Thoughts from the wee hours…

Living with a dog with a small bladder is like having a newborn again. You sleep in short chunks with multiple mid-night wakings. After having just climbed back in bed after yet another late night trip downstairs with Molly, I have so many random thoughts floating around…

• Note to self: I sleep better if I claim my half of the bed from an Equatorial perspective (top half) rather than a meridian (right half) perspective. At least with the dogs… not sure about the pilot. 😆 These days when the Munchkin is gone to his dad’s, I end up with the Pug and the Bulldog in bed with me, while the lab is in the dog bed in the floor next to me. Did I mention they snore? They all snore…

• I am so behind on writing and homework right now it’s not funny… and I’m having so much trouble forcing myself to actually work. But the end of semester looms… and panic is starting to become a daily feeling.

• I miss my pilot. The worst part of this time in our airline life is not knowing when I’ll see him again. He’s working so hard to get through this challenging point in his career… and I’m so proud of him. But it’s hard. For both of us.

• My mother is so freaking amazing… she cleaned and reorganized my office this weekend and I can actually work at my desk now.

• There’s something really special, after having been blessed with a best friend for 22 years, to having a relationship with her daughter.

• The money for the semester never seems to last through the whole semester. I think one thing I miss about working, besides having a social life, is just knowing there’s a paycheck coming.

• It’s only 38 days until Rocky Mountain Christmas vacation! Hooray! I’m so looking forward to Christmas with both parents and my sister. It will be good to be away from Indiana over the holiday, so close on the heels of losing my grandpa.

• I don’t like having a friend living with chronic pain… but I do appreciate having someone who understands where I live who I can text at any hour to commiserate. My sweet friend in Georgia is dealing with a mess of back issues. I hate hearing how she hurts, how the pain is getting to her emotionally. But it is so comforting to be able to turn to someone who gets what it’s like to live this illness life, who knows how it feels to feel like a burden to others, who really gets how frustrating this can be and how much you just want to go back to “normal.”

• I had grand intentions on doing the “30 days of Thanks” thing this year… but lately I’m struggling to find the good. Not that I’m not very blessed and incredibly “wealthy” by so many standards. I have a home, a family, a beautiful child, an education, food to eat… but as I fight my own body every day, sometimes just to get out of bed, you get trapped in this internal place where it’s very hard to get outside oneself and recognize all that is there.

• Hypocortisolism is no joke. At a time when my pain is relatively well-managed, nothing is more infuriating than having to rest (or nap) after just a few hours… and on the days I force myself to get up and go all day, to then have to spend the entire next day (or more) recovering. I feel like I’m sleeping my life away these days, and I hate it. Thank God for my momma, who is helping me keep it together for my Munchkin. I’ll be glad when my new treatment starts working, in the hope that I can stay awake for more than a few hours at a time and maybe start to feel human again.

With that, I think I’ll try to catch a couple more hours sleep before class… hopefully…

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What You Don’t Know…

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post in months.

Not really a big deal, right? Life gets busy. Other things take priority. That’s not that remarkable.

Yes, I’m a working parent. Yes, I’m a special needs mom. A single mom. And I am a person living with a chronic illness. But none of these facts by themselves is truly extraordinary. There are thousands of people out there who are single parents, or working parents, or are raising special kids, or live with ongoing health challenges.

But there are some things you don’t know.

So, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

It’s something I’ve been trying to pretend wasn’t there. It’s something that I’ve tried to be okay with. It’s something that I feel guilty for admitting, because I have much to be grateful for, and so I have held this hand close to the vest. But there are some days when keeping the secret becomes a shrieking cacophony inside my soul, and I feel like it may drown me. So I’m going to take a leap of faith and just put it out there…

My life is incredibly lonely right now.

What you don’t know… is that, despite being around people, and feeling overwhelmed with What you don't know...busyness most of the time, I am so incredibly isolated that at times I think my chest may explode.

What you don’t know… is that I got really sick last semester. So sick that I had to withdraw from school temporarily about half-way through the semester. And not just because of the fibromyalgia.

What you don’t know… is that last March, I was diagnosed with Type 16 HPV, the form of the virus that is the most high-risk for cervical cancer, and that I had to have a biopsy. And that even while that biopsy came back mostly okay, I will remain at high risk for developing cervical cancer for some time… and there’s no way to tell if my body will fight off the virus like most people’s do or not.

