On Running To and From Dismal.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the strong urge to leave town. It had been a rough summer, and it was the week before the first anniversary of my Dad’s death, and all the blech and sadness and ick was making me quite dismal. I haven’t felt like writing, photographing, staging roadkill, or even running – and it’s not good when I don’t have something I feel like doing.

I don’t like to be dismal. I cannot sit in dismalness. I have to escape dismal.

Chris’ work schedule has been hectic for a few months, so I knew he couldn’t join me in this particular juncture for my need of escapism, but he’s always supportive of me, or me and the kids, taking adventures. We had just started school, so I couldn’t leave my students behind. And I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to do escapism with one-on-two-parenting. So I needed a Daddy Fill-In. My friend Kelly is always up for adventure (she has been fully auditioned, audited, and approved as one of the World’s Best Last Minute Adventure Friends), so even though she was literally in the airport returning from being gone for a week, I texted her and told her I needed to escape and could she please come along as my second adult, and without hesitation she agreed.

Hence why she is the WBLMAF.

I keep a list of places in Alabama that I want to visit when I have the chance, so I perused the list and chose one.

Ironically.

I swear I didn’t even think about the name of the place in regards to what I was escaping until I sat down to write this blog post…

I chose Dismals Canyon.

…Because I guess my subconscious thought there’s nowhere like Dismals Canyon to get away from some serious dismalness.

I didn’t really know much about Dismals Canyon, except that they had really cool moss-covered rock walls and some sort of glowing worm that is very rare and only in a couple places on earth.

They have two cabins for rent, but the park is only open on the weekends. I got kind of confused, so I called to get clarification: if you’re staying at the cabins, you have full access to the canyon, even though the park is closed – and no one was renting the other cabin, so we would have the entire park to ourselves if we came.

That sounded like what I was looking for.

So I rented the cabin for two nights, and told them I might like it for a third but I didn’t know yet. We packed our schoolbooks, our food, our Kelly, and headed for northwest Alabama.

It was quite in the middle of nowhere, and we’d already been told that there was no cell phone service (except for one spot with one bar of coverage in the parking lot that’s about two-tenths of a mile uphill from the cabins), so I wasn’t sure exactly how it would *feel* to be completely alone at this place.

When we arrived, we quickly discovered that we’d be…quite safe.

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We were considerably sure that when we were granted entrance, we would definitely be entering Hogwarts or Narnia or maybe The Gate of Mordor.

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We met the worker who let us in at 4pm, check-in time. She explained to us that we couldn’t go into the canyon that day – we’d have to wait until tomorrow.

“But why? I made sure that we had access to the canyon and trails if we stayed in the cabin…”

“Well yes, but the Canyon is a two hour hike and we don’t let anyone down after 4pm because it gets dark down there early and we don’t want you to get lost or not be able to get out of the canyon before nightfall.”

Okay…

Instead, we explored the creek that was below our cabin, which we presumed led to the canyon but we didn’t dare go that far to find out. Though Kelly and I are rule-breakers at heart (Although Ali and Noah are decidedly rule-loyalists to their core), but we didn’t want to get kicked out the first day there. And anyway, the creek had an eeriness all on its own…we could imagine that we were already on our grand adventure.

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Meanwhile, Noah discovered a giant fluffy friendly cat. He came running and squealing “Mom!! This place is the BEST EVER!!! It COMES with PETS!!!”

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He named her Dismal Cat and was completely in love. She was on the other cabin’s porch, however, and he really wanted her on our porch.

So I said, “Well, pick her up and take her over to our cabin, then.”

His eyes got wide. “I can PICK HER UP??”

Poor kid hasn’t had enough experience with pets.

But pick her up he did, despite her significant girth.

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She was quite content to go limp in his arms and let him tote her around like a reusable grocery bag (filled with bricks) to wherever his heart desired.

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Dismal Cat, whom we later learned was named Tick (to go along with the other cat, named Flea,) was absolutely Noah’s favorite part of the trip. And I think he was her favorite, too, for the first 24 hours. Then she might have needed more alone time.

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The next morning bright and early, we set off on our two hour hike of the Canyon. We were ready to get our adventure on.

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The day before. as part of their on-trip school assignments, I made the kids study the map and read all the history about each area, so they were ready to see this stuff in person.

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Noah was most thrilled about an area not on the map, for obvious reasons.

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Alas, no snakes were seen. But plenty of gorgeous Leopard Frogs were annoyed at our mid-week disturbance of their quiet time. You could nearly hear the intonation in their croaks… “Ugh. There are CABIN RENTERS this week, Karen.”

The Canyon floor was pretty spectacular. There were multiple extremely tight squeezes,

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Leaning walls looking ready to attack,

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Upper and Lower paths,

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Delightful bridges into dark caverns,

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Waterfalls,

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And some really fun historical spots (did you know that Aaron Burr, a sitting Vice President, was caught in Alabama after he became a fugitive for killing Alexander Hamilton in their duel? Although they later discovered this wasn’t actually his hideout, but another criminal with a similar name, my kids, who have recently fallen in love with the soundtrack to Hamilton, were pretty excited to hide out in Burr’s Hideout anyway.)

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There were, of course, plenty of the promised paths through green mossy rocks.

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We did indeed take two hours on our first canyon visit, but that included a lot of stops, significant exploration, the checking out of every meandering path, and in general taking our time in this glorious natural wonder.

After we got back out of the canyon, Ali, Kelly, and I put on our swimsuits to check out the swimming hole at the top of the waterfall. Despite the temperature being the mid-90s, the swimming hole was extraordinarily cold (I believe it is spring-fed), yet quite refreshing. I definitely screamed when I finally got the courage to jump all the way in.

Noah, not one to be pushed into anything by anyone, was sitting onshore watching. I never even asked him if he wanted to swim because he’s Noah and if was going to, he was going to have to be the decider, not me.

Shockingly, he decided he did indeed want to swim, so he walked all the way back to the cabin, put on his swimsuit, and came back.

His high-pitched never-ending squeal when the water hit the midsection of his shorts was a high point of the trip.

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He was so “touched” by the frigidity that his sister got her first brotherly hug in at least a year – all in an attempt to steal a degree or two of her heat.

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But he braved up and swam across the swimming hole to the diving platform, where he was happy to grumpily watch his sister jump in with all the glee that her heart could conjure.

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After cooling down in the icy water, Kelly and I were discussing our puzzlement over the supposed perilousness of the two hour hike of the canyon floor and its strict closing time. The path was very clearly marked, never difficult (other than some tight squeezes), and seemed less than a mile and a half.

So because we’re cynical rebels, we decided that we needed to know how quickly we could run the entire canyon. So we put on our trail shoes and took off – still in our wet swimsuits – with a stopwatch timing us from the top of the stairs.

Fourteen minutes and fifteen seconds later, we were back.

We could not have been more victorious and prideful in our achievements. We were CERTAIN we’d just set a new Canyon Record. The kids were pretty impressed, too. So impressed that when the store clerk came by to do some paperwork and Noah begged her to let him in the gift shop because he was just DYING to spend some money, he bragged to her about our record-setting canyon time.

Oops.

For that confidentiality overstep (and actually because I value the safety of our family), I did not let Noah buy the Cobra-headed walking stick that’s actually a sword in disguise that he really really wanted.

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At 0ur times in the cabin, we dug out a 500 piece puzzle from the games shelf and set to work.

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I found the escape from my phone and the ability to delve into things like puzzles without beeps or nudges (or internal nudges) to check the outside world was FABULOUS. I mean, we finished a 500 piece puzzle in two days (except for the ONE PIECE THAT WAS MISSING and the one piece that appeared to be chewed up by a former house guest.) I began pondering strategies for taking more breaks from the digital world that so easily fills all the cracks of my life.

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We did do the night tour of the Dismalites, as the glow worms are called, and it was uniquely interesting. The Dismalites, though neat to see, were not bright enough for photography. I was loaded down with camera equipment and UV flashlights and regular flashlights, but ended up not taking any pictures except for this glowing Scorpion (did you know that scorpions glow under UV light? I’m constantly shocked at how many there are in Alabama, yet I’ve never seen a single one without my UV flashlight.)

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The kids both wanted to stay, and we were all having a wonderful escape from reality, so I booked the extra night. Seeing as how we had the entire place to ourselves, it was no problem at all.

A small storm came the next day, which did have the effect of ramping up the waterfalls to the canyon nicely.

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We enjoyed several more adventures down into the canyon, exploring all the quirky walkways and bridges.

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And Kelly and I made sure that we gave the canyon a full introduction to trail runners, which we were pretty sure was its first.

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None of us were ready to leave when the time came, which left us feeling rather, well, dismal.

Because you can only run from dismal to Dismal for so long.

On The Consideration of Being a Pet Owner.

You know how kids go through that stubborn phase where they will absolutely not try anything you want them to, for no other reason than because you want them to?

“Seriously, son. You will LOVE this dessert, made with all the things you love – chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers, and more chocolate.”

“NO. I WILL NOT TRY IT.”

Whatever kid. I’m not going to shove sugar down your throat. 

And then, a month later, completely out of the blue and in no way related to any recent opportunities, the kid says “You know what I’d really love right now? A s’more. Mom when can we get s’mores? Can we have a s’more now? Hey do you think you could go to the store and get the ingredients for s’mores? I’m super craving a s’more.”

And you’re all like WHAT THE WHAT YOU ILLOGICAL BEING I TRIED TO OFFER YOU ONE OF THOSE A MONTH AGO AND YOU ACTED LIKE I WAS GIVING YOU MONKEY BRAINS SERVED ON AN ARMADILLO HALF SHELL.

That’s exactly how it went down with Noah, and I, and snakes.

I guess most of you don’t revere snakes on the level with s’mores, but we all know that I do. I’ve long held a great fascination and bordering-on-obsession with the species. And last year, we found snakes on almost every hike we went on – it was The Year of The Snake. Multiple times I was able to identify the snakes with 100% certainty so that I could pick them up and hold them, and I let the other children we hiked with hold them as well, and in some cases experience the delight of allowing said snake to wrap around their arm (all while I kept tight hold on the head.)

