Wednesday, November 20, 2013

More than just a dog.

We said goodbye today to an old friend, a furry, gentle soul who has been as much a part of our family as our children for twelve and a half years. A tearful goodbye, for certain. It was not easy for me to coordinate messages, text conversations, email communication, and video chats between three states and two continents, just so all of the immediate members of our family could be aware of the sad events of the day. We all know this was goodbye "for good', and that this day had been approaching for a long while.

Tonight, as the padding of heavy, burdened paws on the hallway tile has been replaced with the clicking-on of the heater and the sniffles of little girls fighting emotions and sleep simultaneously, I'm reminded that this pain is temporary, even though it is deep. Our lives will continue without our beloved Jake, almost without interruption. Almost. Without him, there will be no wet nose to inspect our legs and feet every time we walk into the door. No deep brown eyes searching for love and just one more peanut butter cookie. No one to feed that last piece of garlic bread to, and as a heartbroken 8-year-old pointed out, no one to eat those pizza crusts the girls never finish because he loved them so much. No silent companion on walks down the road outside our house. No big, near-invisible-in-the-dark guard standing watch in the living room to trip over during the night. No ... those have all been replaced with this aching hole in our hearts that has filled with tears far too many times today.

Of course, all of us--the adult children in Maryland and Tennessee, the husband in Abu Dhabi on business, and all of us here at home know Jake is well deserving of this relief from his last few years of physical decline. We nearly lost him last Thanksgiving from a severe reaction to prescription flea treatment, and he has been tortured by those awful pests because the non-toxic treatments don't work. His joints have been growing increasingly more painful to him as he's aged, but this last month has been miserable. Our once strong, fast, and agile dog became weak, unable to stand without assistance, and was falling down almost as many times as he'd get up. It is agonizing to watch someone you love deteriorate physically, but when the only means of communication they have are those "old soul" eyes that just look straight through to your heart, and they scream for help, for understanding, and for relief, it breaks your heart. I have listened to him whimper and whine these last two days in pain from just getting up to get a drink of water, and I promised myself I would never let an animal get THAT bad.

That decision to call the vet was likely the most difficult decision I have ever made. I knew what it meant. I knew I'd have to take him there by myself, without his "daddy" there to offer him comfort or to do the same for me. I knew there was no going back. I knew I was making the call that would end his life. Nothing can prepare you for that. It's probably the worst part of being an adult, and I have been through some "stuff" in my forty years. No one else but me could make that decision. It ate me alive last night. I didn't sleep, because I knew what today was going to bring. I wanted to make the right decision. I didn't want to put him down too soon, but I didn't want him suffering, either. Mental anguish. Over a dog. Someone said today that "it's just a dog". Well, no, Jake was much more than that. He was OUR dog. He was the one we committed to caring for, in exchange for nothing but his unconditional love. And he deserved to have the end of his life treated with the utmost care and respect.

We sure will miss you, old boy. We have those memories to treasure, but none of them will ever come close to the real thing. It has been a pleasure being your family. Rest well.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Some people never learn.

"From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so."  
                                                                                                       --James 3:10

I wondered, maybe only casually, for many years whatever happened to Jonah. There was no response to God's chastisement of him in chapter 4. No mention of some "come to Jesus" moment when Jonah finally "gets it". No mention of him doing great things in faith in that Hebraic walk of faith chapter. Just ... nothing. We do know what happened to Nineveh, on the other hand. Some 150 years later, Nahum delivers a much different message from Jehovah. No mercy, no compassion, no more second chances. Just utter destruction. Something they did really managed to get on the Almighty's bad side, you know? Maybe ... just maybe it's that God doesn't take too well to people slapping Him in the face with His own plan. Nobody knew this better than the Israelites, but only every few generations--you know, between aspostasies? Seems God's people, and anyone He had on His side for the duration of the abundant blessings and covenants and years of milk and honey eventually forgot WHO buttered their unleavened bread. They eventually forgot WHO was the real one in charge.