What you don’t know… is that because of how sick and critically exhausted I had become, I was essentially put on “home rest” for four months. I spent my whole spring and summer at home, mostly alone. For the first time in years, I had all the time in the world to spend with friends and family… but I didn’t get to do hardly anything.

What you don’t know… is that – after I spent about a month doing not much more than sleeping – I still had a long hard road to walk to learn how to balance my days. I had to learn how to not steal energy from tomorrow for today. Or, if I do, I have to plan ahead, because borrowing an advance on the next day’s energy means a day of recovery afterward. And I’m still learning.

What you don’t know… is that, even with all that free time, I felt more isolated than ever. I was at home while the world moved on without me. And now I didn’t even have the social outlet of a job. On top of that, my FM/CFS and thyroid issues make me really intolerant of heat. So with no income and everyone I knew working, I spent the entire summer indoors with my 11-year-old, too tired to do much of anything and getting really depressed.

See, here’s the thing:

A thirty-something-year-old undergrad with a kid and a mortgage?
She doesn’t really make friends at school.
The people I meet that are my age are usually my professors, who can’t really be my friends right now. Other students my age are grad students – I know they exist (in theory) but I’m not on their level or in their classes.

And all my friends?

They’re raising their own families.
They’re spending their weekends at band tournaments and corn mazes and soccer games.
They’re NOT spending their weekends recovering with a body that doesn’t want to cooperate with life.
I don’t begrudge them that. I really don’t.
But I miss that life. I miss THEM.

And it’s not just missing them.

Because the other thing you don’t know?

It’s that NOBODY CALLS.

My phone rarely rings these days. No one texts me to ask how I’m doing. No one asks a single question about how treatment is going or how I’m managing my pain or how school is going or what’s new with the Munchkin’s therapies (and I don’t mention it, because I feel guilty). No one offers to make plans to get together anymore.

Look, I get it… I’d probably say I was busy.

Maybe I was busy one time too many.

But despite having lived in this town for a dozen years now, I have very few friends here.

Oh, I *know* people.
You don’t work at the big places I’ve worked or volunteer for the organizations for which I’ve volunteered without knowing people. Meeting people.

But I guess what I didn’t realize along the way was that I didn’t really make many new friends… not the kind of friends who call just to ask how things are going.

I have friends like that. Or, I did.
Back in my hometown.
It’s funny… I’ve long joked that I grew up “30 minutes and a whole world away” from here. I always meant it culturally. But now it seems to have taken on a new meaning.

The last time “The Gang” (the core group of people I’ve called my “extra family” for around 20 years) got together was over a year ago, and we weren’t even all there.
For some of them, it’s been more like two years.

I haven’t had a night with my girlfriends in over a year. The last time we had something planned, it got called off at the last minute due to someone’s significant other making other plans for her.
And yes – it was for a good reason. Really, it was.
But I was hurt.
And I didn’t say anything.

I didn’t say anything because not only was it really a good reason, but because ever since I was diagnosed with FM/CFS I feel like all I ever do is talk about my pain, and/or ask for help.
Ask and ask and ask, without being able to give back.

Combined FM/CFS is a selfish condition.
It takes. It takes from me, it takes from my son; it took away my old identity.
I’ve been working with a therapist for over a year now trying to rediscover who I am, after the identity and self-worth I had built on my professional abilities was ripped out of my hands.

I had to start over.

On the one hand, I’m proud of myself. I fought my way out of a bout with depression that hardly anyone even noticed. I’ve been learning a therapeutic technique to manage my conditions called pacing, which has given me back some semblance of normal. I took a class in mindfulness over the summer, where I began to learn how to meditate and incorporate mindfulness practices into my days, since stress has an intense physiological impact on my body. I’ve been learning to be self-compassionate for the days when my body can’t accomplish everything my mind sets out to do.

But I’m still lonely.

Part of me knows that I made this choice. That going back to school when the road forked was the right thing to do. For now, this is my life.

I just had no idea that I would be so emotionally isolated.

I didn’t know that I would miss all of my surrogate nieces and nephews growing up. I didn’t know that it would be so hard. I didn’t know that I would often feel like no one understands where I am right now. This life is busy, and it’s lonely. And while I know that every single day puts me one step closer to a degree and the return to a somewhat normal social life, I just can’t seem to bring myself to beg for company at the last minute on those rare days when I finally figure out I’ve got some spare time.

