Cognitively Speaking…

Noah turns eight on Wednesday.

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His overachieving (and awesome) summer camp (Camp Straight Street) sent him a birthday card last week. Which is great and kind and made him feel special and….when mixed in with the 4-5 Christmas cards we receive every day, also made him feel rather inferior and needy of more, CONSTANT birthday cards.

Every day he’s been running to the mailbox, absolutely perplexed at the quantity of Christmas wishes and the complete lack of birthday wishes. Indignantly he will announce, “WHERE are all my BIRTHDAY cards??”

One night he was being especially moody, so we had this little conversation about it.

We tried to explain that it’s a whole WEEK until his birthday and usually you only get cards right around the day of your birthday…and also you only get one or two birthday cards total and you shouldn’t compare your birthday mail volume to Christmas (which is dang hard to do when your birthday happens to be on the 19th of December.)

But alas. He’s only seven. Such concepts of self-coaching and setting realistic expectations are completely and absolutely lost on him.

Building radios, however, is within his grasp.

He got several Snap Circuits kits last Christmas (best, most fun toy for the spatially-minded child ever, if you need some last minute Christmas shopping ideas.) Last year, I usually had to help him with them, which I rather enjoyed. Then they got lost in the horror that is his room for a few months. But, due to a forced cleaning of his room, he has rediscovered many fun toys, and Snap Circuits are one of them. Except that this year, he’s an excellent reader and putter-togetherer, and he doesn’t need me anymore. So he’ll thunder down the stairs to announce his latest invention, all rather proud and much more excited than he was when I used to be his lab assistant. (Which, by the way, he no longer has a bedroom – he now has a LAB.) (Which I kinda love.) (Except for the pain doled out to the bottom of my feet when I try to walk through the lab in the dark to give him his good night hug.)

His favorite invention, the aforementioned radio, happened yesterday. He admittedly didn’t think a radio would function as an actual radio until he built the thing, turned it on, and started hearing Christmas music and commercials about incontinence.

He was immediately enthralled – especially when he realized how to channel surf. All afternoon he’d run to me and say things like “Mom!! Someone’s grandkid is having to have brain surgery!!”

“Whose?”

“I don’t know! They’re talking about it on the RADIO!!”

His radio is quite portable, so I didn’t notice when he’d taken it in the car last night, and he proceeded to surf those channels all the way to dinner, while keeping us all informed as to what was going on in the world.

“Camila Cabello hasn’t had a vacation in six years!! But she’s taking some time off now that ‘Havana’ has done so well.”

“They’re talking about jail cells now! I think they’re in one!!”

And then, when he realized the sheer amount of potential knowledge he held in his hands, he cackled gleefully and announced,

“I AM GOING TO KNOW EVERYTHING BY THE END OF THE WEEKEND!!!!”

I side-eyed Chris and smiled. “So this is our life now.”

As I was reading in bed last night, Noah came in with his radio, on which he’d dialed to some smooth jazz Christmas music. He turned out my light. (Because jazz requires mood lighting.) He cuddled up in bed with me, with a sigh of accomplishment for his invention of transmittable music. And then reminded me that he hadn’t gotten any more birthday cards.

Inventors have fragile egos, yo. I’m sure Alexander Graham Bell had these same exact struggles.

The Difference Between Girls and Boys.

My birthday was last week.

As always, I woke up to an array of handmade cards from the children. Every year, they’re getting more detailed in expressing their feelings.

Ali created this lovely card,

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With these even lovelier sentiments.

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And even drew me a bonus picture.

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(Note: He does bring home a lot of takeout.)
And that’s you, staying home with us and homeschooling us.

She checked all the boxes of creating motherly affection and warm fuzzies. She should consider going professional, hiring her skills out to other children.

Because other children can tend to be….otherwise inclined.

Speaking of, then I opened Noah’s card.

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I asked him if the three-eyed monster was supposed to be a portrait of me.

He laughed.

Then told me the monster’s name was “Momster.”

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It’s good to have a variety of personalities in your house.

I think.

When The Intersection Rule Failed Us.

In our hiking club, we really only have one rule. (Aside from the obvious rules like don’t pick up snakes but CERTAINLY don’t scare them away because Miss Rachel will definitely want to see them and photograph them and maybe pick them up if she’s mostly sure they’re not venomous.)

The one rule is this: Stop at every intersection.

