The Star

I wrote this as a poem a lifetime ago in 1993 and added on more in 1995. Long gone is the reason why it happened over the course of two years, nonconsecutive at that. I suspect I started to hum it rather than recite it and it morphed into a song. More came to me as I hummed. It isn’t too surprising as I almost always have more to say.

No matter what you celebrate (or don’t) this time of year, I hope you believe in goodness and that you carry it in your heart to share with others. Spread the goodness.

The Star

Show me the star said the shepherd,

Show me the star in the sky.

Show me the star so I may go

Find where the new savior lies.

 

Show us the star in the east,

Said three wise men who were kings.

We’ll bring him gifts and he’ll bring to us

A life that is everlasting.

 

Show me the star shining brightly,

Up in the heavens above,

For all to find the new born king

And share with the world all his love.

 

Look for the star Christmas Eve,

Shining above all the earth,

Over a manger, a crib made with straw

To announce baby Jesus’s birth.

 

Show us the star said all people,

Wherever we look every day.

Wherever we go, whomever we meet

To spread the message of Christmas Day.

 

To spread the goodness of Christmas Day.

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Image credit: pixabay. com

Santa Claus

The Santa of my childhood was magical and momentary. He was as real as his red suit. He never failed to deliver the presents on my list. Life was simpler. So much simpler.

Life is more complicated as a grown-up. It’s filled with more responsibilities, problems to solve, and expected etiquette. I sort through which responsibilities are mine to own and which are not. I do the same with problems. I still get stuck with problems that aren’t mine. Much etiquette seems outdated and that helps me ignore what I choose. I am in favor of doing what I want whether Miss Manners approves or not. Sorry, Miss Manners, that wasn’t very polite of me.

This includes seeing Santa Claus even though I am thought to be too old. I never set out with the intention to see him. In my defense, I didn’t even know he was going to be where I was shopping that day. When I found him, he was still the same as from my childhood. No, not the same. The older I become, the better he gets.

I found myself out on a cold, wet, windy day to a garden center and home decor gift store mainly because I wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of all the different themed Christmas trees they decorate. Meandering aimlessly around the store relaxes me. I pick out a favorite each year. This year it was one of the nature themed trees as it usually is with me. They all have appeal. The red and gold themed trees were festive. Red velvety ribbon wound its way around trees as garland. Assorted traditional bauble ornaments decorated others. Candy canes and gingerbread styled ornaments hung on branches of another. Wintry poinsettias interspersed with silver and gold ornaments bedazzled another with a sparkling star that glimmered on top. Even a silver tinsel tree looked beautiful adorned with shiny ornaments in blues and purples.

In the back of the store sat Santa and Mrs. Claus side by side on an iron patio bench, surrounded by a variety of smaller pre-lit trees that were undecorated. Both looked simply so happy, warm, and kind. Their eyes sparkled with happiness, warmth, and kindness. They looked like they stepped out of the pages of a children’s book.

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They looked how I feel when I take freshly baked cookies out of the oven. Or when all is well and I’m lost in thought gazing into the fire in my fireplace on a cold night. Or when I’m looking at the ornaments on my tree at home and remembering happy memories that each one evokes of family, friends, vacations, and favorite things that make me feel happy inside.

I passed them by on my first walk through the store. I am an adult. I don’t see Santa.

Except for last year when a similar opportunity presented itself when I was out of town in Milwaukee on a holiday outing.

No, this wasn’t going to become a thing. I walked slowly, marveling at how jolly and permanently smiley they both were. They were the epitome of what the Clauses should be because that’s who they were. A handful of store employees crowded around them and exclaimed an obligatory “Merry Christmas” in unison to have a group photo taken. I kept walking.

I walked more around the store, admired more trees, holiday decorative pillows, birdhouses, and strolled through the plant area with long tables of large poinsettias in addition to their usual plants and bulbs.

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I was in no hurry to head out into the wintry day of ick that couldn’t make up its mind whether it wanted to stick with rain or try to snow.

Perhaps somewhat intentionally, I ambled back in front of Santa.

No kids were waiting.

Okay, so this apparently has become a thing. Clearly.

I could have worse things than being compelled to see Santa.

