Category Archives: life

World’s Worst Jobs: Part 3

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This is a continuation in a series I began a while back, where I analyze jobs I am thankful I don’t have. Check out part one and part two.

Circus Performer: Who actually does this, in our modern era? Pretty much only those born into it, or who are freakishly flexible and whose prospect for fame was greatly exaggerated, possibly due to being a member of The Abby Lee Dance Company. Please note that, while I romanticize running away with the circus, I realize they make peanuts (a suitable pun), have no job security or retirement plan, and are forced to wear sequins for, like, twelve hours a day. Do you know how itchy and uncomfortable that must be? Circus folk also take a lot of heat for abusing animals, shilling the rubes, and being hairy, more so than is decent for someone wearing such a skimpy v-neck. Truthfully, I thoroughly enjoy going to the circus when it comes to town (but have only attended sans child — now that he’s old enough to go I may rue the day we take him to the big top). However, I have a stable family, a mountain of debt, and no appropriate skill, which all prevent this dream of becoming a showman (showwoman?) a reality. Let’s break this category down a little further, with two especially unattractive options.

Acrobat: Vomit-inducing motion sickness unfortunately prevents me from considering participating in so many potentially life-threatening activities, that I’m assuming that walking the line (slang term for acrobat that I think I just made up) would be no different. How disappointing. Honestly, though, these people are literally one step, sneeze, or strong breeze away from meeting their maker. I cannot fathom the desire to follow in the family’s footsteps (another pun, but accurate, since we all know every acrobat does it as part of the family business — I’m looking at you, Flying Wallendas), when it is a career steeped in danger, as a quick google search will immediately reveal. These performers clearly have a lot of guts.

Clown: In fact, there is no safe circus job other than clown, right? Sad clown, happy clown, clown-car-extra clown, short clown, fat clown, clever clown, clumsy clown, hobo clown — there is no end to the types of clown someone could choose to portray in the circus. And yet, who wants to be a clown? When they aren’t giving the actual kinkers a break, they are probably the grunt workers, cleaning animal dung and kenneling the big cats. They have to wear so much makeup — there is a very good chance they all suffer from enlarged pores. Most distressingly, they make a living by terrifying children and 37-year-old female teachers in rural North Dakota…who live in my house…so me.

More to come.

Peace and love.

Light Reading for an Impending Apocalypse

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I sit on my couch, cradling my aching head while trying — all at once — every known homeopathic remedy to fight my way through a sinus infection sans antibiotics, when my thoughts wander to a headline I recall scrolling past: Stephen King Insists the Coronavirus Is Not Like The Stand. 

First, let’s all take a moment to give thanks that Coronavirus is not the nonfiction counterpart of Captain Trips. Now, let’s pretend for a minute that it is. In that case, the people who are well-read will rule whatever is left of the world.

Follow me down this rabbit hole for a moment. Disease strikes. Mankind fights for its survival. With a decrease in available workers, plumbing, electricity, all modern technological advances (luxuries and ‘necessities’) eventually fail, including the internet. Doctors  will try desperately to heal the ailing with inadequate treatments. Farmers will have to shovel the land by hand. Politicians, repudiated for their weak understanding of science and poor preparation for global catastrophe, will be banished. Athletes will be relegated to the physical labor of repairing crumbling buildings and sidewalks (since, apparently, looters will destroy the towns and/or some natural disaster strikes everywhere civilization still exists), for their unmatched strength and nimble limbs will have been honed for just such a task. Who will be left to take control — to organize and plan, to seek answers to new, yet ancient, problems, to lead the populous into an era of peace and compassion, humility and togetherness? 

Nerds, it is us. Unite (even though we are mainly introverts who would come out this weekend but unfortunately we’ve already made plans…)! We’ve prepared for this exact scenario. We’ve read the books — like, all of them — every single one. We’ve studied the rhetorical devices, appreciated the wordplay, memorized the figurative language. We’ve stayed in the bathroom during breaks in hopes that our coworkers won’t try to talk to us. Now is the time we claim our power and use the knowledge of ages and the wisdom of the greats stored in our giant brains to recreate the remaining people into a happier, more loving, and gentler society, already properly envisioned in our overactive imaginations. 

