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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Laura is 40!

40 years ago yesterday we welcomed Laura Ruth Vanderkam into our lives.  Her first name was similar to my mother's name Lyda (which my mother never liked!) and her middle name was the same as Jim's mother's middle name. She was my littlest baby at 7 pounds 2 ounces and after she was born,  I was so thrilled that I told Jim we should have six more!

That didn't last.  By the time Laura was three weeks old, she weighed ten pounds and I was exhausted.  That exhaustion lasted for two years and the sleepless nights made me struggle with depression.  Laura would not take a bottle.  The hours that I worked could be long ones for Jim--and Laura too!  I sometimes fantasized about breaking a leg so I could go to a hospital and rest.

But she was such a pleasant cheerful baby during the day.  By the time she was two years old, she was speaking long sentences and singing songs like "We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New You!"  That was very appropriate for me at the time!

Right after that Christmas, we traded lives with Peter and Else Coxon and their two boys.  This meant we lived in their house in St. Andrews, Scotland and Jim taught at the university there.  They lived in our house in Raleigh, North Carolina and Peter taught at NCSU.  It was a time for a happy new me! It was a wonderful season in a beautiful place of the world.  Laura became a little Scottish lassie as she gained vocabulary like nappies and crisps.

As she grew up, Laura had many interests and in some ways we could have predicted her future as a writer and a public speaker.  She loved writing and wrote volumes.  She loved singing and dancing on stage and was in church and school and community productions.  I don't know that we would have predicted a fairly early marriage for her and subsequently four children.  She was certainly a very independent young woman!  However she tops her list of accomplishments at age 40 with marrying a good man and having spirited children!  There were many professional accomplishments as well with several books, a Ted talk, a blog and a weekly podcast.  Soon there will be a daily five minute podcast on productivity sponsored by her publisher Penguin Press.

So many memories.  My gift to her was a photo album I entitled Life of Laura.  I really made it for her children so they could enjoy seeing their mother as a very rotund infant, a swim team member, a cheerleader, a dancer in fish net stockings, a bride and a mother of each one of them as a newborn.  I think they did enjoy it.

To celebrate we had a lovely six course dinner thanks to Michael at a place in downtown Philly called Talulah's Daily.  It was chef's choice with seasonal features and it was unusual and delicious.

We felt very grateful to be able to be here to celebrate with Laura and her family.  May she have many more happy, healthy, productive years!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Cataract Saga, Part IV

I dread going to Cataract and Laser.  Sometimes I don't even sleep well the night before my appointments.  There is often a long wait to be seen and I haven't seen much improvement.   This time I said I was going to refuse the capsolotomy on my right eye because it had done nothing for the left eye.  I was told to come in anyway to be evaluated so I agreed to do so.

After K, the receptionist, greeted me, I asked her how she was.  The reply was a hesitant "Okay."  I asked what was the matter and she said it was just all the Christmas stress and she would feel better when it was all over.  I told her about the class I am teaching at our church on Sunday on Unplug the Christmas Machine and how I would feel less stressed when it was done.  It made me realize that this class may be a good idea and needed.  She told me that she had let everyone know what my feelings were about the treatment and they were prepared for me!

I was called almost immediately to be evaluated.  No wait today!   N examined my eyes and administered the drops.  We chatted more than usual and later after I saw the doctor,  she told me that her mother had died two months ago and she was full of guilt and anger.  I told her about my grief when my mother died at age 59.  She seemed to really want to talk.

Then it was Dr. I,  the optometrist, who always to explain what is gong on and what the options are.  He said my left eye was improved to 20/40 and convinced me that it would be a good idea to go ahead with the procedure for the right eye.  He said I could get glasses for temporarily helping with the night vision and glare and then down the road get lasik surgery again.

After a very short wait,  Dr. C was ready to zap the eye which takes all of 30 seconds.  But he too was chatty and ended up asking me about the value of IQ tests.  It was pretty funny when my chin was in the holder and he was zapping away and he told me to keep talking!  He left saying he had learned something because I had told him how my dyslexic adult student compensates so well by having her iphone read to her.
A treat after the surgery

All of this in one hour with everyone seeming to wanting to chat (I am a familiar face!), and taking my issues seriously.  I felt better about Cataract and Laser!

But today I had my post-surgical follow-up at the Midwest Eye Clinic.  Dr. R said my left eye was 60/20 and was not nearly as optimistic about glasses helping with the night-time glare.  But it seemed worth a try.  I ordered new lens to be put in my old glasses with a non-glare surface and we shall see what happens.   I was surprised to learn that our Medicare Supplemental Plan will cover the cost.

Sadly, the money saved by our visual insurance plan got spent on the deductible for our car insurance when 15 minutes later, I hit the garage door and knocked the side mirror to pieces.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Cataract Saga, Part III and Not the Conclusion I Hope!

It has been over two months now since the first aborted surgery and almost six weeks since the last one on the left eye.  I am discouraged and hope that my vision will improve.  It is not as it should be and I find myself wishing I had never gone through with the surgeries.  I was told they were ready to be treated and I thought I would do it before they got too bad and while we were living here with familiar doctors.  It's done and it can't be undone!