But my kids? No way. They wanted to have nothing to do with it. They didn’t scream and run away but they were NOT going to be touching, observing closely, or  experiencing a snake’s immensely cuddly qualities.

Fast forward a year. We haven’t seen hardly any snakes on hikes. And so it makes perfect sense that this year, Noah would decide, entirely unprovoked and without any experience whatsoever, that he
a.) Loved snakes,
b.) Desperately wanted to hold a snake (and regularly got irritable when I couldn’t locate said snake on a hike,) and
c.) Wanted his very own pet snake. AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

WHAT. THE. WHAT.

Why do children have to be so freaking weird.

But because of my own personal love for snakes, my enthusiasm over having someone to share my feelings with trumped my frustration and his craptasmic timing.

So we began by visiting our local quirky pet shop that specializes in reptiles, the only place in Birmingham where you can walk in without an appointment or a plan and end up with a large snake wrapped around your neck in ten minute’s time.

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When we arrived, the rickety screen door was open, and sitting a foot from the entryway was a teenage girl with a very obese skink on her shoulder. A giant tortoise was free-roaming one room over – the room that held the collectible toys. Yes, this was where we wanted to be.

We were there for an hour. In that hour, Noah held four different snakes, was fully educated on all sorts of things about pet snakes and snakes in the wild, and fell head over heels. As I watched his eyes, I saw them gain an amount of LoveLight that I’d never witnessed before in my son.

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A week later, after Noah having talked about his experience incessantly for said week, we took Chris back with us. This was the kind of decision that needed to be Father-Approved WAY in advance. Because I love snakes. Noah loves snakes. Ali likes snakes enough to say that she’s fine with Noah having one as a pet as long as it doesn’t keep her friends from wanting to come over. But what about Chris? He’s never really been on the snakey bandwagon. One could only hope that our obsession somehow softened the scaly blow for him.

We started out by asking to see The Big Snake – we’d heard of it on our last visit, but his cage was being cleaned on our last visit, so we couldn’t lay eyes on him.

As an aside, my own obsession with snakes started 21 years ago with a massive snake – a snake as big around as a large child. I met this snake when I was in Cyprus. He was in a rickety cage with a screen door latch and a crack in the opening. The whole thing looked like he could huff and puff and blow it right over any old time he wanted to. The thrill of seeing such a magnificent, gigantic creature so close to me and so able to squeeze me to death was oddly addictive. Perhaps I’m a Reptile-Specific Adrenaline Junkie.

So walking into a closet in Birmingham with no lightbulb (“The snake got in a fit and knocked the lights out the other day”) to see a snake the width of a telephone pole was right up my alley. We turned on our cell phone flashlights to see the cage at the back of the closet – or rather, the cage that was the entire back wall of the closet. Sure enough, he was delightfully huge. When inquired as to what he ate, they said “Oh, you know. Rabbits or Gerbils.”

…which explained the small furry animal section in the back of the pet shop. What a brilliant recycling program.

Then we went to the baby Ball Pythons, which is the kind that Noah wants. The employee handing him to Noah said that this particular snake was the only one that hadn’t eaten that day, so don’t worry if he was a little nippy.

(Noah: “I wanna be bitten by a snake!!”)

(Seriously. What happened to my son.)

As we held him, I inquired as to how many snakes the salesman personally owned.

“Oh I have 53 in my bedroom alone.”

“Umm…exactly why does one need 53 snakes in ones bedroom??”

“Because I’m working up to having 3,000. Because then I’ll have enough to breed them and make $150,000-200,000 a year. That’s what I’m going to do when I retire from here.”

I was then distracted entirely by the practicalities and the math involved here…

3,000 snakes means 3,000 mice a week. Except that he told Noah when you’re raising breeding snakes, you feed them every 5 days. So that’s 3,000 mice every five days. How do you keep up with who has had their mouse? Don’t you spend all day every day putting mice in tanks? And how do you possibly get that many mice? Is there a bulk mouse superstore somewhere that I don’t know about? Does CostCo have a Mouse Room in the back? Or is a mouse delivery service? Can you get 3,000 mice via Prime Shipping? That would be a fun overturned truck to see.

Now.

As for the explanation as to why one would do so well breeding Ball Pythons….

Ball Pythons are really popular right now – the most popular pet snake. They’re docile, they’re easy, they don’t grow too big (2-5 feet at full size), and breeders are creating some really wild and wacky colored and patterned Ball Pythons by breeding them with albinos and playing with genetic mutations. While a plain old Ball Python can be $50, a Morph can be $6,000 or more.

If you want to see all these bizarre creatures (there are ones that look like rotten bananas, ones that look like orange sherbet, ones that look like calico cats…), I recommend browsing the Morph Market. Careful – it might take the rest of your evening. They are FASCINATING. (At least to me.)

The thing is, though, I just have a bad feeling about the market for Ball Python morphs. What if it tanks like the Beanie Baby market? What do you do with 3,000 Ball Pythons in your bedroom alone at that point? I mean sure, it really makes for an interesting bullet point on your online dating profile, but…

Back to The Pet Shop.

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We moved on to a “teenage” Ball Python, to experience how they feel once they’re nearly full-size. This was the one I insisted Chris get his feet wet with. And I don’t mean by peeing on them in complete fear, but he might have come close.

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Actually he handled it all very well and said he was open with having such a creature live in our house.

Finally, Noah really wanted to hold the larger Python he’d held last time – one that gets bigger than his Ball Python ever would. 

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The first thing the snake did was wrap around Noah’s neck and give it a little love squeeze. Noah’s reaction – one of a calm statement – “Ouch. He’s squeezing my neck.” and quiet “yeah.” when I asked if he wanted him moved – sealed the deal for me. This kid was ready for ownership.

He doesn’t have one yet – we’re making him wait until a little closer to his birthday to make sure the obsession sticks. But we’ve pretty much decided. Even though we’re a staunch no-pet family, snakes are easier than fish. You only have to feed them once a week (which we’ve practice with Not-Crazy-Renee’s snake), and if you leave home for vacation, you just leave them and they’re perfectly happy to be left alone to digest last week’s mouse. They don’t shed (except for their skin, that is), they don’t pee on furniture, you don’t have to let them outside, and they cuddle really well.

But for now, it seems like True Love.


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Ali just needs reassurance that it won’t keep her friends away.

Red Light Therapy: Insights and Updates After Nine Months of Daily Use.

RED LIGHT THERAPY Follow Up

I have now been using my Red Light Therapy panels for nine months, so I wanted to share an update, answer some of the questions I’ve received, and share some stories from friends. Because I’ve gotten so many questions about my lights and how they’ve been performing long term, this post is going to be a little long, but I’ll break it up into sections based on the questions I regularly receive to make it less painful and easy to skip around.

What are you talking about, Rachel? I have no idea what Red Light Therapy Is.

 

The quick version: Red Light Therapy consists of using specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared light to heal your body. There have been many clinical studies proving their effectiveness at healing and strengthening the body at a cellular level (they have been shown to stimulate mitochondria), and they have been used in many types of medical clinics for quite a while. They have just now become affordable for individuals to own, and I believe in a few years they will be a typical component of households. For me, they replaced daily muscle relaxers, pain medicine, ibuprofen, heating pads, and twice weekly physical therapy within days.

To get the detailed version of my story (and believe me, I was skeptical), click here. I know it sounds weird and hokey, but it is by far the most objectively measurable health improvement I have ever experienced.

I bought my lights originally to help with recurrent and long term back and shoulder pain (after my physical therapist had been urging me to look into it for a year or more), and I experienced immediate relief to that pain within days. Within a month, I noticed that it didn’t hurt to run anymore, and I was able to run significantly faster.

For an expert’s explanation on how they work and what all they can help, read this – it was written by the same author whose book I bought and read before investing in my own lights.

Okay, so they took away your pain. Are you still using them? If so, why? What other changes have you noticed?

 

I am still using my lights on a daily basis. I have had to go without them a couple of times while traveling, and though I missed them, I didn’t experience an immediate back-sliding into symptoms. I did have an uptick in back and shoulder stiffness when I was in Macedonia for ten days, but it was manageable and quickly righted back to zero pain when I got back home to my red lights.

Besides the fact that the lights are relaxing and calming, they keep my back from becoming inflamed again. Also, now that I’ve been using the lights for nine months, I have noticed some more long-term benefits:

Objective Benefits:

– I had deep neck injuries from my car wreck in 2015. Although it didn’t hurt during the day, I hadn’t been able to comfortably sleep on my stomach or side since the wreck. (I was always a stomach sleeper before the wreck, but couldn’t even lay comfortably on my stomach for a minute after the wreck. I know, I know – stomach sleeping isn’t good for you anyway – but it makes me delightfully sleepy.) This May, five months into my light usage, I realized that I was sleeping on my stomach and side again, and my neck wasn’t hurting. I suspect that my neck problems were such deep injuries that it took longer for the light to heal them. But the red light certainly did heal them, as the pain had been present for over three years and I haven’t changed anything else that could have instigated the healing.

– My running is still showing improvement. I ran my fastest 5K this year. I ran it in 27:37, which is a pace of 8:55. Before using the red light and after the wreck (which slowed me down tremendously), I felt like I was doing good to be in an 11 minute pace. I also ran the Lake Martin 27.1 Ultra Trail Marathon this year, and my total time was 1 hour and 19 minutes faster than when I did the same race last year.

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– My ability to run without injury has been exceptional. Before getting my red light, I had never run a race that was 13 miles or longer without ending up with an injury of some sort that required me to go to physical therapy for a few weeks. (My body likes to break. Often.) Since I’ve been using the red light, I’ve run a half marathon and an ultra marathon without having any hint of injury. I have not been back to my Physical Therapist a single time since I got my red lights on December 1st. I have not gone this long without some sort of PT in five years.

– I’m still sleeping well and quickly. I haven’t had any periods of insomnia since I started using my lights.

– I have significantly less overall soreness after running.

– Chris and Ali also used my red lights before and after Lake Martin (Ali, my 12 year old, ran the 27.1 mile race with me, and Chris, my husband, ran the 100 mile race.) Both of them had significantly shortened recovery time. Ali woke up the next morning and said “Welp, my legs are healed!!” Chris bounced back from his epic adventure in just a few days. 

