Peeling Back the Layers of Life: A Review of Body of Work

Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab

Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab by Christine Montross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very enlightening memoir, not only about anatomy, but about an obscure part of medicine: the history of dissection and the procural of cadavers. Montross takes us through her anatomy class where she must dissect a cadaver and reflects on how this disturbing and disorienting process impacts her relationship with the human body, medicine, and how she provides care to others. She explores the muddy moral waters of the end of life and what does it mean to be no longer alive or to be dead, and are those the same things? While this is at times a hard book to read, it is important to read. She details the process of cutting into a dead person, and while she is reverential towards her subject, the process is still a disturbing one. Through this she shows how dissection allows future doctors to not only learn the body, but confront the discomfort of handling bodies, both alive and dead, and how they develop “detached compassion” to best guide their patients to make tough decisions about their or a loved one’s health.

The discomfort not only comes from the process, but how cadavers have been (and in some places still are) procured. There have been many cultural taboos about disturbing the dead and most cultures are against using humans for dissection. Doctors and hospitals turned to unsavory methods to get their supply. Unsurprisingly, it was often the poor, criminals, and minorities who were preyed upon; mostly in the belief that their afterlife is not as important as rich white people’s. Montross also explores the paradox of belief surrounding dissections.

This is not a knee-slapper of a book, but it is very interesting to know how med students become doctors and what is asked of them. I appreciated Montross’s insights and connections to her own life and medicine’s history.

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Monday Motivators: Being vs. Doing

“There are some people who go through life doing things rather than being,” said my best friend on the other end of the line. I knew where this was going, what she was hinting at.

“Are you saying I am a doer?” I asked.

“You’re not just a doer; you’re an exceptional doer.”

She was telling me in the best way possible that I might just be doing too much. This is not something I haven’t heard before. Normally I shrug my shoulders, so what I do too much. I can handle it. Except this time it’s true. I may have just gotten myself too busy and it’s impacting me in weird ways. For instance, I showed up late to a meeting that I swore started at 4:30. I’ve been going to these meetings for two years, and they start at 4:00. I’ve double-booked myself, and in my mind I envision being at both places, but it’s not until later that I realize that I cannot be two places at once. Every morning now I have to write myself a to do list just to remember what it is that I need to do– because I’ve been forgetting.

I do a lot at my job and I do a lot at home. There is always something that needs to be done. Even when I travel, I like to visit cities, places where there are things to do. Sitting on a beach or by the pool does not appeal to me. (I’m not going to divulge what I do because 1) I don’t need my readers telling me I do too much, too, 2) I don’t want it to be like I’m saying, “Look at me! I do everything!”, and 3) this is not a busyness competition: we’re all busy.) And as my friend reminded me, sometimes we make ourselves busy in order to avoid “being” or reflecting or processing emotions. Busyness keeps keeps the internal messiness at bay. There is some truth to that.

My problem is that I don’t know what “being” looks like. How does one just “be”? Is it sitting in a chair doing nothing? Can one do something and be at the same time? I imagine it involves “being present” and “in the moment”, but if I wonder if I’m present, does that mean I’m not? I didn’t ask my friend the definition of being and how to be; we spent all of our time discussing the consequences of doing too much.

So that is my goal this week: to find time to just “be”. I don’t have a real plan on how this is going to work out, since I don’t know what it means to “be”, but I’ll do it anyway.

Monday Motivators was started by my friend Laura who decided that we could all use a bit more motivation in our lives to take on personal challenges. Check out her blog; she’s a lot of fun AND she is a recent FitBit convert (so she can totally hang with me).

Monday Motivators: When The Mind Is Willing And The Body Is Not

Last week my personal challenge was to walk 65,000 steps, or 13,000 steps a day, in five days.  I knew this would be hard, but the week before I handily accomplished 60,000 and my confidence was high.  Surely, I could sneak in an extra 1,000 steps a day.

