35 years…and Counting

Thyrold survivor 35 years 2

35 years ago today I opened my eyes from a hospital bed and saw my dad sitting stiffly in a plastic looking, avocado green chair with round wooden arms. His eyes were red and full of tears. I knew without asking but still had to hear it, so I asked, “Was it bad?”

“It wasn’t good, but you will be alright.” Immediately, images of my 5 and 7 year old boys flashed through my head and I began to cry. And that’s when I became a thyroid cancer survivor.

Cancer took something from me that day, but, unbelievably, gave to me as well.

It gave me the strength to leave a one-sided marriage, despite my love of our farm and the desire to keep our so-called family intact. Cancer made me realize that, if I was going to have a short life, those years, and those of my children, should be happy ones. I was eroding from the inside – and not just from hungry, malevolent cancer cells. Of course, divorce is never easy and the aftermath and emotional turmoil for my kids was worse than I could have known. Hindsight is 20-20. Looking back, I would have done things differently, but I would have still left. Otherwise, I would have lost myself, with or without cancer. Cancer gave me the power, the ability, to see what was happening to me. I just wish that somehow, the children could have been unscathed. That is my biggest regret.

Cancer reinforces my optimism for life and gives me the ability to face whatever life brings. It helps put everything into perspective, too. After all, does it really matter if someone doesn’t put their dishes in the dishwasher? Yes, it’s annoying day after day — but, in the giant picture, it’s a pretty small annoyance and not worth getting my panties in a knot.

I became a great-grandmother Feb. 19th. Me. I never thought I’d live to see my children grow up, let alone dance at their weddings…or my granddaughter’s wedding. And now, a great-grandson.

Our family picture from Jan:
IMG_2576

And our newest family member:
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I have been given enormous joy. Countless blessings. More love than I deserve.

I am a cancer survivor. Every moment is a gift.

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My Couch Dweller

I just read a facebook post from an online friend who enjoyed a two mile run with her husband. She quipped that, for him, it was a long run. It was not long for her but she cherished every foot fall because they were together.

Following her post were a number of comments, all saying how great it is when couples run or workout together and how it helps make their relationship stronger.

I read through them all and felt the strong urge to add my perspective as the triathlete wife of a couch dweller.

But, rather than put it directly on her facebook page and reach – oh, I don’t know – the thousands of people who LIKE her page – I came here, to my personal blog, to share it in more detail with you, my nearest and dearest devotees.

In the beginning, when the world was younger and I had no need to look for hair color that ‘covers all the gray and doesn’t fade’ (which is a lie, by the way), I often thought it would be fun to have a husband who shared every interest of mine.

I pictured us laughing our way through everything together. No matter what either of us suggested, the other one would say, “Sure!” and off we would go, under cloudless skies, enjoying whatever we did in perfect harmony with no disagreements of any sort along the way.

Did I hear you snort out loud just now? It’s okay if you did – I totally understand…now.

It’s not that I really thought it would happen that way. It was just, as they say, my inner fantasy. And, from the very start, I never thought it would extend to physical activity.

After all, I married a man who was never interested in physical fitness. I knew that going in. This is the man who joined the health club nearest to our home simply to enjoy the sauna, steam room and hot tub. Seriously. When he went there one day and found all three of those “CLOSED FOR REPAIRS” he marched out of the men’s locker room and asked the buffed young athlete behind the front desk how long they’d be out of commission. When the man told him it would be indefinitely, my husband asked whether or not they planned to issue any refunds for that time. Why would we, the man asked my husband? You didn’t join just to use those, did you? My husband took a step back from the desk. He stood there in all his glory, extending his arms out and down, and said, “Look at me. Take a good look at this body. Do I LOOK like I work out? YES, I joined just to use those.” And, while you are coughing through your laughter, I will add this footnote: he DID get a refund.

I worked with a woman whose husband was/is totally devoted to healthy eating and fitness. We ended up seated across from them at a company Christmas party and the man listened as my husband ordered a medium rare steak and cheesy potatoes and watched him devour a roll slathered in butter. I watched the man’s face and knew he thought he could/should try to enlighten my husband. He was known for trying to change people’s lives and eating habits – and my husband presented him with a great opportunity! Within minutes, it began. He told my husband the benefits of healthier eating and then boldly told him he wouldn’t live a long life if he kept his current eating habits. You want to live longer, right? he asked. “Listen,” my husband answered in between bites. “Living longer doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’. It doesn’t mean you’re going to live more years like you are 20 years old. It probably means you’ll have more years sitting in a wheel chair, drooling on yourself. So, no, I don’t want more of those years. I’ll go out younger, knowing I savored every bite instead of eating tasteless food and sacrificing that for a couple of extra years.”