As I consider the question of what to read to adequately prepare for the catastrophe the Doomsday Preppers believe is rapidly approaching, I think about the books I’ve read over my lifetime. If I was truly worried about an apocalypse, I think my final reading list would look a little something like this:

1.The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

This is a series of ten adult fantasy books, and from the first time I read the books in college to the last series read-through when the final book was released, it has remained one of my all-time favorite stories. The premise is a very ill man finds himself, after an accident, waking up in an unfamiliar environment, which he suspects he is imagining. As it turns out, saving the Land becomes, for our protagonist, intrinsically linked to saving himself — what he believes is good, and worth fighting for, and worth making sacrifices to obtain — whether the Land is real or not. I can’t express how much joy I have derived from these books, nor relate to you how many tears I have shed over this series.

“There’s only one way to hurt a man who’s lost everything. Give him back something broken.”

2.The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien 

In a similar vein to the Thomas Covenant series, I have read and reread these books numerous times. The overarching theme is that even in the darkest, saddest, worst, most fearful times, there is still hope and love and friendship and happiness to be found. We observe the courage and perseverance of our main characters even in what appears to be certain defeat (and, for some of them, unfortunately is). These stories can show us what dedication and loyalty truly are. They demonstrate how to overcome overwhelming odds, crushing temptation, and painful despair. They inspire me to be more optimistic and to recognize that, while I may not “win them all” I may “lose” with pride, and cling to my belief that the good in the world will defeat the bad.

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

3.Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

This lighthearted classic tale is purported to be an allegory, both of drug use and of politics of the time. As a card-carrying conspiracy theorist, I can attest that the allegations are one-hundred percent accurate, but also very probably not real. Even if it is true that the Queen of Hearts represents the Queen of England during Victorian times, that knowledge wouldn’t lessen my appreciation for the work as a silly, amusing story entertaining for both children and adults. It is cautionary in nature: Alice finds herself recklessly tumbling into a world in which she gets pulled deeper and deeper due to her insatiable curiosity and sincere appreciation for free food. The strangers she meets are crazy, unpredictable, treacherous, but, also, occasionally helpful and well-meaning. Basically, it’s life in a college dorm.

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

4.The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This is a memoir that spent over 440 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and with good reason. Jeannette describes her early life as one with many obstacles she worked to overcome: being homeless, living in poverty, and being neglected and abused. Her writing style is elegant and compelling. Her story is heartbreaking and uplifting. She begins by describing how she set herself on fire. Her tragic early life has propelled her into a successful, strong, college-educated career woman. I haven’t often read a book as moving and inspiring, yet relatable, which simultaneously made me feel guilty about the life I’ve enjoyed. It’s a rare gem.

“Pick out your favorite star,” Dad said.
“I like that one!” I said.
Dad grinned. “That’s Venus,” he said. He explained to me that planets glowed because reflected light was constant and stars twinkled because their light pulsed.
“I like it anyway,” I said.
“What the hell,” Dad said. “It’s Christmas. You can have a planet if you want.”
And he gave me Venus.

5.The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

A unicorn is led to believe she is the last in existence, and thus goes to search out what has happened to all the others. It is a tale of having courage, and forging unlikely friendships, and finding or recognizing purpose and meaning in life, and accepting our innate nature, and defying the greed of our leaders for the betterment of the public. It is also about a unicorn, so….

“What use is wizardry if it cannot save a unicorn?” He gripped the magician’s shoulder hard, to keep from falling.
Schmendrick did not turn his head. With a touch of sad mockery in his voice, he said, “That’s what heroes are for.”

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the unlikely event of a civilization-altering calamity, it might be worth reading a story set in the midst of the “Roaring 20’s,” when people cared for little else but living in the moment and partying wildly on bootlegged hooch, recklessly squandering wealth in the expectation that their prosperity would continue unchecked indefinitely, in the time just before the stock market crash and Great Depression led many of these same players to suicide. Each time I read this book, I discover more to love. The tale of Gatsby and Daisy is timeless, and tragic, and unforgettable.

“I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.”

7.The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

I have lost count of the number of times I have read this novel but the story has remained near the top of my favorite books list (which doesn’t actually exist, but if it did I would never forgive myself if I laminated it because I’m too indecisive to make that type of commitment). I have taught it to my students seven years in a row and every time it was genuinely enjoyed by a majority of the class, a feat so rare it only happens as often as a double rainbow after a Blood Rain in Kottayam. Albom’s powerful imagery, simple prose, poignant lessons, and memorable characters combine to create a novel which was on the New York Times Best Seller list for almost two years. As a bonus, this book is short and a fast read — perfect for a snowy afternoon snuggled on the couch with some hot chocolate.

“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.”

8. The Stand by Stephen King.

Because, well, it can’t hurt to prepare.

 

“Whatever lay ahead, he was glad to be alive.”

