Wanderlust Travel Blog

Better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times!

We travel the world, and tell you how it looks!

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Finishing strong…or not

I was always taught to finish strong; doesn’t matter what you’re doing, could be a big job or a small one, but finish well. I think this is an important lesson in life and have done my best to pass that down to my kids. But honestly, sometimes you’re lucky to finish something at all, and sometimes you’re just barely crawling to the finish line.

It seems like there are some things you just have to let go, whether you’ve officially finished your business or not. Bless and release. I’m speaking of my elementary school volunteering career, so this is not applicable to any job or chore that our kids will ever encounter. Gosh I started strong back in 2005 when Charlie entered kindergarten. I was pregnant with our third, but eager to volunteer in his classroom once a week. I took a short break after Judah was born, but started right back up because I follow through with my commitments!

Because I am in touch with my limitations as a human being, my volunteering consisted of helping with whatever needs the teacher had within the classroom; reading with kids, making copies, grading papers, and under no circumstances would I go on field trips. I can handle an hour to an hour and a half in a controlled classroom with teacher supervision, but you take those same little blessings out into the wild on a field trip and I cannot. In my fourteen years of children in school, I have not once gone on a field trip. No shame here. Andy, being the selfless person that he is and having a flexible work schedule, went on every field trip that allowed him. He was known by the kids’ classmates as the funny dad and every one loved having him along. This worked out great for me.

I had every intention of consistently putting in my one-to-one-and-a-half hours year after year until Josie finished out her elementary years. Two and a half years ago I got a new job requiring me to work three days a week. I felt that wasn’t a strong enough reason to quit since that still gave me two other week days to volunteer. But two weeks into my job our lives were largely interrupted by Andy’s hospitalization for heart issues. That was a rough and scary time for everyone, but I’ll just say it; the perfect excuse to press pause on my long career as a Ridgecrest Elementary volunteer. I planned on returning once things calmed down with Andy and we settled into our new normal. Well, it took several months to adjust to Andy’s heart disease diagnosis and follow up appointments on top of our whole family getting used to me working three days a week. By then we were coming up to the end of the school year, so why start back up right as things are winding down?

That was the spring of 2017 and I haven’t been back since. Here we are about to finish up Josie’s 5th grade year with one more year of elementary before she heads off to middle school and I’ve decided to just call it. I’m done. Twelve years was a good run. Little twinges of guilt come up when Josie asks me about why I don’t volunteer anymore, but I push through it because I am persevering. Time to move on. Bless and release.



Cabbage Patch Doll

With Christmas just around the corner, I remembered back to this story I wrote years ago about my biggest Christmas wish as a 9-year-old.

Money was tight when I was growing up. We never went hungry, but we also rarely ate out. My mom bought macaroni noodles in bulk and added them to one box of generic macaroni and cheese to feed five kids.

This meant that when Christmas rolled around we might get one or two gifts, but we for sure didn’t get the latest, greatest toy on the market. Still, Christmas was always magical in our house, no matter what my parents’ budget was, and I anxiously anticipated that exciting morning.

In 1983 Cabbage Patch Kids were on every 9-year-old girl’s Christmas list. Parents lined up outside toy stores to fight over the latest shipment of over-priced dolls, and rumors spread of some paying over $100 for them.

As much as my parents knew I wanted one, I knew that owning one of these dolls was not a reality for me. I didn’t even consider putting it on my list.

My cousin, Nina, was in the same financial boat as my family. Her parents also couldn’t afford a Cabbage Patch, but we talked about how fun it would be if we both had one. These dolls even came with adoption papers. We dreamed up the most beautiful names for our imaginary babies and told each other what great adoptive parents we would be. It was fun to dream.

I didn’t sit around moping at the fact that I would never be the proud parent of a Cabbage Patch doll. I was okay with it. I knew that if my parents had the means, they would have loved to surprise me with one of those dolls.

