Spit and Polish.

My Mom has chickens. And as such, I know way too much about chickens. I know that the rooster shows his love by plucking a ring of feathers off of his favorite hen’s backs while he’s also…on their back. I know that you can buy aprons for favorite hens to protect their poor feathers from being brutally pulled while they are en flagrante. And I know that washing poop off of eggs is the wrong way to go about cleaning eggs – you do not wash poop off of eggs, because that also washes off the bloom which keeps bacteria from entering the porous egg shell – the bloom for which that poor, featherless hen put her life and soul into creating. The way you get rid of chicken poop is by sanding it. You go after those eggs with the same sander that you might use on your kid’s matchbox derby car.

Now let me clarify – if you are the owner of such chickens and well used to chicken poop and the avoiding therefore, you don’t bother sanding it at all – you just artfully crack the eggs, making a seam where there is no poop, and don’t let the inside of the eggs touch the outside. But if you’re giving your eggs to others, who may not be so intimately acquainted of the excrement of egg-laying fowl, you get your sander out and you sand that deuce right off.

(My mom would like me to clarify here that she only sands / gives away the cleanest eggs that have a tiny spot or two. All regularly pooped-upon eggs are used in her own kitchen.)

(And let me add that she makes a seriously fantastic breakfast. Never once has it tasted like crap.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a lot of time at my parent’s house in 2018, hanging out with my Grandmother. My Dad was undergoing a cancer study that required he and mom to stay downtown near UAB for days at a time, and then later in the summer, my parents were in a battle against his failing liver, doing everything and going everywhere they could (including driving to Pennsylvania to see a renowned specialist before they even had an appointment) to try and preserve his life.

Mammaw and I talked about so many things I’ve always wondered – we talked about how she met my Grandfather (who passed away when my mom was 10 years old), we talked about why she never even dated, much less married again in the more than 50 years since then, we discussed her real-life memories of what I was watching on The Crown (my Grandmother and Queen Elizabeth are the same age, so it’s fascinating to hear memories of Queen Elizabeth’s younger days from Mammaw’s point of view), and we talked about the doll that she always wanted for Christmas but never got. (I looked it up on eBay for her – a 1920’s Shirley Temple doll – but I did not, sadly, buy her one for Christmas, as it was $500.)

But Mammaw also napped a lot, and so I found myself wandering around my parent’s house, reading or editing photos or helping the kids with school or staring at the patina of my parent’s lives. And one day, during the especially dark days after my Dad had gotten terrible news and things were looking very bleak and desperate for all of us, I noticed a picturesque sight – a sight that spoke to me at a primal, ridiculous, find-humor-in-the-darkest-days kind of way.

It was this.


chicken sanding IMG_5268

Immediately I pictured it as the front of a poetry book. If I wrote poetry, it would sum up my worldview perfectly: Cynical. Sarcastic. Yet desperately optimistic.

This is my poetry book that will never exist.

sanding chicken IMG_5275

As an added bonus, a friend pointed out that it sings perfectly to the tune of “Standing on the Promises of God.”

Go ahead.

Take a second.

Sing it.

Sing it aloud – it really lifts the spirits.

Don’t forget to go high for the refrain at the end.

So the second half of 2018 was marked by pain I’d never experienced before. My Dad passed away in September. It’s something I still struggle with daily, and I’ve come to recognize my coping mechanisms well: when I feel sad and don’t realize it yet, I love to obsessively online shop for deals. I immerse myself into a book. I crave sugar. I want to watch a mind-numbing television show (preferably British Dramas – we’ve made it through The Crown, Victoria, and are now working through Poldark.) I sometimes do all of these things at once. I’ve tried replacing my shopping with selling now, and have found that it is just as therapeutic to sell things on eBay and Poshmark as it is to buy them, and way more healthy for the budget. I’ve explained to Chris that I’m not exactly selling things to make money – I’m selling things to feel better. How bad can that be?

But I’d like to take a moment, and sand off the free-range chicken shit of the year, and talk about the good things that happened.

…The kids and I started a Hiking Club. It grew to 50 families by the end of the year, and we hosted 174 hikes and covered 657 miles. My kid’s love of the outdoors, along with their endurance, increased dramatically. And, in those hundreds of hours in the woods, we all grew stronger friendships and made new friends.