 

Peace and love.

Our Family’s Fertility Struggles: Part Two

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Ten months ago, I opened up about the problems my husband I and were having trying to have children. I shared with you our decision to adopt after failing to conceive for a long time, on our own and then with fertility treatments. It is time for an update on our lives.

In the ten months that have passed since that original blog, we have still not gotten pregnant. If you are keeping track, that makes it thirty-one months since we began actively trying to conceive a child — over two and a half years. However, the pain of a possible future without children led us to seek other avenues for building our family, and we started our adoption process last August. It was a long, confusing, at times overwhelming, process, but I can thank God that I am now a Mama — that is, to a human baby, rather than just my cats.

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Let me begin just after the failure of our second attempt at IUI, at the next doctor’s appointment to see if I had viable follicles for a third round of treatment. Because of hormone therapy (and some resulting depression, I’d assume), I’d gained about thirty-five pounds in just over five months and was told that day that I’d gained too much weight for the IVF specialist to consider treating us. I was handling the disappointment of another failed fertility attempt poorly, a baby cried in the next room, and my doctor had just tried to console me by saying, “I’m really sad to see you back here — I just really thought it would take this time.”

In the car on the hour and fifteen minute drive home, I told Josh that I just couldn’t deal with it anymore — I couldn’t handle the pain and disappointment and cost and time of all the doctors appointments. He asked if I could be happy without kids. I told him that, while I loved our life together, I wanted a family — a child (or four) to love and snuggle, who would wake us up early on Christmas morning, and with whom we would have movie marathons in footy pajamas, carve pumpkins at Halloween after trips to the pumpkin patch, go to the zoo and circus, build snowmen, and eat dinner at six. I told him I didn’t think I could be happy without that. He said that, in that case, we wouldn’t waste any more time on “ifs” — if I have enough properly-sized follicles, if I get pregnant, if I don’t miscarry — and we’d start to focus on “whens” — when we get the paperwork done, when the social worker approves our home study, and when a child gets placed with us.

We initially decided to foster children in the hopes of being able to later adopt them. We signed up for classes two months in a row, which were cancelled due to lack of interest. Simultaneously, we started searching out information on other types of adoption programs. We were disheartened by the cost of infant adoption, but we decided not to rule it out.  Our friends, family members, and pastor all gave us advice, along with names and phone numbers to try. We attended a town meeting on fostering and adopting. We contacted several agencies — state-run and private — to seek more information. Then it was time to make a decision.

The agency we chose was All About U Adoptions, a small company based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They made all the paperwork, applications, and classes as organized and straightforward as possible, with a clear-cut to-do list and a timeline for getting it done determined, really, by us. Being as ambitious and strong-willed as I am, I forced my husband to complete the essays and budget and coursework as quickly as possible, despite the snails’ pace at which it seemed the state offices ran in filing and approving our fingerprints and background checks. We finished the entire process, including the home study, in approximately four months; we truly had much for which to be grateful at Thanksgiving.

After our photo book was made and copies were submitted to the agency, we were told we would have to continue to be patient, and that they were hoping to be able to match us to a birth mother within a year. We talked to other couples who had completed adoptions, and they gave us hope that eventually we would be chosen. We decided we would wait about six weeks — just until the start of the new year — and then we would look into hiring an adoption marketing company to seek out potential matches for us (which would be another added cost, but would likely result in an adoption for us much sooner than a year of waiting).

Surprisingly, at the end of December, we got the phone call we had been hoping for: there were two birth mothers who might pick us, if we agreed to show them our portfolios. We immediately said yes (of course we said yes, with perhaps a bit too much enthusiasm), and we were supposed to hear back if one of them had chosen us by the next day. We didn’t hear back the next day, or the day after. We contacted our agent, who said that one of the mothers had picked a different couple and the other wanted to set up an interview on Skype.

I am not sure if I have ever been as nervous as I was the evening we were to connect with a potential birth mother. I knew that she probably had many other couples on the list, most of whom had likely been waiting much longer — months or years, even — for a match. I was afraid that we wouldn’t have THE quality — the one specific, subjective quality that differs but that all birth mothers look for in a potential family for their child — the quality that can’t be predicted by anyone else but which makes up her mind definitively one way or the other. We had heard that one birth mother chose a couple because of a tee-shirt the husband was wearing in a picture of the portfolio book. Another birth mom chose a family because they lived on a farm.

