I had ice cream for dinner tonight. Yes, I did. Not a bowl of ice cream after dinner. Not a little bit of ice cream with my dinner. I had a BIG bowl of peanut butter cup ice cream FOR dinner tonight. It’s been that kind of week.
But it’s the beginning of a three-day weekend for me. I don’t foresee having ice cream for dinner for at least another three days. What I do see in my near future is a lot of rest and relaxation, and also a little work around the farm. The weather will be turning colder soon and there are a few things I need to do to prepare for it. My chickens need a fresh layer of bedding put down in their coop. The garden is done and needs a layer of mulch put down. There are walnuts all over my yard that I am not picking up, even though I should. And the house needs some more de-cluttering. Always more de-cluttering. How do we end up with so much junk?
But that’s a post for another day.
What I am going to try to focus on this weekend while the husband is working and I’m home with the cat is self-care. Self-care so the next time I have one of “those” weeks, I will not feel the need to eat a big bowl of peanut butter cup ice cream for dinner. Self-care so that I don’t feel so tired and run-down next week when I go back to work. Self-care so I don’t have a headache for two days next week. Yes, I am going to be productive in a few things over the long weekend; but I’m also going to be productively unproductive in the things that matter.
I’m going to linger over my cup of coffee in the morning. I’m going to finish the book I’ve been reading, but have been too tired to open when I sit down in the evenings. I’m going to sit outside and pet the dogs. I might take an afternoon nap with the cat. I’m going to get out my guitar and sing as loud as I can and I don’t care if the neighbors hear me. I am going to get my camera out and chase a sunset or two. I’m going to soak in a bubble bath, burn a candle, and just be. Why? Because these are things that get pushed to the side during the work week. Life still moves forward without these things, so I neglect them…until I feel the need to have a big bowl of ice cream for dinner. What have you been neglecting? What are things that refuel your passion and heal your soul? Music? Crafts? A hike? Shopping? Go do something for you today.
It’s not October yet, but as the month approaches I always look back to the event that changed my life. This year I will reach the five-year mark, and I want to share my story with you in hopes that you will see how important early detection and yearly mammograms are.
Five years ago I discovered a lump in my left breast. I had just turned 41 six months earlier. Eight months earlier I’d had my first mammogram at 40 years-old. Just like I was supposed to. The mammogram was clear and I was relieved to be done for the year. I gave it no more thought until I found the lump.
Upon my discovery I promptly scheduled an appointment with my doctor. I didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about, but I also knew not to put it off. It was late October before the doctor could see me. He ordered some labs, which all came back normal; and a diagnostic mammogram.
It would be late November, the day before Thanksgiving before the mammogram could be scheduled. Gotta love healthcare in the US. I went for the appointment and after the mammogram the radiologist wanted to do an ultrasound for a closer look. He gave it a BI RAD score of 4C and then scheduled me for a biopsy.
The biopsy didn’t happen for another couple of weeks. Once again, no one really seemed to be in a hurry. But as the days and weeks kept passing, I was growing more and more frustrated with the timetable.
At the time of the biopsy, the results were found to be invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) about the size of a marble. That was early December. My doctor then scheduled me to see a surgeon. When the surgeon’s office called me, however, they told me that I couldn’t see that particular surgeon until January 31, 2016. I had a redheaded meltdown right there on the phone in my office at work. I told them while everyone was just dragging their feet like it was no big deal, I had something growing inside of me and I wanted it out immediately. I demanded the first available appointment with the first available surgeon in that office. The woman on the phone told me she would have to clear it with my doctor since his orders were for a different surgeon. I told her my doctor was an idiot (he was…after ordering the diagnostic mammogram and returning to him for the results, he asked me why I was in his office that day…don’t get me started). Anyway, I told the lady on the phone that it was my body and I had a right to request another surgeon. She gave me the next available appointment with the next available surgeon, but that was still two weeks out.
