School dreams and stress

For many years, in spite of the fact that I enjoyed my teaching career, I had what I called my “school dreams” in the days leading up to each new school year.  These were dreams in which everything went wrong.  All a teacher’s worst nightmares would visit me as the end of August approached! One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about retirement has been the absence of these dreams; until recently that is.

Why in the world would I be having school dreams again more than seven years after retiring from the classroom? It happened again last night. This time, I was trying to teach a high school English lesson to a large class of students in a crowded area at the back of a busy hairdressing salon! Yes, my school dreams are like that; a curious mixture of realistic and just plain weird. Midway through the lesson, all but two of the students got up and went upstairs to some sort of student lounge. In spite of my pleading and threatening (definitely not effective teaching strategies), they refused to come down again. Over the years students leaving class and refusing to come back has been a fairly common theme in these dreams.

Teaching is a stressful occupation and during my career, though I anticipated the beginning of each new school year with excitement, I recognized that my strange dreams were a symptom of that stress.

Over the past 14 months, my life has been a series of one stressful event after another. I thought I was coping well but little by little, with each ensuing event, the stress built up until now it’s beginning to bubble over. According to the Holmes and Rahe Life Events Stress Test, which is supposed to give a rough estimate of how stress affects health, events including death of a close family member (Mom), major personal illness (cancer) and major change in health of a family member (Dad) have given me a 50-50 chance of succumbing to stress-related illness. I’m doing my best to combat that by continuing to eat well, exercise regularly and by ensuring that I get enough sleep but it’s absolutely amazing what’s stored away in the deep recesses of our brains. Apparently, mine still connects stress to teaching and  is reacting to my current stress level with school dreams! How weird is that!

Now the challenge is to find ways to reduce the build up of stress and manage it better in the future.

Any suggestions?

 

Growing in the hard places

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I found this tiny gem growing through a crack in the sidewalk today. We’ve had heavy frost many times this fall and the flower beds have been bare for almost two weeks yet there it is, its perfect little face looking up at the afternoon sun!

I, too, have been growing in hard places this past year but unlike the little pansy, completely surrounded by bare concrete, I have not been alone. I am surrounded by a garden of family and friends, watered and nourished by their love and sustained by their prayers. I do not wither and fade away. I turn my face to the Son and there is life!

 

My heart hurts

flag-tower-thMy heart aches today. Two soldiers have been killed on Canadian soil this week. 53-year-old Patrice Vincent, a 28-year veteran of the Canadian Forces, was mowed down by a hit and run driver in a Montreal parking lot on Monday in what appears to have been a deliberate act. Then this morning, 24-year-old Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian Forces reservist, was gunned down while standing guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Minutes later, shots rang out in the halls of our parliament building where the Prime Minister and his caucus were meeting.

Vincent and Cirillo were not the only ones to lose their lives this week. Two assailants are also dead. 25-year-old Martin “Ahmad” Couture-Rouleau was shot and killed by police following a high-speed chase after he rammed his car into Vincent and another soldier. Couture-Rouleau was known to federal authorities as one who had become radicalized after converting to Islam in 2013. His passport was seized when he attempted to leave the country and travel to Turkey last summer and he was one of 90 people being monitored by the RCMP because they were suspected of being involved in terrorism-related activities. After this morning’s shooting and the assault on Parliament Hill, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 32-year-old Canadian citizen and also a convert to Islam, was shot dead by House of Commons sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers, within the walls of Centre Block, our main parliamentary building.

Four men dead. Four families in mourning and a country in shock. Though the scale is miniscule in comparison, I think we, as Canadians, have a better understanding today of how our neighbours to the south must have felt on 9/11. Yes, my heart hurts but I also feel angry; outraged, in fact. The sanctity of our nation has been violated and fear has crept in.

Why did these things happen? Was it because our country dares to stand up for what is right and good? It’s too soon to say for sure and some even call it fear mongering, but it doesn’t seem far fetched to me to assume that these events are directly related to the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) call for attacks on Canadians made this past Sunday. In response to our country’s involvement in an alliance that has begun mobilizing to defeat ISIS, which has been committing widespread atrocities against Syrians and Iraqis in its attempt to impose a barbaric version of Islamic law in that region, we were told “You will not feel secure in your bedrooms.” Perhaps tonight, that is closer to the truth than ever before. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Couture-Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau were personally directed by ISIS leaders to act as they did but neither do I think that these were simply unrelated acts of lone madmen.

Perhaps the question that looms largest in my mind today is what is it that drives people like Couture-Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau to such radical and violent acts. Were they so marginalized, so far on the fringes of society as to need to latch onto something like the global terrorist bandwagon to find purpose in life? What made them so angry or so cold blooded that they were willing to sacrifice their own lives for a foreign cause? Were they bullied, humiliated, or neglected during their formative years? Definitely something to think about.