Subjective Benefits:

– Red Lights are supposed to help reverse some skin aging, wrinkles, and discoloration. I didn’t notice any results in my first couple of months. However, I do think I have less wrinkles around my eyes and mouth now. The results aren’t spectacular and I didn’t take before and after pictures, though, so I cannot say for sure. 

– I definitely have significantly less cellulite. Again, no before and after pictures. Nobody wants to see my thighs like that.

No Results:

– The Red Light Therapy has not helped with my tinnitus (ear ringing), though there weren’t any studies that showed it would. I was so hopeful, though.

– I still haven’t seen a significant change in my cognitive functions that were decimated by my dysautonomia. I’m holding out hope that I just have a thick skull and it’s going to take a little longer to repair my brain.

Sure, they worked for you. But has anyone else used these lights with success?

 

I have had eight other people come to my house to use my “spa”, and most of them have subsequently bought their own lights because they found it helpful and wanted daily access. Here are a couple of their stories:

Kris:

It’s a gross understatement to say I’ve tried everything in the last 20 years to alleviate the horrible joint and muscle pain, exhaustion and fog from Fibromyalgia. I was often bed-ridden and when I could walk it was with a painful limp. Becoming sugar, gluten and dairy free has helped immensely but this red light of mine has taken away ALL of the residual joint and muscle pain. It’s just incredible!

And even more miraculous, I just got my bone scan back to find that the osteopenia in my spine is IMPROVING! I HAVE MORE BONE MASS! The only change to my lifestyle has been a daily dose of my glorious red light.

Nikki:

I have chronic lower back pain, ranging from unpleasant to unbearable, and it has been a recurring issue for the past seven years. It very much escalated last year and resulted in numerous MRIs, doctors, chiropractors, and extensive physical therapy. I’m thankful for each of those options, and they all play a role in bringing my back to a better place. Nonetheless, it is a fact that my issues are here to stay, and there isn’t just a “fix” for them. We were, however, able to determine that inflammation is a huge part of my problem. When I have inflammation in my lower back, it greatly exacerbates the issue and leads to nerve pain as the inflammation pushes my spine into a nerve cluster.

Rachel encouraged me to try the red light therapy as a way to possibly combat the inflammation. I began using the light a few times a week at a friend’s house about 8 months ago. Initially, I was uncertain as to whether or not it was working. I wasn’t having any big flares, but I’d had good spells before. How could I know it was the light?

I became convinced when I had to go on an 8 hour road trip and stay in a hotel for three nights then drive back another 8 hours. I hadn’t been able to do more than 2 hours in the car without a flare for years, but I made this trip with nothing more than some minor discomfort in the car. The BIG test came when I decided to go on a trip to Macedonia. I had been convinced for years that an international flight was permanently off the table for me. There was no way I could sit in an airplane that long. To prep, I ramped up to using the red light everyday for a week and a half before the trip. I traveled over 24 hours both coming and going, slept on a not-so-hot mattress for ten nights, and had to ride on the worst van ride ever from the airport a couple of hours away. Afterwards, I was tired and miserable just like my travel companions. JUST LIKE THEM! I wasn’t having searing nerve pain shooting through my back and down my leg. I was just really stiff and tired like a normal person after a whole lot of travel. That’s when I was truly sold.

I saved up and bought my own light, and I use it every day now. It is not a magic cure all. I recently had a car wreck and have been experiencing lower back pain since then. It has not escalated though and is improving much quicker than a flare used to improve. I haven’t had any nerve pain whatsoever. The red light therapy has kept my inflammation at bay.

So, What lights do you have? And where do you buy these things?

 

NOT from Amazon. There are a lot of really cheap options out there that have no therapeutic benefit because they’re the wrong wavelengths.

I read a book (highly recommended) about red light therapy before purchasing any. The book is awesome because it takes the thousands of clinical studies and puts them into plain English. It’s also a great resource to look up specific ailments to see if the light helps them, as well as to help pick out an effective light. The author of the book had tried out dozens of different brands of lights and had tested their wavelength and output. He only recommended three or four brands.

I researched/stalked the brands he mentioned and landed on one company, Platinum LED Therapy Lights. After my extensive stalking, I felt they were the least expensive, most effective, least sketchy company out there (for instance, one of the other companies that was recommended in the book stated on their website that they had a 90 day return period on their lights. But when I read the fine print, it said the return period applied to regularly-priced items only. Yet they only had one product and that product was permanently on sale. Therefore, nothing was *actually* returnable.) I have been extremely impressed with Platinum LED – the lights are very high quality, obviously effective, and their customer service and responsiveness has been really spectacular. For example, one of my friends had a question about how to set the lights up for a clinical setting, and the president of the company gave him his direct number to discuss it and figure it out.

My original light purchases were two of Platinum LED’s BIO-600s, which makes my setup a little more more than body length. A few months after my original blog post, the company found my post, contacted me, and sent me a BIOMAX-900 before it was released to the public to try out and give them feedback. The BIOMAX series has more wavelengths to provide more benefits, and also has a system built in to where you can link the lights together for more seamless operating. The merging of five wavelengths makes the lights able to penetrate farther, including to and through bone (and the skull – so maybe my brain has hope after all.)

The previous line of lights had 660nm and 850nm wavelengths. The BIOMAX lights have those and add 630nm, 810nm, an d 830nm. 630nm is good for the skin layer, including wrinkles, psoriasis, hair regrowth, and acne. 810nm has shown benefits for brain injuries, wound healing, stroke recovery, and improvement in psychiatric conditions. 830nm offers the “feel good” endorphins, improved bone repair, and accelerated healing and reduced infection.

(You can read about the new BIOMAX series’ benefits here in more detail.)

So now I use a combination of one or both of my BIO-600s and the BIOMAX-900.

Having already been using the BIO lights for six months, I could tell an immediate difference to the heat output and penetration of the BIOMAX, and it definitely made me significantly happier feeling the first time I used it. I started noticing the facial wrinkle reductions after I got the BIOMAX, so that could be why that result took so long – I needed that 630nm wavelength. I also like how the red and near infrared lights are spaced in the BIOMAX – it makes a lot more sense and doesn’t give a whole strip of your body just red or near infrared light.

However, the BIO lights dropped in price by $100 after they came out with the BIOMAX lights, so if you’re looking for the least expensive option, the BIO lights are excellent.

The company also gave me a discount code to share on my blog, so the code GraspingLight gets you 5% off any purchase at Platinum LED Therapy Lights.

You don’t need three light panels to get the results I have had, but you want a light big enough so that getting red light to a large part of your body doesn’t take all day. If you want the least expensive but still practical option, I would go with one BIO-600 (make sure you get the dual light option.) If you want the most effective, most wavelengths, quickest option, I would go with either a combination of one BIOMAX-300 and one BIOMAX-600 or one  BIOMAX-900 and one BIOMAX-450.

Platinum LED Light Comparison

Tell me exactly what it looks like to use these red lights of yours. Like, do you lay on them or what??

 

I lay my lights end to end on their side and have a yoga mat next to them. I use an app on my iPhone called “Interval Timer” that will beep at me at the intervals I set up (“every x minutes.”) I lay on my back six inches away from the lights to get my right side lit, on my right side to get my back lit, on my left side to get my front lit, and then flip to the opposite end of my yoga mat (so that my feet are where my head was) and lay on my back again to get my left side lit. I usually give my back an extra rotation when I’m laying the opposite way so that both my shoulders get equal attention. I typically do 6 minute intervals (a total of 30 minutes), but if I’m in a hurry, I’ll do 4 or 5 minute intervals. 

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I read while I’m lighting, or play on my phone. It’s actually a lovely forced break somewhere during my day which I look forward to quite a bit. The light is warm and comforting and definitely makes me feel happier and calmer.

…And, you aren’t supposed to have clothing between you and the lights, so…. Yeah. We also keep Lysol antibacterial wipes next to our yoga mat to complete our spa health regulations.

What time of the day do you lay in front of these magical red lights of yours?

 

Whenever it fits in my schedule. I move my lighting time around quite a bit. I try not to do it right before bed, or if I do, I wear sunglasses or don’t face the light. A couple hours before bed and it makes me sleepy at bedtime. But right before bed it makes me feel awake and alert. Chris uses it every morning before work while he’s drinking his coffee, and he said it helps him start the work day off more calmly and positively.

Also I’ve noticed the best results for my runs is to light about two hours beforehand. It makes me more energized, prevents soreness or achiness while running and after, and makes me run faster. If I have a really long run, I’ll use my lights afterwards as well to speed up healing and prevent any soreness.

Are there any dangers of red light therapy?

 

Not that I can find, nor have I seen any studies that have shown negative side effects. I’ve read a lot of studies, and I’ve read the book that breaks down a lot of the scientific studies into normal language. The only thing I can find is that if you use the light too long, the benefits are negated. One of my friends felt achy and flulike the first couple days after she started using the lights, but that faded, and the lights really helped her quite a bit. I did find that when I went from one light to two lights, I felt kind of achy at first (double the power and all), so I backed my time down. Other than that, I have not experienced any negative side effects.

Is this a sponsored post? What is your relationship with Platinum LED?

 

I bought their lights (at full price) because in my research, they were the most effective, least expensive lights on the market. I have been extremely happy with them.

A few months AFTER writing my original post, Platinum LED contacted me because they’d been getting a number of link-throughs from my post. They offered to send me one of their new lights to try out since I had been so studiously documenting my results and could study the differences objectively. They also gave me the coupon code mentioned above, which does pay me a referral percentage. They did not pay me to write this post, nor did they have any part in the writing of it.

As my regular readers know, I typically do not promote things on my blog – I like my blog to be my personal space, that is only a reflection of my life and the things I love. These lights have been so life changing to me that they absolutely are a huge part of my life – I would never give anything 30 minutes of my day every day if it weren’t life changing. I’ve been thrilled to see how it’s helped my friends and other people who have contacted me from the internet, and I’ve had many people ask for a follow-up post.

All opinions are my own and will always continue to be.

What are some of the other things that the studies have shown that the red light therapy can help?