Isn't that what happened to Jonah? Here this mighty prophet of God was, going about his business passing on the word of the Lord to God's people when his boss gives him a new assignment. He didn't particularly like that assignment, so he does what any red-blooded American ... er, uh, Israelite would do. He runs the other way. Insert miraculous storm, God-appointed fish, and a three-day stay in the Acid Reflux Inn, and poof, Jonah's a changed man, right? Well, sure, he goes to Nineveh, he tells them God is going to destroy them. He did his job. All's well with the world, except the evil, mean, wicked, and nasty Ninevites didn't do what Jonah expected them to do, and neither did the Almighty!

Ok, here's where it got real for me tonight during our [adult] Bible class. See, I've taught this lesson before to kids of varied ages. My own, other people's kids, no matter. One would think I'd have known this story inside-out and upside-down. I thought I did. Nineveh, the upchucking fish, the sackcloth and ashes, the little shade tree, the worm, the east wind, I had it. And then tonight I got fish-slapped with the one thing I'd somehow managed to glaze over, read past, whatever, for 30-something years. Here it is, but to see it you've got to put aside the chapter divisions for a second. God didn't put those there--man did. Just read these two verses TOGETHER, as they are in order--the last verse of Jonah 3 and the first verse of chapter 4:

"Then God saw their works [speaking of the Ninevites covered in sackcloth and ashes, fasting in repentance and hoping and praying that God shows them mercy, that is], that they turned from their evil way, and God relented from the disaster that he had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry."

Did you catch that? Yes, yes, I know--we've all noticed that Jonah was angry that the Ninevites didn't get obliterated with holy lightning. I know that. The part I had just not made that connection to was what Jonah was REALLY mad about. See, Jonah had forgotten who was calling the shots. He forgot who he worked for; WHOSE message he was bringing. Jonah was mad that God had the audacity to call an audible on the field and change the play! Not too many verses before this, (albeit after a rather lengthy walk across the Assyrian landscape covered in the remains of fish-sick), Jonah had been singing God's praises for saving his own hide from certain death! And now here he was, telling God that he'd rather die than to live if these foul Ninevites were shown mercy and compassion.

Makes you want to shake him, doesn't it? What, did he never read that verse in James that I put up at the top? Well ... actually, no, he didn't ... that would come just a few hundred years later. HOWEVER ... why do you think we're given the story of Jonah and his Ninevan excursion? We learn a bunch of things from the Old Testament--namely about the character of God. He's loving, He's patient, He's willing to give people second chances ... but those Ninevites didn't just get a second chance because God was having a particularly happy day. God SAW their repentance. He SAW that they'd changed their ways. This is something that isn't very PC to say. Lots of "fluffy" religionists like to say that "God loves you no matter what, and God doesn't want us to judge each other, He accepts everyone equally". Well, not so much. That didn't come from the Bible. Nineveh got a second chance, but not until they'd repented! And not quite two centuries later, the gig was up when they'd forgotten about that second chance. Don't take advantage of God's compassion and mercy; it will eventually come back to bite you. And it could make you into someone like Jonah--hardened against God Himself, simply because you just don't like the way God sees fit to run His own plan!?

Be careful. Jonah didn't have the "right" to be angry with God for, well, for being GOD ... and neither do we. If God says it, that settles it. Believe it or not, it really doesn't matter except to your soul. Don't be a Jonah, and don't be a forgetful Ninevite. Be the fish. Let God prepare you, let Him use you, even if it means you might have to swallow something rather unpleasant from time to time.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I just don't know how you do it!

DISCLAIMER--if you can't take a joke or if you are easily offended by people whose life choices are different than yours, you may want to find another blog to read. I'm a conservative (but not legalistic), Christian, homeschooling mother of seven children who would have gladly have had more if my body had not gone into full mutiny. It is obvious that I am different. I don't care. And guess what? It doesn't offend me that YOU may be different, or that you might find my decisions insane, ridiculous, whatever. I just don't care; I'm too busy living my life to tell you how you've got to live yours. You're entitled to your opinion, as am I. If you're okay with that, and you're okay with hearing the "other" side of the story, then by all means, read on! If not, well, don't say I didn't warn you.

"I just don't know how you do it."

