Friday, December 28, 2012



Mom, today I learned that the fastest way to end up in a hospital is to tell your blog readers no one's in the hospital.


The second fastest way is to throw on your dirtiest hoodie before leaving the house.

(Author's note: We're home nearly 6 hours after Aaron and I left on our five minute errand to pick Richard up from the train. If there's anything I've learned today, it's that there is no good way to have a seizure while belted into a moving vehicle when your only help...that was me...is driving. Aaron stopped breathing for a good portion of his seizure, prompting a frantic call to paramedics who hurried to help. He was breathing and coming around when they got to me, and I had to decide between hospital and home. I felt this time hospital was the right choice, and I'm glad we went that route, especially since they were able to whittle the 20 hours they thought they'd need to keep him down to a few hours for some IV calcium. It also meant we were put into contact with an endocrinologist in our area and will no longer have to drive 45 minutes one way for follow up care. So, scary, scary situation...good outcome all around. Special thanks to the Skinner family, of Layton, UT, for picking up my stranded husband and getting him to us in the ER...and for the much needed hug when they brought him to me.)


2012 Family Letter (Mother Load Style)

So Christmas happened and as is our custom in recent years, none of our friends and family members got a Christmas card or family letter from us. I had it on good authority that no one would be around to enjoy a letter or card from us past the 21st anyway, but here we are. Alive. Earth still spinning. People still wanting to know what we've all been up to. (Thanks a LOT, Mayan civilization!)

And since I think you're all delusional enough to think someone who is too lazy to put stamps on envelopes and drive to a post office also produced offspring who cured cancer as a weekend project, I'll just barrel on ahead with this. Mmmkay?




Richard became a commuter this year, riding the Frontrunner train between our new home in Layton and the office which didn't automatically follow us to Davis County. (Weird, right?) It means he spends more waking hours on a train than he does at home most weekdays, but it also means he no longer has to spend any time on I-15 during "Who taught you how to drive?" hour, which is a happy development, indeed.  It does make it harder for him to continue his "hobby" of locating consecutive three digit numbers from license plates, but  he's so enamored with the train he only complains weekly instead of daily. I frequently finish up work late at night to find him smiling in his sleep and reciting dreamy poetry about his favorite "choo choo." 




I decided I was a gardener this year because, why not? So I've never actually planted a garden before. That's what blogs and YouTube are for. Hellooo. What my garden lacked in tomatoes and peppers it more than made up for in zucchini and tongue-burning radishes. (And what's the point of a radish if it doesn't burn your tongue?) In the middle of gardening season, I started a masters program because, why not? (And because the state frowns on people practicing mental health counseling without a license). I used the final months of the year to alienate friends with my political views on Facebook. You know...to fit in.




Aaron started high school this year. I was not amused, but then, neither was he until he learned he could still have pizza every day. He also started driving, the better to terrify his siblings...and purchase pizza. His lawn mowing prowess grows as does his personal computer savings, except when he borrows against it to buy more pizza. Basically, the only thing he enjoys more than pizza is memorizing IMDB trivia, and I suspect he does that so he can someday trade his knowledge of actors and movies to procure more pizza. Finally, pizza.




Miriam... Hmm... Drawing a blank here. I think her year was pretty uneventful... Well, okay, there was that day when that guy with the mask opened her skull and pulled something out of her brain, but really. He didn't even let her keep it. A trap-door in your skull and you don't even get to make a pair of cavernous malformation earrings? I call foul. In other news, she took herself off her medicine without telling anyone because, hey, brain surgery, and we learned she is completely seizure free. The doctors made her get back on her meds, of course. Can't have 14 year olds diagnosing themselves as healthy. Not without a degree.




Cate started her first year in the Young Women program at church, which means she also started junior high, started wearing makeup, and started babysitting. Because she's a bit of a crazy person, she also started playing the piano. That's a heckova lotta starts, but since she started life pretty much in charge of every room she's ever entered, I'd say she's taking it in stride. Also, I let her quit the clarinet, and that balanced everything right out. (It just means we can't make Cosby Show jokes anymore, dang it.) I'd complain about the fact that my THIRD child is now 12, but I can make her change the diapers when nieces and nephews hang out at our house, and there's just no beating that.




Evelyn is missing pretty much every day. We manage to keep her picture off milk cartons by checking houses in our cul de sac, and usually find her with one of her two best friends. Apparently, having friends means you're no longer obligated to hang out with your mom. Ten year olds and their newfangled ideas... Evelyn has decided she loves babies, and I think she's destined to be "that girl" at church...you know...the one who always has someone's baby with her. Whether or not she'll be the type the babies reach for in joy or toddle away from in terror is still up in the air. I'd work on it if she were ever at home. Evelyn told us this year that she hopes to be a nurse at an urgent care facility when she grows up. This may be because she's befriended every urgent care nurse in the valley with her asthma this year, but still...a laudable goal.




