Sunday, January 29, 2017

If I've been giving you the cold shoulder...

Hello there, old friend. I never tire of this view. Simple. Beautiful. Home. 
Let's not discuss whether or not this picture was snapped from a moving vehicle while crossing the Poplar Street Bridge. We all know that construction plus rush hour means nobody was really moving anywhere very quickly anyway. 

And it's not like my T-Rex arm was doing me much good on the steering wheel. It might as well be put to good use elsewhere, right?

I thought so.

There's another view that is becoming all too familiar to me. This one, however, does grow old.
Hello there, neurologists of Wash U. Nice to see you again. Please, feel free to poke me with needles, prod my arm and shoulder, manipulate my body to move in ways that it doesn't want to, and zap me with electricity. It's always a pleasure to spend an entire day with you.
If you missed the original post and want to read how this dino-riffic journey began with a nerve sheath tumor you can do so here. For those who already know or just want to get on with it, here we go. 

After a full day with the super special specialist neurosurgeon and her team, shuffling between offices and doctors and therapists and technicians, it was decided that things with my nerves were looking good. Both the supra scapular and axillary nerves (the two we were concerned about) appear to be connected and slowly re-enervating. If I were having this problem 5 years ago, I am told, they would have said "Hooray! Congratulations! No nerve surgery needed!" However, it being 2017, there is one surgery that might "open up space" in my deltoid for faster healing.

This visit uncovered another problem, though, that will have to be dealt with before we can make any decisions on this new surgery.

Apparently I am now suffering from adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder.

Big words, I learned, for "frozen shoulder."
So off to another specialist it was. And I couldn't just see any specialist. It needed to be an orthopedic specialist who does shoulders and only shoulders. I get to do that in my beloved Lou, too, since the current city doesn't have the right kind of special specialists. 

I was re-diagnosed with a frozen shoulder and told that I am going to get two steroid injections followed by 6 weeks of intense physical therapy and stretching, stretching, stretching.

Of course, these special people are hard to get appointments with, so I can't get the injections for another 2 weeks. Instead of dinner and roses for Valentine's Day, I get to have a needle stuck deep into my shoulder socket. Twice.💝 Then back to the Sunflower State for therapy and back to the Lou again to see if I can move enough to talk about whether the surgery is needed or not. 

Back and Forth. Back and Forth. Why has no one invented a teleporter yet?

Recovery can take anywhere from months to years.

In the meantime I'll just keep rocking my side pony...
...and reading my Walt Whitman.

Monday, January 23, 2017


Today was pajamas and mismatched socks. Long baths and hot cups of coffee. Today was Harry Potter and Star Wars and board games and donuts.
Today was reading books and cuddling and making slow motion videos and laughing until we cried.
Today was puzzling until our puzzlers were sore, then taking a break for a bit and puzzling some more.
Today was arguing and losing our tempers and having hurt feelings. And getting over it and having a good time with each other anyway.

Today was perfectly ordinary and lovely. Today was homeschooling. Today was family.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Chaos

Christmas has got me like...

For some reason, I feel like time is moving at twice its normal pace this Advent season. I can't explain why, but everything feels hectic and more complicated than usual. As a result, I've been feeling frustrated more than I'd like to admit.

Despite all that, we have been managing to have some pretty amazing days and spending quality family time together. Check out what we were up to the first 2 weeks here.

Sunday the 11th started out with a dead battery thanks to one badly aimed thrust of my T-Rex arm. Our attempts to jump start it only lead to the anti-theft alarm to sound endlessly, much to our neighbors' dismay. Our fun was not thwarted, though, and we got a new battery installed just in time to go ice skating. Despite a few blisters, the boys loved it.
And to top off the fun, the hubby was handed 4 box seats to see the local hockey team play that afternoon! So the kids enjoyed watching their first ever hockey game and $80 worth of pretzels. Yikes.

The 12th brought us a fun evening of (not homemade) cookies and all of our favorite holiday story books cuddled up together in the living room. The kitty even joined us for the fun. This day gave me all the warm fuzzies.

On the 13th we painted a Christmas lights masterpiece, went on a Christmas lights scavenger hunt, and incorporated a little Bingo into the mix. We got changed into our PJs, put on our Santa hats, grabbed some burgers at the drive-thru and headed out and about. We found so many amazing displays!

December 14th was our day to assemble care bags for the homeless and load up the car. The boys always insist that we spend some time driving around specifically searching for people in need to kick start our bag giving. The highlight of the night for me was to see an immediate need met, as a young girl immediately opened up her bag and put on the gloves we gave her.