I honestly do not know how many times a year/month/week I hear this statement. The minute people start counting all these little blonde heads (even though right now there are--don't laugh-- *only* five), the questions about how I "do it all" come up. Inevitably, the question of school will come up once or twice a week, with a variety of responses. About half the time, I get a wonderfully supportive, "I think that's great!", but just as often, I am befuddled with how to respond when someone starts rattling off their own reasons for why they *can't* homeschool. I don't ever recall asking why ANYONE doesn't homeschool. Ever. People just feel the need to justify their reasons, I suppose. I'm not so sure I understand that response, but considering I'm in a particularly snarky mood today, I'm going to join in on the argument and tell some of "you people" (remember what I said about getting offended? Keep that in mind.) who send your kids to public or private schools  why it is I just don't understand "how you do it".

  1. I'm a major control freak. This is probably THE biggest reason I had issues with having our oldest two in a public school setting. I wasn't in control--of the curriculum, of their time, of their influences, their clothing, their school supplies, not even of their lunches. It was ridiculous, and I felt like I was handing the job of parenting my children over to a total stranger for six hours a day. When that kindergarten teacher told me that I had to tell my 5-year-old to stop reading because it was making the other kids [who couldn't read yet] feel bad about themselves, I lost it. The control monster in me took over. When we put them back in a public high school for just one semester, I felt like I'd had all of my maternal control ripped away. I do not do well with that. I am the one who will answer for how my children have been influenced, and because of that, I'm going to run with this control-freak nature God made me with and BE in control of those things I have every right to control.
  2. Public schools start too early in the morning for me. Petty, I know, but ask my mom--I have been a night owl ALL of my life. I came by it honestly--she is the same way. My brain clicks into full gear at about 10pm, and doesn't settle in for the night until about 1 or 2am. This does not make for an easy transition into early mornings. I hear all the time about how to make the morning rush easier, how to get the kids up and out of the house without a struggle; my kids aren't the problem. I'm the one who would not hear the alarm at 6am, and by 7:30 we'd all be scrambling probably three or four days a week, just to get UP and out the door. Thankfully, homeschooling allows me the freedom to "do school" on my brain's schedule, not the one determined by the local administration. This is yet another one where I have to say, "I do NOT know how you do it."
  3. I'm selfish, and I want to be the one seeing all their 'light bulb" moments. I love watching my children learn. I love seeing the fascination in their eyes as they soak up information and I simply cannot fathom sharing that look of accomplishment that they get upon mastering a new skill. I just can't. I'm their mother. I want to be the one with them as they learn to read. I want to be the one cheering them on to apply that new division skill. 
  4. I ENJOY being with my children. It perplexes me to be confronted by parents who seemingly cannot stand being around their own offspring. Goodness, folks--if YOU don't like 'em, do you really think a complete stranger is going to be thrilled to have to spend all day with them!? No, I'm not the type of person who makes an idol of my progeny; I rather enjoy having that elusive quiet time to myself and a date every so often with the man I married, but I have to tell you--I find it rather strange to hear a mother say she cannot wait to get away from her children. It seems very counter-intuitive to me. I happen to like mine. Even the little tornado whose damage path leaves me pulling my hair out several times a week. My life would be completely different if they weren't an all-day, every-day fixture in my life, and I dare say I wouldn't enjoy it as much.
  5. I don't like summer vacation. It's hot, and I don't like hot. Everywhere you can go is crowded, and I don't like crowds. I would much rather spend my summer inside, in the comfort of my air conditioned house, sipping sweet tea with reckless abandon. I like to take our time "off" when everyone else is in school--during the cool days of fall and spring, when being outside is gloriously refreshing and the crowds are sparse. I'm weird that way. Of course, I also detest Black Friday, which has on more than one occasion been used to support the idea that I'm more than a little bit goofy in this respect. Point is, I don't like being told when to take my vacations. If my husband is off work, ALL of us are off. When it's less crowded and cooler, we take our vacations and enjoy being somewhat removed from the craziness.
  6. There is no way I have the patience for institutionalized education. This one goes WAY back. I do not like being told I have to stop what I'm doing and wait for the rest of the class to catch up. I spent many a day in elementary school bored out of my skull, and I don't want that for my children. If they want to work ahead, I let them. Oh--and the other thing about waiting--I do NOT do well in lines. Waiting for the first bell, waiting around in the bus lane, I just get very restless. I don't like waiting 9 weeks for a progress report or report card to know if one of my children is having trouble in any particular subject. I don't like waiting. If there's a problem, I want to know now so I can work on it. Maybe y'all had better luck, but the only time during our three years of experience in the public school system, I had virtually zero communication with my children's teachers unless it was time for a progress report or report card.
  7. Excused absences. I loathe them. The idea that a child who has not seen his or her father for six months would have to miss a day's assignments and potentially risk their grades because Dad is being welcomed home from a deployment is not just unfathomable, it's INEXCUSABLE. Oh, and in case you are wondering, this actually happened to several of our friends the days their dads came home from a deployment to Saudi Arabia/Kuwait. In fact, my children were two of the very few school-age children who were present when those buses pulled up because it was during school hours, and the school didn't allow them an excused absence. I find it ridiculous that a parent has to justify an absence with a doctor's note. Who do these children belong to, anyway? Shoot, if we need a mental health day, we're taking one!
  8. Textbooks give me the creeps. It's like Bac-O's. I don't serve my kids fake bacon, and I'm not keen on the idea of them getting watered-down, purified, politicized, and politically-corrected lessons. 
  9. Buses. I've ridden them. My older  two children have had experience with them. They're horrible. Everything about them is horrible. Again, petty? Maybe. But these are MY complaints, remember? My turn.
  10. I do not EVER want my children to be targeted by bullies just because they love to learn. I want to be by their sides as they mature, showing them how to handle situations and circumstances they do not understand or that make them uncomfortable. I do not want them to ever feel as if they are alone in this big world. Go ahead, tell me I'm sheltering them. I assure you, I'm doing little more for them than I would my baby cucumber plants, which I lovingly "train" up a trellis so they can spread their leaves and have something to grab onto for support when wind or harsh rain threatens.
  11. This may be the most maddening of all of my reasons, but I guarantee you, it is behind every single excuse I hear listed by those who "can't" homeschool for any of a hundred reasons. The reason? I DON'T WANT TO. There. I said it. Is there something "wrong" with not wanting to send my kids to public school? Only if there's something "wrong" with not wanting to homeschool.
Home education is not for everyone. Having children is not for everyone. Marriage is not for everyone. College is not for everyone. Owning a home isn't for everyone. Cats aren't for everyone. Gardening isn't for everyone. And that's okay, because NONE of these things is an issue that will threaten our salvation in and of itself. I have convictions that some others of you do not have. Some of you have convictions that I do not share. That's okay too, as long as those convictions aren't formed on opinions that violate the Word of God. But ya know what, public/private school parents? I just don't know how you do it! :)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The end of the innocence?