Michael has embraced the life of an eight year old, in all his snaggle-toothed glory. This meant being baptized at church and officially joining the ranks of the "older kids." He shows off his older kid skillz daily on his bike, his scooter, on the Wii, doing his chores, at school, and pretty much everywhere else. Having my "baby" become an older kid would be hard for me if it weren't for his nightly shouts of "Huggy!" just before bed. (If asked, he will deny any knowledge of this ritual, but I assure you, it's real.)  

In other news, Layton is still perfect, the cats are still fat, the food is still good, and the second car is still usually broken. In better news, we have a piano again, no one's currently in the hospital, and I've blogged two days in a row.  In the best news, we made it through the year, we smiled more than cried, and "Once Upon a Time" was picked up for a third season. (Priorities!)

If that doesn't make you appreciate the anticlimactic apocalypse that wasn't, I don't know what will.

Except for a picture of us in our coats. Mmmmm...toasty!


He is super handsome, no?

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Mom, today I learned why Richard has never bothered to buy mistletoe.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My glasses, my friend.

I began writing this column a couple of months ago. The emotions have dampened a little since then, but the sentiment remains. Weep with me, readers. Weep with me.

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I broke my glasses last week. The black ones in the picture. The awesome ones on my face. The nifty, clunky glasses I thought of as my feminist/college student/intellectual/cool chick glasses. They fell off my dresser and in my blindness, I stepped on them.

And they were gone.

I was unprepared for my response. I cried. I panicked. I questioned my place in the universe. I cried some more.

It's not that I didn't know how I would survive the following day without the sight all of us need to get around without running into walls or wearing stupid outfits or accidentally liking Adam Sandler movies on Facebook. I had a backup pair of glasses ready and waiting to handle the business of seeing for me.

The problem was that that backup pair was, like many of the glasses I've owned and hated, a product of trying on glasses without actually being able to see what they look like on your face. You stand in the store, squint into the mirror, hope they're passable, and then a week later, you put them on with actual corrective lenses in them and think, "GAH! Blind people should not be allowed to choose glasses!"  (To illustrate: this current backup pair are so non-cool that I used them as the icing on the cake of my "Pregnant Polygamist" costume last Halloween.)

Losing my cool glasses was one of those moments when everything changes and you stand where you are and think, "I'm not sure who I am anymore."  It's a shaky place to be.

If you've never been a regular glasses-wearer, you may not understand these feelings. People who have to wear glasses wear them because they have to wear them. We try to look good in them, but, hey...they're glasses. They're not exactly an enhancement.  They say something about the wearer, and that something is usually "Nerd!" or "Dweeb!" or "Too cheap for contacts or lasik!"

You can imagine how wonderful it was when I noticed a trend toward glasses as fashion or social statement in recent years. Cool people were suddenly wearing glasses as part of their coolness. People who didn't even NEED glasses started wearing fake ones to look cool. I, nerdy, too cheap for contacts Sarah, could get a pair of glasses that said something more about the woman behind them.  My beautiful, clunky black glasses were purchased and loved and worn with pride.

And then they died.

So, it's been a few months, and I no longer stare in horror when I look in the mirror or at a picture of myself. I don't hate my backup glasses quite as much as I did when the shock was fresh. I still miss my wonderful black pair, but as someone too cheap for contacts, you can be sure I'm too cheap to replace my favorite glasses when I have a perfectly good pair already.

It's the story of my life. My desire to save money trumps my desire for coolness, and I languish a little as I wait for the freak accident that will free me of these non-cool glasses and give me the reason to spend money on something better again. Here's hoping, right?

For your viewing pleasure, I present to you "Sarah: A History in Glasses."

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First pair. They were pink and plastic and really not so bad.


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Oh gosh. Oh gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh. My mother told me they were very "becoming." I was mad at her for YEARS!
 

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I broke them playing a game of tackle football with some friends. The boy who broke the frames with his shoulder apologized nearly to the point of tears, but I thanked him profusely, thinking I could finally replace them. I underestimated my parents...and superglue. Not that the glue held all that well. I just got to wear these horrid glasses AND have a lens pop out and go rolling across my middle school floor at random moments.


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Progress. Still too big, too plastic, and just too much. See how I compensate. Sigh.
 

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Apparently, even as a young mother, I still didn't understand the value of my own cheekbones. Oh young Sarah, why you got to wear such big glasses? Why?


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We're getting there! A definite improvement! Partially rimless, disappearing into the face...not so bad. Disappearing glasses only work when your eyebrows don't look like bloated caterpillars, though.


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Perfection achieved. They were so beautiful. Excuse me for a moment. I need to go cry again.


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And here they are. They could be worse. So much worse. (See a few pictures above.) In the grand scheme of things, my glasses are a blessing, no matter how much I hate them. They give me the gift of sight. For that I should be grateful. I mean, I am grateful.

Tackle football game at my house this Saturday!

