Sunday, February 19, 2017

Oh, What a Night to Shine!

Drew and his best friend Michael dance and hang out with friends at Night to Shine Tallahassee.

My son Drew has always been up for a good time. He loves to eat, dance and hang out with his friends – and believe me, he has LOTS of friends. Recently, he got to dress up and party with many of his friends at the annual TimTebow Foundation’s Night to Shine prom.

Night to Shine is a prom for people 14 and older with special needs. Tebow started Night to Shine three years ago, and this year, 75,000 people with disabilities in 375 locations in 50 states and 11 countries attended.

Local churches hosted and organized the event, and this year, it took 150,000 volunteers to make the night a success. For months leading up to the prom, the church committees collected prom attire and accessories from the community and then hosted a day when prom-goers picked out a dress or tux. They made sure that security and medical care were on hand the night of the prom and that each attendee had a buddy to hang out with during the night. The buddies passed a background check and participated in a training workshop. I sponsored the high school prom once and it was a piece of cake compared to everything that these Night to Shine committees did.

Genesis Church hosted the Night to Shine prom in Tallahassee.

Volunteer buddies wait to cheer prom-goers as they walk the red carpet at Night to Shine Tallahassee.
Everyone enjoyed the karaoke room!

Tim Tebow is quite an interesting young man. His parents were missionaries in the Philippines where Tebow lived during his childhood. He played college football at the University of Florida where he led the team to two national championships. He was awarded the Heisman Trophy, was drafted by the NFL and played a few years. Currently, he is a college football analyst for the SEC Network and playing baseball with the New York Mets organization. 

Tebow established his foundation in 2010 with the “mission to bring Faith, Hope and Love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.” In addition to Night to Shine, the foundation aids in adoption of special needs children from 3rd world countries, provides playrooms in pediatric hospitals, and operates a pediatric orthopedic hospital in the Philippines.

Tim Tebow escorts a Night to Shine prom-goer into the event.
“From a very early age, my parents instilled in me the importance of God’s word, the salvation we have in His Son Jesus and the responsibility we have to give back to others. That’s why in 2010, I was so excited to create the Tim Tebow Foundation with a mission to bring Faith, Hope and Love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.” – Tim Tebow

Many professional athletes have foundations for charitable causes. Being a cynical person, I always considered them just a tax write-off.  These people are paid exorbitant salaries, and they must find a way to keep the IRS from taking most of the money. However, I was never exposed to one of these foundations directly until Night to Shine. 

This night was so special to so many people, and their memories of the event won’t fade quickly. Drew loves looking at pictures and talking about the great time he had with his friends. My daughter works at an adult day program for many of those who attended the prom. She said that the week after the event, many of the attendees wore their crowns each day. One man couldn’t tell her about the night without crying because he was still so excited.

Each prom-goer received a crown or tiara to wear at Night to Shine prom.

I live in the middle of Florida State University fanatics, and it's hard for many of them to find anything positive to say about the University of Florida. However, one of these die-hard Seminoles who volunteered at Night to Shine said, "I'm certainly not a Gator fan, but Tebow's foundation really does a great job!" My daughter, who is a UF alumna, said that it's because Tebow is part of the "Gator Good." Personally, I believe that his goodness has much more to do with his faith than with being a Gator, but then again, I don't like football.

So thank you Tim Tebow Foundation and all the host churches and volunteers. I’d have to say the Night to Shine was a success!

"I genuinely believe, from the bottom of my heart, that statistics will never motivate you; a specific story will motivate you. If one person realizes that God loves them, that’s enough." - Tim Tebow

Friday, February 10, 2017

I'm Back ... or at Least I'm Trying

haven’t been a good blog-keeper for over a year, having written only five posts since January 2016. My audience tells me they miss reading my thoughts. That previous sentence makes it sound like my audience is in the thousands. That’s hardly true, but I so appreciate anyone who has read in the past.

Why haven’t I been writing? I’ve thought a lot about how to answer this question because I loved writing and sharing with you. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t want to keep up the pace. After a lot of deep thinking, I came up with a few reasons.