This afternoon, yet another shred of innocence was chipped away from America's youth when the Boy Scouts of America announced that it will now allow "openly and avowed" homosexual members. Not leaders, they assure us. No, we don't want anyone to go accusing the Scouts of opening *that* can of worms. No, this is simply an admission that they will now allow a homosexual boy to be open about his attraction to his own gender.

Yay for them! Go Boy Scouts! Way to go for finally "getting with the program" and "evolving" past all of those old-fashioned, archaic, and oppressive standards that tied you to all of those religious nut jobs! Now our boys can be "loud and proud" about their homosexuality! It's about time the BSA caught up with the GSA, right?

Lest you not know me well, the sarcasm was dripping from that like a 3-year-old with a popsicle. For the record, I am thoroughly disgusted. I think it was the worst decision the BSA could have made, and I do believe they have alienated thousands of supporters and they may be seeing a sharp decrease in their membership as a result. This was an organization KNOWN for its adherence to strong moral values and principles. Yet what they did was cave to political and social pressure to "evolve" and make gay boys more comfortable in their ranks.

Go ahead, call me a hater. I'm used to it by now. You may as well throw around the "homophobe" label too, while you're at it, since that's the token accusation, right? After all, I'm "one of those" who believes that homosexuality is contagious like leprosy, and of course if one gay boy is allowed in, he's going to go recruiting.

Yet more sarcasm. I'm in that kind of mood tonight.

Actually, I'm not going to throw around the typical justification for my opinion. I'm not even going to bring the Bible into this at all, because sometimes, common sense just needs to speak for itself. I want to explain just why it is I'm completely appalled by the BSA's change of policy.