Instead, something else snuck up on me.  My weekly total was 53,342.  This sounds like a lot, and it IS a lot.  For me, it was pretty low.  On Monday I woke up feeling pretty tired, but I tried to get in my steps and even did a step aerobic workout when I got home (I live by workout videos).  Even with this effort, I missed the 13,000 mark by 800 steps.  I shrugged it off; the deficit would be made up on Tuesday.  The next morning I felt worse– exhausted, kind of swimmy, with a headache that throbbed behind my left eye, and everything I ate or drank tasted like bile.  I still went to work, hoping that once I got there I would feel better and knowing my job was to chaperone students on a low-maintenence field trip.  I still did not feel better.  This followed for the entire week and culminated on Thursday when my left eye felt like it had looked at the sun too long (even though I was indoors) and could not regain its sight. Nothing was getting done; the papers remained ungraded and the steps remained untaken.  I went home and walked to the couch.  Friday resulted in the same action.  I spent most of the weekend recuperating.  It wasn’t until Saturday evening that it started to abate, and while I feel much better today, I know that it just went into hiding; I’m not out of the woods.

The good news is that I got in a lot of steps today.  I worked out and went for a four-mile walk.  My goal this week is back to 60,000.  My friend Ginger, who also has a FitBit, challenged me to the Workweek Hustle competition to see who can get the most steps.  Hopefully between feeling better and a good dose of friendly competition, I will make it.

Monday Motivators was started by my blogging friend Laura who is motivating herself and others to accomplish the things they want to do for the week.  Go over and check out her blog and be her friend.  She is awesome.

Monday Motivators: 65,000 Steps

Challenges:  They get me in trouble.  I cannot say “no” to them.  So when my blogging buddy Laura started her Monday Motivators to challenge and motivate herself and her friends to do whatever it is they need to do that week, I signed on immediately.  My challenge: walk 60,000 steps in 5 days.

The fitness powers-that-be suggest 10,000 steps a day, but working at a school and being on my feet all day helps me attain almost 6-8,000 steps.  Walking to the mailbox and regular daily living walking helps make up the difference.  That’s not very challenging. 12,000 steps requires more from me, and to reach that goal, I need to come home after being on my feel all day and do a workout.  That is a challenge.

But I made it.  I actually did a little over 60,000 steps and here’s my plan of attack:

1. Wear the FitBit.  My FitBit tracks all of my steps, and sometimes after I shower, I forget to put it on right away.  That means I walk around the house getting ready for work and those steps are not tracked.  This can add up to over 500 steps!

2. Plan ahead.  Last week I knew I had an all-day meeting Wednesday, a book club in the evening Thursday, and a tuckered body on Friday.  These days were going to be low-step days, so I planned to work out Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons.  On Monday and Tuesday I exceeded 12,000 steps in order to make up for the rest of the week’s deficit.

3. The mini-challenge.  On Thursday and Friday, know that I would need to get in some good steps at work, I gave myself mini-challenges.  For example, during class I checked my steps on my FitBit (I love my FitBit) and challenged myself to walk a certain amount of steps in a limited amount of time.  This had an added benefit of keeping my students on task: at any moment I could be doing a lap around their desks.

4.  Take the long way.  My classroom is close to everything: the front office, the library, the bathroom, the elevator.  Fortunately my room is on the second floor, so there is ample opportunity to take the stairs.  However, with everything so close I often create “long ways” of getting places.  It might take a minute or two longer to get somewhere, but the steps add up quickly (you’d be surprised).

5. A little help from students.  Some of my students know that I am trying to get in my steps.  Some cheer me on, while others are sneaky.  One day a student called me over to him. After walking across the room to see what he needed, he grinned, “Nothing.  Just helping you get in some more steps.”

This week has less demands on my time, so my goal is to reach 65,000 steps.

Readers, if you have not met my lovely friend, Laura, click on the link above and check out her blog.  Let her motivate you, too!

Bring It!