The biggest reason is that my whole life has done, as they say in racing circles, a 180. The course I had planned in 2015 – retire, spend time with my husband, family and friends, write – did not go as I thought. I did retire, but when Richard died, I didn’t have the desire to write. He was my muse, my inspiration for this blog and many of the posts. I didn’t have my editor anymore and didn’t feel confident in my thoughts or writing. 

Also, I didn’t have anything I wanted to write about. My world had become so small while caring for Richard, and I didn’t want to let anyone inside. Writing a post about grieving would be too sad, for me and for you. Often, I considered writing about news events but why? The election wore me out, and I stopped watching national news. I, like many people I know, now focus on my small world, accepting that there’s not much I can change about the big picture.

Instead of writing, I became physically active, mainly to become exhausted so I could sleep at night. I worked in my yard, pushing my old-school lawnmower, chopping shrubs and vines and even cutting down trees with an ax. I set a daily goal of reaching at least 10k steps on my Fitbit but also of having at least I hour of active minutes. I walked 1.5 miles every morning and again every evening. 

Along the way, I rejoined Weight Watchers which led to healthy eating. Since March 2016, I have lost 58 pounds. I began working with a personal trainer weekly which helps build muscle and protect my old bones. My appearance has changed so much that people I haven’t seen in a while don’t recognize me. It’s awkward when we meet because we must get the "new" Pam out of the way. Often, someone will say, “Oh, you’re so skinny” which bothers me. Before, did they want to say, “Oh, you’re so fat” when they met me? Body image, especially when you focus on your own body, is difficult.

May 2015 and November 2016

In August 2016, I returned to the school where I had taught prior to retirement to teach part time. I have the best job in the world! For three periods each day, I teach super kids who are taking dual-enrolled English. These kids chose to be in the class and had to jump through several hoops to be allowed in; therefore, they are committed to the work. They are receiving high school as well as six hours of college credit which is sometimes demanding, but I am well pleased with their work ethic.

I love my part-time gig, especially the part about being finished at 11:15 every day. Now, I have time to plan thoroughly and to keep ahead of my grading. I am willing to try new strategies because I’m not stressed of having to plan and grade for two other classes. If you are one of my former students and you thought I was a pretty good teacher then, you should know that you were cheated. I’m 100% better now. I wish every teacher could enjoy teaching part time, but alas, the money isn’t enough. Fortunately, I have my retirement income as well.  

So much about my life has changed over the past year. My wise friend Jo often said, “Something good always comes from change. You just have to wait long enough to see it.” I am grateful every day for all the blessings I receive – good health, financial independence, great working environment, family, etc. I still have those negative pictures of worst-case scenarios that pop up in my head, but I’m working on mindfulness, living in the moment. I’m getting used to the new me by spending time alone, exercising and saying yes to most invitations to events.

Sometimes I want to plan the rest of my life, but if the last year is any indication of how well I plan, it’ll all go "to hell in a handbasket," as my mom always says. I’ll try to write more often because I hate to see the blog go away forever. Why don’t you send me some topics you’d like for me to write about? Obviously, I need ideas.

Friday, November 11, 2016

I Switched -- No Party Affiliation!

I have needed my husband more this past week than probably any time since his death ten months ago. Of course, I miss him every day and several times have caught myself wanting to call him to discuss little and big events.

My need for him recently is because of the Presidential election. He was the political one in the family. He always paid attention to world-wide events and watched both CNN and FOX news so he could form unbiased views. He was a registered voter with no party affiliation. Last fall, when all this Presidential election hoopla began, he didn't have a favorite candidate. This was well before the primaries so he had lots of choices --16 Republican candidates and Bernie was still around to cause a stir in the other group. I remember my husband saying that if Trump succeeded, it would tear the Republican party apart and that Hillary had too much baggage to succeed. Time will tell if his Trump prediction is correct although several times during the campaign, I thought it would happen. He nailed the Hillary prediction, though.