I have seven children, but only one boy. Way back when he was in the tender years of adolescence, while we were stationed in Germany, I volunteered to lead his Webelos den of 13 boys while their dads were almost all deployed (what was I thinking???), and even though I was stressed out most of the time, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent with those boys. It also allowed me to fulfill a dream I'd had for years of "being" a Boy Scout. See, years and years ago when I was just a wee, snarky sprout, I spent a year as a Junior Girl Scout. It was horrible. They all wanted to talk about fingernails and hair and purses and "girl power", and I was the lone wolf during the troop campout who was willing to get dirty, so I made the fire, cleaned up the muddy campsite, and chased off a raccoon that got into our tent. Those girls were WAY too girly for me, and I dreamed of being a Boy Scout to do the *really* fun stuff. However, it was very matter-of-factly explained to me back then in terms I would not understand for several more years that there is a VERY good reason why there weren't any girls in the Boy Scouts nor were there boys in the Girl Scouts. I used to think it was because boys didn't want to wear those stupid berets or the silly little sock taggie things.

And then I had children, and I understood VERY well why it is that there is a clear division between the BSA and GSA. I'll not get into my issues with the Girl Scouts right now, but let's just fast forward a few years, shall we? Right now, with two (married) adult children and five little girls moving at an alarming rate toward adolescence, their father and I were faced with a predicament--we wanted our girls to have some sort of non-church, non-sport activity that both supported our own values and encouraged them to grow up to be strong young ladies ... without the co-ed nature of the church's youth group, or our homeschool group (no offense to the families of those boys, they are OUTSTANDING young men) or their karate class. Why? Why on earth would our girls need something isolated from boys?

Two words--sexual tension. Somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12, a curious thing happens to every young person--they become acutely aware that the opposite sex is very, very different, and they begin noticing that they have an awkward feeling around those "other" people. They suddenly feel self-conscious and, even if ZERO attraction exists, the tension is there that this other person might be looking at me, noticing me, staring at me, etc.

In a "safe", one-sex setting, boys are able to be boys, and girls are able to be girls. Sure, they will eventually start comparing notes, sharing the who-likes-who and how this girl/boy is cute, but not *as readily* under circumstances when their attention is being diverted toward character-building activities. 

The BSA just removed that barrier. No, I'm not comparing gay boys to Girl Scouts. However, there *IS* going to be something there that wasn't there before--sexual tension. It's not supposed to be there! Our CHILDREN are supposed to have a safe haven where this kind of thing doesn't exist! They should be able to be pimply, awkward, and innocent. Now they have this added issue of a boy who is not "just" gay, but who is being encouraged to be "openly and avowed" about his sexual attraction to the boys who, up until now, had this one place they could escape that sexual tension! WHY do we have to bring sexuality into Scouting??? Why?? Last time I checked, the orienteering badge had nothing to do with gender! No, I'm not being flippant--I'm quite serious. I do not ever remember anything in my son's Scout manual about sexuality. Nothing. So WHY now do we need to be "open and avowed" with ANY kind of sexuality??? Why on earth would we be encouraging 11, 12, or 13-year-old CHILDREN to explore sexuality of any kind? I do not understand for the life of me why we Americans have this ridiculous need to be "open and avowed" with things that should be very private in nature. I know there have been homosexuals in scouting--both sides-- probably since their establishment. My question is this: Why is it suddenly necessary to make it public, especially when "exploring" one's sexual desires can have such disastrous consequences? Why can't our children just have one "safe place" that they can be children? Why do we have to strip them of their innocence and turn them into tiny adults before they're emotionally capable of handling it?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why has it come to this?

I have had a battle going on inside my head for several months now over whether or not I would broach this subject at all, but you know what? It needs to be broached, plowed through, ironed out, and buried in the compost pile where it belongs. I know someone is going to get their panties in a wad about it, but we need to talk about these things ... so let's put on our big-girl panties and deal with the wads as they come, shall we?

Sometime late last year, I mentioned on one of my random "this is my crazy life" status updates on Facebook that I'd essentially run myself through the wringer on what was one of my "Crazy Thursdays", and in a mental response to a flippant comment from another grocery store patron, I added that "no one had better say I'm not a working mother". Wouldn't you know it, someone I know in real life took MAJOR offense to this. Not just eye-rolling offense, but responding with a "You've GOT to be kidding me!!!" offense. She then proceeded to detail her own day, spent in the office and then doing various and sundry around-the-house "wifely and motherly" tasks when she returned home, as opposed to what she perceived as the simplistic day of a stay-at-home mom (who had not been home from 8am till 6pm). In the rather confusing dialogue that ensued (because I knew it was my statement that had her so upset, I attempted to explain that I in no way, shape, or form was attempting to take anything away from what she does), it became glaringly obvious that there is something very serious going on under the surface. Had I not just been told by that grocery store guy that "You'd better be glad you don't work!", I might have taken it a little better, but alas, I did not. And I was exhausted. From what, though, if I hadn't WORKED all day??