So listen…

I’m not putting this out here as a guilt trip. More than ever, I’ve been leaning on my parents, and my little sister (who has stepped up to the plate in a big way). I’m learning to feel less guilty about asking my family and my boyfriend for help. And just like always, I will figure things out and get through this.

What I want to put out there – not just for my people, but for everyone – is this:
There are people in your life who need you.
Friendships have to be reciprocated to be maintained.
Life will always get in the way if we let it… work, kids, spouses, houses… it can all make us too busy forever, until one day we look up and realize we aren’t really friends with our friends anymore.
I know, because I’m guilty, too.

But that is a choice.

One of these days, I won’t be an undergrad anymore. One day soon, I will graduate, and I can go back to doing the things I want and spending time with the people I love. One day, not so far from now, I can – and happily will – reclaim my role as Cruise Director, the one who makes things happen and seeks after those friendships no matter how long it takes or how distant we become.

Because those things matter.

Because I treasure being able to say that I have friends that I’ve had for twenty years or longer. Because in a time when the world is moving faster than the speed of light, I want to know that slow summer nights by the lake filled with the sounds of laughter and guitars is still possible.

Right now, the leaves are turning. The time for nights at the lake is coming to a close for the year, and we’re getting dangerously close to the holidays, which means the window of opportunity for friendly get-togethers is closing for 2016. We share memes on social media saying we need to get together and that we miss each other, but these days that’s usually as far as it goes.

I understand.

I do. We are all busy. Yes, I’m in school, but my friends have jobs and children and houses and obligations, too. I’m not the only one who hitched a ride on a Busy Boat and now can’t figure out how to drop the anchor and float a while. It’s hard.

So, I guess all I’m really saying here is:

I miss you all. And it would be really nice if you wanted to call… I promise I’ll try to answer.

Random Saturday morning musings…

Well, technically, it is afternoon now. But I was up late, the Munchkin isn’t home, and I didn’t have any plans today. So I slept in, and I’ve been trying to get motivated to get some things done, but I’m distracted. Figured I’d jot down some quick thoughts to try to clear my head…

  • I know I said I was going to take a break from dating. I meant it. But just around the time I said it, I met someone online. A pilot. A cute one. (Who also speaks fluent French… Tais-toi, mon cœur!) But we were both in very transitional places in life back then, so we said we’d just chat and be friends. I didn’t give it much credence.But then we kept talking. And started to get to know each other. This has been going on for 3 months now. Last night, we spoke on the phone for the first time… and ended up talking for almost 3 hours.

    I’m not really sure what’s going on with that. He seems like a great guy, and we seem to have connected in a fairly uncommon way. But there are obstacles and some very large unknowns. And as of yesterday, his course seems to have changed and is now even more uncertain. So I don’t know what is going to happen or how to feel about it. On the one hand, I have always been one that is open to the possibility of the improbable. On the other, the cold of reality has thrown ice water on my rhapsodic imagination more times than I care to admit. Do I dare to hope that one innocent conversation be life-altering?

  • About a week ago, one of my very best friends did something that I never would have imagined possible: He chickened out.

    He took the coward’s way out of telling me something to my face. We were together, in person, for the entire afternoon on Sunday, and yet he chose to tell my by text message on Monday. And the thing is, it’s GOOD NEWS for him. A good thing. There wasn’t any reason for him to be afraid to tell me in person. I feel betrayed. Lied to. I feel like I’ve been shown – not just told, but SHOWN through actions – where I rank in his opinion. And Grandma always said, actions speak louder than words. And the thing is, he doesn’t even get it. He thinks that the fact that I was upset is about my feelings about something else entirely. And I haven’t tried to explain because I feel like he wouldn’t listen anyway, and I refuse to take his announcement and make it about me.
    But I feel so heartbroken. No one understands the time and the love I have invested in him. All the middle-of-the-night conversations spent convincing him that his life was worthwhile. All the long emails and IMs talking him through the dark moments when post-Afghanistan PTSD and depression threatened to overcome him. All the time spent worrying about him. All the groceries bought and meals cooked and miles on my car spent driving an hour to his place just to check on him, or spend the weekend, so he wouldn’t be alone while he struggled through a year of unemployment. And I’ve never gotten what I ever felt was a sincere thank you. I’ve heard “Well, you didn’t have to do that,” or an off-handed “I appreciate it,”… and I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but it feels like so very little comparatively. But maybe that’s on me. Maybe the fact that I feel things so deeply puts an expectation on others. Maybe he isn’t able to express his emotion in the way I need him to. I’m not sure. All I know is that right now, I still hurt, and I feel cast aside.

