Surgery

1.16.2024

On Friday, I went in for umbilical hernia surgery. If you had asked me about this kind of surgery a year ago, I would have said, "Umbilical what?"

The universe works in strange ways. Last April, I went for my routine mammogram and ultrasound. I had nipple discharge when they were squeezing one of my breasts flat like a pancake, so they decided I might need to see a "breast specialist" to determine if this might be indicative of an early Cancer finding. Lucky for me, it wasn't.

However, as I was getting dressed and about to leave the breast specialist's office, she turned and said to me, "Honey, you need to get that thing fixed."

"What?" I asked, perplexed.

"Your hernia," she answered.

I still looked at her, confused. "What hernia?" I finally asked.

She pointed to my belly button and said, "That one."

I was amazed. My ugly belly button (and it is ugly) popped out around the time I was pregnant. My husband innocently joked that it pushed out like a "turkey timer." indicating that "Little Lewie" was done in the oven. When I was pregnant, it was kind of cute, but when my belly receded, it looked gross and weird.  With some of my shirts and sweaters, people could see its imprint, and someone even suggested I try and "tape it down," so it would be less conspicuous. 



These were my pregnancy photos when my belly button first started to pop out.
Since then, it has been pushed out further with a bulge.

"Does it bother you?"

"No," I answered. I honestly thought it was a battle scar from pregnancy.

She proceeded to tell me that I had an umbilical hernia, which could lead to complications later on in life. The worst-case scenario is that my intestines, or worse, a section of my bowel could become stuck outside the abdomen. 

I stopped her there; talking about my innards coming out was not a conversation I was ready to have. I asked if she could recommend a surgeon, and I left with two names of doctors from the hospital who could help me.

Last April, I was certainly not ready to have surgery. I was still actively searching for a job, and summer was right around the corner. I knew the procedure would put me out for about six weeks, so I couldn't make that commitment. What if I got called back for a second interview? Employers wouldn't understand or wait for me to recover when they have a job to fill.

In December (after working at the land trust for five months), I decided now (Jan.) was the time. My bosses were understanding, and it was just the beginning of winter. (Most land trust activity occurs during the spring, summer, and fall when people are gardening, hiking, and attending outdoor events.) There would still be work for me to do at the trust, but some could be done at home for the first week or so.

The procedure wasn't terrible, but it was a little scary. Doctors and nurses had me repeat my name and birthdate over and over again as they placed tags on me and had me fill out forms. (I thought it was interesting that they put the IV in my right wrist area [my dominant hand] and then asked me to sign.) 

The IV stung, and I couldn't look at the blood that dripped from my hand as the nurse announced, "It looks like you're a bleeder." Soon enough, I was wheeled into the surgery room, where I would be accompanied by my doctor, two anesthesiologists, and a nurse advocate. (The nurse advocate told me he would be watching my vital signs and caring for me while I was put under. I let him know that I had a mom, husband, fifteen-year-old son, and dog waiting for me at home, so he wasn't just my advocate, he had to think about them, too. I said this in a joking manner, but I was dead serious--no pun intended.)

The operating table was thin and metal. I had to lie on my back (no pillow allowed), and my arms and legs were spread out like a Gingerbread man. They put clamps on my arms and some others on my legs, which would rhythmically compress and relax to help my blood flow and protect me from blood clots. Next, electrodes for the EKG monitor were placed on my chest and sides.  By now, I was really starting to feel nervous under the bright lights, wishing they would just put me out. I didn't need to know any more about what was happening. The last thing I knew was they hooked up my IV and put an oxygen tube in my nose. Then everything went dark until I woke up.

When I woke up, I saw five nurses in front of me all sitting at their own computer monitors. I was pretty alert. "You're not all monitoring me?" I asked them jokingly.

"No," they laughed, "there are two other patients on each side of you. They haven't woke up yet." I couldn't see the other patients because the curtains were drawn. They gave me post-op instructions and waited for me to pee before they called my husband for pickup. Then, they helped me dress. I'm not sure how long I was in the recovery room, but I do know that it only took 30 minutes from the time I woke up to the time my husband arrived. Everyone (all the nurses and doctors) was amazing.