What defines a "working mother"? Better yet, what defines "work"? Desk work? Standing and teaching a class of twenty-five? Construction? Making sure all of the diners in a restaurant have full iced tea glasses? In the dead-end dialogue I had with the offended party, I learned that anything I said about what I had done during that day was taken as a direct insult on the sacrifice she and her family had made to have a career and a successful life. I couldn't win that battle, nor was I even trying, because I wasn't trying to take any of the respect or prestige away from her job-for-pay, and I was simply trying to gain the same respect for my chosen career-not-for-pay. My question is this: WHY, ladies ... WHY are we beating each other up over whether or not someone is "working", and why on earth would we EVER assume to say that what one of us does is work while the other one does not work, based solely on the single matter of a paycheck? Why do we DO that????

I, as a stay-at-home mother, do not envy those who work outside the home. Period. I wouldn't want it. It's not for me, I know that, and I'm perfectly okay with being "just a wife and mom". Yes, it requires certain sacrifices, and yes, I understand unequivocally that my choice is a PERSONAL one, based on not just personal beliefs, but personal convictions and personal preferences. I don't do "team player" well, and that doesn't lend itself well to a job that requires working with people. I know this, and to some extent, this played a big part of my CHOICE to occupy myself in the work I find in my own home and family. I do have convictions that cemented this decision, but they are MINE. I don't dare assert my convictions on others, because we are individuals! I do value the career (albeit unpaid in any form of income that is monetary) that I have chosen above any other I could have chosen, because I see the value in it to my own family. Does it mean I look down on other wives or mothers who have chosen other paths? Heavens, no! I know the vast majority of people in this world would not choose to be a stay-at-home mother of seven who homeschools while her husband frequently travels the globe for weeks on end. I know that! But ladies, just because I have opted out of spending six years in college to get a Master's degree in fill-in-the-blank (other than music and the challenge of being a combat pilot, nothing else ever interested me) and I don't spend my days at an office, in a classroom, or whatever else I may find to do, does NOT mean what I do all day is not "work". I absolutely guarantee you that I work--sometimes from sunup to long past midnight, and not just at "normal" tasks like laundry and dishes and getting a heater fixed while dealing with a belligerent home warranty company. I do some things--some for myself, some for my family, some for others--that I would never have the time or energy to do, were I putting in 40+ hours working somewhere else. I enjoy that 'luxury'.

Ladies, we have GOT to get past this idea that a paycheck defines work. We have got to stop thinking that because a woman has CHOSEN to stay at home taking care of her home and family full time, that she is somehow less successful or "busy" than a woman who works outside the home for a paycheck. It's ludicrous, and it's demeaning to the many girls and women who desire a simple domestic life. I can't even begin to tell you how much it hurt to have my oldest daughter be lectured over and over again when she graduated from high school about going to college and finding a "worthwhile career" and to be told she was "wasting her life" and "taking the lazy way out" simply because she desired to be "just" a wife and mom.

I'm not a feminist by any stretch of the imagination, but isn't it a bit self-defeating and completely hypocritical to say that a woman can be "anything she wants" as long as she "works", but yet we define work as something that brings in pay, instead of being honest work that can benefit a family in other ways? Why are we doing this to each other?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Paging Dr. House!

It's the middle of April. Talk about a blogging FAIL. I had every intention of making my blogging more regular come the New Year (you know, four and a half months ago). When I posted last, I had no idea that the very next day, I would be seeing the beginning of a twelve-week-long nightmare, the likes of which I'd only seen end in an hour on one of those TV medical mysteries.