Santa wanted me to sit on his knee. Of course he did. He’s Santa. Last year, I said I was too heavy. He insisted. And feeling like I was about five years old, I hunched my shoulders, bowed my head, and mumbled, “Okay, Santa.” A person does whatever Santa says and does not argue with him.

This year I was not argumentative but respectfully declined. Several photos were taken. I should be good for another year.

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Why do I need to do this? I’ve come up with two reasons.

One simple reason is I crave a return to an easier time in my life. Being a child again would give me a world where my parents were alive and well, a world where I could have a great time at school and come home and play, and a world where Santa always came through and brought me exactly what I asked for. It would give me a world where I didn’t know anyone who had died and I had never heard the word cancer. My sheltered world was pretty wonderful.

I have a desperate need to recapture this bliss from my childhood even if it’s only for a minute. It feels incredibly warm and filling. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

What’s my second reason?

Santa represents hope, belief, and goodness.

Hope, belief, and goodness are a few of the best things around. Each of us wants to possess those qualities and give them freely. We all want to hope for the best, believe in miracles, and share the good. We want these in abundance. Santa has them and we want to be like Santa.

Is this harder for me to do as someone living with cancer? Some days are harder than others, but we all have hard days. Some days I don’t think much has changed and other days I don’t recognize my life. I don’t see the hospital where I go several times a month for treatment as a hopeful environment. It’s sterile and problematic. I feel like I’m in a strange version of the movie Groundhog Day each time I’m there. I wonder what loser is going to ding my car with their door in the parking ramp and what repetitive hurdle I’m going to encounter again in a conversation about which insurance needs to be billed first, what I like to be called, or an important detail about my health that I feel isn’t being addressed. My 40s have not been how I envisioned them. How is this my life? Why did this happen? Like I said, some days are hard.

Other days it doesn’t seem hard at all. I wake up and feel energetic and excited about my day. I focus on doing what I can to be kind. Our world needs helpers and I can still be a helper without many of the restraints that dictated past actions. Thoughts wondering what others think or what lines I need to remain within in the professional world are gone. I can color outside the lines! And it’s good! Many things are easier to accomplish without rules getting in the way. Some days I just have fun planned and I relish in my fun because I deserve every ounce I can get.

Back to Santa representing hope, belief, and goodness and how it applies to my life. I have a lot of hope in research for new metastatic breast cancer treatments. I have hopes for many arboretum walks, meeting new physical goals, special trips, and fun times with friends. I believe I make a difference. I believe in education. I believe in democracy. I believe in God and science. There is a lot of goodness in the world. Santa spreads some of that goodness.

I believe in Santa.

Big Steps

This is a tale of taking steps.

Step One: Failure and Recovery

It starts last September in a training session where my fitness coach was gathering baseline data to use for setting goals.

She wanted me to step up on a medium sized step up box without any help from my hands, other equipment, walls, etc. It was hard for me.

I can step up on a small step up box 12 inches high successfully without support.

The medium box is 18 inches high. I can do it if I am holding something for support. This means I am using leg muscles and relying on arm muscles for help. What counts in this setting is to not use arm muscles. My hamstrings, quads, glutes, and core need to do all the work.

I knew it wasn’t going to go well and I didn’t want to do it. My coach was there to hold on to me if I needed it. She’s great but I didn’t find her stabilizing. I fell backward, stumbled, but was able to right myself so I didn’t fall.

It was scary. There were tears. I moved to another part of my workout. We focused on all the things I was really good at. I don’t do well with fear or failure and couldn’t shake the voices in my head. Casting away those negative voices is also hard for me. It bugged me that I had trouble with the box because I knew I could do it. At home stepping up and down from a kitchen chair I had moved into a corner was part of my workout because it mimicked climbing hills and making big steps I climbed on hikes. I hold on to the top of the chair while I practice which is cheating, but it works for me.

Since I couldn’t get rid of the voices, I moved the medium box to a corner and did it confidently without issues, without hesitation, without fear. I felt a little better. It shut up the voices and I salvaged what I could.

Step Two: Approximated Movements and Muscle Building

Some time ago I bought a TRX suspension trainer to use at home. Entire workouts can be built around it. I love using it because it works so many different muscles and fits whatever level of difficulty I need. I can do pull-ups, push-ups, squats, lunges, stretches, and modified yoga moves. Working with it makes my body feel quite good.