It’s happening again.  Yes.  Again.  As a matter of fact, it will happen this, of all days, Friday.  I will wake up before the dawn, reacquaint myself with near-forgotten rituals such as doing my hair and putting on my make-up, leave my house as the neighborhood sleeps, cruise through my commute, unlock my classroom, and welcome students.  Yes.  It’s the first day of school.  And I say, “Bring it.”

After a taxing, trying 2012-2013 school year during which I experienced a mystery illness that left me weak, sore, and anemic; burn-out; and a strong desire to sleep– so much so that I would pass out at my desk on my prep period only to come home and pass out again.  I trained a student in each class to call the school secretary just in case I had to run out of the room for an “emergency”, and one day I had to run out of a meeting because of an “emergency” (as one student said, “You drove all the way to work just to vomit?  That sucks.”)  My response to my very good students, who I was very lucky to have during this time, slowly deteriorated to, “Me-no care-oh” (translated: “I don’t care what you do, just turn it in.”).  Doctor’s appointments and going home sick impeded my ability to be a good advisor to my book club and my Academic Decathlon team.  The kids had to rearrange their schedules and find other teachers who could take over for the day.  Once again, the AcaDec materials weren’t ordered correctly (cough, cough, district office, cough, cough), and we didn’t get our materials until late October.  Competition is in January. I questioned myself.  I knew I was not the teacher or advisor I could be, but I couldn’t muster the energy to be that person.

My questioning deepened after I attended a Common Core Conference in Monterey and the keynote speaker, Kate Kinsella, chastised teachers who had pictures of the Eiffel Tower and posters of kittens dangling by a paw from a tree that say, “Hang in there!”.  There is no place in the classroom for these non-academic distractors!  My co-workers gasped, glancing my way.  In lieu of the Eiffel Tower, there is a big poster of Central Park over my desk, next to my Kandinsky poster, over my Warhol Marilyn Monroe -inspired rubber ducky picture.  There are no posters of kittens, but there is one of a silly-looking frog that says, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”  This doesn’t take into account all of the rubber ducks that line my desk and cupboards, the student art, my travel postcards, and the cutouts of Toy Story characters that had been on a Kleenex box.  One of my TA’s cut them out once it was empty and made me a collage.  My room was clear, undeniable evidence that I was not A Serious Teacher.  Fortunately, Kinsella also alienated every other teacher in the room by telling us to do our “damn jobs” and implored Social Studies teachers to actually teach kids something.  However, once made, the wound was slow to heal.

It was a challenging year.  Too tired to be creative or care too much, I stopped blogging.  There was nothing really to say except express my own uncertainty.  I turned to my books and novels.  I read and read and read.  There just didn’t seem to be enough words that I could gobble up.  I did not want to write or create.  My book clubs with my friends were the  life lines that kept me afloat.  They forced me to not recede to wherever it was that I could possibly go.  My husband, stymied by the fact that I requested white bread, made me endless bowls of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.  During my two-week spring break, I broke tradition and stayed home.

Slowly, the universe shifted.  I learned that I would be teaching AP Literature the 2013-2014 school year.  The fact that I was chosen to teach it was a boost to my self-esteem as an educator, but I was still plagued with doubt.  I still smarted from Kinsella’s implication that I am not a Serious Teacher and considered ways to make my classroom more “academic”– befitting of an AP teacher.

The universe, it seemed, wasn’t done with me yet.  One day I sat reading my students’ personal statements, allowing me to glimpse into their real lives and thoughts.  One student wrote about her two inspiring teachers: her Spanish teacher and…. me.  She wrote about how much I encouraged her and challenged her, and blah, blah, blah.  “Is she trying to butter me up and get an “A”?” I asked myself.  The next line proved that she was not: “In Ms. L’s room she has a poster of Central Park over her desk.  I look at it everyday.  This inspires me to do well and be successful in life so I can go visit wonderful, magical places in the world like Central Park.”  With tears welled up in my eyes, I decided that Kate Kinsella could suck it.  My student, on the other hand, earned her “A”. And a hug.