Yes, Richard. Horses blog.


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Mom, today I learned that it's a good thing Richard knows that "I hate you" really means "I hate that you got me, and I secretly think you're funny." It's a good thing for Richard that I still secretly think he's funny...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


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Mom, today I learned that the kids will always, always, always try the knob first and knock second. (Therefore, slow-to-learn Sarah, you must always, always, always lock first and undress second.)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Some time in the far distant past, some people got together and decided to make up a little saying to brighten the dark days of other people who were struggling with trials. (These are the otherwise ambiguous "They" to whom we attribute so many of our sayings.)  Their happy little phrase completed, They bounced on down to their sad friends and imparted their inspirational wisdom.

"When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!" They said, probably with an obnoxious amount of pep in their voices. I don't know how the saying was received by the inspirees, but I do know two things about the inspirers.

a) They should not have been allowed to make up motivational phrases if They couldn't see the ridiculously wonderful face value of free lemons, and b) They obviously never came over to my house for lemon bars, hummus, fresh cherry compote, garden salsa, and about 80 other things I make with lemons all the time.  (Because They lived before I was born, I almost forgive them.)

The adage, as I've always understood it, says that when life gives us something bad, we should use it to make something good.  It makes sense on some level...except that I don't think lemons are bad.  I think they're wonderful, actually.  If life handed me lemons, I'd be jumping up and down and screaming, "Free lemons!"

For you lemon haters, it would be akin to someone telling you, "When life hands you chocolate, make chocolate cake!" while patting you on the back sympathetically. You'd look at that someone and think, Um...thanks for the suggestion, weirdo.  Now stop touching me and get away from my free chocolate.

I realize today as I consider all of this that the lemons in the saying aren't something bad that can be turned into a tart but sweet and refreshing blessing.  The lemons ARE the blessing, and from that blessing, we can get a lot more than just lemonade. (Seriously, you should try my hummus.)

Years ago when, after half a year of desperately hard work, it became clear that my first marriage was not going to be saved and my ex-husband announced that it was over for good, my therapist challenged me to write a list of "27 Reasons the Divorce is a Gift from God."  I was only 2 days into my separation, I was devastated, and I thought my therapist was out of his ever loving mind. I'm pretty sure I told him that.  But I made the list. (And it helped...eventually.)

Today, I think my therapist just understood lemons more than most.

So, here you have it. 27 Reasons Miriam's Cavernous Malformation is a Gift From God.  (Why 27? You know, I never did ask.)  This is a Miriam approved list, so if some of these seem morbid, just know she was giggling along with me as I wrote them.  Sometimes, when life hands you a brain lesion, it's easier to embrace slightly inappropriate humor, I guess.

1. How many people can say, "I survived brain surgery?" ("...and all I got was this lousy t-shirt")

2. If anything goes wrong during the surgery, she'll get better parking spaces for life!

3. Room service at Primary Children's Medical Center. Literally, pizza and milkshakes available all day, anytime she wants them.  Oh to the yeah.

4. Leg jolts. She'd never get that grant from the Ministry of Silly Walks without them.

5. It's not a tumah.

6. It's also not a partially absorbed evil twin who will come to life and try to kill her while simultaneously decomposing, only to ultimately be eaten by a flock of sparrows.  That would be okay, of course. It would just be rather anticlimactic.

7. Scones and pie.  Pie and scones.

8. The amount of radiation she's had already could lead to superpowers.  I vote for super stretchable legs so she can harvest the out of reach cherries in the backyard.
 
9. I don't think I ever knew how good people could be.

10. Meds that made Miriam angry reminded us to be grateful for how nice it is not to have an angry daughter anymore. (You wouldn't like her when she's angry...)

11. If we needed a reason to be glad we live in the future... (Other than our Wii.)

12. The family that prays together, prays together.  (I won't say stays together because they'll all grow up and leave eventually. Praying is like lemons. It's a blessing on its own. Sometimes, it takes a reason to get us praying again.)

13. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  Except degenerative diseases...and lead poisoning. But this isn't either of those.

14. We would never be able to eat all the applesauce our apple tree is going to provide if Miriam didn't need to take meds twice a day.

15. You don't realize how infrequently you say "I love you" to your kids until you're faced with never getting to say it to one of them again.


16.  Hospital cafeteria dates with my Mirimo are the best.

17. The horseshoe shaped scar on her scalp will surely bring good luck.

18. Miriam says, "I get to be away from my annoying siblings for four whole days!"

19. Additionally...she gets free rein of the hospital room TV for four whole days.

20. Big science test she didn't study for? Fake a seizure! (This is so bad. Also, I can't believe she won't let me blame it on her.)

21. People offer to give you things.  For instance, a man in our church congregation offered to make Miriam a plastic dome she could use in place of her skull.  We're considering it...