 

Coffee… poison in my cup

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I have no idea how many times I’ve quit drinking coffee! A better question might be, why in the world do I ever start again when I know how bad it is for me?

Coffee is known to have both positive and negative effects on health but for me, the negatives far outweigh the positives. Coffee simply isn’t my friend!

I fell off the wagon once again in August while we were on holiday. I started with just half a cup. After all, how much damage could half a cup do? The negative effects don’t show up immediately and that half cup tasted so good so that it soon became a daily habit. Before long, half a cup wasn’t enough in the morning and I started pouring myself a second one. Then my husband, who can drink copious amounts of the brew with no ill effects, started making a second pot in the afternoon. Another half cup was just what I needed to give myself a midday energy boost. Some days, I drank even more.

As usual, the side effects gradually snuck up on me and, as always, it took awhile for me to recognize what was happening. I have no idea why I didn’t immediately make the connection between the burning in my stomach and the poison in my cup, but I didn’t. Coffee is highly acidic and it can be very irritating to the gastrointestinal tract. Switching to decaf doesn’t really help. In fact, some research shows that decaf increases stomach acid even more than regular coffee.

I’ve always been extremely sensitive to caffeine. For most people it’s a mild stimulant, but for me it results in agitation and acute anxiety. Lately, my stress level has been going through the roof! After all that I’ve been through over the past 13 months, that’s hardly surprising and was easy to rationalize. Cancer, major surgery, radiation, death of a parent; all are very stressful but I’d been coping so well. Why did I suddenly feel like I’d hit a wall? I thought that my father’s stroke last month was the final straw and I have no doubt that it has contributed to my present state but I suspect that the coffee has also had a lot to do with it.

And so, once again, I have quit! Totally. Completely. Cold turkey. No more poison in my cup. I hope I have the good sense to make it permanent this time!

High flying adventure

IMG_4409We crossed another item off my unwritten bucket list today. Last Christmas, there was a little gift box under the tree for Richard and I from our youngest son, Nate. When we opened it, we found a tiny toy helicopter and a note promising us a ride in a real one! I was absolutely thrilled! It may seem odd for a girl who spent most of her life being afraid of heights to want to fly in a helicopter but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Nate’s original plan was that we would fly over when he was on one of his mountain climbing expeditions but with our crazy schedule this year and some recent developments in his own life, we weren’t able to make that work. Instead, he spent time visiting Dad in hospital in Edmonton today freeing us up for this afternoon’s adventure.

As we drove west of Calgary to the heli tours site near Canmore, the prairie and the foothills were bathed in sunshine and the fall colours shone. I could hardly wait to see them from above. The helicopter carried six passengers and when we were asked which brave soul would volunteer to sit in the co-pilot seat, I was ready. My hand shot up instantly! Soon I was seated in the glass bubble with the pilot at my side.

The flight was great! Take off was incredibly smooth and I literally didn’t feel a thing when the chopper set down. I likened it to riding on a feather! I’d been told how incredibly noisy helicopters are but with our earphones on, sound wasn’t a problem at all.

A strong wind kept us from flying into the mountains where turbulence might have been frightful. Instead, we skirted along the foothills enjoying views of the mountains to the west and the wide open prairie to the east. We followed the Bow River for a bit and saw herds of buffalo and wild horses below.

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Our sightseeing tour included a champagne picnic which we enjoyed on a grassy bluff overlooking the river with rapids churning below. We were sheltered from the wind and it was oh, so relaxing!

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So what’s next on my bucket list? I’m not sure but I do know that it includes another high flying adventure… a ride in a hot air balloon!

Enough already!

Just when I thought that life was going to settle down a little, my world was turned upside down again!

Last Thursday, my 91-year-old father flew to Alberta from his home in Vancouver. On Saturday, he walked his granddaughter down the aisle of Fort Edmonton‘s historic Anglican Church of St. Michael and the Angels. It was a unique and beautiful wedding and he was honoured to play such an important role.

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Less than 48 hours later, he was relaxing at my sister’s home in Vegreville when he suffered a cerebellar stroke!

Richard and I had just finished playing the third hole on our local golf course when the clubhouse manager drove out to tell us that our niece was trying to get hold of us about a medical emergency. We live just minutes away so in no time at all we were on our way to the Vegreville Hospital, arriving just in time for me to climb into an ambulance and accompany Dad as he was transferred to a larger hospital in Edmonton.