This rule is a rule because it is a regular occurrence for the kids (especially the older ones but sometimes the younger ones) to run ahead of the adults, who can sometimes be dragging a toddler behind them or on their back or hanging off their legs like a monkey.

On the particular hike for which this post was recorded, I was taking on the responsibility (and fun) of being hiking buddies with Elsa, my favorite first cousin once removed. (Please don’t tell my other first cousins once removed. This is between us.)

…As an aside, I googled and now understand very well what the difference is between a second cousin, first cousin once removed, third cousin, and second cousin once removed. Would you like me to explain it?

(I know you would. It’s fascinating and makes so much sense.)

It all depends on what level you’re on with reference to each other. The same level means that you share a grandparent, great grandparent, etc. A level apart means that my grandmother is your great grandmother. Following so far? So, first, second, and third cousins are all on the same level. First cousins share a grandparent. Second cousins share a great-grandparent. Third cousins share a great-great grandparent.

(Fun Fact: Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip are third cousins: their shared great-great-grandmother is Queen Victoria, who incidentally was married to her first cousin, Prince Albert. Because the British are weirder than Alabamians.)

Removed cousins are on different levels. First cousins once removed happen when person A’s grandparent is person B’s great-grandparent. So another way to look at it is you are first cousins once removed with your cousin’s children. You’d be first cousins twice removed with your cousin’s grandchildren. Got it?

…So back to Elsa, who is my favorite of all of my cousin’s children.

Elsa is four, and she’s just starting to grasp hiking expectations, rules, and standards. So she asked me, “Aunt Rachel, (because “First Cousin Once Removed Rachel” is pretty long for a four year old), what is an insterstection?”

I explained carefully that an intersection is anytime you can go more than one way on a trail. If you have to choose directions, it’s an intersection. And it’s very, very important that you always wait at every intersection for the adults, because if you chose the wrong way, and we assumed you chose the right way, you’d be lost, and it would be hard to find you.

She silently pondered my words, an unspoken gravity resting between us of what it would be like to be four and lost in the woods.

We plodded ahead, perhaps a tenth of a mile behind the big kids. As we came up a hill, we saw the big kids all piled in a semi-circle at an intersection. It was a “T” intersection, with a bench sitting opposite of the T. A teenage couple was sitting on the bench, and it appeared that they were having a silent standoff with our kids.

Then the teenage couple stood up, walked toward us, laughing slightly, politely said hi to us, and took off down the trail.

As we reached the children, they were all coughing, waving hands in front of their faces, gagging, and complaining in general about what was the worst skunky smelling cigars they’d ever smelled.

Yeah. That is not a fog of cigar smoke you’re standing in, children.

Our Stop-At-The-Intersection rule had…

– Forced the children to stand in a thick cloud of pot smoke,

– Created an awkward staring/social interaction, because the poor high teenagers had no idea why 10 children had just crowded around them in a semicircle.

(They’re probably still puzzling about that. I bet every time they get high they’re all like “yo, man, remember that one time, when all those kids surrounded us like they were the freakin’ Marine Corps or something?” “Yeah man. That was….weird.”)

– Totally killed their buzz.

Were the children better tempered for the rest of the hike?

Chill, might one say?

Perhaps.

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So maybe The Intersection Rule didn’t fail us after all.

(Then again, twenty minutes later, Noah did get exceptionally hangry and demanding as to why I hadn’t brought SNACKS on the hike, so the dreaded munchies may not have been worth it.)

Die Like You’re Living.

I wrote this on September 4, two weeks before my dad passed away. 



“Live Like you’re dying.”

We’ve all heard it and nodded thoughtfully at the platitude. Yes, yes yes, we should do all the things you would do if you were dying. Like appreciate life more, even if the garbage disposal just vomited in your face. And hug your children more meaningfully, even if they just flushed your favorite earrings down the toilet.

But now that my own father has been told that he has days or weeks to live, I’ve realized that there’s an opposite sentiment that I never knew existed: Die Like You’re Living.

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Weird thoughts go through your head when you’re processing grief and watching someone you love walk slowly toward death – or at least they have mine. Like, what would I do if I were the one who had days or weeks to live? My first thought was that I definitely would quit flossing my teeth. Second, I would want to go on a world tour and see all the things. And third, I might like to do something irresponsible and ridiculous – maybe even something that was illegal but not harmful to others that I might enjoy, knowing I wouldn’t live long enough to make it to my court date and face the consequences of my breaking of the law. Might it be fun to go 120 mph on the interstate? Might I like to commit Insider Trading so that my family could benefit from my crimes after my death? Perhaps I’d like to hack Amazon and send all my friends their entire wish lists. Then again if I could do that, maybe I already would have. (Right after I sent myself my own entire wish list, of course.)