As I was leaving on the last of school, I glanced in the mailroom.  There, on the floor, was a delivery from the US Academic Decathlon.  My materials for this upcoming year arrived– early.

After a positive end to the school year, gaining back my health and energy, much collaboration for cross-curricular teaching with a history teacher, much fun in Ireland, the UK, and Michigan, much learning at the AP training, and planning a curriculum that includes short stories, poetry, Like Water for Chocolate, Oedipus The King, Death of a Salesman, Othello, Pride and Prejudice, Their Eyes Were Watching God, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, and John Trimble’s Writing With Style:A Conversation on the Art of Writing, I am ready for this school year.

If You’re Not A Bottle Of 7-Up, Then I Don’t Hang With You

I have been fortunate to have had good health throughout my life.  I’ve never broken a bone nor had surgery or had to stay in the hospital overnight.  Friends have described me as “hale, hearty, and healthy.”  My sick days at work equal two months.  Doctors visits find me “normal”, and I can count on having a head cold and losing my voice once a year.  On the survey at doctor’s offices where they ask about past problems, I draw a straight line through the column of “None”.  I don’t smoke, do drugs, and only have one glass of wine when I drink.  I’m sickeningly healthy.

That is until recently.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote about getting sick before my trip to New York and the grilled cheese that brought me back to life.  When I wrote that post I was confident that it was a random case of food poisoning or the stomach flu.  What I didn’t count on was for it to come back the next day after I hit “publish”.  Again I was sick and waylaid on the couch. I had the exact same symptoms as before: sore throat, nausea, vomiting (and other stuff that is really TMI).  The next day I recovered and felt fine.  Another fluke, right?

I woke up the following day with the sore throat again.  My stomach felt heavy and nausea rolled over me in waves.  I called the advice nurse and followed her advice: urgent care.  With Steve by my side, the doctors took my vitals, swabbed my throat, and tested my blood.  In the meantime I grew progressively worse– to the point where they gave me my own room, a bucket, and my very first anti-nausea injection.  My tests came back normal except for the CBC; my white cells were elevated.  They determined that I needed more services than they could offer and packed me off to the ER.  They let me keep the bucket.

At the ER they performed more blood tests, gave me another dose of anti-nausea meds (the first had done little to ease it), and hooked me up to an IV, another first.  Instead of a private room, I had a bed in the hallway that allowed me to watch the parade of patients going here and going there.  Again my tests only revealed elevated white cells.  This suggested an inflammation or infection, and they sent me for a CT scan (another first).  I learned how painful it was to try to move around with an IV hooked up to my arm.  The CT scan revealed nothing, and the ER doctor basically said, “Your body’s fighting something somewhere.”  He wrote me a prescription for anti-nausea pills and released me.

A day later I was back at work teaching, not knowing what I had or when it would it attack again.  Anxiety shadowed me whispering “what if, what if, what if…” in my ear.  Over the course of the week I lost three pounds.  The only thing I could do once I got home was sleep.  However, I made it through the week without an incident and by Friday gained my appetite back.  Saturday broke sunny and clear, and I felt great.  I  took a brisk two mile walk, went to the foothills with Steve, my sister-in-law Lisa, and some friends, and fed my growing appetite.

The next day I woke with a sore throat– the precursor to hugging the toilet– but I didn’t feel sick and ate breakfast.  Around ten in the morning, it started.  This shattered my confidence.  Normally the sickness would begin around six or seven in the morning, but this time was later.  It couldn’t be counted on.  So when I woke up this past Wednesday with the worst sore throat yet, I really had no idea what was going to happen.  I drove to work visualizing what I would do if for some reason I had to run out of class.  My contingency plan was to give the principal’s secretary’s extension to a responsible student in each class with the instructions that if I were to run out to call her.  During one class I had to step outside to talk to a student who was having personal issues, and when I came back in my designated student was on her way to the phone, seeing that I had stepped outside.