22. When she's dating age, those MRI images are going to be way more embarrassing than naked baby pictures.

23. While the malformation is still in her head, she's less attractive to zombies.  (If the zombie apocalypse happens after August 7th, we'll get her an ax for her 14th birthday.)

24. If we get the neurosurgeon on board, he could do a little brainscaping, so she can be the first person in history with literal corners of her mind.

25. If the surgeon opens her up and finds an evil supervillain brain where a normal human brain should be, we'll be able to stop her before she takes over the world. (At the very least, we can get on her good side and earn spots as minions.)

26. It gives me the opening I need to tell everyone I meet that we do NOT only use 10% of our brains. (Please stop saying that. It's ridiculously untrue, and it makes you sound dumb.)

27.  And finally, when life hands you a cavernous malformation in your daughter's brain, and you realize life has really handed you lemons, you know for a fact that no matter what, life is good.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Last night, two of my loverly children got into a fight over whether or not they were each doing their chores to the best of their ability.  It went something like this:

Child 1: You're not done, you know.
Child 4: Neither are you!
Child 1: You can put more dishes in there.
Child 4: You haven't washed the counter!
Child 1: Are you going to put more dishes in there?
Child 4: You're not the chore manager! Stop telling me how to do my chore and just do yours!
Child 1: Mom, ____ isn't doing her chore right.
Me: Why don't you both focus on your own chores and not worry about the other person's?
Child 1: (ignoring this) You need to put more dishes in before you start it!
Child 4: YOU'RE NOT THE CHORE MANAGER! LEAVE ME ALONE!
Child 1: YOU'RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT, SO I'M HELPING YOU!
Child 4: STOP HELPING ME! ______, STOP HELPING ME! PUT THOSE DISHES DOWN! THAT'S MY CHORE! MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

This goes on pretty much every day.  Child 1 is just about always involved because, being Child 1, he thinks it's his personal mission to make sure children 2-5 do what they're supposed to do.  Children 2-5 think he's being a big jerk when he does this, and they usually let him know...loudly...in shrill voices...often in unison.

Usually, this only occurs after 4 o'clock, before which I've had a quiet day of at home work interrupted only by the sweet meows of fluffy friends who cuddle and don't talk back.  As you're probably aware, "usually" only applies during the school year, and right now, it's June, so this stuff is going on all...day...long. Or, as I like to describe it to my longsuffering spouse when I pick him up from the train station: "ALLDAYLONG!"

And it's only June.

Full disclosure (since my neighbors will likely rat me out if I don't disclose): Children 3-5 are actually still in school all day.  Their year round schedule will only give them a 3 week break in July.  However, one should never underestimate the amount of fighting Child 1 and Child 2 can do in the course of one day.  The other three make up for their absence by doubling down on the weekend fighting.  In July, the house will probably explode...more than once.

It's times like these, you just have to sing...loudly...in a shrill voice...solo.

(Sung to the tune of "Summertime" by George Gershwin)

Summertime,
And the livin' is crazy.
Kids are fightin'
And the volume is high.
Oh, their stepdad works
Far away in the city
But hush, frazzled Mommy,
Don't you cry.

One of these mornings,
You're gonna wake up smiling
They'll be back in school
And it won't be so bad.
Until that mornin'
Keep that Netflix runnin'
So you can keep yourself from
Goin' mad.

(I'd like the record to show that Child 2 snickered when I sang this to her. I'm not sharing it with Child 1. He'd just tell me I did it wrong and then try to write it himself.)

They put a bird on it!

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Mom, today I learned that my neighbors are Portlandia fans.


For the uninitiated:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

It's the best lesson.

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Mom, today I learned that miracles happen.

Hello, hi, how are ya?  Remember me?  I used to post stuff here.  Then my kids got sick and my life got crazy, and I started saving my energy for much harder tasks than blogging...like getting out of bed in the morning...and smiling...and having faith in the future.

Wait, wait wait.  I promised myself this post would not descend into maudlin territory.  Let's begin again.

Hello, hi, how are ya?  Nice to see you again.  How've you been? Me? I'm doing okay.  Sorry I haven't blogged in awhile. The docs at Primary Children's Medical Center let us know in May that the best way out of our medical crisis was going to be through brain surgery, the good, old fashioned trap door in the skull kind, and I focused on that for awhile.

By focused, I mean I worried myself into a new case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  A few panic attacks later, I am now proud to say I've joined the ranks of the heavily medicated, and I'm back in therapy with a a nice lady named Dr. George.  Also, the name Dr. George strikes me as funny for some unfathomable reason, and that helps a lot.

(By heavily medicated, I mean a low dose of Zoloft...but for me, that's pretty heavy duty.  The good news is it's working, and life seems manageable again.)

So surgery... We got Miriam to the almost seizure free point between February and May and then met with both her neurologist, Dr. Van Orman, and her neurosurgeon, Dr. Kestle, to discuss where to go from there.  In the meantime, I studied up on the various options, reading more research reports and journal abstracts that any mom should. (Note to self: that probably didn't help the anxiety...)