But my dad has done none of these things. Instead, he’s dying like he’s living. He’s doing all the things I most definitely would never put on the top of my list of Things I Might Like To Do If I’m Dying.

He’s working, for one. He’s finishing up an antique engine rebuilding project that he committed to and has worked on for the last two years. (The thing is a massive antique firetruck engine.) He spent five days in a row, despite feeling generally awful and having no energy due to a failing liver, working in the 90 degree heat – to finish a job. (Thankfully, he had two fantastically wonderful friends travel from Florida to help him, and they were doing all the heavy lifting and hard labor since Dad couldn’t – bless them.)

He’s wrapping up loose ends. My Dad is, after all, in the middle of an 18 year house-building project. He’s trying to finish things and get things out of Mom’s way so that it will be easier for her to finish the house after he’s gone. He’s going to the attorney’s office and making sure all his paperwork is straight. He’s ensuring that my mother has everything she needs to make her future journey as easy as he can possibly make it.

He’s keeping his commitments in all shapes and sizes. He’s sitting in Sunday School, incidentally, the Sunday School class he started to share what he’s learned about death and dying. Over the past several months, he has wanted to make sure the wisdom he’s learned through this journey could help others who are or will be coping with the reality of death – both those of us coping with his death, and those coping with their own or other loved one’s deaths. His insights have been painful, beautiful, and so practical and helpful.

He’s being the most responsible possible version of dying.

He’s not sitting around feeling sorry for himself while slowly slipping away, nor is he out high-speed racing in downtown Birmingham (which, for the record, my dad has been known to go over 100 mph on the interstate on multiple occasions, so it’s not like it’s something he wouldn’t enjoy.) He’s not touring the country to see the things that I know were on his bucket list, like Mount Rushmore, Alaska, and the Aurora Borealis.

These are the things I want him to be doing (aside from the first one.) I want him to live these last few weeks for himself, in the manner that would make him happiest. But he’s choosing to live them for others, in the manner that will make others most comfortable when he’s no longer here.

He’s dying like he’s living, and dying like he has lived. Doing what he said he would do, choosing responsibility over fun, and doing what needs do be done.

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In Remembrance.

Chris wrote this beautiful eulogy for my dad, and I wanted it to be forever here on my blog.

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Peter James Victor “Vic” Zannis went to be with his Lord on September 17, 2018. He lived a life of passionate adventure, dedicated skill, and serving love.

He attended the University of Montevallo, graduated from Samford University, and married his college sweetheart. He cherished her for the rest of his life.

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He served in the United States Air Force, achieving the rank of sergeant, while stationed in Mississippi, England, and South Carolina. He later served in the Fairfield Police Department and Birmingham Police Department for over 10 years.

He then embarked on an automotive career that spanned the globe. His fascinating work included building and maintaining a vintage race car for the Monterey Historics, building and crewing a vintage race car for La Carrera Panamerica across Mexico, building (2) 1950 Ford sedans for the 1997 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, then navigating his team and maintaining the car over a 45 day rally from Beijing to Paris, finishing in 2nd place overall and 1st place in class.

He worked as the track manager at Barber Motorsports Park, and served 20 years as a technical inspector for the American Le Mans Series.

He was a published artist, a short story author, and wrote 2 books about restoring vintage Ford engines. He was a known expert in vintage engines, and restored engines for clients around the world. He served the Model T Ford Club International, and hosted many events.

His home life included assisting in homeschool education, building a bridge over Kelly Creek, spending 18 years building a hand-crafted home with his family and friends, building chicken coops, raising bees and harvesting honey, and building coaster cars and a tire swing for his grandchildren.

He and his wife are members of Shades Mountain Community Church in Bluff Park, where they have served faithfully in ministry for many years.

He was handy in all types of mechanical issues and construction techniques, and was frequently called upon to help family and friends with problems and projects. He built furniture, toys, light fixtures, and creative inventions.

However, he considered his greatest achievement in life as being a father and grandfather, and cherished his family above all else.