On January 4th, we were shooting the breeze with some friends over dinner when I noticed I had a weird "crackling" sound when I'd take a deep breath. It had happened a few other times, but had only lasted for a day or two, then would disappear without any other symptoms. I never managed to have any sort of "productive' cough to get up whatever was making that noise, so I never really thought much of it. By January 5th, I had a fever. Hmm, that was something new. It was a low-grade fever, but still something to make me take notice. On the 6th, I started feeling like I had the flu. Body aches had taken over, the fever was dragging me to the ground, and the noise in my chest was still there. It wasn't until I woke up on the 7th and finally had a "productive" cough that made me really start getting concerned. I was coughing up blood. Not just *any* blood, but pinkish, and then brown blood. And the odor in my breath when I'd cough ... it was putrid, to put it mildly; like something had died in my lung. I called Pete at work to tell him what was going on, and when he came home from work, we immediately headed to the ER. (I had tried to get an appointment with my doctor, but that's another blog post/rant altogether.)

At the emergency room, I fully expected the standard chest x-ray, and I figured I'd be told I had pneumonia. I did NOT expect to have the doctor come in to tell me they needed to get a CT scan of my chest because they needed a better view. And I certainly did not expect to have yet another doctor come in and scare the life out of me with the words, "We found a mass in your lung."

In the weeks that followed, I spent way more time than I could ever imagine doing something I am not known to tolerate well--waiting. I waited for referrals for a pulmonologist. I waited to have tests run. I waited on results. I waited for more tests, then more results. Test after test, biopsy after biopsy, frustration after painful frustration, all inconclusive.

I did learn a few things during all of that frustration. I learned that my body does not handle Demerol very well; it causes my blood pressure and my heart rate to go dangerously high. I learned that I obviously have a pretty decent tolerance to anesthesia, because I don't do "twilight sleep" very well. In fact, I remember all but about five minutes of a 30-minute bronchoscopy, including having my nose filled with K-Y jelly so the tube would slide down my nose/throat easily. I also remember having my lung flooded with fluid (something called a "lavage"?) and my brain sending out warning sirens but not being able to do anything but lay there. Not fun.

I also learned that being awake for a needle biopsy of your lung is NOT "just slightly uncomfortable". It is nearly half an hour of feeling like you're being skewered onto the table, all while laying face-down and having your mouth fill with blood that you can't spit out unless you plan on laying IN IT until the test is over. Just FYI, it's rather difficult to "take a breath and hold it" while there is a needle stuck in your chest.

The third test wasn't all bad. It was yet another bronchoscopy, but this time I was fully asleep. Nice. I do recommend that. There was some pain in the days that followed, but nothing really bad. If you have to have a bronchoscopy done to biopsy a mysterious mass in your lung that isn't malignant and nobody seems to be able to get a good handle on, a super-dimension bronchoscopy is the way to go!

Problem with all of this was that I *still* didn't get a diagnosis, even after three biopsies. The only thing left was the BIGGIE, and on the 13th of March, just two days after our son came home from Afghanistan, I was admitted to have a video-assisted thoracoscopy done. My pulmonologist couldn't get to the mass, and the thoracic surgeon didn't want to mess around with yet another "test"; they decided to just go big and take the mass out, THEN run tests on it. I don't remember, but apparently before the surgery I had some REALLY good drugs, because I'm told that when some of our friends came back to pray for me, my response to "how are you?" was, "Happy, happy, happy!"

That didn't last long, unfortunately.

When I woke up from that beast of a surgery, I was in more pain than I have ever been, in all of my life. The chest tube in my side felt like I was expanding my lung against a knife blade with every single breath. I couldn't take but tiny little breaths, and when they got me up to "do my laps" around the hospital ward, I felt like I was going to die, right then and there. I couldn't get air IN my lung, it hurt to move, it hurt to lay still, it hurt to adjust myself ... it just HURT. And before you accuse me of being a weenie, bear in mind I've been through childbirth seven times; only one c-section; I've had a kidney stone; I've had a complete rotator cuff repair, including three months of excruciating physical therapy ... and this lung surgery was THE WORST pain I have ever felt. Getting that chest tube out two days post-op was a huge (and immediate) relief, but the doctors and nurses were right when they told me that this recovery is a tough one. I am a month out from surgery now, and I'm still feeling the effects. I have some nerve issues, sort of a pinched nerve across my midsection from the ping-pong-ball-sized mass being pulled through my ribs. It's still hard to lay on my side, and because the doctor did a wedge resection, meaning he took a wedge of lung tissue out to be sure he got the entire mass, I'm having to train my lung to compensate for the loss of that tissue.