While Miriam wasn't having the big, scary seizures anymore, and her new med didn't have the side effects of the first one (prompting us to have a goodbye party complete with ice cream and lemon bars for "Mean Miriam" the day she finished her last dose), she was still having daily "jolts" down her left leg, sometimes falling and injuring herself.  Dr. Kestle told us those were still seizures, if partial ones.

Looking at the options, it was clear to everyone that watching and waiting was not going to work.  Not only were seizures still a problem, the stroke risk for leaving her cavernous malformation alone would rise every year. By the time she was middle aged, her stroke risk would be in the 50/50 range.  This sucker needed to come out.

We hoped for a noninvasive option, and Dr. Kestle was good enough to call around for multiple opinions, both inside and outside of Utah.  Stereotactic radiosurgery and gamma knife procedures would have used beams of radiation to obliterate the malformation from her brain without pain or cutting.  Unfortunately, all the doctors who looked at her MRI agreed: noninvasive treatment was not an option, and traditional neurosurgery was definitely warranted.

August 7th is the big day.  We'll drive down the day before for a super technical, futuristic MRI that will use GPS technology to map out the surgeon's route through the folds of Miriam's brain to the malformation.  It's like geocaching, only smaller, I guess.  I'm very happy we live in the future.

The docs say we can expect to be in the hospital for four days, and they will not, I repeat, will not have to shave her whole head.  Since she'll be starting her 8th grade year just a couple of weeks later, this is kind of a big deal.

Miriam has gone from terrified to determined to impatient in regards to surgery.  We had a sad moment when she asked if she could just go back to the way things were before and not have to make such a hard choice between stroke risk and surgery.  By the time the day of decision came, she was saying, "I just want this thing out of my head."  This past Sunday, after having two big seizure in two hours (out of nowhere), she said she wished it was August already.

That was a hard day.  Fortunately for us, we have pretty empathetic cats who realized she needed some cheering up. (Forgive the grainy photos below.)  Men from our church were also kind enough to take a break from their Father's Day love fests to come and give her a blessing (Richard being an hour away at work).

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Thankfully, giant cats are ridiculously comforting, and we haven't had a repeat of Sunday's seizures.

Even more thankfully, we've been blessed to see the best side of human nature through all of this.  People in our church congregation have shown love and support in the form of hugs, well wishes, and much needed treats.  Weight loss or no weight loss, there's just something about homemade apple pie and warm scones that says, "It's going to be okay."

Our Mat Camp prospects for the summer were changed dramatically by medical bills and otherwise tight finances.  Your remember how much we love MAT Camp, yes?  Knowing permanent leg damage following surgery is a real possibility and knowing this year's camp could be her last chance to dance, we swallowed our pride and looked into scholarship possibilities and were told immediately (4 minutes, people) that she qualified for a free pass to camp based on special circumstances. The camp also gave a scholarship to Cate in exchange for Richard working as a volunteer and working musician. Carolee Bowen and Shasta Wigginton are two of my favorite people.

You know who else is my favorite? Eric D. Snider.  His name has come up a lot on this blog because he's cramazing and funny and Richard and I have a secret couple crush on him. (Don't tell...unless he'd like that kind of thing...)  When he launched a Kickstarter campaign last year to fund a year's worth of his humor columns, I made a $100 donation to purchase some advertising for The Mother Load on one of his posts and profiled the campaign as an Awesome Product here.

A week or so ago, he emailed me to discuss the timing of my ad.  Knowing that an ad sending people to an inactive blog was probably counter-intuitive, I asked him to wait to run it until his next round of columns so I could get my act together.  As an explanation for my absence from the blogging world, I mentioned Miriam's upcoming surgery.

Things got crazy after that...the good kind of crazy.  Citing his well known and potent internet powers, Eric asked if this was a situation where a fundraiser might be helpful.  Pride effectively swallowed months ago, I responded that yes, goodness gracious, we could definitely use some help with our out of pocket medical expenses.  We emailed back and forth so he could have the information he needed, and yesterday, he rallied his fan base to come to our aid.  Here's his post. 24 hours into this thing, and they've already raised more than $500.

I'm not going to lie. Our couple crush for Eric has been blasted into the full on LOVE dimension.  If Richard and I were capable of having a baby together, we'd name it Eric/Erica and raise the child on his columns and song parodies and YouTube videos.  He's probably glad we can't have kids.  (I would explain why, but adding the words "You need a uterus for that" to this already awkward paragraph might cause the man to regret ever emailing me...)  

Life has been a little on the hard side, but we know without question that people are good.  The weight on my shoulders has been lightened so much by all of these acts of kindness and generosity, and my faith has been bolstered by these small miracles.  Thank you to everyone who has donated so far and for the many friends who have reposted and retweeted the link to the fundraiser.  The money is sorely needed, and Miriam has felt loved and comforted knowing people care.