 

There are quite a number of things I haven’t mentioned yet. Click to this article for a more comprehensive list.  Some of the other things that studies have shown it helps includes:

  • Lose fat (nearly twice as with diet and exercise alone)
  • Rid the body of chronic inflammation
  • Fight the oxidative damage that leads to aging
  • Combat some autoimmune conditions and improve hormonal health
  • Overcome fatigue and improve energy levels
  • Combat other skin conditions like acne, keloids, vitiligo, burns, herpes virus sores, and psoriasis
  • Reduction of cellulite: one study found that when it is combined with massage, it created a 71% reduction in cellulite
  • Enhanced quality of life for fibromyalgia patients, including decreased pain, muscle spasms, and tender points.
  • The most amazing benefits I’ve read about were for for autoimmune hypothyroidism. A randomized, placebo-controlled study in hypothyroid patients demonstrated that in people who got near-infrared light therapy, thyroid function dramatically improved, and thyroid antibody levels were massively reduced. 47% of patients were able to stop medication completely. The researchers also followed up 9 months after treatment and found that they did not have to restart their medication even after ending their red light treatment.
  • Speed up bone healing
  • Decrease anxiety and depression
  • Potentially increase fertility

I know – it sounds way too good to be true. But I have experienced such inexplicably amazing results of my own that I do not doubt the results of these research projects.

How can I try a light out before buying?

 

If you are local and know me IRL, send me an email.

If not, some gyms, physical therapists, aestheticians, and other types of health clinics do have red lights. If your gym has one, it’s worth googling the brand to see if it’s a the right wavelengths or not before wasting your time on it (I’ve heard that some are not.) I bought my lights instead of trying them out elsewhere, fully intending on taking advantage of the return window (60 day window, minus a 20% restocking fee) if it didn’t work for me. I wanted the freedom to try it out in my own home, on my own time, every day to see if it really worked.

What do your neighbors think about the totally sketch “red room” in your house?

 

I haven’t asked them. Sometimes it’s best just to leave things up to the imagination.

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WHY IS THIS POST SO LONG, RACHEL?!!

 

Because I’ve gotten so many questions about these lights, and there is far too little public awareness about them. Forgive me? 

…But let me know if I didn’t address your particular question – I’ll be glad to email you back or answer in the comments!

Let’s Curl Up With A Good Book.

2019 book recs

So I’ve been reading a lot in the past few years. But the last time I told y’all about my favorite books was February of 2018. Since that post, I’ve read 131 books. Ergo, I clearly have a backlog of amazing books (and also a few awful ones. Should I list the books I didn’t enjoy? I feel like I should) to share with you. You can find a list of all the books I’ve read and my ratings over at GoodReads (I think you’ll have to friend request me), but for the sake of this post, I narrowed down my recommendations to my top 12 books (or series) out of the 131. 

But first, the best ones. 

The only book I’ve read twice in less than a year: 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. 

 

I read this book last year on vacation and had to finish it at perilous risk of no sleep (which was followed up by the hotel fire alarm going off twice in the middle of the night, so that was just great) and so, 10 months later, I went back and read it again – slower this time, since the suspense wasn’t killing me. I enjoyed it just as much the second time around. I love a book that is written in a happy tone, regardless of the circumstances going up and down in the book. This book has some darker themes, but the overall feel of the book, from the very first page, puts you in a light, happy mindset. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the storyline, and it gave a thoughtful, original approach to several issues.

The books I had to read because I got into the television series but the books were better:

The Poldark Series.

Have you watched Poldark on Amazon Prime yet? It’s a really fantastic show for those of you who enjoyed Downton Abbey, or who just like a good British drama. It happens right after the US War for Independence and is about a British soldier who comes home, defeated, and trying to put his life back together. But the books are funny and delightful in a way that the show totally misses out on. The show is fantastic too, and I recommend both. I like how authentic the peek at the late 1700s is – it’s not overglamorized or over-makeuped. (Let’s pretend that’s a word.) Caution: the books were written quite a while ago and many of their covers are atrociously ugly. Don’t let them scare you away.

Engrossing, Beautiful Fiction:

The Night Circus.

This book was lovely. It built a world that I could visualize and desperately wanted to enter into. The buildup of the story is slow, but it is created with such purpose and beauty that you don’t want it to be an iota faster. If you want to sink into a lovely fantasy world and just stay there for a while, this is the book for you.

 

 

The Only Non-Fiction, Non-Memoir Book I’ve Finished in a Long Time:

The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith.

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling like you’re going backwards in your faith, or find yourself thinking differently than you used to, or wondering why everyone in their 30s is going through a Mid-Life Belief Crisis, this book is so enlightening. It explains a general framework that we go through during our life as our viewpoints, perspectives, understanding of others, and maturity levels change. I have recommended this book to so many people. It’s crazy expensive, but there are a few used copies floating around.

 


The Book That Got Me Hooked on Memoirs:

The Fox Hunt.

If I were to have to choose one book to command you to READ THIS ONE BOOK ON THIS LIST, The Fox Hunt would be my choice. This was a serendipitous random book buying in the airport before getting on a flight. There were only 10 book choices at the kiosk, I was desperate for a new book, and I picked this one up. It had me riveted the entire flight and I wished my flight had lasted longer because I didn’t want to quit reading for a second. Such a fabulous, beautiful, important story about how a man, who grew up in a country torn apart by religious civil war and completely brainwashed into hating all other religions, was rescued from that war by friends on the internet from three different religions. He captures the essence of respect for other people’s humanity and not “othering” others just because that’s what you’ve been taught. But besides the deeper meaning, the story itself will have you on the edge of your seat.

A Fun, Happy, Quirky, Funny  Read:

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions.

I rarely find fiction funny. But this book was definitely a laugh out loud book. I love the witty, snarky, busybody, indecent character of Auntie Poldi, I adore her determination for solving mysteries for herself, and I can’t wait to read her sequels.

 

 

A Series Worth Delving Into:

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

These books are a delight. The slow, comforting voice they’re written in combined with the exotic setting of Botswana will let you experience a world that you’ve never quite imagined before. They will take you on a calm, relaxed journey through a beautiful country and culture while solving mysteries and learning about life.

 

 

A Book That Reads Like a Tell-All Blog:

Educated.

 This book fascinated and horrified me, but I was also shocked that it was written (and also that she was very brave to write it.) Because as soon as I finished the book, I stalked down all the people in it on Facebook – it took all of five minutes – and matched up their “fake” names with their real names. I felt so creepy (okay I am creepy) as I looked at the real pictures and Facebook statuses of this family that were absolutely bashed in a 20-something year old’s memoir. But wow it was a good book.

 

The Books My Husband Won’t Let Me Tell You About:

Sometimes I read books and tell Chris about them and he’s like “uh yeah don’t blog about that because I don’t want those people coming after you.” (The first one of these commands came after I read a couple insider tell-all books about a certain cult that a certain Top Gun movie star is involved in – those books were craaaazypants.) The two I read this time were so fascinating but also horrifying. They read like post-apocalyptic fiction, and you totally start subconsciously assuming it is fiction, then you remember that it’s real stuff that really happens in this world, in a country that gets mentioned in the news quite a bit. But I guess for a complete list of Banned-To-Blog-About-Books, you’ll have to email me.

A Book That Will Make You Feel All The Things:

All of Me.

This is an autobiography from a woman who has Disassocitive Identity Disorder (formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder.) She has a very severe, “gold standard” case where her personalities never overlap, never have the same memories, never interact with each other. So for 40 years, she lived with life gaps and memory gaps and didn’t understand why she was being blamed for things she didn’t do. It took her doctors years to convince her that she had multiple personalities – and this is just the main personality’s story – the doctors had to convince each personality separately (and some still do not believe that other personalities share a body with them.) Her story is a hard one to read, one that will blow your mind, one that will give you hope for humanity and healing, and one that will make you really mad at parts of humanity. But mainly it will blow you away – especially the second half.

Gossipy, Funny, Lighthearted Trilogy:

Crazy Rich Asians.

First of all: The movie was so dumb. Thank goodness I had read the trilogy before it came out. I made it halfway through the movie and turned it off. But the books were a fun ride through the insanely rich lifestyles of Singapore and China, and the footnotes were the best part.

 

 

You Must Read If You Live In Birmingham:

Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Yeah I should’ve read this years ago but I didn’t. It was such a fun trip into a Birmingham that existed before I was born, and had so much old Birmingham landmarkery and history in it. It was just a fun read (the movie cuts out all of the Birmingham-specific lore.)

(I also enjoyed her book “The Whole Town’s Talking” last year but it confused me because I kept waiting on the plot and there isn’t really one. So go into it more as a winding tale about a town over many generations and it’s quite enjoyable.)

 

A Book I REALLY should have read a long time ago:

Prince Borghese’s Trail.

This book is about the 1996 road rally that spanned 10,000 miles in 45 days, traveling from Beijing to Paris. My dad rebuilt two 1950 Fords for this race and navigated one of them across the most crazy roads in the world. His team came in second place. The lady that wrote the book was a good friend of my dad’s on the race, and he gets referenced and quoted a lot. I read this book in the month following my Dad’s death – it was bittersweet. In one way, it felt like I’d discovered a journal of my dad’s, and it gave me a piece of him that I didn’t have when he was alive. In the other way, I regretted not having read it while he was alive so that I could discuss various aspects of their adventure with him. But at any rate, the book is an interesting chronicle about a bizarrely unique experience. The first couple chapters have way too much technical “car talk” in them, but once they head across the world, it gets really fantastic.

Books I didn’t enjoy:

The Great Alone. I really thought I would love this since it had rave reviews and I enjoyed The Nightingale. But I did not. It was one tragedy after another and so much sad. Blech.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Holy Crap this book was depressing. But what really bugged me about it was its complete lack of realism. The kid was old enough to understand things. It’s like he originally wrote a book about a three year old but then the publisher said the kid should be nine, and he made him nine without making any changes to his level of intellect or understanding. 

Dead End in Norvelt. It always makes me sad when I don’t like Newbery books. This was one of them.

The Wangs Vs. The World. Hands down the worst book I’ve ever made myself finish. The kind that makes you mad at yourself that you finished it.

Raymie Nightengale. Weird, depressing, and fell flat.