On Christmas morning, we took turns opening our gifts to prolong the excitement, starting with the youngest. As the oldest child, I could hardly wait for my turn, wondering what I might get. …

Second chances

Remember way back to three weeks ago when I wrote about kids growing up and the terror I felt every time I watched Coleman drive away in his truck? The biggest fear I had was getting a call that he had been in an accident. I hated the feeling of not having control of where he was or what might happen to him; the fear of the unknown. Turns out the big thing I feared came to pass, only a couple of months into him getting his drivers license.

Less than ten minutes after he left to head to a church small group meeting, he called me near tears saying that he’d been in a bad accident on the freeway, something about hitting a pole and knocking it down. My heart immediately raced as I could hear the fear in his shaky voice. He said he was okay, someone had already called 911, and the police were there. I dropped everything and got in the car to go to my baby. Josie was with me so I was forced to not let myself panic. We prayed and I called Andy to tell him. At least he was able to call me, rather than a police officer telling me my son was seriously injured, or worse.

As soon as I turned onto the onramp to get on I-5 I saw the flashing lights and halted traffic. Fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, lights, fear, worry. In the distance I could barely see his truck stuck in some trees on the other side of a ditch next to the freeway, but I couldn’t see him. I just needed to see him, to hug him and assure him that no matter what had happened, it would be okay; we would be okay. That’s my job. The police wouldn’t let me go to him since there was an electrical line down and they needed to make sure it was safe. So there I sat, sitting, waiting, completely helpless, and still unable to see him. …

The new good old days

It’s been so long I think I forgot how to write, or what to write.  But I guess sometimes you just have to go for it and write; type away and see what comes out. What’s coming out for me these days is a lot of reminiscing, looking at old photos and longing for the days when our whole family ate dinner together, then we tucked their sweet little faces into bed, like little burritos, by 8:00 and had time to hang out just Andy and me. Oh the days when my biggest worries were wondering if our kids would ever stop pooping their pants.

But the poopy pants stopped. The kids got older, one is now away at college, the next just got his driver’s license causing me to say all the prayers every time I watch him drive away in his beat-up ’85 Toyota truck which happens to be a stick shift.  God help us. We have to put a date on the calendar to have “family day” a month ahead of time. It’s a new season and new seasons are sometimes tough to get used to, actually forget that. New seasons are not fun, they hurt a little, and sometimes a lot. Makes me want to sit back in the good ‘ol days, rather than enjoy and appreciate what’s happening right in front of me; soaking in every moment. Although, the good ‘ol days were stinkier days.

School has started; a new year of elementary, middle, and high school, plus adding in college. So to say I’m on an emotional roller coaster would be an understatement. I can go from laughing and enjoying watching old episodes of The Office to tearing up when an old photo of one of the kids pops up on our computer. I’m fragile. And also, This Is Us started its new season, so I’m done for. …

Familiar place

Warning: I’m currently at UW Medical Center while Andy is having his second ablation procedure. I’m looking through some old photos for my 6th grader and my senior’s graduations and I’m listening to Ray LaMontagne. So this post will most likely be emotional and sappy. Consider yourself warned…

As I sit here finishing off the last of my tater tots (my favorite thing about coming to this place) I am flooded with memories from a little over a year ago when I was sitting at this very table. I was waiting, just like now, for word from the doctor about how things were going during this long procedure, only I felt like I was barely hanging on. I was scared and very unsure about Andy’s future; our family’s future really.

I am here today still anxious, but a different person than I was last year. I describe last time as crisis mode, survival. I didn’t feel like I could let myself totally freak out. I had to hold it together the best that I could because if I lost it, I might never get it back. So I distracted myself with the visitors and all the delicious treats that they so kindly brought me, and coffee was also extremely helpful.

Anyone who has dealt with a major crisis will tell you that it changes you. I suppose some for the worse, but many for the better. I’ve learned to accept the help that’s offered and not feel like I have to repay but just say thank you. I’ve learned to love Andy in a deeper way and appreciate him like I didn’t before. I’ve learned to give thanks in the pain and uncertainty. I’ve learned what to prioritize and what to let go of. I’ve learned to believe that God is always good and in control, even when I don’t feel it or see it.  …

Girls Just Want To Have Fun

A little story I wrote thinking back to the painful junior high years…

“Let’s do ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’!” Kiana squealed.