He enjoyed teaching his children and grandchildren how to drive tractors, Model T’s, motorcycles, and practical knowledge for life. He also taught them about his Savior Jesus Christ, and treasured his time with the Bible.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Jim & Margaret Zannis of Birmingham. He is survived by his wife Sara, son JC (Lindsay) Zannis, daughter Rachel (Chris) Callahan, son Nick Zannis, grandchildren Eli Zannis, Tessa Zannis, Andi Zannis, Ali Callahan, and Noah Callahan; sisters Gayle Yester, Tena Payne, Chris Ann Wingo; aunt Marie Zannis, mother-in-law Sara Latham, special family friend Patricia Montabana, and many other nephews, nieces, cousins, and friends.

Interment will be at 12:30 on Monday, September 24 at Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo. A celebration of life service will be held at 2:30 on Monday, September 24 in the worship center at Shades Mountain Community Church, with refreshments and visitation to follow in the fellowship hall.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to:

Motorsports Ministries
P.O. Box 7188
Santa Rosa, CA 9540


Thank you to Mandy, my dear friend and fellow photographer, for capturing these images of my Dad’s military honors, including a touching flyover.

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Dad served his country, his family, his church, and his friends well – for the entirety of his life.

The Best Dad.

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My precious dad passed away early Monday morning. He adored his wife, kids, and grandkids more than anything else in his fascinating and adventurous life. He always prioritized making memories, imparting wisdom, and causing smiles and giggles.

He had a spectacularly infinite range of talents. He was an expert on antique automobiles and their engines (and wrote two books on how to rebuild them), built antique race cars and crewed or navigated some of the most epic races (including ones across Mexico and a 45 day road rally from Beijing to Paris), drew gorgeous pen and ink drawings that were published in magazines and other forms, wrote short stories, raised bees, built coops for my mom’s chickens, built his own house (including gorgeous woodworking and light fixtures), organized grand events and organizations, and so, so much more.

There are so very many things about who I am that came from my Dad. He taught me to never doubt myself, and to take on any big project that I felt led to do. He imparted to me his renegade spirit – if you have a vision for the way something should work or the kind of group you’d like to be a part of, create it. I have so many more things to say about all that my Dad taught me, and I will share it at a later time.

Dad was given time after his diagnosis, which he used to purposefully make memories with his grandkids – it was so important to him to do special things with them and give them handmade gifts. He was first diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma six years ago, and found out that it had spread two years ago. In these six years, I have watched him take time with each of his five grandchildren, teaching them skills like driving and creating and building, sharing with them wisdom and character traits, and loving them so very well. He found out three weeks ago that he had a very short time left, and that there was nothing else that could be done for his failing liver. The first thing he did when he came home with that news was to ask Ali if she’d play a game of chess with him. As they played, I heard him telling her things that applied to the game, but also to life, like “No, I’m not going easy on you. I always play to win. No matter what you do, you should always play to win.” Dad did beat Ali in that chess game, but he complimented her on her good game.

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On Saturday, Dad knew he had extremely little time left. He asked my mom to call us all to come see him. We all spent Saturday with him, giving him time with each of his grandchildren. From Saturday on, my brothers and I rotated staying with he and my Mom through the agonizing process of dying. My Dad is the strongest, most resilient person I’ve ever known, and it was anguishing to watch him suffer so greatly. But I was glad to be able to be there for him in some small way, because of the 36+ years he’s been there for me in all of the ways. He became very calm in the early a.m. hours of Monday, and I am thankful that when he passed away, he met Jesus peacefully and restfully. My dad has been confident from the beginning of this journey that as much as he wanted to stay with us, meeting Jesus would be beautiful, and I know it was.

God has been so gracious to our family in the past few weeks and has made his love and care known in so many beautiful and individual ways. He has sent obvious and loving messages to us that have been such a comfort – even as we walk through this painful time, He is clearly with us, caring for us, and hurting with us.

We have also had so many friends who have loved us well, helping with our kids and errands and food and every tiny detail of life. I thank you all so much for your help, your love, and your prayers.

There will be an interment at 12:30 on Monday, September 24 at Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo. A celebration of life service will be held at 2:30 on Monday, September 24 in the worship center at Shades Mountain Community Church, with refreshments and visitation to follow in the fellowship hall.

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An Update on The Pause.

I have written more in the past week than I have written in months.

But first, let me tell you how I got there.

This process of pausing has been very bizarre and not at all what I expected. Last week’s post was something I’ve dreaded publishing for quite some time because I feared that once I decided to take a break, I’d never write again. I assumed the freedom from it would make me not think about writing, not want to write (even more that I already didn’t), and totally separate me from the process of thinking through writing about things. After I hit the publish button, the hurt hit me hard.