On January 3, 2017, my life changed forever when Hannibal jumped into my lap on camera during the course of conversation. Our son’s birth mother said, “You have cats. You are so happy — always smiling. I want to move forward.” So we had THE quality — our genuine happiness and love for each other won her over. So did our cat.

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We called our families and friends, and we told them that, while we had been chosen and were cautiously optimistic, the birth mom could still change her mind any time up to five days after the court hearing to terminate parental rights; this occurs some time after the baby is born. So, while our son was due in April, and we frantically made registries and painted his room and set up his crib and joyfully washed all the tiny clothes we received at our baby shower, we were under the constant fear that she would change her mind and decide to keep him or, perhaps (and I’m still not sure it would have been legally possible), pick a different family instead. I was always very careful during that three and a half months to answer everyone’s questions with a warning: “We are so excited, but, remember, she can still change her mind.” I was terrified it would happen.

Our church and our students organized and held fundraisers for us. We also received private donations. All of this helped with the financial burden. Our friends were incredibly helpful, including writing recommendations, offering advice and babysitting services, and giving us gifts and hugs. The towns in which we live and teach were completely supportive and most people seemed genuinely excited for us.

Then, in the blink of an eye, it was mid-April and we got a call saying our birth mother was in labor. I’ll never forget the elation and uneasiness we felt over the course of driving those eighteen hours. We were somewhere in Missouri when we learned our baby had been flown to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital because he had to have surgery for a very serious birth defect. Once we arrived in Little Rock, at 9:15 p.m., we were turned away because we didn’t have parental rights; they wouldn’t even confirm our son was actually in the hospital. I can not explain the fury and despair we felt, knowing our son was in a crib somewhere in that hospital, he was sick, we didn’t know exactly how severely, and we weren’t even able to hold his hand. So, while our son was born on Monday evening, we didn’t actually meet him until Wednesday morning, when his birth parents arrived at the hospital and put us on the visitor list.

Our son spent a week and a half in the NICU. Over the course of that time, we were given legal guardianship. We spent each day with him; his birth mother was with him most nights. She was there out of love and worry for her baby, even though it was at great physical and financial cost to herself. She had given him up for adoption because of her circumstances, and it was clear that, while she understood the choice she had made in giving him to us, it still pained her deeply. In that short time, I grew to love her in a way that would be hard for people who don’t have adopted children to understand.

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About a month and a half after he was born, we had to fly back to Arkansas with him to finalize the adoption. The entire trip went smoothly, and we are happily home with our son who is, in the judge’s words, “Ours just as if he had been born to us.” He is calm and sweet. He is learning to smile. Life is literally better than I even imagined it would be.

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For all of you praying for a positive pregnancy test, I haven’t forgotten you. I haven’t forgotten what it feels like to cry quietly so your husband doesn’t hear you when that test comes up negative. I haven’t forgotten the jealous torment of reading someone else’s pregnancy announcement on Facebook or the energy-draining despair of smiling when others say, “You would make great parents — you should think about having kids!” or the anguish of hearing other women complaining about the stretch marks and baby weight and heartburn and late nights and check-ups and morning sickness.

And, I pray that all of you find your joy. It might occur when you get pregnant. It might not happen biologically — it certainly hasn’t happened for us in the ten years Josh and I have been married — so I encourage you to consider other options, too. It might come from rescuing a pet. It might be when your priorities shift and you decide to look into fostering a child — maybe a toddler or even a teenager. Because of the costs associated with infant adoption, we have decided that we will look more into fostering children when our son is a bit older.

As I have stated previously, there is more to being a family than having a child with your genes. My baby doesn’t have Josh’s hair or my eyes, but he has our hearts forever.

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Peace and love.

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This Thanksgiving Season

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It is the time of year when people begin to express their gratitude for the good things in their lives. Of course, I could go on and on about being thankful for owning a home, my husband and I each having stable jobs, being in relatively good health, and all the expected sentiments: pets, good weather, and full bellies. In light of all that has happened in my family, good and bad, this year, I am going to take a moment and share from my heart.

Last fall, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has been receiving chemo for just over a year, had a double-mastectomy in the spring, and went through six weeks of radiation this summer. It is a hard process to watch, but with determination and a caring medical team, my mom was recently told by her doctor she is officially a “survivor.” This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my mom, as never before.

In May, my dad suffered a massive stroke in two parts of his brain. He has come through with much less damage and fewer long-term effects than anyone thought possible. Then, in the summer, he had heart surgery. His doctors are surprised and proud of his resilience. He has healed quickly and has not lost his sense of humor. I am so thankful I am able to call my dad and argue over politics and hear his laugh.