Now it's day four, and I'm lying on the couch with an ice pack on my belly. I've been able to shower, and I get around by shuffling my feet, but I have trouble bending and lifting myself up. I've been banned from driving, lifting, doing household chores, and going to work until the doctor gives me permission. It sounds like I will be able to drive and go to work next week, but any sort of exercise, whether it's walking Bruce, yoga poses, running, jumping, hiking, or snow tubing is all going to have to wait for the next six weeks. My hope is to get better in time to still go snow tubing with Lewie and his friends.

I might not have wanted to start out 2024 lying around with a sore, bandaged belly, but I'm grateful it's all behind me now. Even more, I'm thankful it was a procedure I could take care of now before it became a problem. (It's much easier to go through a surgery at 48 instead of 68!)

The lesson learned is if one has a "turkey timer" for a belly button or anything weird on their body, the best advice is to get it checked out. It could be nothing, but it is best to let doctors, and not yourself, make that call.

Hello 2024: Can You Help Me Find My Way?

1.07.2024

I LOVE New Year's Day--it's a fresh start to a 365-day cycle of new beginnings. I have the typical New Year's Resolutions--eat less, exercise more, save money, get organized, be kind, be my best self... These resolutions, or mini-goals, however, will progress and regress throughout the year. The hope is that I will have more "good days" of staying committed than bad.

I'm looking forward to 2024 for a different reason--

to find myself--or perhaps more, to find meaning. 

Source

Over the years, my dream board (yes, I have one) has become cluttered, so much so, that I don't even remember everything I posted. As I am writing this, I've decided to take everything down and start from scratch. There are pictures of what I'd like our house to look like if we ever have it remodeled. Those will go back up. Then there are picture quotes that came from a calendar I used to own; those are going back up, too. 

I also have pictures of National Parks. Interestingly, I have one of Bryce Canyon and another of Yosemite. Did I post them after I went or before? I don't remember, but I do know that I have had things on my dream board come true. Once I posted a picture of a Subaru Outback, and within the year, we ended up buying one. (That was before I even knew we were going to need a car!) 

I have some business cards posted--mostly to go along with remodeling the house. They've been up there for years--maybe even a decade. I might do a Google search to see if these companies are still in business and then put them somewhere else for safekeeping... I have salary requirements listed there, too. Amounts that are not super extravagant but would help us lead a more financially secure life.

As I look at my dream board, which, in all honesty, hasn't been tended to much over the years, the one picture that stands out says, "To find yourself, sometimes you need to be lost." I liked the picture at the time because it's of an "A-Frame" house--(I love them)--and it's in the woods--(my favorite place to be).

The picture gravitates to me now because that's me--I'm lost! After being laid off (after 21 years of service to a small liberal arts college), I spent the majority of last year looking for a job. At first, I was selective, but after having interview after interview with no job offer in-site, I started applying to any position that remotely utilized my skillset--even jobs where I would be totally unhappy (writing for a health insurance agency--YUCK!)

When I finally did score a position in conservation, I truly wanted it to be "my new second home," but as I started learning more about the position, I realized it's not "my forever" either. The people are nice, and I am in love with the mission (to protect Mother Nature), but the daily work itself (pay bills, take minutes, print expense reports, attend small festivals to hand out brochures) feels trite and uneventful. Yes, I did get to sign off on a fee donation of 26 acres to our little land trust (a beautiful piece of property with Hemlock forest and vernal pools), but it wasn't because I made it happen. It's because someone with a generous heart (and a desire for a tax deduction) decided to give it to us. 

When I worked in higher education, I touched people's lives, and thankfully I continue to teach. As a dean, my position mattered. I not only helped students graduate, but I also helped thousands more learn about our programs, enroll, and believe in themselves. I was part of important discussions about policy, equity, inclusion, curricula, mental health, career development, and student success. I miss that, and yet, there is a part of me that continues to say, "Stay in conservation--your heart is there, too."