I have lost count of how many times I have seen either the optometrists or the surgeon. We have tried steroid drops, prescription artificial tears, over the counter artificial tears, and drops and ointment for cornea swelling.  The last laser procedure (capsulotomy) to clear a film from the left eye has made no difference in my vision (20/80)  or the glare from lights at night.  I am going to cancel the same procedure for the right eye scheduled for next week.  What's the point in doing it?  That eye has good enough vision although the glare is bad for both.  Maybe later.

For about two and a half weeks I felt driving was unsafe for me.  I am okay with driving again.  The left eye may not be better but the right eye could be taking over--as Jim's does.  I can read with my $10 reading glasses--even early in the morning which I could not do a few weeks ago.  The worst of it is the radiating glare with both eyes--like a thousand rays in a little kid's drawing of the sun--off any lights at night.  I just want to close my eyes to get rid of the confusion.

After we left church last week, I said to Jim,"My left eye is not right."  At that point we both started laughing.   He said that comment ranked with the one I made years ago at the Queen's View in the highlands of Scotland, "The view will be mist."  But I sure would like to see my left eye get more "right!"

Once again patience is needed!  I wish I could know that in two months it would be better.  But I don't know that.  The surgeon is not communicative.  The optometrists are far more receptive to questions and concerns.  Maybe another lasik procedure after six months could correct the vision in the left eye.  I'm not sure I want it to be touched again.  At least that can be done in the doctor's office.  Or maybe I'll wear glasses again.  I don't know what can correct the glare however.

I think of a friend who is waiting for inflammation to recede after radiation with the goal of having surgery to remove a tumor.  I think of another friend of my sister's who is waiting for doctors to decide what can be done for her cancer and whatever it is it won't be a cure but just prolong her life.  I think of another young friend waiting with Hospice care after a four year battle with cancer.

I can function with my eyes like this.  I don't like it but it is not threatening my life or my health or for the most part my daily activities.  I like not wearing glasses although I do feel the need to learn to use eye makeup safely to cover those wrinkles and bags under my eyes--no longer hidden!

And as always, writing about it is my therapy.  I have a few regular readers and they already know most of this saga.  But I write for myself and for my annual  Blog2Print books--records of my life in print and this has been a very big part of my life in 2018.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The First Book Give-Away

As a part of the process of purging stuff in the house, I pulled books from the shelves in the family room, the living room, and two of the upstairs bedrooms.  I did not pull books from Jim's shelves in the basement although he is being encouraged to do so himself!

We brought 80 or more books to church on Friday, placed them on a table in the church library, and put out a basket for donations for Youth Ministries.  An email went out to the congregation and I made an announcement in church.

And it worked!   I don't know how many books are left on the table but I saw many people leaving church with books in their hands.  J (a fifth grader) had How Things Work; C (a grandma) had Friendly Beasts and the autobiography of Roald Dahl; M (a recent college grad) had the big volume on Africa that I always meant to read but never did; W had The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede and was happy to find a primary source.   I am so glad to see these books have new homes.

It is so hard to part with books.  But I know we will do at least one more of these book give-aways when it gets closer to moving date.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Impatience and the Patient

No glasses
I am now up to 16 doctors appointments since August 1 and there are at least four more scheduled before November 15.  We have had to cancel our trip to the East coast because of the cardiologist's advice. Most of these however have been because of the cataract surgeries and my continued poor vision.  Last Friday afternoon Dr. R, the optometrist, said he thought there was scar tissue and he would get me in to Dr. C, the ophthalmologist and my cataract surgeon, as soon as he could.  I was so impatient all weekend worrying that I would not be able to get in to see the very busy Dr. C for weeks.  But I was grateful to be given an 8 am appointment for the next day. I was so hoping that another zap with the laser would take care of the problem and it would be quick and easy.

But, no, that was not the case.  Dr. C said the primary problem was inflammation, which I thought Dr. R had checked and said was out.  I am on steroid drops for a week and will see Dr. C again.   I want to see better now!  I am tired of the strain of trying to see.  I am tired of being unable to drive and having to ask Jim, who is very patient, to take me places.  But all this impatience doesn't do me any good.  Today my blood pressure (measured twice at CVS and Martin's) is very high--which may or may not be a result of stress.   And I was just beginning to relax about blood pressure and the tachycardia which seemed within normal limits after further testing last week.

Yesterday, M came to our house for the third week because I couldn't drive to church to meet her for our reading lesson.  She brought in a devotion she liked called "Impatience."  She even printed it up in large print for my sake and read it for me and read it beautifully.  I got a bit emotional because it was so timely and because after two years of meeting, she can read enough to begin to enjoy reading and to share it with others--including her teacher!

Later today I read a new Caring Bridge post from the young wife of a former Notre Dame graduate student that we got to know quite well.  She has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma after two years of struggling with a painful skin condition.  It looks like it is very curable but she is facing a long period of chemotherapy.  She is unhappy that it took so long to figure out her problems but is facing it with courage.  I admire her greatly.  How will I ever be strong enough when the inevitable decline and disease of our advancing years comes?  I am so impatient even with relatively minor problems.   I have a lot to learn about patience and courage and a calm spirit.