Three weeks ago, my parents were sleeping when their house caught fire. They barely escaped and spent four days in the hospital recuperating from smoke damage. In a year where our family has had its share of disappointments and crises, this tops the list of being a mental and emotional drain. However, I believe, truly, that God sent angels to protect my parents’ lives while all around them was destruction.

In the midst of all of this, my husband and I were receiving fertility treatments that did not work. How can we find a blessing in this for which to be thankful? We have been inundated by friendship and support that was both unexpected and greatly appreciated. Our community, our friends, even strangers have been so thoughtful, uplifting, generous, and positive that it has helped me face the task of filling out adoption paperwork (so much paperwork!) and readying for our home visit with optimism. It is so much easier to do a difficult task when you know that people want you to succeed; we have received cards, phone calls, letters, and social media messages that I will forever store in my heart. I did not know, when I wrote about our fertility struggles, how many people this problem affects. Nor did I know how supportive people would be by the announcement that we were beginning to look into adoption. People have been so kind, understanding, and excited for us that it reinforces — in the midst of all the negativity in the world today and, particularly, in our country this week — the idea that most people are genuinely good, caring, and loving. Please know that we genuinely appreciate all the support we have received, and cannot express our thankfulness adequately enough.

Peace and love.14480660_10209711720605577_7351541725707216488_o (1).jpg

Our Family’s Fertility Struggles

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Twenty-one months ago, my husband and I decided to add to our family. Had we been successful, our child would be one year old.

We have now been trying to conceive for almost two years. Speaking not for my husband, but only for myself, I regret the process, and am embittered by it. I have gone through invasive and tear-jerking examinations; frequent, inconvenient, expensive ultrasounds; and several unsuccessful fertility treatments. I have missed work, driven thousands of miles, and spent countless hours sitting in the doctor’s lobby beside excited, heavily pregnant women. I have had blood drawn, taken pills, and given myself shots. I have suffered unpleasant side effects from months of hormone therapy, which included extreme fatigue, nausea, headaches, and weight gain; ironically, the “next-step” doctor told me I have gained so much weight I am no longer eligible for his fertility treatments.

I have experienced physical discomfort, but, worse, emotional pain far more cutting than I ever anticipated. Baby showers and birth announcements regularly fill my mailbox and my email inbox and my social media feeds. My nephew’s wife had a child in June. My brother’s wife is due in January. Two weeks ago my local newspaper, which serves a community of approximately one thousand, featured a picture on its front page: lined up together on a couch were ten newborns that were born in seven weeks to families living in town.

On Friday, I told my husband and my doctor that I just had to take a month off. With school starting, I’m under so much stress right now that any treatments probably would be unsuccessful. Looming over my head is the constant reminder that our insurance only pays for six months’ worth of treatments and we’ve already used the first two, which were the most likely to be successful but failed.

The first time we had a procedure done, I was certain it would work. I never even entertained the possibility that it would be unsuccessful. I began planning what decorations I would buy for the nursery. Josh told me not to get my hopes up, but I had not consciously made the decision to do so — I’m an optimist, so I acted according to my nature. I was so let down by the result that my pain manifested as palpable symptoms: my chest felt heavy and tight, like I was suffocating, like my heart was breaking. My husband comforted me, held me, told me, “We’ll try again.”

When the test came up negative after the second procedure, I was inconsolable. That’s when I gave up. I gave up the hope of becoming pregnant. I gave up the image of squealing with joy at two pink lines. I gave up the idea of feeling a baby squirming around in my belly. I gave up the future of wondering if Baby would have my stubby fingers or Josh’s high intelligence.

And we turned down a new avenue. We, just today, began filling out the forms to start the adoption process. It is going to be expensive, and I don’t know exactly how we are going to pay for it, but I believe God will help us through it.

We are still embracing the excitement of finding out, someday, that we will be growing our family. We are still wondering if we will first be buying pink or blue mittens. We are still prepared to walk the floors at night with a sick child. We are still ready to cover the driveway in sidewalk chalk. We are still excited to leave cookies for Santa. We are still going to cheer the loudest at t-ball games. We are still looking forward to reading stories before bed. We are still going to cry (sob) at kindergarten graduations and high school graduations. We are still going to pull guilt trips by saying things like, “I wish you would call more” and, “I know you’re busy, so just come when you can.”

We are still praying to be parents. Our children don’t have to have my smile or Josh’s eyes. They don’t have to be ours, genetically, to be our kids. Love doesn’t have silly limits.

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Peace and love.