181106-walking-on-clouds-oak-mountain-IMG_0281 S
181103 oak mountain in the fall IMG_9589 S

…The kids and Chris set state running records for their ages (pro tip: find a running length that doesn’t have a record yet for your age.) In October, we took part in the Endless Mile race with our friends Christen, Luke, and Levi. The race was beyond fun – I highly recommend joining us next year. Chris ran the 48 hour race, and ran a total of 101 miles, snagging the 100 mile record for his age. Ali and Noah, along with Luke, Levi, and Christen, ran the 6 hour race. Ali ran 18 miles – but only 17 counted in her 6 Hour state record because she finished the 18th mile 10 seconds too late. Noah and Levi tied for 6 Hour the state record and ran 14 miles. Luke also got a 6 Hour state record for his age at 17 miles. Christen ran 23 miles. I had signed up for the 6 hour race, but ended up bumping up to the 24 hour race to help Chris finish – I ran for 15 of those hours, and did a total of 42 miles (no records for me, alas – except for a personal distance record which I don’t plan on besting anytime soon.)

endless mile IMG_0885 2

Endless Mile IMG_0947

endless mile IMG_1078

…I found a near-miraculous solution to my back pain and improved my running abilities.

Picture Birmingham grew incredibly, being able to donate three times what I’ve donated every other year. God brought about many fantastic opportunities to design art for corporate spaces and to be able to do much bigger projects with my photography. By the end of the year, over $33,000 total had been donated to The WellHouse, and $14,000 of that happened in 2018.

…I got to spend all of the aforementioned wonderful time with my Grandmother, and was able to get to know her better. And through that opportunity, she blessed me greatly by allowing me a reason to regularly be with my Dad in his final months.

So was 2018 a bad year? Yes. It was a bad year. It was a terrible year. It was a year I never would want to experience again, and still brutally marks my every day. But was it a good year? Yes. It was a great year. It was a year I’ll never forget and a year I’m thankful for.

Because I’m cynical. Sarcastic. Yet desperately optimistic.

Backwards Blessings.

My 92 year old grandmother, my Mother’s mom, moved in with my parents in Mid-April, five months before my dad passed away. I remember the week she moved in – it was an extraordinarily chaotic week for our entire family. Mammaw had had a bad day at her house, which was the impetus for getting her to move in. My sister-in-law’s stepdad passed away the same day. My Dad was in the middle of his first round of Clinical Trials at UAB, requiring him to stay in a hotel downtown three nights every three weeks. My Mom had her Master Gardener’s annual plant sale coming up, for which she was responsible for many preparations. I had a Picture Birmingham pop-up shop at West Elm that weekend. We all pitched in, trying to do what we could…keeping my brother and sister-in-law’s kids so my sister-in-law could be with her mom, helping with Mammaw so that mom could get ready for her plant sale and also accompany dad to the doctor.

Mammaw had moved in because she wasn’t doing well. She couldn’t see or hear very well, and she had an infection that was making her somewhat delirious. She needed a female caretaker at all times, so Mom, Mom’s sister, and I were trading up staying with her. I was super nervous the first time I went to sit with her for five hours. My gifting, unlike my mother, is not care-taking and is definitely not long periods of visiting without doing anything. I am much more like my father – an administrator, someone who needs to be busy when with other people, and a writer instead of a talker. I don’t know what to say in person (if you’ve ever tried to talk in person about something that is vulnerable to me, you are already well aware of this.) But God gave me the idea of reading aloud to Mammaw – I read aloud to my kids all the time, and I had lots of favorite books I could read to her. Plus, the thing that Mammaw missed most due to her declining vision was reading, so it was perfect. I read nearly an entire book to her in the first few weeks, before she broke it to me that she could barely hear me (despite my yelling the pages.) But it helped me get into the groove of sitting with her, and by then I had come to enjoy our time together and had learned to talk better.

But I didn’t realize what a striking blessing Mammaw had specifically been to me until the week before dad passed away. I had been sitting with Mammaw one to three times a week for five months by then. One day I was sitting and talking to Dad after they got back from his last doctor’s appointment. It all of a sudden hit me that I had never, in these last few months of his life, worried that I was not there enough, or that I was there too much. I’d never even wondered if I was bugging them or if I was too distant. I was at my parent’s exactly as often as they wanted and needed me there, and they were thankful that I had been there. Sitting with Mammaw had enabled so many positive things in my life:

– It enabled me to serve my parents in a practical way, rather than feeling useless or wondering how I could help them.

– It enabled me to be present with them on a weekly basis, visiting before and after their appointments.

– Many times just Mom was gone somewhere and Dad was at the house, and Dad would use those days to purposefully invest in my kids while I sat with Mammaw. It was those days that dad taught Noah how to drive the tractor, let both kids drive his truck, and included my kids on making the backsplash tiles for Mom’s kitchen that he was designing out of clay and pressed leaves from their property. Mammaw being there gave my kids more time with their Granddad.

dad and kids

– Mammaw allowed me to never once worry about being there too much or too little or even thinking about those things – and I am prone to worrying, so that in itself is a miracle.