I had the surgeon consult mid-December and returned for surgery on December 26. At the time of the surgery the lump had grown to the size of a bouncy ball you get in one of those quarter machines. In four weeks the cancer had doubled in size.
Four weeks isn’t a long time when you are waiting on a vacation, or for school to get out, or for your wedding day. Four weeks is an eternity when you are waiting on surgery to remove cancer from your body. Had I waited to get the lump looked at; had I accepted the timeline for the surgeon; things could have had a much different outcome. I caught it early. It seemed like the lump popped up overnight. My cancer was highly aggressive, but because of early detection the prognosis was good. I still had a very long journey…lumpectomy and lymph node dissection, six rounds of a four-drug chemotherapy cocktail (the first dose took 6.5 hours), two hospital stays (one in ICU after almost dying on my son’s graduation day), 36 radiation treatments, 16 doses of a maintenance drug, and recommended 10 years of tamoxifen (I did one year and ended up with a pulmonary embolism).
Even today, five years after I discovered the lump that changed my life, I still deal with long-term side effects of chemo and radiation. I forget what word I want to say sometimes. I can’t remember anything without writing it down. I still have to go to the oncologist every six months. I still get nervous before every mammogram. I am super-sensitive to changes in my body and there are days when I have to fight the urge to wonder if the cancer has returned. It would be so easy to live there, but I don’t want to. I refuse to let it have anymore of my life than what it’s already stolen.
I am not telling you this so you will feel sorry for me. I’m telling you this so you know how important early detection and yearly mammograms are. It could be the difference between life or death. I know mammograms are uncomfortable, but they sure beat having your port accessed every three weeks or having a sunburn from radiation. And they don’t hurt nearly as bad as radiation fibrosis in your shoulder four years after treatment.
Schedule your mammogram. Make time for self-care. Listen to me. Self-care isn’t selfish. Use your personal days for something that brings you joy. Go get a massage. Get your nails done. Take a weekend by yourself. Do it! You are beautiful and you are worth it.
Who doesn’t love a wedding? Me. I don’t go to them unless I have to. It’s not that I don’t believe in love, or marriage. I do. I just prefer not to go to weddings.
But I had to go to one last weekend because it was my nephew’s. And I said I would take pictures. It was hot. It was humid. We were racing against the clock to get photos done before it got dark. There were times I thought I might be the only one there who cared anything at all about the pictures. That’s probably not true. A wedding is like trying to drive in rush hour traffic in the biggest city you can imagine. There are so many lanes and everyone needs to go somewhere, but someone else has to go before you do, and then someone else needs to go at the same time as you. It’s total chaos. I came away from the experience knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that I do not ever want to be a wedding photographer. Enough said.
Can you believe that I don’t have one single picture from the 4th of July? Normally, I do. Historically I have taken so many 4th of July fireworks pictures that it is crazy. They all look the same from year to year, and I end up missing the real fireworks because I’m watching the camera or phone screen. So this year I didn’t even take my camera. Legit, as we’re walking out the door to go to our friends’ house, my husband asks in disbelief, “You’re not taking your camera?” No. I practiced being present this year and enjoyed watching the fireworks with my husband. Choice well made.
I do have a couple new pictures to share, however.
Summer nights in the country are the best! As I was standing out t here in the field with my camera gear, I was reminded of so, so many nights under the stars as a kid–catching lightning bug (or fireflies, if you prefer) and sleeping in the tree house or a tent in the yard. Those were the best nights, and still are!
I’ve found myself taking a lot of photos lately. I always take a lot, but being home and not able to go to many places amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I have taken more. In reality, I think it’s been because I am so sick of hearing all the negative in the world right now so I’ve turned off the TV and social media, picked up my camera, and looked for something positive to share.