I am lost. A huge part of me wants to go back to higher education, but then I fantasize about other opportunities. Do I want to get a real estate license? Do I want to get my Ph.D.? Do I want to do my own podcast? Do I want to work for a retreat center? Do I want to write a book? The truth is that I have many interests, such as writing, career development, student success, mental & spiritual health, conservation, and sustainability, to name a few. The big question is--where do I go from here?

Last year taught me that planning doesn't necessarily get us closer to our goals. If I could have made things happen for myself, I would have been working as a dean again at a nearby college. (I was interviewed for four such positions.) Instead, after dozens of interviews, I was hired by a land trust! I learned that I had to keep an open mind and an open heart, and more, I learned that I need to be patient.

Now I am lost in the woods with a compass, asking which way is "true North." Last year, since I had the time, I would take our dog, Bruce, on hikes with no set plans. We would try various trails and see where they would lead. Sometimes, they would lead to swampy marshes, and we would have to turn back, and other times, we found hidden gems (waterfalls, mirror lakes, and busy beaver ponds) where we would stand and marvel for hours. The woods started to feel like my sanctuary, and I repeated to myself the words of John Muir again and again...

"And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul."

Sometimes, during our hikes, I would rehearse answers to potential interview questions, and other times, I would go to contemplate--to find meaning or get clarity about this next stage in my life. In many ways, life was handing me a blank slate--to be anything I wanted, and still, fears about money, my age, and my abilities clouded the journey.

I wanted to believe all my meditation walking led me to "my forever," but now I see that it simply presented "a next step." With so much indecisiveness and ambiguity about what I want to do, I realize now I need to take a step back and enjoy the journey.

Last year, I was in panic mode. "I need a job," I'd tell myself again and again. This year, I can take out the panic and simply be. Of course, I am busy--I work full-time at the land trust, teach multiple courses, and give library talks about career readiness (all while being a mom, wife, daughter, dog mom, and friend). 

Still, I will make time for discovery. It's okay to be lost. 

I have uncluttered my dream board and will put up new hopes and dreams as they emerge. 

High School Happenings (Grade 9 - First Semester)

12.28.2023

On August 28th, Lewie started high school, and it's been a whirlwind, to say the least. On the one hand, Lewie's "social transition" has been great. Since most of his friends are in a grade above him, he missed them last year as he was in middle school while they were all starting their first year of high school. This year, with him being in 9th and them being in 10th, he's been fortunate to have lunch with them and even to be in one or two of their classes!

Since Lewie does not play sports, I was eager to have him get involved in other ways--maybe he could join theater or an assortment of clubs, such as chess or math. He turned them down, citing he wasn't interested, and they would take him away from his homework time. (I even had his school counselor and advisor strongly encourage him to join "something.") 

Then, at the start of October, I quickly saw his A average turn to low Bs and Cs. YIKES! Here I was stressing about his involvement in school, and now he was getting Ds on his quizzes and exams. I took advantage of "parent-teacher conferences" and quickly requested a review of his 504 plan.Then, I started emailing teachers (history, geometry, Spanish, and biology) to see how he could get back on track. I started dropping him off at school at 6:50 a.m. to get tutoring in geometry, and I had Spanish textbooks sent home, so I could tutor Lewie in Spanish. Needless to say, helping Lewie through high school, so far, has felt like a full-time job! Although, while most parents are spending HOURS of their time driving their kiddos to meets, practices, games, and competitions, I'm spending HOURS at home making flashcards and drilling him on high school trivia--factoids I thought I could leave behind 30 years ago after I received my diploma.

We've been retaking quizzes, but surprise, once he finally starts to gain traction, there's a new test or quiz (one he hasn't fully studied for yet), and he's back to the beginning. The cycle is exhausting, and I'm wondering if anyone else has this trouble. Lewie's a bright kid and does his homework, but the tests come...and even with extra time and a quiet environment...he struggles. Either his memory is not there or his ability to apply what he knows to the problems in front of him is missing. After the New Year, mid-terms will be starting on Jan. 12th, and we'll be back to feeling stressed out. We've been studying what we can over the winter break, but I can't tutor him in history, biology, or geometry.  Top that off with the fact that he tested positive for COVID on the Saturday just before Christmas, and he's been battling exhaustion (and frustration from having to quarantine away from friends and family), too.