  • Yesterday was my last day of classes for this semester. I have to say, I’m so glad… but it feels sort of unresolved. I still have finals next week, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it has more to do with me feeling like I never hit my groove this semester, and so all the plans I had to get my grades up even more, to do all this work to catch up, my plans for studying, just didn’t play out the way I wanted. I will pass (without taking any Ws), but it is so hard for my perfectionist side to accept what I feel could have been better. But I also know there’s not much I could have done to change the outcome.
  • There’s this thing going on. It’s not good. And I can’t talk about it publicly, because it’s not my story to tell. But it is a family thing, and it’s affecting a lot of people around me. There is a lot of fear and sadness. Maybe still some hope, but the outcome and decisions aren’t up to any of us. It’s a big weight, and I’m worried.
  • This fibro and CFS is driving me nuts. Some days I feel good. I feel like I’ve reached a much better level physically – I’m always some level of stiff/sore, but with meds and new glasses, a lot of the bigger issues have been resolved. But this last week has been rough. I couldn’t sleep last Sunday night, and it threw my whole week off. And it’s frustrating. I feel like it has stolen some of my spontaneity from me. I feel like I’m torn between taking care of myself and coming across as an invalid. I’m not an invalid. I need to modify and adjust, and I’m working on trying to get back some of my upper body strength, but I’m still taking care of myself. But it’s hard, and I never really understood how people feel when they live with an invisible illness like this. I suddenly get the shame and embarrassment. I don’t know how to talk to anyone about it. What do you tell someone new? How does it color their perception of you? Besides my pilot, I made another new friend at school this week… a great gal from my French class who may just be my kindred spirit (despite being 14 years my younger)… but I fear telling her. I fear telling anyone. But then I feel like I’m lying, and I detest lying. I don’t know what to do.
  • Munchkin is gone this weekend. With SD. I wish he weren’t. Not that I don’t want him to have a dad; I do. But I want him to feel safe and happy, and my mother’s intuition is telling me something isn’t right. I’m trying to figure out a way to make this better, but courts and evidence and psychologists and emotions are all complicated, expensive, and time-consuming. Still, the crestfallen look on my child’s face when I have to tell him again that he has to go for the weekend despite his tears and pleading to stay home…. it breaks my heart.
  • I had a bit of a lull in the massive purge I started on the house. I think that the supercharged all-in-one-weekend bedroom makeover for the Munchkin’s birthday in March sort of wiped me out. Fortunately, my mom is a rockstar. She’s sort of kept the embers burning in the interim, and let me delegate several things to a “Mom List” this week. Today, even though I have a severe itch to go buy paint and start ridding the living room of the drab sage walls and finally start the transformation to my “vintage map/world exploration”-themed decor, I think I’m going to try to force myself to focus on the rest of the organization for the office and on getting the old broken wine rack out to the garage. If I can do that this weekend, then maybe I can reward myself with some fresh sunny yellow paint next weekend.

That said… I do feel better now. (Never doubt the power of therapeutic writing.) I’m going to crank up Pandora and go tackle the assembly of my new wine cabinet.

Parlez-vous plus tard, mes amis! Joyeux Samedi! 

I may have fibro, but fibro doesn’t have me

It’s been a rough pain day.

Well, last couple of days, really. I generally live around a level of 3-4, but every once in a while something hurts that doesn’t normally bother me. For a couple weeks now, my lateral deltoid muscles (i.e. top middle small muscle of the outer shoulder/top of the arm… the green one in the pictures here), particularly the right side, have been giving me grief. But, it’s not intolerable, so, besides mentioning it to the chiropractor (who listed which of the exercises on the LOOOOONG list he gave me that *should* help), I haven’t worried about it.

But then I fell. Twice.