As you can see, he’s pretty set in his ways and more than willing to be vocal about it.

He’s overweight and knows it. He’d like to lose weight, but also wants to find that magic pill, the magic potion that will make it easy to do that. (Boy, don’t we all?) He’d like to have our doctor “just liposuction it all out of me, ok, doc?” Again, if it were only that easy…

Then there’s me. My fitness and health goals are fueled by self betterment and the need to stay physically active because I know, for myself, how much better I feel and how much I need to be active and healthy to maintain my well-being. That’s me. That’s how I roll. I want to be a great example for my children, grand children and great-grandchildren. I want to be able to do things with them rather than just watch them from the side lines. That’s just me.

Two divergent lines, to be sure.

I do not try to change him. He does not try to change me. I do not push him, although I will always invite him to go with me on a walk, snowshoeing, swimming, whatever. He does not rudely refuse – and, in fact, sometimes he does join me. I cherish those times, but I don’t resent him if he doesn’t go. It’s not his ‘thing’. He doesn’t like it. Why would I try to force him to do something he doesn’t like?

Do I think he’d feel better if he were more active? Absolutely. Do I think he’d lose weight and ultimately have less health issues? Without a doubt.

But I also realize he needs to do what he needs to do because HE wants it, not because someone else tells him he should. It’s like quitting smoking or any other unhealthy habit/lifestyle – a person has to want to change to make that change.

I also have to say that he is, without a doubt, my biggest fan and supporter. He is my sounding board – the person I can go to and express my inner most fears – whether it’s training related, race related, job related or something else in life. He is the one who buoys me, tells me how strong I am, tells me I am an inspiration to him and to our family. He rubs my back at night, lulling me to sleep, telling me he loves me. He kisses me as I head out for training and says, “Have fun!” and smiles at me when I return, always asking how it went. And when I tell him…he listens…really listens.

Can I ask for more than that?

Truth be told, yes, I probably can ask, but it probably won’t change the outcome. So, we move forward. I know I am very, very blessed to have this eclectic soul as my partner through life. My biggest fear is that he will be taken from me too soon. In the meantime, I just love him.

Facing the Demons

Someone asked me if I am flattered now when people “flirt” with me.

It is a good question and one I have always had an answer for.

If you did not find me attractive at 420 pounds then I do not care if you find me attractive now.

Which is why my wife is special to me. – Posted by Tony “The Anti-Jared” Posnanski on his facebook page.

This innocent post made me face something I’ve kept in the back recesses of my mind for a LONG time. To answer simply, I’m not comfortable with people flirting with me. I was one of those people who craved it at one time, in another life, because I was unhappy and felt unloved and unappreciated. The attention I got counteracted those feelings but I didn’t like the person I became as a result. So, I packed on pounds to insulate myself from that woman. Whenever I managed to take off some pounds it was like stripping the peel from an onion. I felt extremely vulnerable. As a result, each time I did it I rebounded back to a weight where I felt ‘safe’. It was a crazy pattern and one I’m not proud of – and it kept my weight yo-yoing for a long time.

Even after I became involved with the man who would become my husband I couldn’t seem to put the past out of my mind. I couldn’t seem to believe him when he told me that he loved me no matter what I looked like. I hadn’t known unconditional love before and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. So, I kept fighting my demons. Battles won; wars lost. Then came the ‘aha’ moment, when I looked at a picture of myself and saw a woman who looked much older than her years…and realized something had to change. As the layers of fat peeled away this last time I found myself facing the demons once again. I’ve changed enough to accept the love I have in my life – and feel comfortable and safe at this weight regardless of what I encounter in the ‘world’. I don’t need flirting to establish my self worth. I have that knowledge and it’s priceless.

If I could give one gift to those fighting demons of self worth and body image, it would be the gift of comfort and peace that comes with self respect and love of self.

Peace. Joy. Love. May you be surrounded by it and believe in yourself.

Before:
2008-02-27 Segina Debbi

Now:
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Newsflash: Fat Lady Is Singing “Auld Lang Syne”

Because we’re human, it seems we can’t cross over into a new year without conducting our own personal assessments of the one just ending. We need to strip off the make up and examine our bare faces (and other body parts – yikes!), complete with all our pock marks, scars and blemishes. We need to ask, Did we accomplish enough? Did we ‘make our mark’? Did we succeed?