My interest in photography goes all the way back to when I was a kid and my grandpa would bring his camera down to the farm every time they came for lunch. That was long before digital cameras, of course, and he had this big bag that carried the camera body and a lens or two, a light meter, a flash, and his notebook and pen. I knew that I loved his camera. It was big and shiny and heavy. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to pick it up, but I did because I needed to feel it in my hands. I was hooked from that moment. Every time he came down, we had to pose for a picture, and it took FOREVER to get the camera set up. I had no idea at the time what was taking so long. I had never heard of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. I just knew I was tired of standing there. As we posed, Grandpa would take a picture, make a note in his notebook, and the adjust some settings for round two. I don’t know if he took photos of other things because most of the pictures I saw were of us and our cars.
Grandpa had a dark room off his garage that I went into one time. I thought that was the coolest thing that he could develop his own pictures and didn’t have to take them to Walmart and wait for days to see the results of his photo shoot.
Another influence for me was Linda, our babysitter when we were young. She had a much simpler set-up than my Grandpa and would snap random pictures as we played or celebrated birthdays and everyday things. There was no posing. Her shots were 100% candid…life photos. Her camera was a pocket 110. The long, skinny camera with a flash cube that went on top that spun around as you took a picture. I thought that camera was so cool.
I loved that camera so much that when I was old enough to get my own, that is what I wanted. I used it for many years, along with a Vivitar point and shoot.
When I was older and out of high school, I got a Minolta 35mm with a zoom lens. It was still a film camera, but that zoom lens made me so happy. I took so many pictures with it that the flash quick working and the camera was no good anymore. I purchased another 35mm with a zoom lens, I believe that one was a Bell and Howell.
I didn’t use it for too long until the digital age opened new horizons.
My first digital camera was a Kodak 3.4MP with no zoom. I drove everyone crazy with the all the pictures I took with that thing.
One day I got a notification in my mailbox that I had a package at the post office to pick up. The only information on the card was that it was from a Michigan zip code. My Aunt Barbara and Uncle Ken (and several cousins) live in Michigan and regularly mailed packages to the kids, but it wasn’t anyone’s birthday or anniversary. The package was addressed to me and I opened it right there in the parking lot of the post office. Inside was a Canon PowerShot digital camera!
It was an upgrade to 4.3MP and a zoom! The note inside said that they had upgraded to a new camera and wanted me to have their old one and to keep taking pictures. And that I did! A few years later I upgraded to a Kodak 10MP, 10X Zoom and passed the Canon on to my nephew who was interested in photography.
From there I went to a Fuji 16.9MP, 40X zoom and wow! I took that thing with me everywhere. I even took it on a float trip, and it ended up in the river. Thankfully it was sealed in a waterproof bag! I absolutely loved that camera. It looked like a small version of a DSLR and was capable of shooting in manual mode, if I so chose to do. I did not. The settings were still very confusing to me. But I had wanted and couldn’t afford a DSLR for so long and I loved the way this one felt in my hands. When I got that camera, I gifted the Kodak 10MP, 10X zoom to an aspiring photographer friend in need of a camera.
One summer day I was in the pawn shop in my hometown when I happened to walk down the camera aisle. I wasn’t in there looking for a camera. I was looking for a guitar stuff as I was in the process of learning to play. I looked on the shelf and there sat a Nikon D3100 body, two lenses, and a camera bag. I didn’t know anything about the camera, so I took out my phone and did a search. I looked at the price tag, knowing there was no way I could afford this camera kit. I almost fell over when I saw that it was only priced at $150. And the store did layaway! I quickly called my husband and told him that I wanted it—I had wanted it for years—and this was a REALLY good deal. I didn’t put it on layaway. I knew that there was no way that I could wait to use this camera if I bought it, so I paid for it in full and took it home that day. I don’t remember what the picture count was on that camera when I upgraded to my D3400, but I know that I probably used that camera daily.
I’ve had the D3400 for a couple years now and I love it, of course, but I don’t know that I will ever not want another camera. I expect it’s like any car guy or gun collector. You simply must have it.