I’m a Democrat. I registered with that party so I could vote in the primaries and have more of a choice in candidates. I have voted in several presidential elections since turning 18 years old. My first Presidential vote was for Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Since then, I have voted mainly for Democratic candidates. I align myself with those who want to help education, the middle class and most importantly and selfishly, help the disabled since I have a child with a disability. In my experience, one of the first acts that Republicans take is to cut funds from the disabled and public education. Oh, they usually put the money back eventually after those who need it suffer a little while. To me, the Republicans, especially at the state level, beat up the weak kids first. It’s not that the Democrats are always great with their choices in spending or other issues, but they appear to care about the underdog more. 

After my son was born with Down syndrome, I joined of a new-to-me group -- people who advocate for those who can’t for themselves. I teach in a public high school, and many of the young people I teach also need advocates since their parents may not be present, physically or mentally. In my profession, I’m exposed to all types of people – black, white, gay, straight, Christian, atheist, etc. I see good and bad in all. I tell my students, “I love you all because you are children of the Lord, but there are times when I don’t like you.” My dislike has nothing to do with their sexual identity (which changes daily with teenagers), their religion, or their race. It has to do with behavior and work ethic, but I will go to bat for the worst one of them if I see that he is being wronged.

Both Democrats and Republicans used fear in their recent campaigns – “Is this the man you want to have the nuclear codes?” “Do you want your children hearing this language from your President?” “She is a criminal and will sell out to the highest bidder!”  I admit that I am fearful for the people for whom I advocate. I am afraid that the advances this country has made in acceptance for people with differences from the norm will recede and that the respect that women majorly deserve will lessen. I’m afraid that the illegal immigrant who cleans and cares for a close friend will be shipped back to Mexico and be separated from her American-born children. I have needed my husband to talk with me about all of this and maybe to calm my fears.

Yesterday, I changed my voter information to No Party Affiliation. To me, people assume that if I’m a Democrat, I’m some crazy, tree-hugging liberal or if I’m a Republican, I’m a racist homophobe. I'm fine with giving up my choices in a primary election. In this past election, the two parties made major pushes to sway the independent voters. I want candidates to want and need my vote, not simply expect it because I'm a member of that party. I'm so dissatisfied with both major parties that I'm happy to distance myself from them.

I think my husband would be ok with my decision. I sure would like to talk to him about it.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I Have No More Excuses!

About nine weeks ago, I made a life-altering decision.

I joined WeightWatchers.


Actually, this may be the tenth or twelfth time I’ve joined WeightWatchers. My history with this organization is like many people who are unsuccessful:

1.       I stayed for about four weeks. The weight didn’t drop as quickly as I wanted, so I quit.
2.       I didn’t have the extra money to pay the monthly fee, so I quit.
3.       I got too busy at work/home and skipped meetings and then quit.
4.       I could do this myself; I didn’t need them. All I had to do was write down what I ate and weigh myself, so I quit.

Last year, I wrote a post about all of my weight-loss attempts. Some are pretty outrageous, I admit, so I knew what I didn't want to do. If I lost weight quickly, I’d gain it back.

WeightWatchers was my choice.

Several recent events led to my return to WeightWatchers. In January, my husband passed away after a year-long battle with lung cancer. During that year, especially the last few months, I experienced the roughest times I’ve ever known. I was a full-time caregiver to him while managing to take care of my son who has Down syndrome and my 11-year-old granddaughter who lives with me. What little time I scratched out for myself was usually late at night after everyone was in bed. I’d sit in front of the TV, mindlessly watching while consuming empty calories. 

Last fall, my annual blood work showed elevated levels of everything bad. My doctor said she would redo the labs in three months. What she meant was, “You’ve got three months to get your crap together and work on your health.” I knew I had to do something, but I was in a one-day-at-a-time existence, trying to keep everyone’s schedules in sync and putting on that brave face. There was no time for me.

In March, one of my good friends died. He was six years younger than I am and had battled weight issues most of his adult life. He died alone in a hotel room from heart failure. I assume that his yo-yo dieting had a big impact on his heart.

After these two deaths and my doctor's warning, I didn’t even have to stand on the scales to know that I had to make a change for the rest of my life. I was done with thinking I could battle my weight alone and with quick fixes.

I had no more excuses. 

I didn’t have anyone to take care of really. I still had my family living at home, but they were at school/work all day. I didn’t have a job that would take up my time. I justified spending the money on meetings because if I didn’t do something, I would have to buy all new clothes and clothes get more expensive as they get bigger. I'd also have to start spending money on expensive medications.

