, and there are some you will never see walk through a door before a woman.  My observation is a combination of my personal experiences as well as discussions I've had with countless coworkers of both genders.  Perhaps it stems from the emphasis these companies place on classic manners such as which silverware to use for which course and email etiquette   As a pair of X chromosomes, I have to say that this is pretty nice.  It simply makes someone feel good to have someone else take a little extra effort to make their day a bit easier.  And as a clutz with occasional physical challenges, this kind of treatment can really come in handy.  However it's always been my opinion that men don't necessarily OWE this to women, and certainly that women can and SHOULD return the favors from time to time.  I'm just as capable of holding the door for a man or taking a package from an overloaded coworker.  Sometimes it just seems right to take care of my own task or get something for myself, even if it's just for the sake of taking turns.

I suppose this is why NDT made an interesting observation the other day.  It was a particularly nice, warm day and our company has a few tables outside for employees to use as well as a small walking track, and NDT and I like to use our newfound energy and time to make use of these amenities.  On this particular day, we had grabbed our lunches and headed out to one of the tables.  On the way, I offered to hold a door and press the elevator button, but NDT wouldn't let me.  During the ride downstairs he observed "you're a very ... [pause] independent [pause] person.  Like the other day when you wouldn't let me get the chair".

Me?  Independent?  Perhaps to the point of stubbornness?  Tosh.
...Well.  I don't know I'd use the word 'independent'.  Maybe 'empowered' or 'capable'.
...Ok, independent.  But that's a good thing!
...Ok yeah I see your point.
Fr. Anthony Messah describes what's it like to be an "independent-aholic" with this graphic, here.
So I tend to be a bit strong-willed, empowered, enabled, self-propelled...so what?

We could go with an old-fashioned childhood experience psychology here if we wanted.  I have strong, distinct memories from elementary school of teachers asking for a boy in the class to carry a heavy box.  The funny thing was, I was larger and actually stronger than most boys in my class at that age.  I was simply more capable of carrying the box than they were, but the teacher only asked for boys.  I usually challenged the teacher (yes, at the tender age of, oh, 6 or 7 until 11); some would acquiesce and ask for any student capable of carrying the box, but others would still insist to my face that they wanted a boy to do it because it was really heavy or a girl might get hurt.  It wasn't until well into my 20's that my strength began to fade.  I may have always been a clutz and accident prone, but I was also particularly strong in my younger life.  And those memories stayed with me.

But we could also acknowledge the effect of a chronic diagnosis on my will.  My strength as a child was sometimes dismissed, but on top of that it was threatened by chronic diagnoses as a teenager.  It's well established (in my mind) that this was the point when I developed the mindset that I don't know how long I can do any given thing, so I'm going to do anything I can as soon as I can, because I don't know how long that opportunity will last.  Maybe this same mindset led to this "independence".

Or you could ask my parents, who would say I was born that way.  There's a legendary story in my family about the L&D nurse who observed during my first bath that I had a "worried, worried look" and my innate perspective for simultaneously respecting and questioning authority.  I never took any explanation at face value, though I wouldn't exactly violate it until I was sure it was flawed.  It is said I was born middle-aged, with an independent questioning mind and a will that considered other people but didn't automatically agree with them.

And so between a natural inclination, a childhood perception, and an adolescent encounter, I stand before you today, "independent".  This is one of the first traits a new coworker noticed and went so far as to comment on to me directly.  Well, you don't say ;)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Enervated

I learned a new word this morning: Enervated.
Image found on a very cool Visual Dictionary site from Manhattan Prep GRE Blog.  I relate to this hippo.
I was a voracious reader as a kid.  Remember those summer book lists they put out for each grade level, and you were supposed to pick one or two books - depending on your level and just how far the school board had that stick up their collective butt that year - which you would read over the summer and report on at the beginning of the next year?  And inevitably, it would be two days before Labor Day and your mother would be hanging over you threatening not to let you enjoy those last few days of freedom if you didn't read that book already even though you both knew she was bluffing because unlike the school board your mother's butt was stick-free?  I loved those lists.  There were summers where I read the obligatory books from my list, but they had posted the lists publically so I went through the ones for other grades which were always 10 times cooler than my list and read a bunch of those.  One year, I think I knocked out the entire list for two grades.  And yes, I did other things, but no, I wasn't much of an outdoor person and I think in retrospect we can be glad I didn't spend more time in the sun at that age!