I hang on to the TRX when I’m practicing with the medium box at my weekly training session.

I have worked to isolate movements in my hips, glutes, and legs.

I climb my staircase at home with exaggerated movements pretending my regular steps are jumbo-sized.

I have turned on my abs repeatedly.

I have exhausted myself and felt like I wasn’t making any progress at all.

Step Three: Success

Muscle memory is mysterious yet strong.

Something happened at the end of November.

I felt like I wasn’t making any discernible progress. There was a minuscule lift of maybe an inch when I would try to push off from the ground with my foot. I didn’t have the needed strength.

My trainer set the small box next to the medium box. I stepped onto the small box, then the medium box easily. I took one big step backward from the medium box to lower myself to the floor. Even doing that terrified me the first time because it felt like such a big step down. I modified (cheated) and held onto something to make sure one foot was securely on the ground before letting go and step down with the other foot. It was doable. I repeated this exercise several times not using my hands.

I tried stepping up from the ground straight to the medium sized box. No dice. I was unable to piece it together moving forward. My trainer gave me the TRX to use while I stepped up. As an educator, I’m all for modification and chunking smaller steps together. I get it. I know that’s what I’ve been practicing. I don’t get why I haven’t progressed faster.

It was time for something different. What was next? Did I want to do arm pulls or push-ups? Neither. I wanted to use the punching bag. I like hitting. Beating up something other than myself feels good. Hitting works. It helps me focus. Other feelings fall away.

More practice on the box was next. No one expected a surprise. I was to practice a skill in isolation and work on pushing off with one foot.

I knew I felt different as I walked to the box. Let’s blame it on adrenaline. An insane idea entered my mind when I was just a couple of steps from the box that I was going to go for it and I’d make it this time. In hindsight, I should have announced my plans in case my plans didn’t work out and I needed help. I still had on the boxing gloves and wouldn’t be able to grab anything easily if I fell.

The momentum was there. I stepped up, pushed off, used my core, glutes, and leg strength, and just like that, I stood on the box.

Yes, I did it. Triumph was mine.

I did it several more times, giddy and confused with my success.

Step Four: Real Life

A step up is defined as when there is an increase in size or amount. There have been noticeable improvements in my strength and stamina where my fitness is concerned. Right now, I feel I struggle a bit more because I’ve moved up a level.

Quite often I find I am not making many strides living with metastatic breast cancer. Every time I go to the hospital for treatment, I am faced with at least one aggravation, usually several ranging from long wait times, people who don’t know who I am, insurance or billing absurdities, and of course health hurdles. I will step up to each of these with as much tenacity as I can muster. Persistence and doggedness paid off in the classroom when digging in my heels with teaching children. I do it well and I’m getting lots of opportunities to showcase how stubborn I can be. My life away from treatment days when I can do things the way I want without restraints (aka the right way) goes much more smoothly.

There have been changes I’ve noticed in myself. I’ve stepped up in my confidence. I carry myself with more assurance and I see it in how I talk to others and what I’m willing to take on myself. I am bolder when I stand up for myself and say what I need when I’m at an office visit or treatment. I plan events that go well. Each successful event moves me closer to a greater goal.

The Rockettes practice hours a day to ensure everyone is in the right step at the right time for a performance. Marching bands do the same. The moon landing and the first steps on the moon didn’t just happen. It took many people working together and many small steps over time that added up to a giant leap for mankind. Medical advancements, breakthroughs, and treatments used today are the result of research, trials, and carefully planned steps that led to medical successes.

In what areas of life do you need to step up? Success takes time. Moving forward takes time. Whatever it is that challenges you, keep at it one step (up) at a time. Use a TRX suspension trainer or boxing gloves if you need a hand. Keep working.

Giving

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Giving is a common theme this time of year. Thanksgiving and Christmas both remind us to show thanks for the gifts in our lives. Giving is just as meaningful as receiving, perhaps even more so.

Material gifts are one of the first things that many think of when they think of giving. Advertisements of cars tied with giant red bows, glittery diamonds in tiny boxes, and shelves filled with toys or home appliances bombard us nonstop this time of year. These types of gifts cost money regardless of how good of a deal is offered. There is nothing wrong with gifts that cost money.