Besides, I just knew that Oprah wanted me to do it. 

And after eight weeks, I have to say that I’ve been very successful, not just with losing weight, but also with my general health and mental state. Some of the changes I’ve noticed are

1.       I keep track of every crumb that I put in my mouth. With my smart phone, I can easily input everything and can even scan an item to see how many points it is. Then I decide if I want to spend those points on eating it. Is this item worth the sacrifice?
2.       I bought a FitBit, which syncs my fitness to the WeightWatchers app on my phone. I don’t have to figure out Fit Points because the app does it for me.
3.       I walk every day. I hit at least 10,000 steps, not all at one time, but I have at least 45 active moments during the day. That means I’m exerting myself during those minutes.
4.       I broke my sugar addiction. The only sweet items in the house right now are strawberries and pineapple. If I really crave chocolate, I put 1 tsp. of chocolate syrup (1 point) on chopped strawberries (0 points). I’m satisfied. 
5.       My shopping trips to the grocery store have changed. I even enter the store in a different door. I have always entered my store in the door that leads through the pharmacy and then followed the path of up-and-down aisles, putting whatever I thiought I’d like or whatever would please my family in my basket. Now I enter the door that leads to the produce first. I shop for fresh vegetables and fruits and then meats. I look down each aisle to see if there’s something I need, but most often I don’t go down the aisle. I shop in the U pattern, hitting all the outside aisles and leaving the processed/refined products sitting on the shelves.
6.       Every Monday morning at 10:00 a.m., I’m at my WeightWatchers meeting. I’ve met many people and we exchange tips and ideas. The leader is caring and really motivates us by letting us be part of the discussion.
7.       I don’t think about food so much. I used to worry about what I was going to eat for lunch before even finishing breakfast. I think I’m now eating to live instead of living to eat.

In these past weeks, I’ve lost 21.8 pounds and have dropped 2 sizes in pants. I’ve got more weight to lose, but I concentrate on 5 pounds at a time instead of the big goal. I’m seeing my doctor next week, and I’m certain my lab work will show improvement.

I’ve always known what it took to lose weight and get healthy. I just wanted to do it my way – to have my cake and eat it, too. This time, the timing was right and everything just clicked in my brain.

I guess it’s just my time.

I have no more excuses. 
May 2016

May 2015

Saturday, April 16, 2016

My Recent Reads -- The Ruth Galloway Series by Elly Griffiths

A few months ago, my friend Janice suggested a book series that she thought I might enjoy. The author is Elly Griffith, and Janice said that the main character is a forensic archeologist in England named Ruth Galloway who works with the local police to solve mysteries about discovered bones.
Elly Griffiths, author. You can find out more
about this author at her website HERE

I always pay attention when Janice says she likes an author because Janice is an avid reader, we have a lot of the same likes and she is usually spot-on in her book choices.

This time, she was oh, so right.

I started the first of seven in the series, The Crossing Places,
and as soon as I finished it, I downloaded the second and when that was over, I downloaded the third, and you can infer how it went from there. I read all seven books in a row and have pre-ordered book eight which is coming out in May 2016. I am addicted enough to pay the $9.99 for a Kindle copy which added up to $70. I usually pay no more than $2.99 for an e-book, but I just had to keep going with these characters. I wanted to know what happened to them next.

As I said, the main character, Ruth Galloway, is a single, overweight, almost-40-year-old forensic archeologist who teaches at a university in Norfolk, England. She lives with her two cats in a rather isolated area on a salt marsh on the coast.

In the first novel, Ruth meets a detective, Harry Nelson, who comes to her for answers concerning bones discovered at a construction site. As the two of them work on this case, they recognize and deal with their many differences. They establish a working relationship that is somewhat tense but each has great respect for the other’s abilities and knowledge. 

Many other equally-captivating characters appear in these novels. First is Cathbad, the druid priest often dressed in a flowing purple cape, who becomes friend to both Ruth and Nelson. Cathbad seems to have knowledge of mystical events happening around Ruth and Nelson; therefore, he keeps them out of danger, most of the time. 