But whatever it is attacking my stomach took a more sinister turn that day: it attacked my joints.  My ankles, hips, shoulders, elbows, the back of my neck, and my jaw were all sensitive and tender.  Each move agony.  But all of them combined did not equal the pain I felt in my knees.  Walking was laborious and taking the stairs near impossible.  I went from someone who usually skips down the stairs to clutching the railing and using my arm strength to guide me up and down.  I normally avoid the elevator, but this time I used it.  By the time I got home from work yesterday,  I had to lift my left leg out of the car.  Last night using a can opener was a herculean effort.  It crossed my mind that I might wake up this morning as a board.  Fortunately it didn’t happen, I was still stiff and sore, and my knees still screamed, but somewhere along the day most of the pain eased off.

My doctor thinks I have an inflamed stomach lining (she doesn’t know about the joint pain), but Steve and I think I have a virus.  Whatever it is, it gave me much more empathy for those who are chronically ill and who have severe (or any) arthritis.  These past few weeks have been full of uncertainty, have chipped away at my confidence, and depleted my energy.  Those who have to work consistently through pain– especially those who work with others and have maintain a positive and chipper attitude– have to rely on physical resources that are often just not there.   This has been a real mental exercise that required me to put my positive attitude and patience to the test.  The joint pain was worse than the stomach ailments.  Eventually that would go away and life would be “normal” again, but the joint pain prohibits me from doing what I love: walking.  The ramifications of not getting enough exercise and relieving stress reverberate far beyond a stomach ailment.  It showed me the frustration and disappointment that people who have rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia or any other kind of pain must go through.

This illness has also shown me how lucky I am.  I have friends who have checked up on me.  The staff at my school has been wonderfully supportive– their care and concern has made it easier to be at work knowing that if I did get sick, everything would be taken care of.  Then there’s my husband who has made numerous runs to the store to pick up 7-Up, crackers, and chicken noodle soup and then comes home to prepare it for me.  He stayed by my side through my visit to urgent care and the ER, making sure I was comfortable.  He’s picked up the slack on the nights when I’m too tired or sick to cook.  He has also been making me really good grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup.  I know that this is what husbands are supposed to do, but it doesn’t stop me from being blown away by it.

Right now, I have no idea what tomorrow or the next day will bring, but if I’ve made through the recent bouts, I will make it through whatever my body throws at me next.

Balancing Act

“Ms. L, are you on your feet all day long?  I swear, I’ve never seen you sit down.  Do you even know how to use a chair?” asked one of my students as they did their self-assessments– a written reflection of their participation, preparedness, and how they felt in class.  I wondered how he would respond if he learned that I often snuck away or a mile-long walk during my prep period.

His perceptive question led me to my own self-assessment. I was on my feet all day long– walking, running, pacing that follows the staccato rhythm of go go go. Sit down?  Who sits down?  My participation last week was one of a grouchy teacher; my preparedness was defined by the seat my pants; and how did I feel? Tired, emotional, worn-out.  Granted, I had a busy week that began with an upsetting real-life episode of The Twilight Zone right in my classroom.  But I knew it wasn’t just the busy week; it was also the two busy weekend before grading essays and doing other work; it was the lack of time to prepare; it was my new biological clock that decided to pare down my hours of sleep every night to six; it was me not having the motivation to eat prepared healthy meals, but eat Twix instead.  But I also know that every week is going to be busy– there will be the same amount of students, classes, and clubs, and I am the same, too. I am the one who, like many others, struggles to balance the rigors of work with the rigors of having a life.  Last week I was resentful because I didn’t have any of my own time, but it is ultimately my own fault because I didn’t make any time for me. My students deserve better than to have a grouchy teacher, and I deserve better than to feel that at any moment my emotional dam will burst.

My goal this weekend was to do the things I enjoy, plan for next week to avoid the mad scramble, and reflect on everything that went well.  So I read, baked a cake (a Thai inspired Pineapple Upside-Down Cake that uses coconut milk), made three small appetizers, had dinner with friends, spent time with my hubs watching our new favorite show The Newsroom, practiced yoga and kick-boxing, and went for my morning walks.  Right now I am blogging.