Anyway, as a result of reading so much I've always had a pretty respectable vocabulary.  Of all the "nerd" things I did, I never really minded being mocked for using "SAT words" because I liked being able to say precisely what I meant.  But when you're a smarterish kid and go to a smarterish kid college (Villanova) and work with smarterish people in a professional setting, it takes more than compulsory school reading lists to maintain this reputation.  It also doesn't really help that my best friend from school is an English major and my best friend now is a Journalism major with an unimaginable flair for all things peculiar and unusual.  And I'd NEVER want to let you, my dear readers, get bored with my basic and unenlightened language when I write!  I still love to read, but don't have the time to take down the volume of literature I did in the good ol' days, so now when I need a word to make my point or to do so in an engaging way, I leverage the wonder of the internet and hit Thesaurus.com!

So how did we end up with "enervated" today?  Well, all week the husband and I have been trying to take down some household projects which involved a significant amount of time running errands and traipsing through stores to find just the right thing at just the right price as well as drilling, assembling, moving, and arranging several rooms worth of goodies.  I've hung curtains in two rooms and a ladder on the side of the garage, made a truly manic pass or two around the yard with an imposing set of hedging shears, and assembled furniture.  In the process, I learned a few things:

  • Sauder brand furniture is gorgeous and of a delightful quality, but heavy (each of our two dressers weighs as much as I do or more) and when they say "assembly required", they ain't kidding!  
  • Left in the wrong hands (mine), even a moderate pair of shears can be leveraged to take down several bushes not to mention weeds, overgrown flower beds, and some God-awful plant by the AC compressor.  Also, with shears in hand I feel like a lady Paul Bunyan, felling microforests of weeds with one pass of my blades...but I digress before this gets creepier.
  • My favorite weather is that which keeps me in a very mild sweat, and this makes me feel invigorated and up to taking on physical challenges, but also obviously makes it crucial to hydrate myself carefully.  Because of my combination of Sjogren's Syndrome and Dysautonomia, managing hydration levels involves a balance of taking in the right quality and quantity of liquids as well as the right volume of salt at the right times (I use a high sodium diet to avoid Beta-blockers).
And so, after yesterday (the apex of my physical activity for the week as performed on the hottest day) and without having consumed a drop of alcohol, I awoke this morning feeling remarkably hungover.  It took me a few minutes to piece together that it was really straight dehydration.  Guess I didn't quite hit the magic combination and timing of fluids and + salt yesterday after all.  I also went to bed last night with significant arm and shoulder pain from overuse, so at least it wasn't a surprise when that was my worst symptom again today.  

I wanted to come on here, share with you this tale of exertion and dehydration, and describe how my arms feel...but I needed just the right word to describe it:)  Unable to come up with this adjective myself, Thesaurus.com provided this gem:

Enervated: adjective; without vigor, force, or strength; languid.  
Example of use- "He had come in dehydrated, with sunken eyes, too enervated to even cry." 
(How ironic!)
Child, after my own heart, cited as Funny-potato.com but sourced from this vocab study guide.
I think that says it all.  Most of my body, and particularly my arms, are enervated.  I'd love to soak in a tub but it needs to be cleaned first and I don't have the strength to do it right now.  On top of it, my mother-in-law may come by to help teach me to garden (perhaps with a little less destructive yet cathartic abandon) and my Journalist friend offered to hop over and go on a trail walk with me.  I know that when my body feels like this I should really give it a FULL day truly recuperating, but I can feel my energized spirit fighting my enervated body on this one!  Perhaps I can try to limit myself of bouts of activity interspersed with couch-floppage?  I'm sure my friend will be just as happy to veg with me, the puppy, and a glass of iced green+white tea with mint, right?  Cause that sounds mighty good to me...
All-too-realistic comic strip by Chris Spain, found on his blog from 8/20/2012.