Other characters in each novel include Phil, Ruth’s unlikable department chair; Shona, Ruth’s questionable best friend; Judy, a police officer working to advance her rank; and bumbling detective Clough.

Why do I like these books so much? One reason is Ruth. I found her extremely likable and vulnerable. She has a PhD in forensic archeology but is often filled with self doubt. Secondly, I like learning about new information or about parts of history I didn’t know about before. In these books, I learned about the Stone and Iron Ages, England during Roman rule and druids.

If you need something to read, Janice and I encourage you to try the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Please let me know what you think about them.



Images found at Author's Website

Saturday, April 9, 2016

My Major Kitchen Remodel

My house was built in 1980, and nothing in the kitchen had been updated since then except appliances. When I bought the house in 2005, I replaced the range because the original one was really ugly. Since then, I also replaced all the other appliances because the old ones broke. I hated the formica countertops and the dark tile floor, but I didn't really like cooking anymore, so the old kitchen wasn't a priority. 

I decided that I would wait until I retired to begin a remodel project and in January 2016, that's what I did.

Actually, I started this project a year ago by looking at websites like Houzz and HGTV for kitchen ideas. If I found a picture of something I liked, I saved it in a folder on the computer. I also researched prices of big-ticket items like appliances and cabinets in order to stay within my budget of $30,000. 

I didn't know where to start with hiring people to do the work, so I hired a contractor, Scott Bentz of Bentz Remodeling in Tallahassee, FL. The prices of the other contractors I investigated were much higher and it helped that I had known Scott for 35 years. My first year teaching, he was one of my favorite students in one of my 10th grade classes. It was nice working with someone with whom I had a history and felt like I could trust. 

Scott told me to first visit certain business and select the cabinets, tile, granite, appliances, etc. His list of contacts was great as all the recommended people knew their stuff. It was obvious from the start of the project that Scott had built a network of tradesmen who were professional and who had years of experience. I always felt comfortable with them in my house and they never had down time. They came in, did their job and left. Scott had a detailed calendar online on which I could see who was coming to work on which date which was extremely helpful. 

This remodel took about eight weeks to complete. During those weeks, I washed dishes in the bathroom sink and we killed many trees using paper plates and cups. There were a couple of hiccups but nothing that wasn't corrected quickly. One major problem was my fault. When I ordered the appliances, I thought I wanted a really big refrigerator which is what I ordered. When the deliverymen came with it, I knew before they unloaded it that it was too big. Fortunately, I bought all of my appliances from a local business and they happily helped by replacing it with a cabinet-depth unit without charging me a restocking fee. Thanks Mays-Munroe! The refrigerator is smaller, but I kept my old one and put it in the garage so I have plenty of storage for extra items. This was definitely one time when buying local paid off. I don't think one of the big national stores doing all of this for me. 

Here are my before and after pictures of the remodel. I'm really happy with how it all turned out.

The cabinets were in good shape but needed updating. I found that replacing the cabinets was about the same cost as refinishing the original ones because of labor. The lights were fluorescent tubes recessed into the ceiling and covered by a plastic grid. 

Hi Drew!

The kitchen tile joined the parquet in the dining area. I wanted something lighter that would make the area brighter and feel bigger.

The original pantry was like an abyss where everything got pushed to the back and out of sight.

First came the new lighting -- LED can lights on the outside and a ceiling fan in the center of the recessed area. These lights are awesome -- very bright but no heat is coming from them. I love having the ceiling fan in the kitchen, too.  I didn't want to close off the recessed area and make it level with the rest of the ceiling because I felt that it would make the area really small. (Note: The electrician on the right is a former student. They are everywhere!)

The kitchen and dining room were completely gutted to make way for new 20-inch porcelain tiles set on an angle.

Next came the cabinets -- Shaker style in honey maple. I don't like white or painted cabinets which is what seems to be popular right now. I like wood tones but wanted to lighten everything.
The new pantry has pull-out shelves. Now I can see what's in the back.

The paint color for the dining room is Crushed Cinnamon by Benjamin Moore. The granite color is Crema Bordeaux. It's hard to tell in the pictures but there are specks of cinnamon color in the granite.