In other high school news, Lewie had his first Homecoming Dance in November. In typical high school drama fashion, he told a friend he was thinking about asking a particular girl to the dance, and the message got back to her. I never received the full story, but supposedly, she said she wasn't interested in going with him because she wanted to go with someone else. Thankfully, he didn't let "being rejected" (his words) stop him from going. One of his friends went with a long-term girlfriend (of one year), and his other two friends went solo, like Lewie. I bought him a cheap tux on Amazon and made sure his dress shoes from his 8th-grade graduation still fit. I have to admit that he left looking (and smelling) pretty dapper.




Upon returning, he was disappointed. I am paraphrasing here, but ultimately, he had three complaints:

1.  Barely anyone brought a date, and if they did, they didn't dance together. The girls danced with the girls and the boys with the boys (like middle school all over again).

2. The music was TOO LOUD, and the DJ asked for requests but didn't play them.

3. The "food" was Dunkin Donuts, cookies, and other desserts.

I felt bad that Lewie was looking forward to this dance for the past year only to feel like it wasn't much better than middle school. He showed me a video where the high school gym was packed, looking like almost every student from the school attended. Still, he wasn't impressed. He didn't have an opportunity to dance with any girls, and the girl he did want to ask ended up going solo herself. Even his own friend didn't spend much time with his girlfriend. According to Lewie, they only stayed with each other long enough to dance to some of the slow songs.

Ughhhh, high school. I'm not a fan. The studies are more challenging and so are all the adolescent emotions and life lessons. My son is excited one day and down the next. He's always tired, and it's tough to get him interested in anything beyond his friends and technology. He knows doing well in school is a requirement in this house, and yet, he groans and complains every time I suggest he study or we study together. Driving, of course, is on all of his friends' minds, and next year, Lewie will be old enough to apply for his learner's permit. Can I reverse time, please?  If anyone has any words of wisdom, I sure could use them right now.

A Christmas in the Woods

12.25.2023

This August, I embarked on a new journey, which took me quite literally "in the woods." I went from being a higher education administrator (for over 21 years) to becoming an executive director at a local land trust. I had neither executive director nor land trust experience, but what I did have was an eagerness to learn the position and a passion for conserving forest, farmland, waterways, and wilderness corridors.

Since this was a monumental change in my life, and both Daddy Lew and Little Lewie have been dragged into helping me out with a few functions, I told them that our Christmas card should be "wilderness" themed this year. I had already picked out the cutest safari outfit with red and white knee-high stockings (for Christmas flair). My husband, always wanting to make people laugh, immediately wanted to be Sasquatch or Big Foot. (The role suits him since he has size 14 feet!) For Lewie, I proposed a gnome, Boy Scout, animal, or tree of some sort. When his teenage self shuddered at the idea of doing any of them, I looked up "tree costume" on Amazon and found the most adorable "Pretend I'm a Tree" T-shirt. That was it! I knew I wouldn't be able to force him to dress up in a full costume, but I could, at least, make him wear a funny shirt. (I must say, he did get into his tree character very well--he stood proud, tall, and still.)

Most of the pictures were meant to seem as if I was lost (i.e., trying to figure out directions) without knowing Sasquatch was just a foot away behind "the tree." I'm not sure if we fully captured that motif in our images, but it sure was fun! Of course, we had to have a few smiling family photos, too, including one where my husband reveals his face. (He was so reluctant to do it, but I insisted. Otherwise, how would anyone, then, truly know it was him?)








Our card read, "Wishing you PEACE this holiday from our neck of the woods to yours." 
It then said, "Wishing you love, laughter, & happy trails in 2024."

I personally don't know if my land trust journey will be my final career destination, but it's something that definitely made an impact in 2023. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my work commute into the woods and can see myself wanting to be a National Park tour guide in my retirement years...

Since my husband is a jokester, there was one more photo that only made it into ten of our Christmas cards--of course, the two Lews thought it was hilarious... I hope this incites a chuckle... Poor tree!


Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy 2024 to All!

Mystic, Newport, & the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular

11.11.2023

Ever since we attended the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, RI. (when Lewie was seven years old), I vowed we would have to go again...


Although, this time, our trip looked a little different. This time it included FRIENDS because when there's a teenager involved, there has to be friends for anything to be remotely cool. Thankfully, the strategy worked. Not only did Lewie and his friends have a GREAT TIME, but Lew, me, and our friend Sue had an awesome time, too.

On our way to the hotel, we first made a detour to Mystic, CT where we stopped at the Olde Mystic Village for a bite to eat and to visit a few shops. (One thing we learned early on about these boys during our trip to North Conway, NH, is that they like to shop, which makes me chuckle because, under any other circumstance, Lewie NEVER wants to go shopping.)

The boys' favorite stores included Ice Imports (they have real swords), Irish Eyes (real imports from Ireland), Munson's Chocolates, and Franklin's General Store (with sugar-coated nuts, candy, and other delectable treats). Of course, the biggest kid of them all is my husband, who made sure to buy himself a butterfly knife along with yummy sugar-coated pecans. (He spent the rest of the trip "dazzling" the boys [or trying to dazzle the boys] with his knife tricks.)


Ugh...the age of cell phones.

Having fun trying on caps at Irish Eyes.
After a fun day shopping, we drove another 30 minutes to our hotel where we relaxed before our visit to the Roger Williams Zoo. Lewie's two friends had never been to the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular before, and Lewie, disappointingly, didn't have any recollection of it either. They didn't really know what to expect, but they were happy to be hanging out overnight together.

When we arrived, the memories for Daddy Lew and I came rushing back. There were beautiful light displays as we drove through the zoo to park our car, including several fun ones in their lake. 
          "Remember these lights?" I squealed to Hubby. 
          "Yeah, I do."

We parked and were pleasantly surprised to see that there were no long obnoxious lines to greet us. Granted, we chose to go on a Sunday at 9 p.m. when most families are getting ready for bed, but we still expected some wait. In 2015, the line we were in had all of us walking through the venue shoulder to shoulder. We could try to jump out of the line to get a picture or two, but it felt like there was always someone else's head or body in the way. 

Today, post-Covid, was so different! We had to buy tickets for a timeslot in advance, and I wondered if that made all the difference. We entered the event seamlesslessly and took our time walking through the thousands of lit pumpkins as if we had the place to ourselves. Dont' get me wrong, there were plenty of folks there, but we could easily stop, take pictures, turn back, or do whatever we wanted without an unending sea of people pushing us forward. It was AMAZING!  Even the music they played (along with the 50 degree weather) made everything SPECTACULAR!





I had to take a pic of this pumpkin since Lewie loved trains for the first twelve years of his childhood.










These boys love each other like brothers.
The next day, our group decided to visit Newport, R.I. before going home. Part of me was hoping to go back to the zoo during the day (I love animals), but this crew wanted to shop more. We started our adventure by going on the 3.5 mile Cliff Walk, which boasts panoramic views of the ocean while walking past some of the beautiful summer mansions of the Guilded Age. (Lewie had a chance to visit them last year during our Christmas trip to Newport.)

The boys seemed to be impressed by some of the mansions but then Noah exclaimed, "I'm really only interested in seeing Taylor Swift's mansion." Sadly for him, Tay Tay's mansion is in Watch Hill--not Newport. Still, I kept him guessing.





My friend Sue on the stairs.




Salve Regina University - I won't lie. Part of me fantasizes about Lewie going to College here.


The boys turned back from the hike before we finished it, partly because they were hungry and partly because they wanted to shop. We went inside a few store favorites like Newport's Best T-Shirt Gift Shop or my favorite--Pleasant Surprise, and then we ate at the Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant before leaving. Granted, we could have spent the entire day shopping, but I guarantee we would have left all our money behind. We quit while we were ahead.