So, you're wondering why I'm sharing this? To scare someone senseless? Nope. Actually, I'm sharing it because during the course of this nightmare, I found very little in terms of personal experience with what was "theorized" to be the cause of the weird crackling sound, bloody cough, fever, body aches, and drenching night sweats that I thought were attributed to the fever. As my pulmonologist suspected once the preliminary biopsies showed no malignancies, I have a fungal lung infection called histoplasmosis. I probably got it last Spring (hey, I said the "crackling" in my lung had happened before) when I tilled up a pretty large section of my backyard to do some gardening. Seems this lovely little "bug" is inhaled, completely common for the area of the country we live in, and can come from soil, rotten wood, bat guano, and bird poop. Nice, huh?

I wanted to share my medical mystery just so someone like me, with a "hinting" at a possible diagnosis of a lung fungus, can find at least one other human being somewhere in cyberspace who has been through this. I did find two other personal stories from people diagnosed with this, but both had other major lung issues beforehand--one had COPD, the other had sarcoidosis. I am relatively healthy other than having a fungal mass attack my lung. The weird putrid smell/taste that I had with the bloody cough? It *WAS* dead tissue. Necrosis. The infection was actually killing off my lung! There was also some fibrosis found during the first bronchoscopy, which scared my doctor because fibrosis with no obvious cause is a VERY bad diagnosis to have. Worse than the "C" word, I have found. Overall, finding out I have something as "simple" as histoplasmosis was somewhat of a relief. It's nice to know, after all I've gone through just to get a diagnosis, that the cure is as simple as taking an antifungal for several months.

I do wish that it hadn't taken 12 weeks to get a diagnosis, though. Dr. House always manages to cure his patients in an hour! Sigh ...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Disney savings jar

From the moment I posted the picture above on Facebook early Christmas afternoon, I was getting query after query regarding what we were doing, how we were doing it, etc., and I figured the most efficient way of explaining our plan was to write about it here.

This past Christmas was tight. Not just for us, but for many people. Times are rough; money seems to be leaving the bank quicker than it arrives for many families, and many of us are more concerned with the business of stretching pennies than we are with the newest, most popular, latest, and greatest "thing" to give our children. Frugality calls for creativity, and this past Christmas, as we finished up our Christmas breakfast, we gave our girls a gift that, as they said, was better than anything they had under the tree. This year, we gave them the promise that, by year's end, we will take them to Disney World. My poor hubby's ears took a beating ... there was a LOT of squealing as the jar with those mouse ears painted on it came out of the bag! For those five little princessy types, the idea of visiting the "most magical place on earth" was almost more than they could handle!

Wait ... Disney? FRUGAL? Am I out of my mind? Well, that's beside the point. I know my rocker is a bit off-kilter. Hear me out. No, we don't have the $4000 (give or take) that it is going to take to get our family of seven a five-day stay at what we have affectionately (and snark-fully) dubbed "the Mouse trap". We just don't have it! We have some MAJOR house repairs that require every penny of our savings, plus a whole lot more. See, we didn't hand the girls seven tickets. We handed them a plan, and the opportunity to be a major part of that plan! The jar is just a plain plastic cookie-jar type thing that I painted the Mickey Mouse head shape onto. It was empty when we gave it to them. We told them how much it is going to cost, how much we can put in from Pete's travel pay (about half) during the next year, and then told them that it will take ALL OF US working together to fill that jar. They didn't seem all that worried. They immediately started brainstorming ways of saving the money. A week and a half after Christmas, there is already over $100 in it.

As for an actual savings "plan"? Well, mostly we are resolving to eat out less. We spend a LOT on restaurant meals that could go into savings. Yes, we make the wiggle room in our budget to do that, but if we are spending between $60-75 a week for food, we could be plunking at least 3/4 of that in the jar every week and eat at HOME! We are also planning a massive, get-the-entire-family-involved yard sale that will hopefully help us do some big-time decluttering while boosting the savings for our trip at the same time!

Our hope and aim is to make this trip DEBT FREE, while showing the girls that making small but powerful changes in our spending habits can benefit us all in BIG ways. :)
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