One of the books I read is Carol Jago’s With Rigor For All: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature.  Jago asserts why it is so important to teach the “classics” to our students and how we need creative ways to get them “into” those stories.  Her methods of teaching, dislike of objective tests, and reasons for unconventional assessment reaffirmed my teaching values and gave me the impetus to teach Othello the way that I want.  My current curriculum involves analysis of plot, character traits and motivation, theme, blah, blah, blah. This knowledge is important, but my students have spent the last 11 years of their school career identifying and analyzing the literary elements.  None of my seniors are planning on majoring in English in college (at least none have publicly admitted to it).  I chose Othello because it connects to their lives: cultural conflicts, bi-racial relationships, haters, rumors, jealousy, loyalty.  If this doesn’t connect to high schoolers, then I don’t know what does.  So why, then, if I want them to connect to this wonderfully juicy and tragic story, do I implement lessons that strategically disconnect them from it?

My students will still discuss and analyze plot, characters, and theme, but this time much of their knowledge will be shown through creative writing (a process that is rarely touched on in school).  For example, borrowing an exercise from Alice LaPlante’s The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing, my students will write “What’s Behind the Door of Room 101?”.  This prompt will make them think about what’s behind the door, which is the thing that a character most fears, but they cannot write about the fear in abstract terms.  They have to write a scene in which the character watches his/her worst fear acted out and how he/she responds to it.  This requires a detailed understanding of the characters in the play, their motivations, and the themes.  My students can be creative and apply their understanding, and I can have (hopefully) entertaining student work to read.  It will be very easy to see who gets Othello and who does not– plus it prevents the cheating often found on worksheets.  My students will also have a compilation of creative stories that are a reflection of themselves.

My point– before I went all “teacher” on you– is that I gave myself time to explore my interests, and now I am energized to begin the next unit with my seniors.  Just so you do not think that I lie on my couch reading trade books, I am also reading Natsume Soseki’s turn-of-the-century novel, Kusamakura, a story of a nameless narrator on the romantic quest to find beauty and simplicity in nature and rise above the “vulgarity” of the common world.  Dense and quietly funny, it’s definitely a book to read with a pencil in hand.

Ultimately, the trick is how do I make sure that every weekend allows me the time to do this?  Right now, it’s a mandate: have fun or go nuts.  How do I make balance a habit?

Readers: What do you do to maintain balance in your life?

A List of Delights

Yesterday my friend, Laura, at I’d Rather Sit On The Couch came up with a “small container” list as opposed to a bucket list.  Her reasoning behind this list is to achieve 30 things before she’s 30– but instead of grandiose ideas, she focuses on the smaller delights that she doesn’t get enough of as a new mother (and if you haven’t met Laura yet, please go pay her a visit).  This idea resonated with me for a couple of reasons.  One, I’ve been feeling aimless lately, so a list of delights might give me a purpose and goals.  Two, I’ve never been a bucket list kind of gal.  I’m more into the “sounds good” list– many things sound good to me, and then I go do them.  I’ve found that when I really want something, I usually make it happen.  So if I decide that I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, planning will soon commence.

So in preparation for my (36th) birthday in a couple of months, I’ve come up with a list of delights– or my 36 before 36:

1. Restart one of my book groups that has fallen apart over the summer months.

2. Get back into the habit of reading.

3. Stretch!

4. Read the book I ordered on assessment.

5. (Mother Nature, I need your help) Take a long nap on the couch during a football Sunday.  It must be cold and rainy out, and my husband must take off my glasses and close my book.  It must be this way.

6.  Watch the sunrise more at school (we get the prettiest sunrises).

7.  Listen to podcasts on the way to work now that Mark and Brian have ended their show (*sniff*).

8.  Incorporate more yoga into my routine.

9. Write a poem or two… it’s been awhile.

10. Dare I submit a poem?

11. Do a Trifecta writing challenge.

12. Have dinner with my hubby at Boston Blackie’s in Chicago.

13. Visit the Chicago Museum of Modern Art.

14. Genuinely have fun at a Rush concert with my hubby and not tease him too much or ask, “What’s the name of the one song I like?”