I published it before I had time to think about it, and before I really decided that yes, this is the day to do this. I guess that was best because otherwise I would have overthunk it (that’s a legit phrase) for days and never posted it, and then gotten another blog post idea and decided to put it off. Because that’s what I’ve done for the last three summers.

As soon as I hit publish and then shared it in my Blog Facebook Group, I felt sick. My head started pounding, my stomach revolted, I got chills, I felt nauseous. The full brunt of the fact that dysautonomia had won this particular battle (I fight it so hard in other areas of my life) greatly distressed me.

I texted Chris and told him all that, and that I kinda felt like crying. Which, admitting that you need to cry always does the trick. I totally started crying. And so I laid in bed and cried for a while.

I did not see any of that coming.

I had been thinking through that decision for five months, had talked to multiple friends about it, and had, I thought, processed the decision. But something about actually cutting off the arm that is my blog, rather than just thinking about cutting it off, was agonizing. (“It’s just a flesh wound!!”, they say. But it kinda wasn’t.)

Everyone’s kind and encouraging words were helpful. Everyone’s appreciation of the writing I had done was wonderful. (Blogging can be somewhat of a thankless job, but many of my readers have gone out of their way over the years to tell me how much they appreciated it.) But it still hurt like crazy. I went for a run in the woods alone, which is always a healing place for me. It was super humid from just raining, and there were gorgeous sunbeams floating through the humidity on the trails.

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One trail was covered in Black-Eyed Susans – thousands of them.

Noah had told me earlier that it looked like there would be a rainbow and I should go look for one, and sure enough, when I stepped off the trails, there was a rainbow there waiting for me.

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All of these beautiful signs of creation were the encouragement I needed – along with some introvert time in the woods.

The next day, I tried not to think about it. I was busy and pushed it out of my brain. But as I was driving home that afternoon, I had the strangest feeling. A familiar, yet long ago feeling…

I wanted to write.

I had all these thoughts popping into my head – turns of phrase, analogies, and more – and I needed to sit down at my computer and type them out.

So I did.

I started an offline journal. I wrote three “posts” that day. The freedom of writing without having to prepare it for publishing felt fantastic. I have written every day since. I have experienced the feelings freedom and creativity that have been gone for quite some time. Even my captions on Instagram and Facebook felt fresh to me (I was especially proud of that Pink Floyd reference that I’m not really old enough to understand.) It was the most unexpected turn of events – somehow typing the words I had dreaded on Tuesday broke some sort of chains on my brain, and it was actually working again. I was sure my creative inabilities had been due to my dysautonomia – but it turns out that at least part of it may have been more related to self-inflicted publishing pressure and stress.

Also known as…overthinking everything.

I quickly formed a plan: I clearly need some time to just write without the pressures of editing, hyperlinking, sharing, worrying about offending anyone, worrying about not making sense or not being as entertaining as I used to be. I made the decision that I would keep my journal offline for a month or two, then reassess where I am after that. At some point, I am going to have plenty of posts to share that I’ve written offline, if indeed I keep being able to write at this pace. And hopefully after a break from the pressures, I can reset my expectations and not worry so much.

So in summary, last week, my writing was in its Phoenix incineration phase.

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And this week, it’s an ugly, ashy, baby Phoenix. But it is happy and hopeful.

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Hopeful that soon, it will be my magical sidekick again.

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Hitting Pause.

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I’ve been struggling through my relationship with this blog for the last three years, for a myriad of reasons.

…Writing is so much harder for me than it used to be (I’ll get back to that.)
…Blogging is a “dead art.”
…My kids are growing up and not as entertaining/deserve their privacy.
…School and life take more time than they used to. When I started this blog, I was blogging during naptimes. Naptimes haven’t happened in years.
…Thankfully, we seem to be on a drought of misadventures, which were oddly always the easiest thing to write about.

But I have trouble quitting anything – even when quitting might be in order.

Every summer I get really close to writing a post similar to this (I probably have half a dozen in my drafts folder) but I always talk myself out of it. But the time has come.

The bottom line is, I need an indefinite break. The thought processes that have gone into this decision are far too vast and agonizing for something as silly as writing a personal blog (I’ve been mulling over it this time for at least 5 months), but I’ve been writing here for over a decade – it’s been a part of my life for nearly my entire career as a mother. So it feels as if it is a big part of who I am, even though I don’t give it nearly the time I used to. The idea of stopping has always felt like peeling off a part of my identity, which seems as painful as peeling off a layer of skin.