So, as the numbers 2 – 0 – 1 – 3 swirl around the bowl one last time before ducking out of sight into the commode of life history, I’ll get mine out of the way now. It’s pretty heady stuff, so prepare to be amazed. Ready? Okay, here it is: We made it.

Deep thoughts, right?
I know!

As I was thoughtfully meandering through the past 11 + months, there were a lot of milestones that flashed up on my mental slide show. Our families and friends shared births, weddings and, sadly, funerals. We marked birthdays and anniversaries and celebrated joys and sorrows of our own and with others. Images cascaded through my mind, each with its own distinct memory. If I hit the mental ‘pause’ button at any given point, I could take a mental time-trip back to their exact moment and re-experience it all – sights, sounds, feelings and even smells. Ah, the wonder of our minds!

Going through it all, there are many, many moments I’d like to re-live and share and also more than a handful that I don’t ever want to go through again (although the life lessons remain). If I could, I’d place my hand against the side of your face and do the Vulcan mind-meld with you. I would watch the expressions on your face in splendid wonder and, at the end, we would both sit back and sigh, exhausted and exhilarated.

And that’s why I boiled it down to those three words.

We made it.

Now, enjoy some of the images from our lives this past year…
2013 year in review 2

Christmas Confession

Confession time. I actually toyed with the idea of not putting up a Christmas tree this year.

Now, as Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story…

We’re not celebrating Christmas with the family until next month because of timing and other families’ celebrations. It just gets to be too hard on the kids and grandkids.

Odds are, we probably won’t see them until then (insert sad face here). Not complaining; just stating fact. And, since we have no parties planned here either, I thought maybe, just maybe, I should not ‘bother’. After all, it will be ‘just the two of us.’ I asked Nick his opinion last weekend and got “it’s up to you,” in response. (sigh). Decorating the tree has always (always) been a special part of our family tradition for the Advent season. I normally am chomping at the bit to put the tree up right after Thanksgiving. After all, it’s time. A happy time. An expectant time: Jesus’ birth is coming. Family will be all around – even if not on Christmas, soon afterwards. All is right with the world. But somehow, this year, the looming, extra-length emptiness has been lingering around my heart and making even the smallest Christmas efforts seem monumental.

I even thought about putting up a smaller, table top tree on our dining room table instead of the big tree. That’s tough for me to admit because it takes me back to the year when my folks quit putting up a full sized, real tree in THEIR house. I can distinctly remember walking into their living room that year and seeing a little tree – it had to be the cut-off top of a tree – perched on their entertainment center. Sharp disappointment hit me – it was the end of an era and I knew it. At that exact moment, somehow, it hit me – the recognition that they had passed a point and would not be returning. I knew that the end (of their lives) was much closer than the beginning (does that make sense?).

While in a store last weekend I stopped in front of their display of various sizes and designs of little pre-lit trees. It made me sad to look at them. I waited to see if anything ‘hit’ me. Nothing did. “Why not just wait and see if you feel like putting up our tree sometime between now and Christmas,” my personal ‘wise man’ said as he stood beside me, looking at my sad boo-boo face. “I don’t think all of these are going to go anywhere.”

So, every night this week, I sat in our living room, looking at the corner where the Christmas tree normally sits by now. The rocking chair there seemed to mock me. Normally, it’s fine. But now, not. Nothing seemed right. Maybe I should decorate the rocker instead, a part of my brain mocked. Oh, shut up, I told myself.

Then, this morning, it hit me full force. WHAM! Tears down my cheeks. The whole she-bang. Listened to Christmas music and cried through every song. Sadness and probably a bit of self pity, but I managed to turn it into joy when I realized the real reason for our Christmas season. How selfish I was being by not wanting to truly celebrate our Savior’s birth!

So, the tree went up tonight. Here it is, in all it’s glory, with our precious Nativity scene underneath it. IMG_2371 (2)

My Thanksgiving Goose

It was going to be a slightly different Thanksgiving meal that year. A family friend had given my mother a goose the week before after she found out that mom would be joining us for dinner. “Make the goose,” she had told my mother, “and you’ll never go back to turkey again for Thanksgiving. It’s that good.”