Giving doesn’t have to cost a lot. I want to focus on these simple and meaningful ways to give. Small gestures can be highly fulfilling. Buying someone a cup of coffee or a cookie works. Bake muffins for an elderly neighbor. Buy mints and leave them anonymously on co-workers’ desks.

Giving doesn’t have to cost anything. Passing along books to the corner little free library gives someone else a book you enjoyed. Bagging up clothes for clothing drives recycles clothes you’ve outgrown and is a great way to declutter. Rake leaves or shovel for someone. Send your child’s teacher a thank you email. If your child is grown, send a thank you to a former teacher. No kids? Find a teacher and thank them anyway.

Some of the gifts I’ve kept as a teacher have been notes and pictures given to me by my students. I’ve kept a few letters from parents, too. They haven’t cost a cent but have high value for me. Cards are special in today’s world of emails and texts. I love getting cards. I equally love sending them. Letting someone know you’re thinking about them is a great gift.

Here are a few other ways to give that are free:

Be emotionally available. Make the time to listen. Don’t try to fix anything. Being supportive is listening – not fixing, micromanaging, or criticizing. Don’t switch the conversation back to you and your life. Just listen. Listening and being emotionally available are gifts to someone.

Time is a gift. Carving out those moments for a standing phone call or favorite activities is time well spent. I love to walk and talk. Nature, exercise, and good company are seldom beat. And yes, I want more time. I have lots I still need to do. The time I’ve been given is priceless. I still want more and always will. Not having time is unfair. I don’t want to waste mine.

After that, it’s time for a joke. Laughter is another type of gift. Here goes: Why did the police arrest the turkey? They suspected fowl play. Continue reading when you’ve stopped laughing (or groaning).

Other ways to give are through volunteering, random acts of kindness, and caring for the environment. I often wonder what would happen if we placed little notes on people’s desks, in mailboxes, in children’s rooms that simply read, “I noticed what you did earlier. Thank you.” Maybe you saw them do nothing, but a little mystery never hurt anyone. Chances are the person would have done one kind thing they could identify. I bet it would make people feel pretty good and have a ripple effect.

A sincere and specific compliment goes a long way. People can sense when someone isn’t being honest. It drives me nuts when someone rattles off what is supposed to be a compliment but doesn’t even look me in the eyes. Nonverbal cues matter. It’s okay if a compliment isn’t reciprocated. You aren’t giving one just to get one. People who don’t receive compliments hopefully still are deserving of them and need to hear them the most. Overworked nurses, grocery checkers, coffee baristas, the person at the drive-through all are people with feelings who may be having a bad day. One kind word, smile, or compliment can turn someone’s day around.

Giving of yourself, your time and your talents, is one of the greatest gifts a person has to give. Teaching has been one of the largest gifts I have had to give in my life. I’d like to think my words are another gift. Cancer has NOT been a gift, let me be absolutely clear on that point. I won’t deny I have been driven to change things that I likely wouldn’t be doing if I wasn’t living with metastatic breast cancer. I am working to make a difference so others like me receive more empathy from providers, patients remain the focus of health care, and that research for metastatic breast cancer receives more funding so that more treatment options are available and more effective for patients. It is a lasting gift I can make possible for others that provides hope.

Many choose to give this time of year through charitable donations. Charitable giving has merit. GIVING TUESDAY IS TUESDAY. There are many worthy charities. Here is my reminder to always ask HOW donated money is being used. Does it go to research? Supporting patients? Programs? Promotional products? Administrative costs? Does the charity support or oppose other causes and beliefs you deem important? If you give money, you have a right to know where it goes. Follow it. If interested, you can give here to UW Carbone where 100% of donations go toward research directed to metastatic breast cancer. Scroll to the bottom of my page to see a video message from me.

Finally, remember to give yourself what you need. I treat myself often because it makes me feel good. It also ensures I get what I want. Care for yourself well. I am no stranger to giving myself what I feel are well-deserved gifts. I take good care of myself in that respect. I will take trips, get massages, buy jewelry, and treat myself to good food. I give myself opportunities to exercise because being as healthy as possible is another gift that no one can give me other than me.

Gifts need to be directed toward something good.

I try to do that.

Winston Churchill’s words ring true today. Giving is how we make a life. I will keep finding a way to make my life by what I give.

Find a way to give. Always.