No other suggestions needed to be voiced. It was already decided; after all, it was the 80’s. Our school’s talent show wasn’t so much about talent as it was about choosing the perfect song to lip-sync. And this was it.

Toni flipped her hair and looked at the four of us. “Ok, we’ll get matching outfits and we already know the words to the whole song—duh!” We all jumped in glee, only my jumping was forced because I already knew how this story was going to play out. Still, I chose to act the part anyway.

I’m not sure why I even bothered asking my dad if I could participate in something involving secular music. I already knew how he felt. Any song without Jesus or God in it was no good; an abomination. I’m guessing Cyndi Lauper’s hit song wasn’t talking about girls just wanting to have fun with Jesus.

“Dad, please, just this once?” I pleaded. “The song’s just talking about having fun. What’s so bad about that?” “Absolutely not,” he repeated. “You know the rules we have about music.” I don’t know where in the world he got the we since I never remember being a part of the rule-making process. If I knew one thing about my dad, it was that he didn’t bend on the rules. Ever. …

Life Interrupted. Part 5.

We knew that Andy would be admitted overnight after the surgery so he could be monitored. We came prepared with overnight bags and his new favorite soft blankie. We talked in the pre-op area as nurses and doctors came in and out prepping him for the procedure. It was all too familiar that we were back in this place; back to the waiting, the unknown, and the hoping for answers.

I said goodbye and held back the tears as they wheeled Andy to the operating room. We were told that the procedure would be a long one and could take anywhere from 5-7 hours. The doctors would be mapping out his heart, looking for the inflamed areas to treat, and taking more biopsies. The nurse had my cell phone number and would be checking in with me every hour, letting me know how things were going.

Waiting is the worst part. A long time ago I worked as a surgical tech in the OR, which might have made this process worse for me. Knowing the steps of setting up and scrubbing in and looking at a patient wondering whether you will find good or bad news, or answers to your questions, made this current experience more troublesome. My mind wandered as I updated Facebook, watching the time, drinking more coffee and eating the hospital tater tots that I had grown so fond of.

My mom and my sister were on their way to wait with me. While I sat in the cafeteria, the doctor who had put in Andy’s ICD stopped by to check in with me. He was so sweet as he explained to me that he had gone into the OR to check on Andy and that things were going well. He came by a second time, once again reassuring me that they were going to figure this thing out.

After only five hours, the nurse found me in the waiting room and told me that they were finished. Andy handled everything just fine and was in recovery; always comforting words to hear. I would be able to see him soon. While I was still waiting, his cardiologist came to talk to me. …

Life Interrupted. Part 4.

We were finally moved to another floor; new room with a shower, a pretty view, and even a closet! It’s the little things. The nurses scrounged up a cart for all of our things as we had collected quite a bit. Andy was pushed in a wheelchair, I carried some extra things that wouldn’t fit on the cart, and our sweet nurse, Dawn, carried our Christmas tree. I’m sure we all looked ridiculous. We settled in, wondering how much longer we would be there, still waiting on the biopsy results.

Andy’s doctors determined that regardless of the biopsy results he should have a defibrillator (ICD) put in, based on his heart rate still going up from time to time. This device is would be surgically implanted with a lead that would screw directly into his heart. If his heart rate got dangerously high, it would try to pace him down. If that didn’t work, then it would shock his heart into a normal rhythm. This would keep him safe when it was time for him to go home. “Some people who have this device have never gotten shocked from it. It’s basically an insurance policy,” explained the cardiologist who would be performing the procedure.

The biopsy results finally came back and they were inconclusive, which was disappointing. One of the spots that they biopsied showed slight inflammation, but not enough to determine a diagnosis. Since Andy’s heart seemed to be responding well to the medication, he would be discharged after getting the ICD, and a PET scan. This meant that we would go home with no answers as to what was causing his heart to do this. At least we would have the safety of the ICD.

The procedure went well and Andy had a new, gnarly scar to show off. He had to keep his arm in a sling and deal with post op pain, but this new ICD would be with him forever, and just less than two weeks later would save his life. Once the pain from the ICD surgery faded, Andy just wanted to go home; we both did.