15. If I rode the London Eye… Ride the ferris wheel at Navy Pier?  If it’s open air, then never mind.

16. Think of Gramps at the corner of Michigan and Delaware.

17. Take morning walks along the lake shore.

18. Visit the Frick Museum.

19. Eat an ice cream while walking through Central Park.

20. Have a Stella Artois at a sidewalk cafe in Greenwich in the afternoon as the fall light glimmers among the buildings.

21.  Celebrate my birthday by eating fried chicken and macaroni and cheese and coconut cake at Bubby’s.

22. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (eek!).  This might require a strong drink in a nearby bar in Brooklyn and a cab ride back.  The bridge has intrigued me since I read McCullough’s The Great Bridge.

23. Walk through Cartier as the salespeople politely ignore the fact that I cannot afford any of it.

24. Spend more time with my hubs.

25. Have a movie night that includes Pride and Prejudice and Back to the Future and popcorn with molasses.  I’d like it to be cold and rainy then, too.

26. Continue with the 1,000 thing toss out challenge.  I’m up to 109 things so far.

27.  Get a massage.

28. Spend an afternoon reading in bed with my cats by my side.  Again, cold, rainy.

29. Visit my friends who get neglected during the school year– Ginger, Jess, Juliette, Aprille, Alisa.

30. Hail a cab.

31. Go to Apple Hill and take pictures of apples. (No rain or cold, please.  Prefer a nice fall afternoon with a tinge of warm.)

32. Eat peach pie with crumble topping. Nothing ala mode.

33. Go wine tasting in the foothills and drink port out of chocolate cups.

34. Eat the chocolate cups.

35. Remember wine tasting in the foothills.

36. Enjoy the time I have left being 35.

If I had a bucket list, this would be the number one thing on it:

1. Follow Jake Barnes’s route from Paris to Pamplona and San Sebastian and drink lots of wine. My trip won’t be as authentic as his since I won’t see a bull-fight (not an aficionado) nor will I hook up with prostitutes (dull and boring, I know).  My trip will lack the drama of Mike, Robert Cohn, and Brett Ashley, but that’s okay.

This would be the number two thing:

2.  Learn how to fly a plane.  After reading West With The Night by Beryl Markham, a part of me (the tiny part that doesn’t freak out at heights) has wanted to fly a plane.  This feeling was cemented by a trip in a little turbo-prop from Indianapolis to South Bend I took.  It was in the evening and the sun set over the farms and silos.  We were below the clouds and everything was so peaceful and pretty.  I was scared shitless, but it was still pretty.  Plus, my grandpa flew.  Do they allow hard of hearing people who are bad at math fly planes?

Readers: what delights are you looking forward to in your life?


The mail surprised me a few a days ago. Not because we still have mail service, but because I received a copy of Vanity Fair.  I could have sworn my subscription ran out a few months ago, but there it was, the style issue.  The last couple of days I’ve been trying to remember if I had resubscribed, but no memory came to the surface.  Going through a pile on the kitchen table unlocked some clues: besides unopened credit card offers, there were two unread Atlantic Monthlys and two Vanity Fairs still in their plastic covers.  I glanced wondering back at the pile– could I possibly find me in there, too?

Waves of frustration and fatigue washed over me.  I wanted to cry.  The forgotten and unopened magazines are symptomatic of how I’ve been feeling lately.  It’s the lack of focus and concentration to any one thing.  It’s the feeling of there not being enough hours in one day.  The sense of not establishing priorities.  It’s the fact that I don’t have any goals that I’m working toward.  The center has fallen out of me and this is compounded by the internal instability I’ve felt since summer.  I sit still, but feel as if I’m on a subway.  It’s all just one mad scramble and I wish I could sleep a deep winter sleep for a long, long time.