But taking a break doesn’t mean I love it any less.

I love what I’ve accomplished here. Over 2,300 posts documenting pieces of life that I certainly would have forgotten if I hadn’t written them down (I know this because I can read old posts and have no recollection of having written them or of them happening.) So many of those posts were my own personal therapy, helping me recount my days in a way that was entertaining enough to make whatever pain was involved feel inconsequential. I loved the way I was able to document Noah as a toddler. There were bats in my baby’s room. There were multiple house floods. There were crazy medical tests and procedures. There was Dysautonomia. And ultimately, it is that last one that brings me to my need for a break.

I’ve become pretty adept at fighting my symptoms of Dysautonomia – I get bi-weekly IVs to combat dehydration, I run and hike several times a week to keep blood flowing up to my brain, I drink powders that keep me going and guzzle crazy amounts of water. I (try to) hardly eat sugar and watch my caffeine intake. But the one symptom that I have found nothing that helps it is the effect Dysautonomia has taken on my brain function. I cannot think, write, or analyze creatively like I used to do on a daily basis. My brain feels sluggish and thick, and it’s not easy to sit down at a keyboard and come up with ridiculous analogies or observations on life. I mourned this loss for the first three years after my diagnosis. I pointedly avoided reading old blog posts because it made me so sad to remember what I used to be able to produce with such ease.

Every now and then, my brain will click on and it’ll work nearly how it used to. I’ve produced a blog post here and there that I have been proud of. But before 2013 I was producing 4 or 5 of those a week – and with hardly any effort. It’s not been the same.  I’ve tried to push through and make myself write anyway – and I’m glad I have – but writing has become much more of a burden than the life-giving therapy that it used to be.

But I want to write so badly.

Or rather, I want to want to write. And I want to be able to write.

To do that, I need a break, so that the negative feelings associated with writing (anxiety, guilt, mourning) can fade and I can start fresh and hopefully one day rediscover my ability to put words on a page.

If, however, I have a fantastic story I must tell, I will certainly tell it here. This blog isn’t going anywhere. I can’t imagine taking it down, and I can’t imagine saying with finality that I’m done. It will wait here, and I will write when I have something bursting to get out. But I need to remove myself from any sort of schedule or expectations of journalling my life.

Thankfully, at the same time I began the process of Dysautonomia and grappling with what it took from me, God gave me the gift of photography so that I could use it to help The WellHouse. That creative outlet has been my saving grace while I’ve been working through the frustration over my disability to write. It’s something I can do – something that isn’t affected by my brain limitations. It’s been a gift that I’ve been able to lean on. I never wanted photography to take the place of my writing, and it hasn’t – but as I face the inevitable fact that writing needs to pause for a bit, it gives me the creative space to feel like I’m not giving up. And, sometimes, I’ve been able to tell short and silly stories with my photos, and that kinda nearly feels like writing.

So for the next little while, Instagram (I’m @ObjectivityRach) is going to be my main internet nesting place. I’ve enjoyed posting Instagram stories (those little circles at the top of the home page) as we go throughout our day, and I very much enjoy posting photos. I hope to continue writing snippets and short stories as I post (like this one from Sunday), and I hope that you will follow me there for a time. I’ll be on Facebook too, but Instagram is my happy place, and it’s where I end up spending most of my online energy.

Thank you all for being a part of my life, for being my friends and my encouragers over the past decade. It has meant so much to me, and I have loved meeting you – both on the internet and many of you in real life. I don’t want to lose these friendships, and that has been a huge reason that I’ve pushed through to this point. Our relationships are a big part of that identity that pains me to think about giving up. So I hope we don’t have to do that. Please stay connected. Email me. Let me know how to follow you on Instagram (or other channels.) Friend me on Facebook. Text me. Stay my friend.

Thank you for living life with me.

Random Analogies of Life.

I had a groundbreaking realization the other day while running – which makes sense, since that’s when my brain is most oxygenated. (Too bad I can’t write while running or I might write as often as I used to.) But seriously – this breakthrough could change the economic direction of the American public – are you ready?

New cars are like puppies. Or at least they are while you have young kids.

New cars are so fantastically adorable when you first get one. They smell delightful. They’re clean and lovely and snuggly and fresh and feel so so good to be with. They make precious noises and snuggle with you just right. You delight in their presence and revel in their newness.