It was a short, one-night, two-day trip, but we made memories to last a lifetime. Lewie may not have remembered our visit to the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular when he was seven, but I guarantee he will remember it now at age fifteen. If not, he'll have two other besties that will remember it for him.  What a glorious time.

I have a kid in high school...say what?

10.01.2023

Lewie, yes my little Lewie, my baby boy, my sweet angel from heaven, started high school this month. He was looking forward to it all summer long, and truly, I thought I was ready. Really...I did. We went to the high school parent orientation, the tour, and even to several sporting events (mostly to see his cousin Sarah), and each time, I went with excitement for the "next chapter." Not forced excitment--real excitement.


Then, August 28th came, and I wanted to bury myself under the covers. Couldn't we all just have another day, week, or month of summer? Why did the middle school years have to end? I was just getting used to the whole awkward, voice-changing, pimple-popping, hormonal years of middle school. Now he would be entering the mysterious vortex of adulthood with all the complexities of dating, driving, and decision-making. After his first week, he reported back that the bathrooms were filled with aerosol mist from vaping, and the winding hallways led to the occasional corner fight or makeout session. A note from the principal also reminded us that the possession of marijuana at school (in addition to other drugs) was another concern.

Yes, on that first day of high school I had to let go of a piece of me--the piece that wants to nurture, control, and protect my little boy.  I still faithfully set my alarm for 5:30 a.m., so I can prepare his breakfast and lunch before watching him get picked up by the school bus at 6:30 a.m. But things are different. My son battles me about wearing a jacket when it's raining or cold outside, and I can only watch him get on the bus in secret through the living room window. (He would absolutely die if I ran out there to give him a jacket while he's getting on the bus. Teenagers aren't supposed to have moms...well visible moms. Still, I am tempted to do it one day. He'll forgive me...when he's forty.) 

Two weeks after Lewie's first day, I attended "Meet the Teacher Night." My husband wasn't interested in moving around to eight different classes, so he skipped it, but he still wanted to know my assessment. Lewie has Graphic Design I, Geometry, English, World History, Biology, Spanish II, Gym, and a class called Advisory. They are split between "A" days and "B" days, so the classwork is manageable, but I still was impressed with all the walking he has to do in a single day to get to each class. In some cases, the bell would ring before I made it. I was climbing three flights of stairs to the gym (our high school is built into a mountain), and then rushing back to the ground floor for Spanish. Then, I was back to climbing another two flights for Biology... His teachers seemed structured yet nuturing, and each used their six minutes of "talk time" to address the individual topics they cared about the most. There was no room for questions. The bell abruptly ended their speech, and off we went like lost sheep to the next classroom. There were definitely some quirks with the room numbers and the stairwells, so on numerous occasions, I had to stop to ask where I could find a classroom. Thankfully, for the first six classes, I had another mom friend to tag along with.

Now, we are past the one month mark, and Lewie has fallen into a routine. He had his freshmen year photo, and I'm diligently looking at details for a possible high school trip to Costa Rica in the spring. (Since the school opened in 2001, there has only been three of these trips, so I know that if Lewie doesn't go this year, he won't have another chance before he graduates.) I have told him that he needs to join at least one club or activity to which he is still groaning: "I thought I could wait until my junior or senior year." I recognize that as a kid that loves video editing and computers, he's not going to gravitate toward sports or the chess club, but I want him to get involved in "SOMETHING." Yes, my "control" is limited now that he is a teenager, but I'm still not out of the game. My new slogan is "Mom knows best." (I say this with the utmost confidence, not letting on that this new high school vortex has me terribly confused. Do I know best? I know one thing for sure. These are the years when teenagers will often not listen to their 'wise' parents and inevitably have to learn from their own mistakes. I know because even though I'm old, I still remember those mistakes.)

So for now, I'm adapting and reminding myself to savor these years because college will be next. Yes, it can be hard to have a perpetually tired, hungry, know-it-all in the house, but it's even harder when that presence goes away, and to be honest, my son is still this amazingly sweet kid; it just gets clouded when the teenage hormones kick-in. Now I'm getting ready for what the next month brings...Parent-Teacher-Night, high school football games, and homecoming. Oh boy!