There’s the feeling of inadequacy– I really should be doing more.  More reading, more writing, more lesson planning, more grading, more cleaning.  Plus, I should be doing something more with my life.  Should I write a book?  Strive for that novel?  Take up a new hobby?  Read my months old magazines? Should I expand my role in the teaching profession?  Or am I content with what I have now?  If I say I’m content, does that mean I’m lazy?  Does it fly in the face of my childhood dreams to be something great?  Does it mean I’m settling?

Then I wonder if I’m good enough.  Am I a good enough friend?  Am I there for them when they need me?  Am I a good enough teacher?  Are my students learning what they’re supposed to?  Am I a good enough wife?  My husband is currently facing one of his greatest challenges as the situation with his mom’s health and care brings a new crisis everyday.  I listen and commiserate, but is it enough?  Am I too wrapped up in my own little world or this how everyone is and worlds just brush past each other?   I wonder often if what I am or what I do is ever enough.

Your Reward For Getting Out Of Bed In The Morning

Last night the doorbell rang.  I rushed to answer it, stepped outside, and shut the door behind me to prevent Toby and Molly from getting ideas that outdoor living might be nice.  If I was quick enough, I might catch a glimpse the elusive UPS man who drops off our packages and then bolts; instead I was greeted by a two young men delivering a different message: that of the Mormon church. Even though we don’t practice the same things, we had a real discussion about why we each hold our beliefs.  It was nice to have a conversation about differing beliefs without it becoming contentious.

There is one belief that we all can support: the power of a good breakfast.  Without it, it is difficult to embrace life and be a good person.  Instead we lack energy, become cranky, fill our bodies with junk to make up for its absence, and begin a downward unhealthy spiral.  There is a reason it’s the most important meal of the day. We need breakfast in order to be our best selves.  There are many people who follow the false idols of breakfast: the donut, the cereal bar, the coffee and cigarette.  Breakfast should be a reward to your body– your temple.  It should be something that you be thinking about all day long because it is that good.  You can’t wait to wake up the next morning to have it again.

This breakfast exists.  It is on the store shelves and on every breakfast menu, even at Starbucks.  It is… (drumroll please)… oatmeal!

The key to a good breakfast!

Oh, stop making that face.  This isn’t any oatmeal; it’s kick-ass oatmeal. This oatmeal has pumpkin, maple syrup, apples, dried cranberries, walnuts, cinnamon, and three extra grains.  It’s like dessert, but good for you. And you can have it everyday without guilt.  Here’s how:

I start of with a 32 ounce can of pureed pumpkin, and I divide among 12 small, freezer-safe containers (a scant three tablespoons each). To each I add 1 tablespoon of sugar free maple syrup and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon.  I give each a good stir and then freeze them.  I take one container out the night before and put in the fridge to thaw.

All lined up to give you a good start in the morning!

For my oatmeal, I use 1/2 cup of regular oats and add 1 tablespoon each of ground flax seed, oat bran, and wheat germ.  Instead of water, I use non-fat milk; it gives the oatmeal a thicker consistency and adds protein and calcium.  I eyeball the amount of milk I use, but a good starting point is how much the directions on the box suggests.  Then I heat it in the microwave for two and a half minutes.  After it’s done I add about a tablespoon of walnuts and either diced apple or dried cranberries.  I use that time to heat up the pumpkin mix for about 30 seconds in the microwave.  Then I stir it into my oatmeal.

One Christmas, I received two sets of these bowls. One set came from my grandparents and the other from my parents. It was not a planned occurrence; they just knew how much I love oatmeal.  FYI, this is not the most attractive meal, but it sure is good.

This breakfast is packed full of vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and about 10 grams of fiber (that’s 40% of your daily allowance).  It’s low in fat, and provides whole grains, so you feel full longer.  It is the best way to reward your body for getting you through the day.  It’s enough to make anyone a believer in breakfast.

Readers: What do you do to make your breakfast kick-ass?