Mom told me about the gift. “I don’t know how to make a goose,” I said. “Is there a lot to it?” Mom explained that geese are fatty birds and that I’d need to take extra steps to remove the fat before cooking. “Other than that, the goose is all set to go,” she said as she handed me the wrapped bird.

Famous last words.

I opened the package and stared down at the fowl. Hmm. Something just didn’t look right. Reached down and pulled — yep — pinfeathers. WTHeck? I called my mom. “So, this bird…” I began…”this bird from your friend…all packaged and ready to go…did your friend say anything about the fact there were still pin feathers in it?”

“What?” my mom exclaimed. “Well, you can’t cook it like that! Those have to come out first!” I wanted to say, “No sh*t, Sherlock” but bit my tongue. “Yes, I figured that out all by myself,” I answered drolly. “What’s the best way to do that?” (realize that this was before the internet and YouTube)

After listening to her for a few minutes I realized that there really was no good way to do this, especially since the bird had been frozen with the pinfeathers before it got to us. I thought about taking a ham out of the freezer just in case…but pride and determination kicked in. Instead, I started to heat a big pot of water and headed off to find tweezers…

Yes, that’s right. Tweezers.

It was a epic failure. The bird was slippery and I couldn’t get a good hold while trying to pull out the darn feathers. Now, just to be clear, these weren’t the kind of invisible little ones that remind you of little hairs. These were the ones with white feather roots staring at you from their base inside the bird. How this ‘friend’ missed them, I’ll never know. Mr. Magoo, perhaps?

After more than an hour of trying, I gave up. It took ten minutes to get my hands degreased enough to dial my mom again. “This isn’t working. I think I’m going to have to skin the bird. That’s the only way I’ll be sure the feathers are all gone.” She ‘tsked tsked’ appropriately. We commiserated. I hung up and grabbed a knife.

Before I go on, I just want to confess that I always lost at the game “Operation”, even when I played as an adult against my kids. So, from the onset I probably should have known what was coming. But, there was that inherit determination (okay, at this point you can openly call it stubbornness) driving me…and in I went…literally. The bird was so greasy that within minutes my knife, handle and all, was slippery. All my attempts to carve off thin, even slices of skin were in vain. Instead, I gouged and gutted my way through and around the bird.

It was difficult and I was at wit’s end. By the time I finished, I was sweating and in tears and I wasn’t feeling thankful AT ALL. It was 10 p.m. and I’d started this debacle around 4-ish. I was tired and angry and just plan FINISHED. I walked away from the bird thinking, maybe I’ve just looked at it too long…maybe it wasn’t THAT bad…maybe I’m being too hard on myself.

My husband was working 2nd shift and came home a bit later. He walked in the front door with a smile and then saw the bird sitting on the counter. His face told me everything I needed to know – and I burst into tears all over again.

He grabbed me close and held me. “It’s okay,” he said as the saga spilled out of me. “It looks…well…it will be okay. We’ll eat it. It may not look great but I’m sure it will taste just fine.”

Famous last words.

By this time, I had prepared a ham and added that to the day’s bounty. So at least we had backup.

I was cooking the goose in my roaster and the ham in the oven along with the casseroles and other goodies. I was busy. I had put the debacle behind me and was looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner. The table was set. Everything was going pretty well.

And then I took the lid off the roaster.

There, sticking out of the bird, were more pinfeathers. Too many to count! It looked like a gazillion of those turkey thermometer inserts – you know, the ones that pop out to tell you when the turkey is ready to eat – only these were white, wet and yes, somewhat stinky. I don’t know where they came from because I had hacked and carved away all the skin — or so I thought. But, there they were, defiantly staring at me. It was SO BAD. I burst into tears AGAIN – and my husband, mother and kids all came running.

“WOW, Mom, that looks really bad,” said one of my sons.
“It smells bad, too,” said the other one.
“We don’t have to eat that, do we?”
“I vote for ham!”

I was crying pretty hard by that time.

“Honey, I think we’re going to have to pass on the goose this year,” said my husband diplomatically. “Yes, I agree,” my mom chimed in. “The ham smells SO GOOD!”

I had worked so hard — for this?? “Don’t feel bad,” my husband said. “It’s not your fault. And it won’t go to waste. We’ll give it to the dogs – they’ll have their OWN Thanksgiving feast!”

I knew he was trying to buoy my spirits, but I grabbed onto that thought with gusto. At least it wouldn’t be a total failure. The Newfs would love it.