So...am I a blogger again?  I can say with a surety that I am.  Whether or not my writing is worth anything to the world at large, it means a lot to me to have it back.  I'm incredibly grateful for that.

I'll keep you posted on the results of the fundraiser.  If you want to help, just click the donate button right here on this blog. All of the money will be going into our health savings account, so all of it will be paying for medical expenses only.  Prayers and thoughts and energy also welcome.

I'll leave you with a picture that can't help but make you smile.  As discouraging as this has been, Miriam is one resilient kid.  That's the kind of kid you want to help, no?

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I passed the savings on to YOU!

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Mom, today I learned that book sales are more than a little arbitrary...and that no one but YOUR daughter would be this excited about saving two cents.

(Thanks to my mother, Willie Braudaway: Bargain Hunter, of Del Rio, TX, for being obsessed with savings and passing on the bargain hunting pathology...er...gift to her children.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

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Mom, today I learned they make cards for people who want to almost laugh. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

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Mom, today I learned that moving sometimes reveals a different side of one's children. 

First things first: a weigh in.  For the last several months, my weight has fluctuated between 217 and 222, most often settling somewhere in between.  I haven't had any moments of major weight loss since our family's medical drama began, but I haven't had any moments of weight gain, either.  Go me!

I can't tell you how much I weigh at this exact moment because I haven't managed to work up today's portion of courage yet.  I know I haven't gained anything, so it's not fear over what the scale will say.  I just don't like the way the scale says it to me.

"The scale" in this case is actually a Wii Fit balance board, and if any of you in my readership possess this condescending instrument and the patronizing Wii game that accompanies it, you probably know exactly why it's hard for me to step on it.

Before I talk about the shame factory that is Wii Fit Plus, I would like to address what I like about it.  It's actually quite awesome.  It's kind of the coolest thing I've ever owned, the downsides notwithstanding.  We got it as a family Christmas gift from my mom, and the first time we used it, Richard happily exclaimed, "It's like we're in the FUTURE!"

Now, I'm well aware that the Wii was released in 2006, so it's really like we're in the past.  I'm also aware that the Xbox Kinect makes the Wii look like an old school Atari.  I'm just not the type of person who buys things when they're new.  It saves us money, but it also means your past is my future.  By the time we buy a Kinect (if that day ever comes), you'll all be hovering around in your jet packs and booking your moon cruises, and I'll be playing dance games and feeling like it's the year 2100.

I love Wii Fit Plus for several reasons.  It provides games the kids can play that are less sedentary.  It provides me with a way to check my form and balance as I do yoga and strength training workouts.  It's a pretty accurate scale (right on with my doctor's pricey version), and for the most part, it's fun and engaging.  I love the boxing and Kung Fu workouts, and the step workout is pretty good.

Unfortunately, Wii Fit Plus also thinks I'm a big, lazy fat person who has no feelings.

I know it's trying to motivate me, carrots and sticks and all that, but I'd really like it if the makers of this game had thought about infusing it with a tad bit less attitude.  If you're an overweight user, you're going to hear about it, and not in a clinical, computer readout kind of way.  Wii Fit Plus tsk-tsks and snickers you into lowering your BMI.  It may be effective, but...well, let's just say that if Wii Fit were a workout buddy, I'd accidentally kickbox it in the nose...repeatedly.

An example:  The body test measures your BMI, weight, and overall body control.  This is what you see if you have a "normal" BMI.



Awww. Look at how happy that mii is! Did you hear the encouraging music? It's like Wii fit is happy too!  Yay for the normal mii!  Yay for the arbitrary number that ignores the effect of muscle weight and pretends everyone has the same body type!  Hurray!

Of course, if you're obese like me, your experience is more like this. (Results at 1:10. Make sure your speakers are up.)



Thanks, Wii Fit. It's not bad enough that you're showing me my high BMI. You have to accompany it with comically dumpy music and a chipper voice telling me what I already know.   Blowing up my mii character like a balloon? Nice touch.  I'd had a small scrap of self respect leftover, but you got it.

When you haven't been on Wii Fit for a while because, you know, life...the game needles you by putting your mii character to sleep.  Because people who don't work out are lying around all day.  When you step on, it tells you how many days its been since you last engaged it.  Occasionally, I see, "Too busy to work out yesterday, eh Sarah?"  My response to this varies.  On a good day, I just roll my eyes.  On an honest day, I nod my head and affect a sheepish expression.

On a day in which I've had it up to my obese neck with life, I'll look the screen square in the eye (or whatever my fat woman rage believes is equivalent to an eye) and scream, "No, I was NOT too busy to work out yesterday.  I just so HAPPENED to walk three hard miles on my treadmill at an incline while I watched 'Once Upon a Time'.  You're not the only workout option in my life, OKAY!  And what if I didn't? I don't have to work out just because YOU think I should! I'm a strong, independent woman, and I don't need YOU judging my every action!"