The Selection Series: The first book was excellent. The second and third books went downhill fast. It’s YA, but got way too graphic in book three, which made me super irritated. 

Books I Couldn’t Finish:

I have never allowed myself to not finish fiction books (yet somehow I’m allowed to not finish non-fiction books), but I had two last year – both, interestingly, were heavily pushed to me by Amazon. So I’ve decided to not believe Amazon’s book recommendations ever again. They were Matchmaking for Beginners (HATED the main character so hard) and The Paper Magician (so cliche and cheesy.)  Now that I think about it, The Wangs Vs. The World was an Amazon recommendation, too. DANG YOU AMAZON. 

So. What have you loved, hated, or not finished this year? Do we line up in our book tastes?

The Right Time for Words.

Today is my dad’s birthday.

He would have been 67. Way too young to not be here anymore.

I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, as I just had my second experience with the agony, exhaustion, and honor of end of life care…my second experience with a beloved man dying all too young…my second experience with cancer taking someone I love. Chris’ Uncle Leo, who you know best from his spectacular toenail art and crochet shorts, passed away on July 4, at the age of 65.

I am finding myself doing a lot of writing offline, processing things way too personal to share publicly right now. There’s a lot to sort through when life throws you topsy-turvy…death forces everything to be re-evaluated. And death twice in ten months makes everything look different.

But the following is a post I wrote ten months ago after my dad died. At the time, it too was entirely too personal to share, but I knew I wanted to share it one day.

It might be too spiritual for some. Too long for others. But to me it represents hope in the darkness, light when light is needed most, and not feeling alone when we are walking down the darkest and most desolate paths of our life.

I hope that for at least one person out there, it can encourage you when you need it most.


My Dad had cancer for six years before he died. I shared about his initial diagnosis, but I could never bring myself to share here about when that cancer spread two years ago. I just didn’t have the words.

I didn’t just not have the words for you, I didn’t have the words for him.

I remember vividly the day after mom and dad came over to tell us Dad’s cancer had spread, and that there was no cure, but that they were going to do everything they could to fight it. The next day was the first time I ever therapeutically “got lost in the woods.” I went trail running to clear my mind and process things, and actually did get a bit lost by accidentally going off trail, falling down a hill covered in pine straw, and in general letting the woods beat me up to make me feel better. I remember sitting in the car at Oak Mountain, and Jasmine Thompson’s version of “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” (by Meaghan Trainor) came on Spotify. That song broke me. I realized that day that the most painful part of this process for me was how very unable I was to talk about real feelings and emotions with my dad. We had a good relationship, but there had always been an impassible wall for genuine, real  communication – at least on my side. And it wasn’t just with Dad – I’m pretty much always better at telling funny stories than talking about the deep and real issues of my heart. But I saw no way around this – it was so impossible, I couldn’t even tell Chris about the painful realization for several days, and even that felt like ripping my soul out.

For two years, Dad had a series of ups and downs, miracle drugs, medications working then not working, scans that were good and scans that were bad. He had doctors dismiss him, telling him they had nothing else that would help him, and doctors tell him that they couldn’t believe how well he was doing. He even had a doctor tell him he could live for 20 more years. He was told that a month before he died. The roller coaster of treating an incurable cancer is intense, anxiety-filled, and requires real conversation.

Dad made huge efforts to open communication with me. He even tried to open communication with the entire church, teaching a Sunday School class on death and dying, sharing all he’d learned through his process. I’d gotten marginally better at talking to him about the cancer and even about dying, but never was I able to cross the impossible divide of telling him what he’s meant to me.

One of my prayer requests for the year in our small group was that I would be able to talk to my Dad. Even with all Dad’s efforts at helping me with that (unbeknownst to him that it was my prayer request), I still failed constantly. Even the idea of writing my thoughts was excruciating and impossible.

Last summer, Dad very suddenly started feeling worse and worse. It was determined within a couple of days that his liver had shut down. I knew this was terrible, awful, horrible news. My stomach stayed in knots for a week. Mom and Dad went to multiple doctors looking for answers, even driving to Philadelphia as a last ditch effort. The night that they met with the Philadelphia doctor, they called me. They told me the doctor had told Dad that he had days or weeks to live.

After my phone call with them, I had about an hour to myself. I was at a loss. I didn’t know what to do, how to pray, how to process. I asked the Holy Spirit to pray through me. To guide me. Anything. Because I had nothing.

I immediately felt the urge to write out how my dad had influenced my life and my personality. I started scribbling in my journal. The words flowed out and in just a few minutes, I had filled two pages with the feelings that I had been completely unable to think, speak, process, or write for the last two years. Then I felt an urge to type them up and email them to my Dad, which I did.

I went to bed that night feeling an unbelievable feeling: peace. Peace that I had heard from and felt the Holy Spirit’s direction. Peace that I had done exactly what He had directed me to do. Peace that He had done it through me, since I had been completely unsuccessful at doing the same thing for the past two years.

Dad read my email the next morning and sent me a simple email back – the last email I would ever receive from my father.

It said…

As you might imagine our emotions have been a roller coaster these last few weeks. Your email this morning was very humbling but helped answer some of my uncertainty if I had made any difference 

I love you

The Holy Spirit had enabled me to do what had been impossible for me at the exact time that my Father needed to hear it.

And in doing so, my confidence in prayer was renewed and strengthened when I needed it most.

I was still sad. Sad for me, sad for my Mom, sad for my children, sad for my brothers, sad for the world that we were all were losing my Dad. I was sad for the vast amount of stories and knowledge that was going to be leaving the world with my Dad. I am still sad about all these things, and I am certainly still struggling daily with the reality of my Dad’s death. But I know his eternal destiny is good, and I have been comforted by the One who Dad is now with. So I am not broken. I am not in despair. I am not angry or bitter with God. Because I trust in the One who loves me enough to comfort and speak to me when I needed Him most.

These are the words I wrote about my Dad and sent him that night in September.

My Dad….

– Taught me that the pursuit of money doesn’t have to be the end goal of your career or occupation. He showed me that you can do what you love and make (and live on) little and be worlds happier than doing what you hate and making lots.

– Gave me my ability to find humor in the absurd, the annoying, the bizarre, the cheesy. We used to sit and watch the local news together just to make fun of it. Without his teaching me these important skills, I could have never been a writer.

– Is the origination of my observation skills, my attention to detail, and my ability to read people and discern their emotions and sometimes thoughts. He knows what is going on in my mind and in everyone else’s, whether we want to admit it or not. (My Mom literally thought my Dad could read her mind when they first got married and she would desperately try not to think about things she didn’t want him knowing.)

– Can do ANYTHING, and never shies away from any project just because it is something he hasn’t done before. He can write, draw, rebuild cars, build a house, do amazing and intricate woodwork, navigate his way across Asia and Europe in an antique car he rebuilt and fitted for the journey, drive a massive truck and trailer on insanely scary mountain roads in Mexico that frighten normal humans just to see pictures of them, start a business, write a book or a short story, raise bees (and create custom tools to take care of those bees and steal their honey), build a bridge and irrigation system, put on a week-long Model T Tour for 500 guests to drive hundreds of miles through the state, design a better chicken house, and teach a class on death while facing death. I am fortunate enough to inherit my lack of fear in starting something new and grand and overly large from him, although I might have it in lesser quantities. Without witnessing the unwavering confidence and work ethic he demonstrated, I would have never started Picture Birmingham five years ago, or organized Alabama Bloggers many years ago, or organized a Kid’s Hiking Club last year. He taught me that I can learn and I can do anything, regardless of whether I’ve been trained to do it or not.

– Is a renegade. He does his own thing his own way. He doesn’t conform to society’s standards or expectations on things like having a 9 to 5 job, or buying a house (rather than building your own), or having a completed house to live in (rather than living in the house you’re building), or accepting the accepted ideas and opinions of society. He works on what he wants to work on, he creates what he wants to create, and he often doesn’t fit in the neat little boxes or participate in the expected rites of society. I am happy to have inherited his renegade spirit. I don’t like to fit my life into other people’s schedules or templates or frameworks. I create my own frameworks (like homeschooling), and if I see a need, I don’t look for an outside group to fill it – I create my own group (like my Dysautonomia Support Group, my Hiking Club, etc.)

– Has insane amounts of patience, and values things done right over things done quickly. The man has been building his house, by himself, his way, for 17 years. If he has a vision of how something should be done, he doesn’t cut corners.

– Took me and my future very seriously. He made Chris wait two weeks while he prayed about his request to marry me, but once Dad was certain that it was God’s will for me to marry Chris, he never wavered on that decision. Although I very much wanted to marry Chris, I began to struggle with fear and anxiety a couple of months into our engagement, overwhelmed as a 19 year old over this lifelong commitment and decision I was making. My anxiety got to the point where it was leaving me in tears daily. Finally, on New Year’s Day, I broke down and cried with Mom and Dad. I finished my explanation with “I just need to know that I know for SURE that it is God’s Will that I marry Chris. Dad looked me in the eye and said “You know how seriously I took his request, and how long I prayed for it. Do you really think that I would have said yes if I didn’t know that this was God’s will for you?” My fears left that very moment and I’ve never, in 18 years, doubted for a single minute that it was God’s will that I marry Chris.

– Illustrated day in, day out; year in, year out how to have a faithful, faith-filled walk with the Lord. How to keep going and trust God on the good days or bad, in sickness and in health, in life or while facing death.

– Has been a stunning example of how to walk toward death with your head held high, with absolute assurance of God’s goodness and his eternal destiny. Dad has sought God throughout without anger or bitterness, and has sought open communication with not only family (which is harder than it sounds when you’re dealing with people like me who are really great at sharing their surface-level feelings but keep their deep feelings in a vault in a cave in a hole in a dungeon locked behind three chains), but also by opening his heart with his Church family and sharing the wisdom that he’s learned from God through the process of facing death head-on. His thoughts and wisdom have been so insightful that they leave no doubt that they are from God. His confidence in this walk he has taken has not only helped me have comfort for him, but has also helped me not fear my own death.

– My Dad has given me the wisdom, the tools, and the freedom to believe the Word of God and to hopefully live it out.

