Advent, Gilbreth-Style

I’ve always been something of a Gilbreth geek. As a middle-schooler, I read Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes so often that to this day I can name the 12 Gilbreth children in order. I even like the movie–both versions, the 1950 movie so true to the book and the 2003 movie that shares little besides a name with the original.

cheaper by the dozen vintage coverFrank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. and his wife Lillian were known as motion-study specialists. As consultants, they’d visit factories and places of work, observe (and film) employees as they did their jobs, and find ways to refine tasks so that these manual laborers could accomplish more in the same amount of time. In Cheaper by the Dozen, one of the scenes I remember best involved Frank Sr. timing, to the second, self-care tasks such as bathing and toothbrushing. (With 12 kids and one bathroom, this did seem reasonable to me. Besides, the mental image was hilarious.)

belles on their toes vintage coverMy practical (and, let’s face it, lazy) side definitely approves of finding faster ways to do things. And right now, I am deeply grateful for my fascination with economy of motion.

I’m hobbling my way through Advent. Two days before Thanksgiving, my doctor put my left foot in a boot to reverse a split in a tendon. My feet have been aching for more than two years. I’ve had cortisone shots, worn Ace bandages (stylish!), lived on Advil, bought new shoes and spent hundreds of dollars on custom orthotics that make me feel like I’m walking on concrete. None of this helped, and when I went back to the doctor two weeks ago begging to be sent to physical therapy, he told me I had to have an MRI first. I’m glad for that, because it showed that there’s a real problem, though I wish it hadn’t taken two years to get it.

das bootHopefully, wearing this boot for the next 4 weeks will allow the tendon to heal on its own (the split is vertical; he described it as “putting your finger through a ribbon.”) I’m also hoping I don’t wind up, down the road, in a boot on my right foot, because I won’t be able to drive at that point!

Wearing this boot definitely slows me down. We live in a split-level house (stairs everywhere!) so that’s a challenge. Getting in and out of the car is a challenge; this foot takes up a lot more space than it used to, and it doesn’t bend. All in all, I have to move a lot more deliberately.

This means that I try even harder than before never to leave a room empty-handed, to remember all the things I need to gather up when I’m in one part of the house so I don’t have to go back there too many more times, figure out ways to do some jobs while sitting down, and work to reduce the number of steps (as in footsteps) in any given task.

I could really use some Gilbreths around here right now.

chicken parm oven bakedBut I’m finding that it’s good to be intentional about what I do, even when we’re only talking about baking the chicken breasts instead of frying them for last night’s chicken parmesan.

In a season that’s all about mindfulness, I’m in the right place. I have to be mindful about every little action, even the tiny ones like stepping out my front door and turning to close the door behind me (I almost fell yesterday, doing that simple thing, because I didn’t think about which foot needed to leave the house first).

My motto, this Advent, comes from Sunday’s Gospel: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from … the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. … Be vigilant at all times.”

Good advice, both for my foot and for my soul.

I was a Captive Panda: my subfertility story

This is NFP Awareness Week, and my friend Erin McCole-Cupp is hosting a series on NFP and subfertility on her blog. She asked me to share my story of NFP, endometriosis, and subfertility.

"Panda" by George Lu (2011) via Flickr, CC BY 2.0. Text added by author.
“Panda” by George Lu (2011) via Flickr, CC BY 2.0. Text added by author.

Pandas in captivity are notorious for their infrequent ability to conceive. They can conceive, but their fertility is compromised. I experienced subfertility for several years, and my use of NFP (and persistence in searching for a doctor who would take me seriously) finally helped me learn what was at the root of the problem.

Read my story of NFP, endometriosis and subfertility here.


Aptly Titled: Cravings

Over at Reconciled to You, Allison Gingras has started a book discussion on Mary deTurris Poust’s Cravings.

cravingsPoust knew what she was doing when she titled that book. I battle cravings all the time.

Usually I lose.

When I lose, my health suffers and my waistline expands.

When I lose, I feel guilty that I’m not displaying the kind of self-discipline my diabetic child has to employ every minute of every day.

When I feel guilty, I self-medicate by giving in to more of the same cravings that I’m already feeling bad about giving in to.

This book is about health, and mental health, and spiritual health, because those all go hand in hand. I’m still resisting the suggestion that I keep a food journal, because I know what embarrassment would result if I do–even if no one sees it but me. But the author of this book has my number, and I need to find other ways of dealing with my feelings–ways that don’t involve feeding them chocolate.

I didn’t gain this weight overnight, but right now I think I weigh more than I did just before TheKid was born. I know it will take me time to lose it, and I’m going to go for manageable chunks here. I’m hoping I can drop 15 pounds by my birthday in late July. It’s a significant birthday, so it would be great to celebrate it a little lighter and a little healthier and with a better relationship to cookies, gelato and Milky Ways.

Join the discussion at Reconciled to You.

Please note that this post contains an affiliate link to the book. If you purchase it using my link, it helps defray my web-hosting expenses. Thanks!