Over the years I’ve taken pictures of just about everything. Clouds, cars, flowers, birds, sunrises, and sunsets. Landscapes, city-scapes; pets, wildlife; babies, seniors; ballgames, concerts, tractor pulls, races; birthdays, holidays, fireworks; and everything in between. I love photographing it all and I want to share my photos.
I got up super early this morning and took the camera out. I am not one to get up early unless I have a good reason, and this morning I wanted to get to the creek before all of the swimmers and fishermen showed up. It is so peaceful in the early mornings with the sounds of the water and the birds. I even heard an owl and some frogs. And you can’t beat the smell of a creek. It brings back so many memories of fishing and swimming as a kid.
I arrived at the creek around 5:15am and it was still pretty dark. First, I walked around with my camera and an 18-55mm lens and scoped out the best place to set up. I did snap a few pictures of the clouds and the light reflecting in the water.
I picked a place to set up the tripod and camera to try some long exposure shots of the water flowing over the rocks and began shooting. I used anywhere from 1″ to 4″ shutter speed with a very low ISO to create the smoothness of the water. I switched over to my 70-200mm lens so I could zoom in on the “rapids”.
For long exposure photography, it’s really important that the camera doesn’t move while the shutter is open for extended periods. Instead of using a remote shutter release, I used the shutter timer for these shots. It’s a pretty simple trick to use if you don’t have a remote handy.
I had around 30 minutes of some great light for long exposures before I would have had to get the ND filters out of my bag. This was the perfect time of day for creating these shots!
This last photo is how the creek looks using “auto mode” to capture the scene. Still beautiful, but I love the smoothness the long exposure created.
While I was shooting this morning, there was a crane on the other bank looking for breakfast. The lighting wasn’t good enough to get a photo of him without using the flash and scaring him away. Maybe another time.
I teach preschool and work with children ages 3-5 years old. Last year one of my students drew me a picture. If you’ve ever seen the art of this age group, you know that mostly it is straight lines and some circles. You can’t tell what the picture is unless you ask. And, for future reference, it’s best to ask in this way: “Tell me about your picture.” When you ask “What did you draw?” or when you assume and say “You drew a dinosaur” when in reality they drew a picture of their mom, well, it could end badly. So say things like, “Tell me about your picture.” Just trust me on this.
On this particular day, a five year-old girl brought me a picture that she drew on a half piece of construction paper. There are linear scribbles and what looks like a squiggly line. I said, “Susie (not her real name), tell me about your picture.” She said, “It’s tornadoes and rainbows.” I said, “You drew tornadoes and rainbows.” She then launched into a story about a storm recently when she was afraid of a tornado and at the end there was a rainbow.
And then it hit me. It’s all tornadoes and rainbows. Some days the storm clouds form and we might worry. Some days there are ligit storms that we must go through. And some days are rainbows. A beautiful, colorful, peaceful rainbow.
I’ve seen many tornadoes and rainbows in my life, as I am sure that you have as well. I’ve had storms. I’ve had emotional storms, health storms, financial storms, relational storms. As a mom and preschool teacher I’ve had days that feel like I’ve walked right into the path of a tornado. As a woman I’ve faced the storm of cancer. And I’ve rainbows. Rainbows like that friend who took my kids for an afternoon so I could catch up on housework. Rainbows like a hug from a preschool friend at just the right time. Rainbows like a friend who took every Tuesday off to take me to chemotherapy appointments. Rainbows like a day-trip to a baseball game with my adult sons. Rainbows like a peaceful Saturday spent with my husband. I could go on and on, but you know what I’m talking about and can fill in your own.
That day in preschool I learned something profound. Life is all just tornadoes and rainbows. Embrace them. The tornadoes help you grow, the rainbows give you peace. Without the tornadoes, you won’t appreciate the rainbows.