Seeing God answer my prayer in allowing me to tell my Dad what he meant to me, and seeing that God gave that gift to me right when Dad needed me to give that gift to him, was a bright beacon of hope over the next few weeks as I walked through the darkest days of my life. It gave me the confidence to grieve but not be inconsolable, to weep but not despair.

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And for that, I will forever be thankful.

Too Much Candi In the Pool

We arrived on our vacation three hours before check-in. The reason we’d chosen this particular neighborhood was for the fantastic pool – it was large and decked out like a resort, with rock features and waterfalls in the center of the pool and around the edges, a gorgeous covered area with legit outdoor couches comfortable enough to take a nap on, a big screen tv the size of my living room, a full and luxurious outdoor kitchen, and a four-story tower that was perfect for running up and seeing the ocean, the city, the sunset.

Pool

So since we were early, I called our rental agency and asked if we could go ahead to the pool – it had a gate code, which we had been given, but I wanted to make sure the code would work if we were early. They said that we could absolutely go – the gate code was good, and it was a great place to hang out until our rental house was ready.

So we grabbed our swimsuits and headed to the pool. The kids, happy to be out of the car, jumped in and began enjoying the wonderland of vacation. I curled up on the couch with a book, as my swimsuit was too hard to procure, packed in one of the bags beneath everyone else’s bags. But I was quite content to have a few minutes to myself. 

About an hour later, I noticed that a very tanned, bleached-blonde lady in her fifties was talking very animatedly to Chris, David, and Ashley – all the adults on this vacation but me. I thanked my lucky stars for my forethought to hide myself deeply tucked into the couch and went back to reading.

Then one of them pointed to me and told her my name.

Dangit.

I paid closer attention and started catching snatches of conversation. Then she marched over to me and began a whirlwind speech.

“Hi. I’m Candi – the pool attendant. It’s against the rules to come before your check-in time and I should really kick you all out. I really should. I’m supposed to kick you all out. See, you don’t have your pool bracelets on and I’m not allowed to let anyone be here without pool bracelets. The whole city used to use this pool and it was just a mess. So we got the locking gates and they hired me. By the end of the week you’ll be SO glad that we have a pool attendant. I’m here to be nosy and keep order. Anyway, you need to have your bracelets, but your husband said that it wasn’t time for your check-in yet. I really should kick you all out. He said your rental company said you could come in and that was wrong – very wrong. I need to have a talk with them as soon as possible. Can you please provide me their name? And their phone number? I need to give them a call.”

I wasn’t given the opportunity for words edgewise or otherwise, so I simply provided her the name and number of our rental agency and prayed that God would have Mercy on Their Souls. 

She disappeared with her phone, looking rather excited at her opportunity to go Five Star Pool General on a rental company, and the rest of the adults came over to where I was, looking rather dazed by the onslaught of Candi the Pool Attendant.

We were all enjoying a moment in the shade and a snack when she came back and restarted her impressive flood of words.

“I called and told them that what they did was wrong – very wrong. That you’re not allowed to come in here before check-in. I told them that they needed to let you in the house – even if it’s not ready – so you can get your blue bracelets so I don’t have to kick you out. They apologized. You should be getting a call from them….”

While she repeated this information in an endless loop, my phone began ringing. There was no possible way for me to pause her breathless assault of my ears, so I just let the call go to voice mail. I knew it was them, but I figured they needed a second to regain their composure anyway.

I finally escaped from Candi and walked out the gate to call them back. The woman that had been The Lucky One to receive verbal waterboarding from Candi picked up. I could hear the blush in her cheeks. She apologized and said they’d forgotten this was a “pool band neighborhood”, and that she was going to give me a one-time code to get into our house, retrieve our bracelets, and go back to the pool.

…Because if we didn’t have those Absolutely Vital blue bracelets on, our existence was def gonna poison Miss Candi’s pool.

I walked down the street to find our house. The door was already ajar because the cleaning crew was there. I tip-toed in and called out an apology, grabbed a handful of priceless turquoise rubber bracelets, and rushed back to the pool, quickly placing one on every arm in our group.

Candi happily bounced over, gushingly THANKING us for wearing our pool bracelets – something she proceeded to do to everyone she passed for the rest of the afternoon. She put on her most Professor Umbridge-Like wide and fake smile, looked each person in the eye, and said “I see you’ve got your pool bracelet on! THANK YOU for wearing that!!”

I thought that our Bracelets of Belonging would finally score us some peace at the pool, but I was wrong. 

So. Very. Wrong.

What it did is make us insiders with Miss Candi, and now she wanted to sit and gossip with me about all the things that proved her value.

….”There was this one time that a tall blond woman with the big hat and the expensive swimsuit – you know the type – (air quotes) – “Miss Seaside”, just walked on up into this pool without a bracelet on. I asked her why she was here. She motioned to her handsome husband on the golf cart – ‘Oh, we’re just checking the pool out.’” 

(The story ended with Miss Candi kicking her out and in indignance saying to me “Now she had a fancy golf cart and a handsome husband – why did she need to be stealing our pool? Because that’s what it is, you know, if you don’t have a bracelet, STEALING.”)

…”The parents are just the worst. I have to keep an eye on all the kids. I usually see them trying to escape before the parents do. That’s why I check the doors all the time – to make sure they’re closed. Those parents aren’t paying any attention!!”

(She proved this by sprinting over every time a kid yelled or even squealed with glee to accusingly ask the parents “Are they okay?? What happened??”) 

…And our most precious moment was when she told me that another reason she had to keep the miscreants out is because we as guests had permission to do anything we wanted … “and I DO MEAN ANYTHING” … in the pool tower – and we obviously didn’t want other people doing those things in our pool tower.

(Yes, Miss Candi, we DEFINITELY plan to use the pool tower for a spot of romantic liaison without any concern that you’re going to come up and ask to see our blue bracelets.)

After she finished her gossip, she decided it was time that I and the other parents knew all of the rules. And which ones she was going to enforce and which ones she was going to encourage us to break. So she gathered the four of us again and began, in agonizing detail, to explain everything.

…”The county mandates that no one eat or drink within 10 feet of the pool, but I want you to stay hydrated, so please have a drink (imbibe! It can be alcohol!) alongside the pool while you’re standing in it. But I will NOT allow you to walk around with your beverage.”

(Someone needs to tell Miss Candi that alcohol is not hydrating.)

…”You and your children MAY NOT play on the rocks or touch the rocks.”

(She proved how important this rule was later by charging bull-style at a family whose toddler got too close to the rocks – AFTER blowing her whistle – because of course she had a whistle – as loudly as she possibly could have point-blank behind my right ear.)

…”Don’t forget to use the TV! Do you know the code to get in the TV cabinet? Wow – you do?  Most rental companies don’t provide that! Surely you want to watch TV right now. It’s first come first serve so turn it on whenever you want!!”

(She followed this up half an hour later by questioning me again as to why I wasn’t watching TV. Because I had Miss Candi to watch. Why would I need TV??)

…”The rule on using the outdoor kitchen and tables is leave no trace – clean up after yourself and enjoy.”

(We ordered Pizza a little later. We threw away our pizza boxes. But three different times I heard Candi muttering behind me – “I said leave no trace. If you eat at a table clean it up. There are rags in the sink.” Finally I sent Ali over to get a rag to wipe away any invisible pizza crumbs so that Miss Candi would shut up. Which of course was an impossible feat to attain.)

…”No vaping because most people don’t understand that there is glass inside an e-cig and there is ABSOLUTELY NO glass allowed on the pool deck.”

(We laughed, but Miss Candi interrupted with “Oh I wish I could vape right now. I need a cigarette so bad.” We agreed – she definitely needed a cigarette.)

She assured us again that she was the best thing to ever happen to this neighborhood and we would be SO GLAD by the end of the week that we had a pool attendant. Because she added value-added services like OPENING THE GATE for us. AND CHECKING ON OUR CHILDREN.

I wasn’t sure if Miss Candi was going to be the most entertaining part of my week or the most annoying part. There was a very fine line and she was tightroping it very with grand determination.

She regularly went from dancing around the pool deck and applauding people for having mimosas in the pool to angrily running at a child who happened to be two feet from his parents just to return said child accusingly as if the parents were the worst humans ever. She would go from encouraging someone to turn on the TV! Enjoy yourselves! To manically demanding to know “WHAT IS THAT?!?!?” to someone who had brought their own karaoke machine. Then upon realizing what it was, giving a little approving dance shimmy to show just how crazy fun she was.

But it was her smile that was the scariest part. It was wide. It was toothy. It screamed out “I’m teetering on the edge of my own metaphorical swimming pool of boiling lava and if you push me over that edge I will drown you in the hot tub but only 8 people are allowed in the hot tub at once so I’ll have to ask two to leave so that I can put my feet in to get a good angle to hold your head under the water.”

But as long as we had our blue bracelets, the rules clearly stated that we could not be drowned by pool attendants.

Summer Reading For Rebels.

Guilty Confession: I don’t hate the library, per se, but I might believe that the library hates me.

Our branch is always crowded and loud and I struggle mightily to find the books we’re looking for. I used to try and do the right, the expected, the moral thing, and take my children to the library regularly. But then I realized that we could just go to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale twice a year, stock up on books for super cheap, and never have to enter the doors of the place that so overwhelms me.

…Except for the summertime, when my kids absolutely expect to participate in the Summer Reading Program.

Okay maybe I do hate the library. Or actually maybe it’s my own laziness.

Summer Reading Programs are great. Really. But oh my goodness they’re so much work with the app changing every year and the tracking type changing and also papers that you have to bring in and you have to come every week or it doesn’t count and the suspicious looks that the librarian gives me if Ali reads too many pages.

The last couple of summers we’ve started out with good intentions, but it doesn’t take long for us to fall off the radar of those weekly check-in visits and then sometime in October the kids say “Hey, whatever happened to our Summer Reading? Do we have any more rewards we can get?”

(Okay clearly it’s my fault and not the library’s. But you gotta work with what you got.)

So this year I decided to do my own Summer Reading Program.

No Libraries Needed!

Less Paperwork!!

No Suspicious Librarians!!!

No App Passwords that you don’t remember from last year, only to find out that they’re using a new app!