Sick Day

Clearly I have pushed too hard in the past couple of weeks.

I had bronchitis over Thanksgiving, which stopped being bronchitis (I thought) after I finished the Z-pack; it turned into asthma that I couldn’t shake. My inhalers did nothing. I could sing–sometimes–but couldn’t sustain a note or phrase; I just haven’t had the air to do it.

Yesterday after school I felt so awful. So, so awful. But it was show night for the Christmas pageant and I had to babysit my homeroom before the show, release them to their parents after the show, and be there during the show to try to keep the kids on tempo during their songs. And being a substitute teacher, I wasn’t sure how I could go about missing this. So I dosed up on Advil and Dayquil, had a bowl of egg drop soup, went to school and got through the show.

Which went fantastically well, by the way. I didn’t have a huge part in this (other teachers did so much more) but I am so proud of how well the kids performed. And they couldn’t have looked sweeter in their tinsel halos and burlap shepherds’ tunics.

I brought all kinds of things that would be needed for today, including sub plans, and left them on the desk.

After the show I came home and texted the two teachers whose cell-phone numbers I have so I could find out how I could go about missing school today. (Again–this is the kind of thing substitutes just don’t know–because how often would you need it?) I reached the principal, who told me which other subs I should call, and I secured a sub for the day.

This morning I spent 2 hours at urgent care, tweeting to pass the wait time.

urgent care tweets

They gave me a nebulizer treatment right there to see how I would respond. It did help, so they prescribed that AND oral steroids AND more antibiotics and sent me on my way.

I came home and rested after all that, and Middle Sister picked up all my medicine PLUS two caffeinated Boost slushies (if you’re not local, it’s like uncarbonated Coke and it’s amazing in a slushy, but chock-full of sugar and caffeine and all the bad-for-you stuff). For lunch, I had a bowl of dry Cocoa Pebbles, one Boost slushy, two Advil, one Amoxicillin and three steroids. I’m wide awake NOW, let me tell you. I’m kind of afraid to try the nebulizer since that made me a bit jittery all by itself!

The worst part of all this is that I’ll be missing the Festival of Lessons and Carols tonight. I’ve been rehearsing since October for this and hands down it’s the highlight of Christmastime for me, musically speaking. The privilege of participating in this event with the high-caliber musicians and vocalists it attracts is a real gift to me, and it killed me to have to bow out. But I know they’ll do great and, at this point, I’m just hoping I’ll be good to sing on Christmas.


Did you hear that deep, deep sigh yesterday around 11:30 AM Eastern? That was me and TheDad after we met with the very personable surgeon at the cancer center. Under the circumstances, we got the best possible news.

The tumor (what’s left of it) is in a place that is easy to access. It is not in, on or near any organs and it has not spread anywhere. Next Friday he will have it removed in a same-day surgery.

After he recovers from the surgery he will begin radiation treatment. There will not be chemo because chemo doesn’t work on this type of tumor. Beyond that he will just need regular imaging to see if anything has returned but with this type of tumor the chances of it returning are pretty slim.

I am ever grateful for your prayers and support. I feel like the really hard part is over now. We have a game plan, and we have assurance that the tumor is contained.

How’s It Going?

I get asked that a lot.

I look like I’m perfectly fine, except during a hot flash (at least a dozen a day) when I more closely resemble a tomato.

As of last Wednesday, I am allowed behind the wheel.

That’s where the trouble started.

When you tell someone like me that she can get back behind the wheel, she will probably go right back to her old tricks:  6 errands in one morning because 3 of them were “on the way.”

I’m not doing anything I’m not allowed to do, but I seem to be doing too much of the stuff that I am allowed to do.

And therefore, even though I look perfectly fine on the outside, I’m exhausted by this point in the afternoon–even on a day when I don’t do too much.

I think I was better off when I wasn’t allowed to drive, because I was necessarily limited in things I could do by where I could do things.  Clearly I am way too much of a Type A personality to do recuperation well.

TheDad is awfully good about the fact that he called last night at 7:30 and asked me to have the kids turn on the pool filter, waking me up when the phone rang–and then I hung up the phone and completely forgot about the pool.  “You’re still healing,” he reminds me patiently.

I keep forgetting about that until I find myself trying to stay awake at 3 in the afternoon and know that the next 6 hours are going to be a struggle.

Because really, except for the scar, which is always covered by my clothing, I look perfectly fine on the outside.

You know what I’m learning?  You can’t judge someone who is ambling across a parking lot, right in your path.  You can’t assume that because they look perfectly fine on the outside, they’re fine on the inside too.  You can’t assume that walking doesn’t hurt them or that they have the energy to walk faster than that.

I hope I remember that even when I do have the energy to walk faster.

This Time Tomorrow…

I just keep telling myself, “this time tomorrow, it’ll all be over.”

I’m called for 11:00 at the hospital, for a 1:30 surgery time.  It’s clear liquids only, all day today, and nothing after midnight.  Not even water.