Here we are in the whatever week of quarantine and I’m thinking about all of the things I am thankful for. The world looks daunting right now, but if you open your eyes, there is always something to be thankful for.
Tonight as I am sitting in the living room watching the NFL Draft with my husband, I am thankful for this small token of normalcy. I don’t know a whole lot about football. I know even less about these players who are being drafted, but I am thankful because in a time of uncertainty, the NFL is looking forward. In this time when everything is shut down and the media is holding us hostage in fear, the NFL is preparing for the coming season. I am thankful for that little light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
Soon this will all be over, and that is something to be thankful for.
2 Chronicles 20:10, 12
10 If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’
12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” (2 Chronicles 20:10, 12)
For the past couple weeks I’ve had this scripture in my head. We’re faced with something that has completely turned this world as we know it upside down. We can’t find what we need at the store. Some of us can’t go to work. Schools are closed. Churches are closed. We’re told to stay homel and social distance.
And we don’t know what to do.
Keep your eyes on God. Jehoshaphat and his people were facing a different kind of danger in this passage of 2 Chronicles, but their response should be our response. They humbled themselves, they fasted and prayed, they admitted their need for God, and then they waited on God to see what He would do.
And what God did was amazing! It’s one of my favorite stories in the Bible. God told the people to stand still and that they would not have to fight because the battle was His and not theirs. All the people had to do was praise and worship God and as they did, the enemy was destroyed. Not just destroyed, but confused so badly that the enemy attacked itself. What came to destroy Jehoshaphat and his friends, God turned around and used it to destroy itself.
Praise precedes the victory. No matter what it is that we are facing, no matter how bad the situation looks, keep praising God. He’s still God. He’s still almighty. He’s still sovereign. He’s still worthy of praise.
So in this time of uncertainty, turn off the news. Keep washing your hands and taking precautions. Stay at home, but turn off the TV and open your mouth in praise to a God who will fight for you. God, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You!
It’s Monday morning. Again. But it’s not any ordinary Monday morning because today I got up early to write. I’m sitting in a dark, empty cemetery, watching the sun come up and writing. Sounds morbid, I guess, but also very motivating.
It’s motivating because no matter how long you live, life is short. Even if you get 100 years, which is good by today’s standards in the US, it’s still too short to do, see, and be all the things that you want to do, see, and be. And if you have idle years where you are just coasting through, well, it’s even shorter.
I’ve done that. So many years I have done that. I have been that girl just coasting through. I haven’t done what I wanted to do or gone where I wanted to go. And I am nowhere near who I want to be. So many times, I’ve settled because going for what I really wanted seemed hard. It seemed risky, and I’ve never been good with risks.
But this morning I woke up early because I’m ready to take a risk.
Ever since I learned to read, I’ve wanted to be a writer. It’s documented in yearbooks and other memory books from my childhood. When someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “writer” (after the brief time in my early life when I said “singer”). It’s why I paid attention in English class. Because, let’s face it, why else would you pay attention in English class? It’s why I love to read. I’m not just reading for pleasure, I’m researching for what I want to do with my life. I’ve put a lot of effort into this thing already, but then I just let it set idle. Why would I do that?
Because I was scared. Even in this day of blogs and the internet and self-publishing and all the other ways to get my stuff out there, I was scared to do it. It was too hard and too risky and so I just didn’t. I went to work as a preschool teacher every day instead. Which, by the way, is one of the riskiest things a person could do with their life. There are tears and snot and mysterious wetness and weird smells that come from these little people. And they have no filter. They tell you exactly what they think and they don’t feel bad about it. Risky business.
So this morning, I woke up early to write before work because I’m safe. I can do this. I’m sitting in the dark cemetery because it reminds me how short life is and it motivates me to start doing and going and being me. If you could ask the people whose lives these headstones represent what they regret from their lives, I think the most popular answer would be that they regret what they didn’t do more than what they did.
I could be wrong, but what if I’m not?