But within a year, or maybe a few hours, the kids spill Cheez-its in the seatbelt crack, drop a sucker (and leave it) on the floormat, crunch Chick-Fil-A crumbs into the now sticky sucker puddle, and can’t manage to take a single piece of trash with them. Ever.

Within a year, your adorable puppy is now a mangy mutt. It smells of dog breath and licks you with its gunk if you get too close to it. You try and clean it, but it only stays clean for about a day (and you can’t *really* ever get into all its crevices and have a completely sterile creature ever again.) It has lost all its cuteness and is now just another mouth to feed (unleaded, regular, please.) Every time someone new gets in your car, you have to say, “Sorry for the smell. I hope you don’t get licked. And don’t scratch that spot or it will soil you.”

As cute as puppies are, they’re not worth the smelly dogs they become.


The kids were watching The Trolls Movie the morning of Independence Day. I sat down watched the opening sequence with them.

Let’s review…

Against the advice of wise and paranoid Branch, Princess Poppy throws a giant party.

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At Poppy’s party, they’re celebrating 20 years since they escaped from the Bergen (those evil villains who love to eat Trolls.)

So basically, they’re celebrating their Independence Day. I thought, as I sat there on July Fourth with my children, “what a perfect time to watch this movie.”

They’re shooting off fireworks and partying and …. all a bit too loudly, because pretty soon, who comes stomping through the forest, but the Grand Huntress Bergen Chef herself – she pounds through, rattling the forest, then towers over the Trolls.

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She curls her lips into a wicked smile and says “Gotcha.”

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That night, I was taking pictures of our own Independence Day fireworks. We were right below Vulcan, where the show takes place, closer than we’ve ever been, reveling in the beauty and party and also the loudness of it.

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But instead of reveling in the patriotic beauty of our independence, I could not help but picture a giant, massive, ground-shaking Queen Elizabeth stomping up 20th Street, pushing past Vulcan, staring down at me,

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then curling her lips evilly down at me and saying “Gotcha.”

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I really felt like we should have learned from the Trolls movie and celebrated our Independence just a tad bit quieter. I don’t want to be fed to the British.

Here’s a Little Ditty, about Willard and Eugene.

You may remember dear, kind former neighbor, Not-Crazy-Renee. Or  maybe you don’t. If you don’t, I demand that you immediately go do your homework and read everything in this category. You won’t regret it.

Snakey Butters Buttercup made appearances in at least two of those stories. We’ll refer to her as SBB, out of mercy for my fingers.

SBB is a Butterball Python that is the pet belonging to Not-Crazy-Renee’s seven-year-old daughter. She’s been around a few years and I kinda love her. I’ve fed her, I nearly got to mid-term-babysit her (as their realtor told them they could *never* sell a house with a snake in it and so Renee was going to move SBB to my house for staging purposes, but then her husband stepped in, fed up with realtor demands, and said “If they don’t want my house with a snake in it then they don’t deserve my house!” or something similar, thereby dashing my chances of being a snake foster mom), and in general we love each other.

But Not-Crazy-Renee had the indecency to move out of state last year. She went from being my neighbor to leaving me in distress and loneliness on a daily basis. I’ve been to visit her twice, the second time being last week.

I was thrilled to see that SBB had grown tremendously since my first visit last fall. In fact, I couldn’t tell that Not-Crazy-Renee’s children had grown, but totally gushed over how tall SBB had gotten.

Imagine my further excitement when I realized that I was assigned the bedroom in which SBB stayed, her glass cage just a couple feet away from my feet. And then there was my further incandescent happiness when I realized that SBB is nocturnal – and does little cage dances in the night – cage dances that make a cracking sound and feel thrillingly like she’s going to get out and eat me at any moment. Because it was clear that she definitely wanted to eat me in my sleep.

While I was there, the time came for SBB to have her weekly meal. Since she has indeed enlarged since she lived in Birmingham, she now gets two mice instead of one. Typically, Not-Crazy-Renee puts one mouse in the cage, and upon the finishing of that mouse, she puts the second mouse in the cage – the dessert mouse if you will. This is to protect SBB from any accidental damage from extraneous mice and to not confuse the feeding process.

But NCR always gets a little wacky when I come around, and on a lark, she stuck both mice in at once.

Then we sat back with our popcorn and waited expectantly.

The mice dumbly nosed around the cage, checking out their fortuitous new digs. They nincompoopedly skittered up to SBB, sniffing her shiny, scaly body with interest. We named the mice Eugene and Willard as we watched them idiotically bump into their upcoming fate.