My neighbor kindly offered to feed the rest of my family so that I wouldn’t have to cook/clean up/smell/watch them all eat dinner.  I’m sitting here with a mug full of nutritious, yet boring, homemade chicken stock.  Or maybe turkey.  I use those interchangeably.  I have the broth in the mug with the picture of a Hershey Kiss on it, vainly hoping that the placebo effect will kick in and make it taste more like chocolate and less like, well, chicken.

My handy-dandy new pocket rosary will be coming along for the ride and I’m sure it will see plenty of praying action this week.

I’m going to have TheDad update my Facebook and Twitter (@franciscanmom) after surgery, but I probably won’t be back in this space until I have access to a computer or iPad.  That may wait until I’m home.

You all have my deepest gratitude for each and every prayer and word of encouragement that you have already offered.  Please keep on praying!

You’ve Gotta Know the Territory

So I’ve got the marching orders.  I will be marching into the hospital on Monday, April 16 for surgery and will be in the hospital for 3 or 4 days.  After that, there will be recovery at home.

That means people will be “on my turf.”  I’m a very territorial, very independent person.  I don’t like other people cooking in my kitchen and taking care of jobs that are supposed to be mine.  (Heck, I don’t even like people drinking out of my glass.  My husband completely doesn’t get that, but that’s how I am.)

The night after I met with my surgeon, I had all these dreams about people being in my way.  I couldn’t do anything–even go to sleep–without having people in my path.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what that was about.

The territory thing, and the needing-assistance thing, are a much bigger concern to me than the actual medical reasons behind this surgery.  I hate asking anyone for help.  I hate that I will need help (a good bit of it, most likely).  I hate that someone else is going to have to drive the kids, cook the meals, wash the laundry, sweep the floor.  Sometimes my own kids will be helping with some of those jobs.  Some of them will fall to TheDad.  And my mom has already announced that she’ll be here for a week.

The last time she came here to help me after surgery, she scrubbed my floor on her hands and knees.  I hated that.  If she does it again, I will hate it again.  I know that in the scheme of things I am very, very blessed to (a) still have a mom, (b) have a mom healthy enough to help me, (c) have a mom who is currently in her 3rd or 4th retirement (clearly she is Bret Favre’s role model in this regard) so she’s free to come and help me, (d) have a mom who wants to come and help me, and (e) have a dad who’s willing to drive Mom 125 miles each way so she can come and help me.

I’m really not much in the mood, right now, to let perspective get in the way of my pity party.  Except for the cleaning-of-the-house part, I’m going to miss what I do for my family.  I’m going to miss the cooking and the laundry (especially now that I can hang it outside again) and planting my little herb garden since I was partially successful with it last year and even the driving.  I’m going to miss the writing, since I’m taking some time off from my freelance jobs while I recover.  I’m going to miss playing and singing at church, since Easter was the last time I’ll get to do that for a while.

I was reminded today that allowing others to help me opens the door for them to receive grace through their practice of the corporal works of mercy.  I guess, right now, that is as good as it’ll get.

Meanwhile, you are not allowed in my kitchen until after I walk out of here on Monday.  It is my territory, and I will chase you.

A Litany of Gratitude

I’m not going to lie; I’m worried about how my appointment with the surgeon is going to go today. I’ve got a whole bunch of questions to ask.  I wrote them down so I don’t forget.  As long as I remember to bring that paper with me, it’s all good.

The closer I get to my appointment, the more anxious I get.  The more anxious I get, the more prickly I get.  Right now I’m practically a porcupine.  My poor husband gets the worst of it, and the guy really doesn’t need any more stress than he’s already got.  I’m pretty sure they should take his blood pressure at the doctor’s office today.  Today, I am grateful that he puts up with me when I get like this.

Today, I am grateful that he stayed up half the night working so he can leave the office early and come with me to this appointment.  Even though I act like I want to be all independent and everything, he doesn’t take no for an answer when it really counts.

Today, I am grateful for a friend who rearranged the Chess Club Carpool.  It was my turn to drive today, but she’s taking that shift.  This way, Little Brother doesn’t have to miss his favorite after-school activity.

Today, I am grateful for my neighbor who will be home when Little Brother gets here; if we’re not back yet, he can hang out at her house, do his homework and play with her kids until we get home.

Today, I am grateful that my appointment has been moved to 2:00 instead of the original 3:00.  This means we’ll have a better chance of beating rush hour on the way home.  Rush hour in Philly can be a bit terrifying.

Today, I am grateful that Middle Sister will be traveling to a track meet after school, even though she’s recovering from an injury and can’t run yet.  She’s got team spirit and she’s going to be there to encourage her friends.

Today, I am grateful that Little Brother thinks of everything.

Today, I am grateful for a doctor who listens and who takes my concerns and observations seriously enough to send me to a specialist she considers the best in the business.

Today, I am grateful for the prayers of my parents, family members, cousins, and friends near and far.