 All of the appliances are GE. I used almond-colored subway tiles for the backsplash. I wanted something neutral that would not compete with the granite.

The only extra cabinet I added was for the trash can. The old can set here and I hated having it exposed to the dining area. (There was still paint touch-up needed when I took this picture.)

I bought the faucet at Costco. I wasn't familiar with the brand, Hansgrohe, but my plumber said it was fantastic. I paid $269 but the next month, Costco marked it down to $189. Since mine hadn't been installed yet, I took it back and re-bought it. 

No one ever noticed this cabinet before. We use it for storing pool items, flower vases and dog food. I requested the pull out shelves to make it easier to get to items.
I never stressed about anything, and any time I had a question or concern, I called Scott. I jokingly told him that my calls were why he was getting the big money he was making! I did go over my budget by a couple of thousand dollars, but I made several changes which increased the cost.

All in all, I'd say this project was a good one. I might even enjoy cooking now.

Here are links to some of the businesses who did all the amazing work:

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Love and Loss

Two months ago, my husband bought a car. When we met, he owned a BMW z3 and now wanted a BMW 335is convertible; however, the price was around $30,000 for a used one. He’d have to make payments and he hated payments. Instead, he found a 2002 Mustang GT convertible with only 65,000 miles at a price low enough that he could pay cash. It’s in great shape (no door nicks, no rust, etc.), has a big, loud engine and a short-throw manual transmission. It’s a fast car and his dream was that he and I would drive down all the canopied roads in Tallahassee, top down and carefree, like we did when we were dating eleven years ago. We’d take long drives to nowhere, just talking, taking pictures of things we found interesting, and listening to NPR, the only radio station he ever listened to.

Our story wasn't unique. We met online (Thanks, eHarmony. It was the best $100 I ever spent.) After chatting on the computer, we progressed to phone conversations. After a month, we arranged to meet in Apalachicola, a neutral meeting place since we both lived in towns about the same distance away. We hit it off immediately and began dating, each of us taking turns driving to see the other. After six months of dating, I decided to move to Tallahassee. A job I wanted became available, my house sold quickly and I bought another one at the same price. Everything just fell into place, like it was meant to be. It helped that his house was now only three miles away, making daily visits easy.

We settled into a great relationship, one of true love for each other but also a respect and gratitude that we had found another person with whom we could get along so easily. We planned and hosted parties, we took trips, we helped each other with house projects – we came to each other’s rescue. Actually, he came to mine more often because he was retired and had time. I still had ten years of work to go before I could join him on easy street.

When we started our relationship, we agreed that we never would marry again. Why mess up a good thing? But after six years, we saw the economic savings of being married and making a true commitment. We eloped to Apalachicola on the anniversary of our first date and married in a judge’s chambers. Afterwards, we ate oysters and drove down the coast like we had done on our first date. It was a beautiful December day.

Everything about our life together was beautiful. He loved me and I loved him. We had been through bad marriages and didn’t want that to happen again. We worked hard to understand the other’s ways and to give each other space. He saved money and I spent it. He took care of house and car repairs. I took care of him and the others living in the house. He supported me with anything I wanted to do – sewing, photography, graduate classes, blogging. He was my editor with this blog, proofing for mistakes and making suggestions of how he would say things or something I should add. Sometimes I joked with him that he should write his own blog since he had so many suggestions for mine.

Our last trip together started a year ago when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. After radiation, two rounds of chemo and another of immunotherapy, his body began to wear down. He died a week and five days ago. We both thought we had more time, that he would die by gently easing into death with the help of morphine so as to avoid pain. It wasn’t like that at all. He had a heart attack on the way to the ER. He was in pain and was scared. His last words to me were, “I’m not going to make it.” As usual, he was right.

Richard drove that Mustang three times. Only once did we ride down a canopied road and enjoy the carefree, top-down openness. Our plan did not mirror God's, but really, does it ever?

I turned his cell phone off this week. It’s the last place I could hear his voice, even though it was only him saying his name on his voicemail message.

I know I will get through this. I know time heals. I have a huge support system and many people who love me and my family.

Right now, though, this really sucks.