Friday night, I tripped over Miss Lily (our Valley Bulldog). If you’ve never met my furry children, let me just say that they think they are people. Lily was adopted as a puppy, and Max (the Pug) was a rescue from the Kentuckiana Pug Rescue (sort of… he was surrendered to a local foster home, which happens to be my sister, and he just never left). We believe Max had been abused; Lily was an only dog for 3 years. So they are both attention hounds (pun not intended, but amusingly apropos); Lily because she is jealous, and Max because even 3 years later, he still acts like he’s starved for affection. They are the sweetest, goofiest “therapy dogs” – they are an essential part of our little family, and I can’t imagine life without them.

Even still, sometimes they drive me nuts. Mostly when they get underfoot, which is of greater concern when the Munchkin isn’t home.

Back to Friday night… when I was reaching to turn off a floor lamp in the living room before bed, Lily got right behind me. Except I didn’t know that until I tried to step backward. Of course, I didn’t want to fall on her, so I kept contorting in a weird way both trying to catch myself and fall away from the dog. I landed in an ungraceful heap in the middle of the filing I currently have spread out in the living room to be sorted. Papers everywhere, dogs freaking out, and all my weight on my right shoulder and my right hip.

I’ve recently also been having trouble with piriformis pain. This is karmic retribution, I am absolutely certain, for all the times my sister and I teased our poor mother about her years-long struggle with piriformis syndrome (i.e. “Haha, so funny, Mom has a pain in the @rse!”…. suddenly so very UN-funny). Again, this is particularly right-sided.

Today, as we were taking the dogs to the dog park, I fell again. I’m not entirely sure what happened there… the bulldog was in front of me, there was another dog down the sidewalk, the pug went nuts (he’s  only aggressive when he’s on a leash… let him off, and he’s the biggest chicken in the park), there was a step… regardless, I went down again. On the right side, again. This time I did manage to cut up my palm, in addition to missing the dog and saving my glasses. Just a little scrape, but this time there were witnesses. Blegh.

I feel the need to state that I didn’t use to be this clumsy. I’ve never really been the one who ended up with the scraped knees. I danced for 12 years as a child, I did theater and musicals in junior high, high school, and community theater, I was in marching band in high school, I practice yoga and pilates on an intermittent basis, and (as a curvy girl) have always been pretty conscious of the way I carry myself. I am flexible, graceful, have an excellent sense of balance, and can turn cooking and cleaning into a sort-of dance. I do NOT fall.

So the fact that I’m suddenly FALLING [what feels like] all the time – which, in reality, is a handful of times over the last 4-6 months – is frankly pissing me off. And it scares me, because I don’t know if this is just something I have to live with, or if it will get better as I work to regain strength.

When we got home, I was feeling pretty bummed. The scale hadn’t been kind this morning, and now I’m becoming clumsy. I can see all my dreams for learning to ballroom dance and climbing Machu Picchu and seeing Angkor Wat and ice skating in Rockefeller Center and wandering around Mont St. Michel and Santorini and Giant’s Causeway and Cinque Terre and le Pont Neuf… well, you get the idea.

Anyway, my stream of consciousness went from falling to climbing to vacation, and I remembered I needed to look for hiking clothes online for our upcoming trip to Colorado, which brought out the tape measure, which reminded me I hadn’t recorded any measurements for a while. I started recording them a while ago, first because I was in a diet/exercise accountability group, and then because I started on a new supplement for inflammation/swelling, and I wanted to track if it was working.

Which leads me (finally, I know) to my pleasant discovery: since December of 2013, I have lost a total of 25 inches overall.

What the WHA…?!?

Shocked me. I recently gained back a few of the 40 lbs I’d lost, and when you’re hurting and sore, everything feels BIGGER. I have been having wardrobe frustration lately, and also somehow have started getting hungry around 11pm (after being completely NOT hungry most of the day), so I really had no idea that I had come so far.