I continue to be grateful for my "soul sisters" in my Tuesday AM Bible Study.  They pray for me.  I pray for them too!  My kids have texted and emailed.  Other friends and my sister have called or texted or emailed.  Jim has been very loving. I don't particularly like the tune of The Servant's Song but when we sang it in church Sunday (and I could barely make out the words on the screen), I got teary thinking about those who have supported me.

We are pilgrims on the journey
We are travellers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
I will hold the Christ light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh, I'll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we've seen this journey through.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Are You My Mother?

E and I have worked together three times now.  E is a beginning reader who lives at Hope Ministries here in South Bend.  The first time we met, she greeted me with "I'm irritated."  She felt too busy and had no time for the nap she wanted.  The second time we met she was escorted by her case manager and her stability counselor who put the pressure on for her to meet with me.  She allowed as how she would read with me but none of the phonics stuff.

Are You My Mother?Today, she came up without her lunch--so I sent her down to get it and told her we could work while she ate.  She didn't object to any phonics exercises or board work.  She happily chose two children's books from the several I had purchased for a grand total of $3 at the Friends of the Library sale.   She did well on one of them; the other was more difficult.  Then she saw Are You My Mother? in the pile and pounced on that one.  She remembered it from her own childhood and was delighted to read it.  She read it with expression.  She made just a few errors-- confusing "saw" and "was" several times and being unable to read more unusual words like "Snort"--the name for the shovel.  As an aside, finding books without white children as the main characters was not easy. Talking animals are fine.

E told me she would be meeting her 4 year old son this afternoon at a neutral visiting location and could read these books to him.  Somehow the irony of their own  separation made the reading so poignant to me. I left her with tears in my eyes.  She thanked me and said "See you next week." I hope she can keep the rules and be invested in the programs and be there next week!  May she also some day be reunited with her son as was the baby bird with his mother.

-------------November 15, 2018  An email from E's case manager:
Thanks for your work with Beth. It does seem that when she met with you, the sessions were positive experiences. However, Beth’s journey with Hope is coming to a close, so you should not plan to come again for her.
Again, thank you!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Escape through Reading

Since the first of August I have had 13 doctor appointments including the three cataract surgeries (one aborted.)  There are two more appointments coming up in the next two weeks.  May that be the blessed end of it!  Most of those were related to the cataract issue which is not resolved at all.  Unrelated to that I have had to cut out one very helpful medication due to the complicating side effect of a rapid heart beat.  That was scary but has definitely eased up.  I don't think I will cancel the cardiologist referral next week however.

Since both eyes have had the corrective surgeries, I have been unable to drive.  I did it a few times and it did not feel safe.  My vision is very blurry.  I guess I will still need glasses but if it will give me better sight I will give up my vanity in thinking I would go without glasses for the first time in years.  I'll give up my plans for eye makeup!  Meanwhile Jim has had to drive me on my errands and volunteer activities in the last week and probably will have to do so for two more weeks.

But I am able to read sometimes even without the $10 reading glasses I bought at Target in preparation for this time.  And in the middle of this stress and discomfort, I have read two series of books that have been easy reads,  great distractions and really worthwhile.

The first series was four volumes called Journey Through the Night written by Anne de Vries, a Dutch writer commissioned to write a story for children  to remember the trauma of World War II in the Netherlands.  Although written for children, the subject matter would be disturbing for young ones as it told of hiding fugitives, incarceration, and miserable living conditions.  These exciting books made me want to read more about the resistance movement in the Netherlands and to admire the courage and faith of those involved in it. I found these books in our church library.  They are out of print so they are not available easily in English at least.

Then this week I read all three novels by Trudy Nan Boyce--Volumes 1 and 2 and a prequel.  Boyce was a 30 year veteran of the Atlanta Police Department and her novels follow the career of Sarah Alt--also known as Salt.  Salt is a complicated heroine whose own father was a policeman and who committed suicide on her 10th birthday.  She worked in the same area he once patrolled--the Homes, a public housing project.  Ten years later she is made a homicide detective and some of the same people she worked with in the Homes cross her path again as victims and as "perps."  Boyce knows Atlanta and she knows police work.  Many refer to these books as "gritty" and they are but they are also compassionate, romantic, and full of humanity.  Boyce writes about the racism that exists in a modern Southern city and the long lasting effects of slave owning.   I am eager for another book in the series--I hope one is planned.

I haven't been able to drive and some yard work has been forbidden.  I have lost my zeal for purging stuff in the house.  We don't even know if we can make our planned trip to the Hudson River Valley and the East coast families. It has been postponed once. But my reading has been a joy.  I have been to the Netherlands and to Atlanta and am grateful for those fascinating distractions.
An update from my exchange with Trudy Nan Boyce:

Fri, Oct 12, 3:38 PM (1 day ago)
to me
Hi Mary,

I am so glad that the series is resonating with you! Salt is taking a break while I work on another "stand-alone" novel. The best part of being a writer is, after the writing itself, when a reader connects with the story. Thank you for letting me know you like the work.