Of course, Wii Fit Plus is not actually a person, so it doesn't hear any of this and remains silent after this tirade.  That makes it all the more infuriating.  It's like the passive aggressive friend who shoots a tartly worded barb your way and then holds a hand up to end the conversation.

Similar exchanges occur when I try to navigate my way through a new balance test. My Wii Fit age for that day will be partly based on this test, but the instructions might as well say, "Move your body to choose the numbers in ascending order while keeping your balance in the yellow sensor with your eyes closed, your hands on your head, and one knee typing the complete works of William Shakespeare."  I blunder my way through the test as best I can, usually figuring out the requirements on the last try.

"This balance test is really not your forte, is it, Sarah?" smirks Wii Fit Plus.

Cue fat woman rage.

There are other things.  The way the boxing game hits me no matter how low I duck.  The confused, "Oh!" the game emits when I step on the board no differently than the time it said, "Great!"  The disgruntled "Hey!" I get from my trainer when I have no choice but to give up on the plank exercise in order to avoid dying a Wii related death by drowning in my own inadequacy.

And there's the piggy bank.  It collects coins that represent minutes, keeping track of all the time spent on Wii Fit Plus working out.  And it's a pig.  I understand that coin banks in the shape of pigs are not a new thing.  I DON'T understand why the pig looks at me, wiggles its nose, and grunts if I stand still for too long.  (Okay, maybe I do understand why.  This only helps prove my argument.)

Glutton for punishment that I am, I keep going back to the Wii Fit Plus like a codependent goes back to an addict.  I think more than anything, I go back because I own it, it was free, and it does actually help keep me motivated.  When the game feels the need to put me down, I just give it what for in the boxing ring.

It sucker punches me in the side when I fail to dodge correctly, but apparently, that can't be helped.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

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Mom, today I learned that getting the kids to help with this much packing takes many consistent acts of encouragement and motivation.

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Getting them to clear their own breakfast dishes will probably take an act of God.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On Raining and Pouring

You know...I've never liked the phrase, "When it rains, it pours."

As a kid, I didn't really understand the phrase.  I mean, I knew it meant that someone was facing an uncommon amount of adversity.  I just didn't see the difference between a light drizzle of adversity and a deluge.  Either way, you're going to get wet, and there's a chance you'll be struck by lightning if you're not careful.  Hard times are hard times, whether it's a little or a lot, and one woman's light misting might be another woman's downpour.

Today, my problem with the phrase is its ability to sap me of energy and hope.  Loving friends who have used the analogy to describe my life right now have done it to convey that they're aware of how hard everything must be, that they care.  I love them for that.  I really do.  I just don't want to agree with them.

It's raining in my life right now.  It is.  I know this.  But if I admit that it's raining AND pouring, well, I might miss the frequent bursts of sunshine that beam down on me between cloudbursts.  And I might not recognize the blessings that come with the rain.

This is kind of a heavy post for a humor blog.  It's been a heavy couple of months.

In December, just a couple of days after my last post, I got a call from Miriam's school.  She was having a seizure.  She had no history of them, so Richard and I hurried to the school so we could take her to the emergency room for tests.  As she slowly returned to normal, we were told that her neurological function tests looked good, her EKG showed her heart wasn't the problem, and she was probably fine but should see a neurologist in a the "fast track" clinic at Primary Children's Hospital.

We didn't know fast track meant waiting list.  The doctors prescribed her a medication, and we settled in to wait.  She had seizures about once every one to two weeks, despite the treatment, and she also began having mood problems and anger issues due to the medication's side effects.  Life became hard for all of us, most especially for Miriam.

On a Sunday in January, I had gotten the kids to bed and was in the middle of a Wii Fit yoga workout when I heard the unmistakeable sounds of a seizure in progress.  I hurried down the hall toward Miriam's bedroom and stopped short when I realized the sound was coming from Aaron's room.

I held him on his side and watched for signs of a blocked airway and tried to rouse him when it was over, all the while wondering if I was going crazy.  This was Aaron, right?  Not Miriam?  Was I in the Twilight Zone?  Was this a dream?  Richard came home from work as I struggled to get a response from Aaron and found me sobbing. I looked up at his worried expression and could find nothing to say other than a frantic, "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!"

Off to the ER we went, but instead of sending us home with a med and a new place on a waiting list, Aaron was taken via ambulance to Primary Children's, where we spent the next three days meeting with specialists.

Today, I can calmly and rationally tell you that Aaron's history of Velo Cardio Facial Syndrome, a congenital heart defect, and a blood test that revealed low calcium levels told the doctors that there was likely an immediate, non-neurological problem associated with the seizure which could be treated, as opposed to Miriam's seizures, which didn't immediately have an answer (as most don't).