AND the kids are responsible for all their own paperwork and no one will complain about their handwriting!!

It’s going swimmingly well, so I decided to share it here, with the thought that some of you may already find yourself flagging in your library visits and needing a new way to motivate your poor libraryless children.

It’s simple, it’s been quite motivating, and it’s given the kids some summer structure, which is something they’re always craving.

Here were my steps in implementation:

1. I suspended allowance for the summer – they normally get $5 a week.

2. I replaced it with Mom’s Summer Reading Program, giving them the opportunity to earn up to $10 a week.

3. I made a simple tracking spreadsheet that included…

A. What they had to accomplish every day to earn their alotted iPad time (this doesn’t really have to do with Summer Reading but ya gotta stay on top of chores somehow)

B. The tracking area for their books and pages read.

4. I explained the system to them:

A. Ali, 12 years old and about to go into 7th grade, gets $1 for every 50 pages she reads, with a max of $10 a week. BUT rollover pages are allowed, and I encouraged getting ahead for weeks like when we’re on vacation and they’ll read less, or when they’re going to day camp and will be too exhausted to read.

Do It Yourself Summer Reading Form

B. Noah, 8 years old and about to go into 3rd grade, gets $1 for every 25 pages he reads, with a max of $10 a week, and rollover allowed.

Do It Yourself Summer Reading Form2

C. Every Monday morning, they present their Reading Logs to me for me to check their math and pay out their totals. So far, they’ve each gotten $10 every week.

It’s that simple. But they’re OBSESSED with it. And reading a ton. And keeping up with their own paperwork. And not begging me to take them to the library constantly. And have yet to tell me that they’re bored.

(And Noah can be reading as many books at once as he wants without having to finish the books to get his summer reading credit. The kid has a short book attention span.)

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So if you’d like our Summer Reading Log to enact your own Personal Summer Reading Program, click here to download it and give it a try. 

How to Race Like a Jerk.

1. Give Pro Tips to Random Runners. They LOVE it.

Chris and I discovered several races ago that, although I like running with him quite a bit on normal days, I like running quite alone for half marathons. Besides the fact that I run more positively when alone (I always feel like I’m trying to keep up when running with others, but push myself to be faster when alone), there’s something so fulfilling to my introvert’s soul to be surrounded by people, yet be under zero obligation to interact with any of them. Every now and then I’ll chat for a second with another runner, but I spend most of my 13.1 miles silent.

We had a half marathon in our city earlier this year. It is a relatively big one, so I was enjoying immensely the droves of people surrounding me, all who expected nothing of me. I was pushing myself a bit – I’d had a PR (personal record – fastest personal running time) the day before at the 5K, and foolishly thought that I could have two back-to-back PR days. But my legs hadn’t recovered from their fastest pace ever the day before, and I was working hard. 

I’m a heavy breather while running anyway – I noticed this a while back. It’s fine. I don’t care. I might sound like I’m dying but I’m successfully getting oxygen into my lungs so I just go with it.

The stranger at mile two who came up over my left shoulder, however, did not feel the same.

He was a guy in his fifties, a guy I wasn’t aware existed until, as he was coming up behind me, began speaking rather loudly into my ear – something I never appreciate in any context of life.

“You need to save your breath. This is just the first hill, you know.”

What the…did someone order me a personal coach? This is the worst gift delivery ever.

“I’m just a heavy breather. I’m fine.” 

I sped up to try and shake this dude who had enough energy for his own race and to mansplain mine. 

It didn’t work.

“This course has rolling hills for the next several miles. Lots of ups and downs. You really need to pace your breathing.”

SERIOUSLY DUDE THERE’S ENOUGH OXYGEN IN THE WORLD FOR ME TO HEAVY BREATHE AND MAKE IT THROUGH THIS RACE.

And also, I’ve done this race three times. I know the hills. 

I still hadn’t seen this guy’s face, but I had a vivid mental image.

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I really thought Mr. Mansplainer would fuel me on with rage and indignation to speed up to a pace where I could absolutely smoke him (he was, after all, behind me and my heavy breathing until just a few seconds ago), but somehow he (or my PR from the prior day) made me slow down quite a bit for those next two miles.

Which only made me feel even more irritated at his unrequested coaching.

At least I had something to think about for a few miles.

2. Assume that You are THE Most Important Participant and Act Accordingly.

I never saw Mansplainer again (then again I would only recognize him from his heavy talking in my ear…someone should tell him to save his energy for the rolling hills,) but his performance of arsishness got significantly outdone towards the end of the course.

This particular marathon is a double loop course. Which means us half marathoners are finishing up as the whole marathoners have to start all over again. Which also means that I always get lapped by the lead whole marathoner a couple miles before I finish my half (meaning that he’s approaching the end of his second lap, 26.2 miles, as I’m approaching the end of my first and only lap, 13.1 miles.) Because wow people can run fast.

This year I was super proud of myself. He usually catches me 2-3 miles from my finish. But this year, I made it all the way to less than a mile from the finish line before I heard the sirens approaching. I always get excited about this because much like swimming, you cannot fathom how fast a fast runner is on television. You must experience it. You must feel his thirty-foot long stride in perfect rhythmic pounding shriek past you at a speed you didn’t even know was possible by a non-furry mammal to truly appreciate an elite runner. 

I prepared myself for excitement and paid attention to the lanes to make sure I didn’t get in the way. They’d already separated the full and half marathoners with cones down the middle of the street – we each got a full car lane to continue our race. I got to the far side of my half marathon side of the street. 

The two motorcycle cops came by, sirening and loudspeakering that the winner was coming through and everyone needed to move over. The police SUV and the news crew SUV were not far behind. 

Except that…there were three full marathoners (who were just finishing their first lap) that took exception to this well-known practice.

They began yelling at the motorcycle cops.

“This is our marathon too!! We’re not moving!!”

 Now let me remind you. This dude has just run twice as far as them in the same amount of time, is a feat of humanity and is about to win a freaking race.

But they aren’t having it.

The motorcycle cop megaphoned right at them. “Move out of the way! Winner coming through!”

They got screamy. 

“WE HAVE NOWHERE TO GO!! THIS IS OUR MARATHON TOO!! WE! ARE! NOT! MOVING!!”

There was an easily accessible and completely empty sidewalk to their left. And there was my lane, which I was gladly willing to share, to the right. But they had “nowhere” to go.

A race official on a bike reached them. He started screaming at them.

They screamed back.

The news crew and police SUV were nipping their heels. I could feel the lead runner’s Olympian footfalls closing in.

But they would. Not. Move.

The lead runner went around the two SUVs and around the immovable runners. The news crew, whose job it is to live-broadcast the winner finishing this race, swerved into my lane. I moved over further to allow him room.

The police SUV just kept going forward. Nipping those runner’s heels. And was never able to get by them, that I saw.

If only Mansplainer could have been there at that moment, to run up behind them and talk loudly into their ear. 

“You need to save your energy. This is just the first lap, you know. There are a lot of rolling hills in the next few miles, and if you use up all your energy turning and screaming like that, you’re never going to make it.”

3. Write Exposé on Other Misbehaving Runners and Mock them Mercilessly.

uh….oops.

The Definition of Mild Soreness.

“You might feel some mild soreness for the rest of the day. Resume your normal activities tomorrow.”

That’s what I was told on Wednesday, after having my Endoscopy with multiple biopsies and double dilation of my throat. Before the procedure, I wasn’t told anything – I just assumed that surely such a procedure would make me sore and planned accordingly for “mild soreness.”

I did not, however, plan for such extreme throat and chest pain as to leave me speechless, breathless, and trying all the old labor positions to find some relief for pain.

(Note: I’ve had a tonsillectomy,  well known as the most painful surgery for an adult on the planet, and found it to be not as bad as I’d been told. So when I say this pain was bad, know I’m saying it was worse than my tonsillectomy and bordering on Noah’s adventurous labor and delivery.)

Apparently they left an extra special amount of air in my stomach, air that they were supposed to suck out when they finished the procedure. Somebody forgot to suck on that straw. So I had an intensely bursting chest full of air – that pain was a 9.

And then there was my throat, which felt like it had been ravaged by killer wasps, and was burning and swollen beyond belief – to the point that I could not swallow my own spit, let alone water or medicine. I did attempt to swallow half a lortab, but it got stuck in my throat and just had to dissolve there.

Furthermore, due to the extreme swelling and narrowing of my throat (ironic since I had this procedure because my throat was too narrow and I choked a lot), the air trapped in my chest could not find any way out. I could feel giant painful bubbles make their way up, knock heavily on the door, then turn around and go back down, elbowing and grumbling as they reversed course. Every time I felt one of those bubbles approaching the doorbell, I braced myself for the worst pain of all.

So here I was, for hours, a spit spitting, doubled over, full of unwanted air, in horrific pain mess of a human.

I texted Chris at 12:30 and told him of my extreme pain (he’d dropped me off at home after the procedure and had gone to work, as I was only supposed to experience a little discomfort.) I told him I couldn’t talk to call the doctor. I needed him to do it.

He called, he left a message. He got irate and called again, then left another message. He got more irate and called and pressed all the buttons until he got the wrong human, explained my emergency situation to her, and she promised to contact the right human for him and tell her to call. Three hours in, no one had called back and he was sure his wife was dying.

So he called back, got the wrong human again, and said “I’m bringing my wife back right now.” 

“Um, hold on sir. Let me see if I can get Right Human on the phone.”

She found Right Human.

Right Human told him in no uncertain terms that you can’t go back. If you have a problem, go to the ER. Once you leave the Endoscopy center, you are dead to them. (Which was nearly true in my case.)

So my steamingly furious husband came and got me and took me to the ER.

We got to the waiting room, noting the four police cars surrounding it (comforting), and entered into a quiet place of moroseness.

One lady was holding her chest to make sure the front desk realized she was having chest pains.

Another woman had a big nasty looking bandage covering up part of her leg, but not the entirety of the purple swelling.

They shortly wheeled a wheelchair from the back with a hoarsely, phlegmily, and continuously hacking woman in it – and parked it directly across from me.

The Chest Pain woman’s husband inquired as to how long it would be.

“Well, they have an emergency back there, so it may be a while.”