On the 15th we said "Meowy Christmas!" and headed off to the pet shop, where they were collecting donations for a local shelter. N picked out a dog toy and some dog food. W and L each picked a cat toy and a huge bag of litter. I'm proud of their hearts for all creatures. While we were at it, we bought a few special treats and toys for the Iz and got her a stocking for the first time in her 14 years.

She's so excited.

Friday the 16th was gingerbread day! We made ninjabread men, built a gingerbread house, and decorated ugly sweaters. We had a messy lot of fun, and my heart was a full.

The boys really like icing. Can you tell?
Poor Hansel looks like he's coughing up some blood. Guess they didn't push the witch into her oven soon enough.

December 17th was The Muppets Christmas Carol and playing in the snow. We don't see much snow here, so this was quite a treat in our Santa hats and rain boots. When it got too cold, we warmed up with some cocoa and the movie.
 We even painted our very own blizzard with gouache and hot glue!

This was our last week of trying to fit in all the things. That is, having a regular school day plus the Advent activities. I'm really hoping that the more relaxed pace of this last week helps me feel less stressed out and focus my heart a little bit more on the birth of Christ.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Two Weeks of Advent

Somehow the Advent season always sneaks up on me. I think I am going to be prepared for all of its wonderful craziness. And yet, every year, November 30th rolls around and I realize that somewhere, hidden in the boxes of holiday decor is the wooden Advent calendar. The one with all those neat little doors to open and reveal a family activity for the day. The tradition I, in a moment of insanity, started several years ago. So long ago that the children cannot remember a Christmas without it.

There is one problem, though. And it's YUGE.

Each and every one of those 25 little doors is empty.

And so for the first few days of December, I am scrambling to plan the entire month and stuff festive little slips of paper into those doors while no one is looking.

I've got to confess that it causes me a bit of anxiety.

This year has been no different. I got busy. I got stressed. But somehow, I haven't yet missed a day.

On December 1st, the halls were decked and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. We had to improvise a bit and make our own fireplace this year. It came out pretty cute.

On December 2nd, we went to the Nature Center for their "Jingle Owl the Way" party. For some reason, this is the only picture I took from that evening. I guess that means we were having too much fun to be bothered. You'd never know it from the looks of the faces of these two bell ringers, though!

December 3rd was Daddy's Thanksgiving. He got sick and all our plans for actual Thanksgiving were messed up. I don't mind a second round of turkey, yams, and pie, though!

On December 4th we learned about Christmas traditions in different countries. W picked China and liked the idea of Christmas karaoke (this is the first evidence I have seen of my genetics having any influence on this kid). N chose Australia and loved the fact that Santa has to trade his reindeer for 6 white boomers (kangaroos). L wanted to learn about Italy. He thought la befana the Christmas witch was a funny part of their traditions.

December 5th was a great night for hot chocolate, snacks, movies, and a living room campout.

On the 6th we enjoyed a concert put on by the local symphony orchestra, attempting to bring a little culture to our day. Some of us liked the listening bits, while others preferred the sing-along portion. One sweet boy was disappointed that "Rudolph" was not among the selected songs this year.

We celebrated St. Nicholas Day a day late this year with our tradition of Veggie Tales St. Nick and packing shoeboxes online for Operation Christmas Child. This year each boy also got to design and make a wreath inspired by Santa Claus.

December 8th was Gift Wrapping Day!

On the 9th we tossed together some quick costumes and went to the bookstore for Harry Potter's Yule Ball. Professors Trelawney and Dumbledore had a blast with Draco Malfoy, Hedwig, and Dudley Dursley.

The 10th was a day to continue the tradition of a new ornament for the tree every year. Instead of buying them, though, we grabbed a needle and thread and made them! The end result was pretty amazing. Thanks to Red Ted Art for the inspiration.

And now in the blink of an eye, we are on the first day of the 3rd week. And the chaos continues.

I'm excited to see what the next 2 weeks bring. Already all my careful planning has been trashed. One mistake by my t-rex arm led to a completely dead car battery this morning, missed church, and possibly a disappointing change of plans for the rest of the day if no vehicle is available.

Oh well. Christmas is not supposed to be about how many cool crafts and activities I can fill our month with. Perhaps this is just a reminder to me to relax, slow down, and breathe in the moments.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

T-rex Rocks a Side Pony (in which I use the words "schwannoma" and "brachial plexus")

So lately I've been thinking a lot about the plight of our friend the Tyrannosaurus rex. He seems like such a grumpy guy most of the time, but can you really blame him?
I mean, with arms like that, he isn't exactly the life of the party, and even mundane every-day tasks would be so difficult for him. Let's face it, our arms are pretty useful. And we just sit back and take them for granted, not giving a thought to how frustrating our lives would be if we suffered from the condition of the T-rex.
Well, over the past month and a half, I have made it my goal to study and understand the difficulties of living life with T-rex arms. And I tell you the truth. The Struggle is Real.
I did not embark upon this journey of my own free will, so let me take you back to where it all began. 