So, after we’d eaten our ham dinner and all the leftovers were all packed and put away, I attacked the bird for the final time to get it ready for the dogs. We made a celebration out of it, with the whole family taking it out to them. The kids told them, “Happy Thanksgiving!” as we gave them their ‘treat’. Bear, our oldest boy dog, smelled the meat, looked up at me and then gingerly picked up a piece and started lumbering to the back of their enclosure. ‘Good,’ I thought, ‘he’s going to settle down and eat it’. Instead I watched him proceed to dig a hole, drop the meat into it and cover it up completely.

Even the dogs knew it was a failure. I started crying again.

There probably aren’t a lot of people who can say they cooked a goose so badly even the dogs wouldn’t eat it…. but I can….

So, if your gravy is lumpy today, take heart — it could be worse… a lot worse.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Recipes and Life

Funny thing about recipes – some people follow them to a tee; others use them as a guideline and still others look them up and go off entirely on their own. Kind of reminds me of life…

Me? Well, I am a blend of the first two. You see, my mom was a good cook but somewhat lacking in the motherhood skills, so I did not know how to cook when I married my first husband. My mother in law at the time, a German farmer’s wife, taught me how to cook and bake. She used basic spices, cooked hearty lunches and dinners that always included desserts and spent many hours in the farm kitchen preparing meals that gave her family plenty of calories to burn for the hours spent outside in all weather. I learned those skills from her but was very young and quite unsure of myself, so I followed recipes diligently and was blissfully unaware of the culinary possibilities that existed outside my realm.

Fast forward to today. Re-married to a guy who grew up with a mother who was an awful cook; a guy who took cooking classes as basic survival skills and expanded that knowledge to every spice and seasoning known to man (or so it seems). He’s a guy who may start off using a recipe as a guideline but will almost always head off on his own, unfettered and unafraid. Because, as he says, if it doesn’t turn out, we can always make something else or go out. Recipes are more of a suggestion to him…again, that mimics life…

Over the years, he’s learned not to stand over me in the kitchen giving hints or trying to gently guide me (gently is the operative term there, as I am sure he thinks of it that way, whereas I feel a freight train pushing and pulling me toward a derailment). Leave me with my recipes and my instincts. I’ve developed into a more creative cook over the years but I still like a good recipe. I may deviate a bit, but when starting out in a new realm, I’ll follow one pretty darn closely to be sure I get the knack of it before invoking the ‘imagination clause’.

Yesterday, I went to my recipe box (I know, I know, pretty much ‘old school, right?) to look for my recipe for piecrust. We had been talking about pie crusts at my cousin’s last weekend during our Lefse Fest and someone asked me to share it with them, as it is extremely flaky and tasty. Now, before we go too far, I have to tell you, I do keep some new recipes on my computer and have entire CDs from Weight Watchers and other sources. So don’t think I am adverse to using technology for collecting my favorites.

But while looking for my piecrust recipe, I pulled out a chocolate crinkles recipe written by my first husband’s grandmother. IMG_2328_edited-1
It was one of the first ones she gave me. It’s written in her distinctive handwriting and I hear her voice as I read her words…she’s been gone many years… I found the rhubarb cake recipe from my ex Mother in Law (she’s now in an assisted living center and no longer cooks or bakes)IMG_2331_edited-1
…a Texas hash recipe from my husband’s Auntie Vi, in her handwritingIMG_2333_edited-1, recipes from my cousins
IMG_2332_edited-1

IMG_2335_edited-1 and sisters in lawIMG_2334_edited-1, another aunt IMG_2329_edited-1 and my own handwritten (well used) ones as wellIMG_2330_edited-1.

I even have all the recipe cards from a friend’s mother who passed. His girls did not want the recipes, so I gladly took them. I cherish them all and think of her whenever I use one of them.

To me, recipe cards are more than just ‘recipes’, although even if that’s all they were, it would be sufficient. Recipe cards are ways to pass down traditions in the very best sense of the word.

And recipes themselves give us whatever we want: they can provide the foundation and framework and building directions for your masterpiece, full sets of blueprints per se, or can be design suggestions for the creative minds.

When I think of my life and how I approach challenges and opportunities, I tend to follow directions – but that doesn’t mean I’m tied to a recipe that doesn’t allow any substitutions. I believe we can’t be paralyzed by the fear of change in our lives or our recipes. So, embrace the mysteries that present themselves to you and use all the spices and seasonings at your fingertips to create your own personal masterpiece…YOU!