A PET scan was scheduled for December 23rd and after that, we were told Andy would be discharged, just in time for Christmas, ten days after being admitted. The PET scan requires a special, strict diet for the scan to show what it needs to show. Somewhere in the communication we missed the info that cheese is a big no, which screwed things up. They couldn’t do the full scan, but only a portion of it. They would have to do the other portion after the New Year on January 3rd. This was annoying, but didn’t change his discharge process, so he had the part of the scan done that he could and we started packing up to hit the road. …

Life Interrupted. Part 3.

At this point, the team of specialists was suspicious of two possibilities for what was causing Andy’s heart to continue racing. One was a somewhat rare genetic disease called ARVC, which would involve all kinds of genetic testing, not just for Andy, but for each of our kids as well. Of course this sounded scary and awful, especially the idea of our kids possibly facing these same problems. The second was a disease called sarcoidosis. This is an inflammatory disease which can affect other organs, most commonly the lungs, eyes, lymph nodes, and skin. Cardiac sarcoidosis (sarcoid of the heart) is more rare, but seems to respond well to treatment.

It was determined that a biopsy of the heart would be the best way to confirm a diagnosis. The trouble was, it was now Saturday morning, which meant that the biopsy wouldn’t be happening until Monday. So our weekend was spent full of visitors, phone calls, and doctors checking in. The flood of support was overwhelming. People we hadn’t seen in years came to visit Andy; he has that special something. He was upbeat and positive, trusting in the Lord for his future. Over and over, the hospital staff asked, “Who is your husband? How does he know so many people? How many people have come to visit him?”

Later in the evenings Andy was exhausted; between all the conversations and the off and on episodes of v-tach, he was worn out. I was tired from all of it. Andy would fall asleep, I’d turn on Christmas music, sit down, and write. I tried to send out updates, respond to texts, and do some online Christmas shopping because oh-my-word it’s Christmas time and I hadn’t done a thing. When my eyes wouldn’t stay open another minute, I’d lie down and my mind would worry. I’d think about our kids and wonder how they were really doing with all of this. I knew they were well taken care of by family and friends, but how were they really feeling? And sometimes I’d let my mind go to places it shouldn’t; the dark places where hope has no home. Sometimes Andy’s heart alarm would start beeping and I’d sit up watching it like a hawk, while the nurse would come in to check on him. He’d usually sleep peacefully through it all. And at perfect times, someone would text; sending prayers and love, or the perfect scripture for the moment, reminding me of hope. …

Life Interrupted. Part 2.

I had checked in with Andy early in the morning and he said that he slept okay. After getting the kids to school I hurried off to the hospital. I was only there for about twenty minutes before things started getting a little scarier. Andy’s heart rate continued to go up and he was no longer feeling okay. Doctors and nurses came in and out, assessing, giving medications, ordering labs and tests. Andy handled it all with such grace and calm. Family began texting and calling, some of them coming to the hospital. I just wanted answers so we could fix this problem.

This was day one of our journey. Journeys take us to all sorts of places; some places we want to go and some places that make us want to run the other direction. Sometimes you can choose your journey, but other times it’s chosen for you. As Andy and I settled into ours, we talked about accepting it (like we really had a choice). The calls and texts came in and so did the prayers.

The angiogram showed no blockage in any veins or arteries, which was good news. The echocardiogram showed an area in the left ventricle of his heart that was misfiring. A cardiac MRI was done and we were waiting on the results of that. In the meantime, the doctor decided that an ablation procedure would be appropriate to take care of that area.

The night before the scheduled ablation, Dr. Wilkinson, the one who would be doing the procedure, came into Andy’s room. He showed us the echocardiogram again and explained the procedure, but after he explained these things he paused, crossed his arms, put his hand on his chin and said, “Listen, I have a feeling that there’s more going on here. I’m concerned that it’s not just this one area that is causing your problems. I want to be straightforward with you. You won’t be going home in the next couple of days. We have got to figure out what’s causing this and why and properly treat you before sending you home. Your MRI is being read at UW Medical Center by the experts and they will send me their findings in the morning. I will take a close look at that before we do the ablation.” …

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