The entire room murmured at the same time… “Of course they do because this is the…emergency room.”

An officer came through the door. His hat said SBI – assumably State Bureau of Investigation. He had a gun on his hip and rubber gloves and an empty paper sack in his hands. She nodded him back.

I whispered to Chris between air bubbles, “What do you think he’s going to put in the sack??”

“A gun? A hand? Lunch?”

They came to get Chest Pains lady. She tried to stand up.

“Do you need a wheelchair?”

“Well yes, I’ve been having chest pains for two hours.”

“Oh. Hmm. I’m not sure if we have one available.”

Phlegmy lady offered, “You can have mine, honey.”

She hacked a few more times and removed herself to the chair six inches away from me. I wouldn’t have sat in her wheelchair without a thorough Lysol dousing, but Chest Pains Lady must have been desperate because she gladly plopped in her sweet new ride, a late model Germ10x 4WD. I could feel the phlegm definitely reaching my airspace now.

Chris whispered, “I’m sorry. I know this is miserable. But it was our only option.”

They called me back to triage. Asked me what was going on. I explained that I couldn’t even swallow my own spit. The observant nurse chuckled and said “Sounds like exactly what you went in to get help for.” 

Pithy.

We walked down the hallway. SBI Guy was headed back our way – except that now, his sack was decidedly not empty. The room on the end of the hall was being guarded by three policemen. But I was still processing what all could be housed inside that paper sack.

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At least it wasn’t dripping. 

They put me in a room. I got all the usual visits. Questions. Repeating of my information to half a dozen people. Finally, their biggest shot of morphine mixed with Zofran, because morphine and I don’t get along. Then a CT scan to make sure I hadn’t had a perforation that allowed air into my chest cavity. They wheeled me and my gurney out of the scan room, down a hallway, and into a dark, abandoned hallway and put on the brakes. 

“They’ll come back and get you when they’re ready for you.”

I hope the police are guarding that doorway well. 

The morphine was really starting to kick in and the room definitely had an eerie horror movie glow. The lights were surely flickering. I expected the paper bag to come tip-toeing toward me at any minute, a dismembered thumb looking for its body.

A few minutes and/or a morphine nightmare nap later, someone was asking me, “Do you belong in the ER?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’ll get you back to your room.”

Thankfully, it wasn’t the murdurous criminal posing as a nurse. 

Epilogue:

…I didn’t have a perforation. I stayed in significant pain for the next 72 hours. My doctor said that my throat was the narrowest ever, and was narrow all the way down (the pain taught me how long esophoguses actually are), so he’d had to use some heavy duty tools on me. (Read: It’s all my fault. #ThroatShaming) 

…My diagnosis is EoE, an allergic sensitivity that creates a rigid and constantly narrowing throat due to food allergies that I didn’t know I have. So now I get to do food allergy testing and eliminate all the things from my diet. 

…After I finally quit hurting, I of course got an infection from all the medications he put me on post-procedure. Ironically, as that happened on Sunday, I called the office, got the after-hours answering service, and they guaranteed me a callback from a *doctor* within 20 minutes. If only Wednesday’s issues had been after hours, they might have actually called us back.

…It is now Monday, 6 days post-procedure, and I am starting to feel nearly normal. Which means it’s time to get my back pricked with 80 allergens to see what my problem is.

…And finally, somebody always asks if they should or says they feel guilty for doing so, so let me clarify: if there is anything humorously worthwhile in this post, please laugh. It makes it have some value, and makes me happy.

The Problem With Paris.

Last week, I was in Eastern Europe. I’m still mentally unpacking all of the beauty I saw and all of the beautiful people I met there. 

But getting there…was not so pretty.

Specifically, Paris.

When I saw our flight itinerary and realized we were going to be flying through Paris both coming and going, I groaned with missed opportunity. How could one land in Paris and never see anything but the inside of the airport? It just wasn’t right.

However, the airport staff, and the airport itself, assured me that we missed nothing.

Our flight to Paris began in Atlanta at 4:45pm eastern, 3:45pm central. It ended at 6:00am Paris time, which was 11:00pm central, meaning that it was *not quite* my normal bedtime yet. Our seven hours of lost time was exactly our seven hours of should-have-been sleep. Which was quite disorienting. 

We were herded in line with a bunch of people to go through French Security, which I wasn’t expecting, as we were just going from one flight to another. We had literally just walked off a secure airplane but apparently that’s enough time to get naughty enough to need to be subjected to a full body cavity search. 

I did not get a full body cavity search. But I might have preferred it.

My friend Kelly was in front of me, so I followed her lead as she followed the lead of those in front of her (security instructions are difficult to read in French.) I put my locked carry-on on the belt, then I put my camera bag on the belt, then I took off my watch and put it in a tray. Kelly walked through the scanny machine. As I glanced over to see if it was my turn, the blond haired whatever-the-French-version-of-TSA lady landed her icy stare on me. 

She was on the other side of the conveyor belt and she pointed to my camera bag and started speaking rapid fire French. Or maybe rapid missile French. Whatever it was it definitely didn’t sound friendly.

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I did the wide-eyed dumb American stare and head shake and murmured something annoying like “What was that?”

She switched to thick English. And pointed to my camera bag. 

“Any laptop? Tablet?!”

”No.”

She looked at me with hatred and suspicion and downright disbelief.

“NO TABLET EVEN??”

“No.”

She shoved it through with a huff.

I walked toward the X-ray machine. 

As I got to it, the luggage scanner machine started beeping and Kelly’s carry-on came backwards on the belt. Another angry French woman started yelling.

“Whose bag is this? There’s a Laptop in it!! Must be taken out!!”

“Oh, it’s my friend Kelly’s. She’s already over there. KELLY! Come back!!”

As Kelly came back and fished her key out, I realized I should probably do the same. Because there wasn’t a laptop or tablet in my camera backpack, but there was a laptop in my locked carry-on.

Whoops.

So we both unlocked our cases and began pulling our laptops out.

Kelly put hers in the bin and all was fine.

But oh.

When Angry French Officette Number One saw me working at my bag, she descended upon me with the fury of the Frenchmen who shoved Marie Antoinette under the guillotine.

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“YOU said no! You said you didn’t have a laptop!”

“You were asking about that bag and I wasn’t thinking about this bag. I’m sorry.”

My mistake was the last word. 

She was now chopping off all the gentry’s heads.

“SORRY. You SORRY, huh? SORRY!! No. Take bag! Go stand over there!”

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I was confused and hesitated.

“OVER THERE!! You think about what you have done!!”

She shoved my stuff at me and pointed me toward a bench in between the two lines.

I walked three steps backward and waited for my turn to be burned at stake, pondering poor Joan of Arc, who led the French Army to an impossible victory and they still burned that poor teenager on a woodpile. She prob had a laptop in her carry-on, too.

Kelly came and stood by me, a loyal fellow enemy of the state to the end. She whispered to me, “Ignore her. She’s just an angry person. It’s not your fault.

After a few people went by and a few glares in my direction, she shoved a few bins, made room for my stuff, and angrily waved me back.

I put my bags back on the belt, NOT saying I was sorry, NOT making eye contact, as she berated me repeatedly in her loud angry rant.

“You remember now? How about now?? YOU REMEMBER NOW YOU HAVE A LAPTOP??”

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And I nearly sprinted through the X-Ray machine before she could lock me up in Bastille.

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We wound our way through the insanely circuitous airport and found out we had to ride a shuttle to our next gate. We waited for the shuttle for five minutes, and then had a ridiculous nearly-hour-long shuttle ride, as our gate was the previous gate and we had to do the full circle of the monstrosity to get back to it.

During this ride, we were all laughing and enjoying the ridiculous situations I seem to find myself in. Perhaps a bit loudly, we were discussing and laughing about Angry French Officette Number One. There were a few quiet, sullen looking people on the other side of the bus. None of them seemed to be paying us any attention, but I did observe that we were being much more interactive and loud than anyone else.

As an older French lady hobbled between us to get off the bus, she spat one word at us with venom.

I don’t know what the word was (alas, my Googling didn’t help either) but I gathered the meaning by the hateful undertone in which it was delivered.

And I found myself humbled. Not by Angry French Officette Number One, but by the  quiet old lady.

And swore from then on to be subdued, mature, European Rachel.

(Which lasted approximately 1 day.)

(Good thing Eastern Europeans seemed to love me for who I was.)

On the way back through Paris, it all went wrong again.

We had just come from the Croatia airport, where my friend Nikki left a water bottle in her bag. The security man politely and kindly said, “Excuse me, but you seem to have left a water bottle in your bag. Could you please remove it?” 

I rolled my eyes at how easy her life was.

But the second we stepped literal foot into Paris, we got screamed at. For stepping off the line on which we were supposed to walk from the plane to the terminal.

When we arrived at hell-also-known-as-French-Security again, with much fear and trembling of running into my friend because she certainly would remember me nine days later (I dreamed of the second round of “YOU STILL SORRY?? YOU REMEMBER NOW?? HOW ABOUT NOW!?”)  But mercifully we didn’t see her, and mercifully (for me) it was Nikki that got screamed at this time.

They had the conveyor belt running too fast and the guy in front of me took too long to get his things off. Everyone’s bins started jackknifing and watches and iPads were about to start flying.

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But somehow, even though Nikki was behind me, this was all her fault.

Angry French Officette Number Three started screaming “Your valise!! YOUR VALEEEESE!!  YOU!!! Take your valise off NOW!!”

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At that moment, or maybe it was after it took us an hour and forty five minutes (and 10,000 steps and two shuttle rides and two sets of incorrect directions by unhelpful French Airline Employees) to find our gate, or after we had a three hour layover in which we were going to get lunch but by the time we found our gate they were already boarding so we didn’t even get a bottle of water, or maybe it was when two out of three of us got pulled from the boarding line and it looked like we weren’t going to get to fly but they just wanted to do another security interrogation on us…whenever it was, Nikki and I made a blood oath that we would never visit Paris, never fly through Paris, nay, never meet a Parisian again, if we could help it. 

Sure, they may have cool buildings. But they’re not worth the Angry French. Pictures of the Eiffel Tower will do just fine for us.