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Eugene was the first to make the wrong move. He walked right in front of SBB’s face and just stood there.

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We knew it was coming. She pounced at high speed and grabbed him up, curling herself around him and retreating into her cave to finish the job of death before starting the job of lunch.

Meanwhile, Willard kept dumbly loitering throughout the cage, clueless of the dark, choky end that his friend was currently experiencing.

tenor-13“Hey Eugene!! Come check out this cave I found!! Eugene!! Eugene??”

A few minutes later, SBB, needing to stretch out to actually swallow the now-deceased-Eugene (may he Rest In Peace), emerged from the cave and began positioning her jaw and neck (do snakes have neck? Are snakes all neck?) to work Eugene down the hatch.

As she had Eugene, face-first in her throat with his butt in the air (containing a bit of “I pooped my pants” sticking out like a last failed missile), Willard happened to walk by, chanting “der der der”, as is the custom of mice, the dumbest and naivest of all creatures.

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But then Willard saw Eugene.

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And I saw the scales fall from his eyes.

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He, as the first second mouse ever to be allowed into SBB’s domain, had come to realize what this situation held.

And he ran.

He ran across the cage, found another cage, and I KID YOU NOT, started pushing woodchips in front of the entrance to create a barricade.

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He cowered in the back corner of the cave, hoping that somehow he could wait out the wrath of this magnificently dinosauric (to him) creature.

But swallowing a mouse is no quick process, and SBB took her time getting poor Eugene down.

Willard is like me, whereas his physical response to emotions takes a few minutes to kick in. After a spell of hiding in his cave, he started shaking all over, panicking. He realized that he could not cower and do nothing. He sprinted for the cage walls and began climbing the seams, looking for any opening or looseness from which to escape.

Meanwhile, The Massive Creature behind him was swallowing the last bit of Eugene’s tail.

Willard began running and shaking, pacing and pushing, doing anything to escape this Jurassic Hell. He pondered his life, wondering what it all meant, how he had ended up here, and was this always his purpose?

SBB finished her dinner and moved on to find Willard, sensing his presence nearby. She creepily began flicking her tongue, chasing his scent in a slow, methodical, utterly horror movie fashion. She’d track him to a corner, and Willard would hightail it out of there. SBB would stick around for a minute, tasting the air, and then determining that the dinner course had indeed moved on.

Two times they came face to face, Willard being very still, thinking this would save him, and SBB tasting the breath coming out of his mouth.

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Then Willard would peel out, spraying woodchips in SBB’s face. SBB would continue the slow, evil stalk.

I watched this for over an hour. I realized this was the first time in her life that SBB had a cognizant prey. A prey that realized he was prey and not just a dumb mouse walking into her outstretched hands (which she obviously didn’t have but those mice are so dumb she didn’t need them.) I wondered if she was enjoying the hunt. If she was feeling a primal urge inside of her to fully engage and win at something that she wasn’t predeterminedly set up to win.

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But finally, she bored of the game. She lay down, stretching out luxuriously, facing the corner in which Willard shook and hid.

Hours later, I came in the room to go to bed. There were still two creatures in the cage. I had gone from sleeping with a snake to sleeping with a snake and his saved midnight snack. The night consisted of cave creakings and the scratches of a continuously fleeing Willard.

When I woke up the next morning, I miraculously still had two roommates. They now seemed at peace with each other, SBB givin’ Willard some respect props, both using the same water bowl and hanging out in the same area. No one was shaking, no one was hunting. They had truly become roommates – the type that maybe is infuriated by the other every now and then but wouldn’t be with anyone else. They were Chandler and Joey sharing an apartment. They were gossiping about Ross and Rachel.

After I left, Renee set Willard free. It had been nearly 24 hours and he clearly wasn’t going to be eaten.

I pondered his life, the crazy turn it had taken, and his new future, free and liberated. He had the world ahead of him, but he was probably also wounded from the horror flick he’d just lived through. He was the one character that made it out, trudging wearily from the haunted house, covered in blood and haunted by memories of his friends being brutally torn apart by the monster.

So I asked Renee. Do you think the PTSD he now lives with was worth his freedom?

I was worried for his mental peace.

But ever the optimist, she replied,

“I think of him like a gladiator that survived the arena and fought his way to freedom. He. is. Maximus Mouse.”

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So there you go. He is a victor. He won The Hunger Games. He survived in the evil, bloody game of life.

At least for five minutes, until a hawk snatches him up.