– Serving my parents in that way allowed me to demonstrate to my Dad that I am and will be here for my Mom. I think I have not always been demonstrably servant-hearted to my parents because they’ve always been so very self-sufficient that I didn’t know what could I offer them. Plus, for the last 12 years, I’ve had their grandkids – so most of our interactions have been grandkid-centered. I’d lost the ability to converse / serve / be there for my parents, and I hope that Dad seeing me be there in his last five months assured him that I’d be there for mom after he was gone.

Furthermore, my mom is a caretaker. And Mammaw being there after my Dad’s death is, I think, so very much a blessing to my Mom. She still has her mother, she has someone to care for, she has someone to confide in, and she’s not alone. Mammaw may have wondered at times why she’s still on this earth, why she’s 92 and one of the only ones left of her generation, but I think it’s for my Mom. And, in those last five months, it was also for me.

I was able to tell Mammaw all of this a few weeks after my Dad died, and thank her for what she’d done for me. She cried, I cried, and she said “Thank you, Rachel, for telling me all that. I loved your father so much – he was such a good son-in-law to me and took such good care of me. I’ve felt so bad that I couldn’t do anything for your parents during all of this, and it makes me feel so good that I was able to help after all.”

God’s blessings sometimes come in backwards, unexpected ways. Never underestimate your value to others.

190108 Ali's 12 Birthday IMG_0758 sMammaw, Mom, Ali and I at Ali’s 12th birthday. Mammaw is doing wonderfully well now.

My Experiment With Red Light Therapy.

Two months ago I had chronic and continuous back pain (caused by dozens of recurring muscle knots – I was seeing a Physical Therapist regularly, taking a muscle relaxer at night, 1-2 doses of ibuprofen a day, and having to take 1-2 heating pad breaks every day), sharp hip flexor pain when I tried to run, and an inability to get comfortable while sleeping. 45 days later, I now have zero back pain, I am running with zero pain AND at a pace that is 1 to 2 minutes a mile faster than I have been able to in over three years, and am falling asleep faster and sleeping comfortably.

I know. Sounds like an infomercial. But let’s start by where I’m coming from.

I’m a skeptic. Especially regarding the newest, greatest, fix-everything solutions. They never seem to work on me because placebo effects don’t work on me due to my extreme skepticism. Which sucks, really. I’d love to have some placebo effects.

However, I am an optimistic skeptic.

I’m an early adopter of new things, and get excited about those things, but then I take a deeply analytical and objective view of them, and therefore cannot convince myself  that they’re working. I take good notes, I measure results without emotion, and I usually come up short. So I try all the things, and I keep doing hardly any of the things.

So the fact that I am objectively, absolutely, 100% convinced of the results I have seen in the past month and a half is mind-blowing – especially to me.

After three years of regular physical therapy visits for my back, legs, and other ailments, and a year of my physical therapist repeatedly telling me that he thought I could benefit from Red Light Therapy, I bought a book that put all the scientific studies into plain English, read the book in one night, and ordered a Red Light that same night. Within days, my life was changed. Two weeks later I bought a second Red Light.

Red Light Therapy Grasping Objectivity

(Let me go ahead and say: I have zero stake in red light therapy, nor have I been asked to review it, nor have I been in touch with the company to which I paid full price for both my lights.)

So what the heck is Red Light Therapy and why haven’t you heard of it?

You haven’t heard of it because it only recently became affordable for consumers to own. Each light that I bought was $750 (and you really only need one, but two makes the process quicker.) A couple of years ago, the cheapest Red Light Therapy device we knew of was $100,000. You can see why I waited until now to try it.

Red LightSo. What it is. It sounds really hokey that a light could make you feel better in all the ways, but there is a lot of science behind it (thousands of well-run studies), it’s already FDA approved for many uses (and is used by doctors, health spas, and physical therapists), and they actually know what the red light does – it activates, heals, and energizes mitochondria – i.e. The engine of our cells, so it makes total sense that it could help so many functions in your body.

The basic takeaway is this: we as humans need red and infrared light, and we don’t get enough of it. Because of that, our cells are unnecessarily sluggish, effecting our energy, our moods, our muscle recovery and growth, our sleep, and pretty much our everything. By getting a daily or every other day dose of red light, we can have more energy, less pain, and better functioning muscles. Because I was having such extreme and chronic muscle pain, I can absolutely attest to its effectiveness.