Around a year ago I noticed a small lump on the left side of my neck. My doctor said it could be any number of things, and I should keep my eye on it. Fast forward to this past spring, when it became clear that it was not going away and might, in fact, be ever so slowly getting larger. Meetings with more doctors led us to the conclusion that it ought to be removed before it got any bigger. Then we would have it checked to see what it actually was. 

For reasons that seemed clear to me then, but have since grown fuzzy, I did not tell anyone about any of this. Only a few people even knew that I was going in for some quick "minor surgery" in the middle of the summer. I don't like to worry people with words like "tumor" or "cancer." Especially when it's all speculation. I don't like to ask for help. I can do it myself thankyouverymuch. My mama raised me to be a strong, independent woman, by golly. I don't like to give up control or admit weakness or impose myself upon other people.

So. I went into surgery.

They removed what turned out to be a benign schwannoma.

"Benign" was a good word to hear. I liked that word. That's one I could roll with all day.

"Schwannoma" threw me for a bit of a loop. I'm such a grammar dork that my mind immediately went to that ridiculous "uh" sound that any English vowel can make in an unstressed syllable. You know what I'm talking about: the unglamorous /ə/ -- the schwa. What in the world it was doing in my neck was quite beyond me. As it turns out, a schwannoma has nothing to do with phonics, nor is it related in any way to the Schwan's truck which sometimes drives through my neighborhood (my second guess). It is apparently a nerve sheath tumor

Go figure.

Immediately after the surgery, I noticed my left arm wasn't quite working right. I couldn't seem to lift it laterally or to the front. My shoulder just didn't work, and my whole arm was weak. I waited long enough to know that I wasn't just still loopy with anesthesia, and then started following up with the doctors.

After I successfully demonstrated to them that I was, in fact, half Tyrannosaurus rex, and reasurring them that I hadn't been so before the surgery, they set me up with some physical therapy and gave the order for more tests. They did all this while muttering words like "strange," "fascinating," and "mystery." Not things that you really like to hear from medical professionals.
This round of tests, I got zapped with all kinds of electricity for an hour to try to find out where my nerves were or were not working. A week and a half later, I got the results. It said simply that what was happening in my shoulder and arm was "consistent with a brachial plexus injury." 
Super informative.

Meanwhile, I wait. Wait to find out exactly which nerves were damaged. Wait to find out just how those nerves were damaged (stretched? compressed? torn?) and what, if anything, can be done to fix them. 

Meanwhile, I find ways to cope with the things I cannot do. Some more frustrating than others.

Meanwhile, I rock a side pony nearly every day because I can't reach a top knot. Or a regular ponytail. Or a clip. I can't curl my hair or straighten it. And, let's be honest, shampooing has become a bit of an that doesn't happen as often as maybe it should. Don't judge. Side ponies are amazing and there is one for nearly every occasion.
Meanwhile, we laugh about my relation to the T-rex. We laugh because T-rex Mommy has a hard time swimming, so please don't climb on her in the deep end. We laugh because T-rex Mommy can't take the trash bags to the dumpster, so trash duty and kitty litter have to be someone else's job. And Mommy doesn't mind that one so much. We laugh because T-rex Mommy sometimes accidentally smacks herself in the face when she loses control during a PT exercise. We laugh because T-rex Mommy can't reach the handlebars to ride a bike, so is really quite wobbly and may need training wheels.
Meanwhile, I find that I am being stretched. My character. My faith. My muscles. My pain tolerance. 

But mostly my character. It's funny how little ugly bits rise to the surface during these periods of difficulty. Nasty little parts of me that get overlooked in the middle of the ordinary. 

Like that weed. That little issue of pride. That one that makes me feel like I must be some sort of failure if I ask for help. That ugly flip side to the Strong Independent Woman badge that I carry around in my pocket. It's still there. Down deep the roots are still alive, waiting to take over again. But being a Tyrannosaurus for a while has helped trim it back, at least. It has forced me to admit that I can't do it all...
Because, well, I physically CAN'T. 

And I am learning, slowly, that it is okay to accept -- or even ask for -- help.

In the meantime, I'm going to be rocking my side pony.

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