At the time...it was hard.  It was especially hard the day Aaron was being wheeled down to his EEG, a test I desperately wanted Miriam to have, and my phone lit up with the number of her school calling.  While one child was hospitalized and heading for a test to find a cause for an isolated seizure, another had just had another seizure at school and was complaining of numbness from the neck down.

I don't know how I didn't collapse then and there...except that I knew I had Richard, and I knew his employers would be understanding.  He went and got Miriam, who recovered from her momentary numbness, and I breathed again.

We left the hospital the next day with the knowledge that Aaron's heart was great, but his parathyroid was not.  Prescriptions for calcium supplements will likely keep him seizure free for good.  So, there's that.  If I can get him to understand that he needs to continue to take the supplements, even though he feels better, we'll be golden.

A week after that hospital stay, Richard joked on Facebook that if we could keep all of our kids out of the hospital that weekend, he'd be happy.  On Sunday, it was Evelyn's turn to spend the night in the ER with an asthma attack unresponsive to her usual treatments.  It took everything I had not to grab my two remaining healthy children by their chins and say, "You two are not allowed to get sick. Do you HEAR ME?!"

Shortly after that, it was finally time for Miriam to meet with the neurologist, who ordered tests, started her on a new med, and told us not to worry.  I have a family history of seizure disorders, quite an extensive one, actually, and he assumed that her seizures were related to that.  Unfortunately, the MRI of her brain disagreed.

This is where I tell you that holding a degree in psychology has been both a blessing and a curse.  I saw my share of normal and abnormal MRI images in various classes at the U.  I know what a normal brain is supposed to look like.  Miriam's was not normal.  Not at all.  My double take as I passed that computer screen was...well, it would have been comical if it hadn't been so raw and heartbreaking.

A cavernous malformation of the blood vessels, probably there and growing since her birth, is the verdict of the medicos. Not cancer, thank goodness.  Not bleeding, thank goodness, though a scare this past weekend made us worry until an and ER visit and a CT scan showed all was well.  A cavernous malformation is not an emergency, but it's also not something you hope doctors will find in your child's brain.

Meeting with a neurosurgeon was surreal...and not in the good way, where you feel like you're floating on a soft cloud of marshmallows while a cat takes your order at a vegan restaurant and a butterfly massages your temples.  No, this was the kind of surreal where nothing makes sense at all, and everything is garish reds and oranges and screaming violins.

Melodramatic? Me?  Forgive me.  Suffice it to say that the prospect of someone cutting open your child's skull and removing something from her brain is a lot to handle.  Hearing risks of permanent damage?  Also a lot.  The risk over her lifespan of bleeding and stroke if we don't do the surgery?  Equally a lot.  Learning this while handling the medical needs of two other children?  I'm sure you can figure this one out.

To be clear, the docs haven't made the decision for surgery.  They've also not ruled it out.  We have until May to try and get her seizures under control, and we'll go from there.  As a family, we're in hope for the best, prepare for the worst mode.

And we're moving.

Did I mention we're moving?  In 11 days.  Unexpectedly, but happily...and sadly.  How's that for mixed emotions? 6 months ago, we made the decision to move in with a family member in order to share a large house, get a couple more bedrooms for the kids, provide him some needed income in the form of rent, and help him with much needed repairs and remodeling.  6 months into the great experiment, and things have not gone as expected (especially because certain things have not gone as promised), and it's time to call it a wash and move on.

There's sadness and resentment and gratitude and excitement and hope all mixed in together in all of this.  Do I need the hassle and stress of moving on top of everything else?  No, no I don't.  Therein lies the sadness and resentment.  Do I need to move, and will we all be happier once it's done?  Yes.  Absolutely.  So much happier, and I think, better able to handle everything else.  That's where I find my gratitude and excitement and hope.

So, it's been raining and pouring over here, but there's been so much sunlight too.  Aaron's seizure will likely be an isolated event.  Evelyn's asthma was treated, and she's doing better.  Miriam may or may not need brain surgery, but she doesn't have cancer.  She doesn't have a terminal illness.  She's going to be okay, no matter what treatment option we choose.

There have been prayers on our behalf, meals brought in to our home, friends and family offering support and help.  There are the two insurance plans covering the costs of everything, and there's a plan in place to pay the rest.

We found the perfect house to rent at just the right time, and there will be so much happiness there.  I can feel it.  This may be related to the cherry tree in the backyard.  Or the jacuzzi tub in the hall bathroom.  Or the little greenhouse window in the kitchen where I'll grow my own basil for pesto.  Or the THREE bathrooms.  THREE! Or the fact that the heating actually works and the garage is all mine and the kids can be noisy in the morning without upsetting anyone other than me.

When it rains, it pours, but there's always an umbrella of help and protection from those we love.  And rain brings much needed water to plants (and people) that need to grow.  It cleanses and purifies.  It sometimes carries us along in a current we worry is too strong, but when we find ourselves on a new shore, we sometimes realize we've been carried to just where we need to be.