That inspiration fueled me for the afternoon. I cleared out another bag full of clothes from the closet. I ordered a new pair of hiking pants (on sale… hooray!) for the San Luis Valley next month (this is a big deal for me… because I’ve always struggled with active wear as a plus-size bottom, so I usually just wear jeans for everything besides work, regardless of the season). And then… hold on to your seats, ladies and gents… I texted my sister and asked her to come over and spend some time in my closet helping me put together some outfits (also an enormously big deal… my sister and I have completely opposite tastes, but she is skilled at layering and accessorizing, whereas I’ve spent the last few years acquiring a wardrobe full of mix-and-match simple basics that are thoughtless to wear, simply because it was easier and faster). A conversation with one of my coworkers the other day (who is always impeccably dressed with all the adorable layers and accessories, looking bold, classy, AND trendy), combined with warmer weather, the revelation of my actual progress, and the journey I am on right now of rediscovering myself and creating a new normal… all of these things coalesced into a desire to start putting effort into looking “put together” more often. And I should care. I may be a big girl, but I still have a good figure, I’m a professional, and dang it, I just like being girly.

I say all of that to say this: I have been feeling, intermittently, like the fibromyalgia was winning. I’ve been exhausted, and hurting more than usual. I’ve got some projects in the pipeline that I need help with that I previously would have been perfectly capable of doing alone, and that frustrates me. I’ve developed a sudden and unbecoming sensitivity to gravity. And just to add insult to injury, I finally broke down and applied for services through Student Disability Services. As much as I tried to avoid it, to get by on my own, something had to give… it was either going to be my grades or my stubborn, prideful independence.

But today, I was reminded: 30 lbs and 25 inches is nothing to sneeze at. I’m still up and moving. Some days I get tired, yes. Some days I’m sore and stiff. Some days need more stretching and sitting on a tennis ball. Some days require intervention from a licensed professional (i.e. the chiropractor and/or a massage therapist). But I CAN do most of the things I want, with a little modification. Yeah, I have to climb on the counter to open the kitchen window now. Yes, I had to request help from Student Services to allow for additional absences and adjusted homework deadlines. But I need to bear in mind that those are just tools. I’m using the tools available to me to keep going. I haven’t given up. Lord knows it would have been easier to give in. It would be easier to quit school than keep chugging along at a snail’s pace while working full-time and trying to raise a spectrum kiddo. It would be easier to take a brainless job and not aim for more. It would be easier to put the Munchkin on stronger medications or to decide that intense therapeutic intervention was “too much of a hassle” or too expensive. It would be easier to stay in an apartment and not be responsible for maintenance and repairs on this big house. It would be easier to give in to the pain and let my muscles go to waste, using it as an excuse to let the pounds creep back on.

But I refuse. I am still going to live my life. I deserve to look nice and feel good about what I’m wearing, rather than trying to dress down to minimize my obvious curves. I deserve the right to fight for my education, and to use whatever tools are available to me to get there, no matter how long it takes me. My son deserves someone to fight for what’s best for him, and not just settle for the easy way out. It would be a lot more fun to take all the money I spend on medication and doctor visits and supplements and therapy, and put it toward a nice vacation. I worked hard for years to get out of debt and be able to provide a home for my son: a sanctuary with a backyard and his own room and a swingset and room to run, just like we had as kids… a tangible source of stability and love that I can give him unlike anyone else. He deserves to be given the tools and resources now so that he can be successful and independent later. And me? I am only 33 – I am just getting started. I will not give in to the pain on the bad days. I will stretch when it hurts. I’ll pick myself up when I fall (literally). I’ll fight through the short nights and the paperwork and the student loans to finish the education that I so desperately WANT. And I will still go and see and do the things I want to. I will not let FMS/CFS win.

So yes… maybe I’m a bit slower than I used to be. Maybe I will still give in time to time to easy, mindless comfort of my jeans/t-shirt/cardigan uniform. And maybe y’all will have to push me up Machu Picchu on an alpaca. But I will NOT give in. I have fibromyalgia, but fibromyalgia does not have me.

2014 Year in Review…

(Bear with me, folks… it’s a long one.)

I’m usually a pretty sentimental sap. Much to my family’s amusement, I cry a lot. Movies, commercials… you name it. I find emotional meaning in more than most people, and I tend to love reflecting and being introspective.

So, when I say that I have been counting down to close the book on 2014 since mid-October, you can imagine what sort of year it’s been.

Don’t get me wrong; life is always busy, and there’s always something. Over the last 18 years, I’ve come to accept that life is moments of beautiful in a sea of messy. I don’t expect it to be all sunshine and roses. But sometimes, stuff just piles on and piles on, and you can’t catch your breath. And that’s how my (our) year was, beginning as early as late January/early February. Continue reading