After laying in Emergency for another 48 hours waiting for a bed, he was finally transferred to the stroke ward yesterday. A cerebellar stroke affects the back of the brain which controls balance and coordination. Dad suffered no paralysis but he’s unable to stand without assistance because his sense of balance is completely off and he’s experiencing some weakness in his right hand. His speech is slurred, but mostly understandable, and he’s having some difficulty swallowing so he’s being given soft foods and thickened drinks. He is cognitively unimpaired and is in reasonably good spirits considering the circumstances.

I, on the other hand, feel like I’m reaching the end of my rope! In the past thirteen months, I’ve been diagnosed with two unrelated cancers. I’ve had seven hours of surgery and thirty radiation treatments for one of them and three radioisotope treatments for the other. I also lost my mother in June. Enough already!

In this morning’s devotions, I read about Gideon and I could definitely identify when he asked, “If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (Judges 6:13)

Another devotional that I read this week was written by blogger, Cindy Keating of Red Carpet Life. It spoke of the pruning that God does in our lives to bring about greater fruitfulness.

I looked up and saw a sadly barren tree taped off in the middle of the orchard. It stuck out like a sore thumb with a noticeable sign hanging from it’s highest branch: “Pruning In Process.”

I instantly thought of the many painful times I have had to be pruned so the beauty of my fruit could shine for God’s glory rather than my own.

Is that what’s happening in my life? If so, I hope God has read this recommendation concerning pruning:

When deciding how much to prune a tree, as little as possible is often the best rule of thumb. All prunes place stress on a tree and increase its vulnerability…

As I said, I think enough’s enough already!

I know I’m not alone in asking why God is allowing these things to happen. The writers of the Psalms certainly asked similar questions. I particularly like the Psalms of Asaph who said things like “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me” (Psalm 73:16) and “do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.” (Psalm 74:19b)

I’ve often heard it said that God doesn’t allow us to go through more than we can handle but the Bible doesn’t actually say that and it definitely isn’t true. He allows more than we can handle so that we learn to lean on Him and, in spite of my whining today, that’s exactly what I will continue to do! I’ll put one foot in front of the other, hang onto the hem of His garment, and wait to see how He’ll get us over this latest hurdle.

We have no idea what the next little while will hold. Dad will likely remain in hospital for at least a week or two where he’ll have access to physio and occupational therapy. The neurologist anticipates that he’ll make a fairly good recovery but we have no way of knowing when he’ll be fit to travel again, whether or not one of us will need to accompany him, or whether he’ll need a higher level of care than he had before.

Please God, no more crises for awhile. Enough already!

25 years of fun and friendship!

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On a September evening in 1989, four young women gathered around a kitchen table and Craft Night was born. They had no idea that they were beginning a 25 year tradition. Though I wasn’t one of the original four, I was invited to join the group a few months later and not long afterward, a sixth member completed the group.

We were all busy young mothers and in the early days Craft Night was as much about having an evening out as it was about the crafts that we did. Whether we were knitting, crocheting, cross stitching or tole painting, we shared our lives and our stories. Sometimes, instead of a craft, one of us would bring a stack of photos to label and we’d share those too. Over the years, we must have handed hundreds of photos around the table; pictures of babies, family holidays, graduations and more recently, grandchildren. Three of us were school teachers and papers have even been graded at Craft Night. If the choice was staying home to get the marking done or bringing it with us, the work got done at Craft Night!

Over the years, in addition to doing our individual crafts, we occasionally tried a group project. One Christmas season, we made a huge batch of antipasto, enough for each of us to take a few jars home with us. Another December it was chocolates and a couple of years ago, we made Christmas centrepieces.

Meeting monthly, we take turns hosting. The hostess provides the wine, an essential Craft Night ingredient, and a snack. Over the years, we’ve tested a multitude of appetizers and shared many a recipe. Though we still call our evenings Craft Night, we seldom bother with the crafts anymore! Instead, we just spend our time visiting. In 25 years, we’ve been through a lot together!

Between us, we have 15 children, 4 of them born since Craft Night began. We’ve watched them grow, sharing their trials and their triumphs. They’ve all graduated from high school and between them, they’ve earned 21 degrees or diplomas. 10 of them are married and 2 are engaged. 3 of us are now grandmothers with a total of 13 grandchildren. Nowadays, our discussions often revolve around aging parents and 2 of us have lost our mothers in recent months. Perhaps the statistic we ought to be most proud of is the number of divorces over our 25 years together… 0! We’re all with the same husbands we were with back then and occasionally some of them also get together on Craft Night to play cards or throw some darts.

Craft Night took a severe blow a couple of years ago when two of our group moved away within a month of each other, but the remaining four continue the tradition. When we met at a lovely restaurant for a 25th anniversary celebration last evening, we were delighted that one our missing members was able to join us. It was a delightful evening of reminiscing; sharing 25 years of fun and friendship!

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