I started using the light on December 1, which consists of laying in front of my light (about 6 inches away from it) and rotating angles every 3-5 minutes to let it light every surface of my skin. I have taken 13 pages of notes, documenting daily how I feel in every facet, what time I used the light, how I felt afterward, how I slept, how I ran, and everything else I could think to document. Here is a summary of those notes:

– On the third day of use, my back pain went away. Completely. I discontinued taking ibuprofen and muscle relaxers, and didn’t need my heating pad anymore (though I held onto its use for a few more days because it had become an expected comfort in my life.) Before that, I had not had a back-pain-free day in months.

– Toward the end of the first week, I began to find myself wanting to run longer. I went from having intense hip flexor pain after running 3 miles to running 8 miles with no pain.

– I also noticed at the end of that first week that a pain I’ve had continuously since I started running – sharp knee pain upon walking downstairs the day of and the day after a run – was completely gone. I could walk downstairs with no pain and without leaning on the handrail.

– I found myself falling asleep immediately – something I do not do. I’m normally a 30-minutes-of-wind-down person, all while resenting my immediately-asleep husband. But I was now actually sleepy at bedtime and would feel myself immediately drifting off. It was shocking and magical the first few times it happened.

– Using the light gives me an immediate energy boost. I can wake up sluggish and with burning eyes, then feel energetic and have no eye burn after using the light.

– One of the FDA approved uses is to get rid of cellulite. Three weeks after using the light daily, I went into our bathroom with the most unflattering lighting and did a search for my always-plenteous thigh cellulite. It was gone.

– Starting in the third week, my legs all of a sudden felt bionic when I ran. They had no pain, no muscle burn or soreness, and felt significantly faster and more able. I could run up hills, without breaking pace, that I’d always walked up before. My legs felt like they were putting out no effort. It was spectacular. From there, my speed began ramping up to levels that I literally could not make my legs move before I started using the light. I remember last summer feeling like I was flying one day, and then being discouraged when my pace, still fast for me, was 10:30. I am now running sub-10 miles every time I run – up to 6 sub-10 miles in a row – and have nearly run a flat 9 minute mile (9:08. So close.) For me, this is huge. After my wreck in 2015, I became a much slower runner and have hung out in 11-12 minute miles since then. So to be running 9-9:30 is a huge gain for me – one that is clearly a result of the red light.

Here’s my six mile run from this past weekend next to my fastest run in November, which was the month before I started using the light:

Red Light Therapy Running Pace Comparison
– I also used to get injured when I would run faster than 10 minute miles – I would have knee or ankle pain for several days after going “too fast.” Last January I even resolved to run less in 2018 and hike more so that my knees could be more healthy. Despite the fact that I’m running faster than I have in over three years, I am experiencing no aches and pains from my running, during or after the runs.

– After three weeks, some of my back pain returned. It wasn’t as bad as it was before, and was more localized. I was discouraged, because I couldn’t figure out why it would show back up, but then I was able to pinpoint where it was coming from: our old and unsupportive mattress. The light had stripped away all of my other muscle pain to make it obvious that the one thing I couldn’t red light away – my mattress – was still hurting me. We bought a new mattress and now I am back to zero back pain, all the time.

There are many, many other FDA approved and researched uses for the lights. Although my lack of pain has been miraculous, the thing that got me most excited about the light’s potential are the documented cognitive improvements it can make over time. It’s supposed to make your brain work better, which y’all know I need. If a light could make me able to write again, I would be ever so thankful. That’s still out on trial, but hey – I am writing this, so it’s a start.

So if you’re interested in trying Red Light Therapy, here are my tips:

1. Read this book first. It has so much valuable information in it, and is an easy read that is objective and informative.
Red Light Therapy Book

2. BUY CAREFULLY. Most Red Light products (there are a ton on Amazon) are not powerful enough to work. The studies have been able to pinpoint what wavelengths and outputs are helpful, and it’s a pretty specific science. The book explains all of this and has several brands they recommend. The two I got are PlatinumLED Therapy Light’s BIO-600, Combo Red light.

3. Make it a part of your daily routine. I think the dramatic effects I’ve experienced are because I have used it every single day – and sometimes twice a day.

4. Take notes. Find what time works best for you. I found that too close to bedtime kept me awake, but about 4 hours before bedtime put me to sleep. However, in general I tend to use it earlier in the day for the energy boost. And I can also tell a huge difference in runs after I’ve used the light for the day versus runs before lighting.

 

So clearly, I’m a believer. I will continue to take notes and use the light daily, and will update its results in the future. Feel free to ask me any questions!