One Book You Don’t Want to Miss

The Loudoun County Public Library has become one of my favorite places since Maia was a baby.  Sterling library is a social hub for stay at home parents –  we have made the majority of our new mom/kid friends through library story time and the librarians know us by sight. We used to go several times a week, and though our frequency has decreased since Maia started her mini-preschool, it is still one of our favorite places to be.  We check out books for Maia and books for me.  Books are a vital part of both of our lives, as I can hardly fall asleep without reading first, and Maia would pick reading over pretty much any other activity.

The Loudoun library offers a 1book 1community program yearly (and gives out free copies of a book), but this is the first time I’ve taken advantage.  I just read this year’s book: Jarrett Krosoczka’s graphic memoir, Hey, Kiddo.  I love to read memoirs and I especially love graphic memoirs. In this book, Jarrett goes in depth regarding his childhood with an unorthodox family situation and his relationship with his mother who was addicted to heroin.  Jarrett is an excellent story teller through both his words and pictures, and he is bravely vulnerable, in a way that Brene Brown would approve.  I can relate deeply to his story, as could anyone who survived a loss during their upbringing.  Be warned though, this book may inspire you to write your own graphic memoir about your childhood memories (and I hope it does so I can read it!). I really really want to do that now, however, I can’t draw.  So that’s a minor problem.

I am so so thankful that he shared his story, and I want to share the book with all the teens I know, especially the artistic ones.  He reminds me how precious our memories are, especially when they are memories of people we have lost.

I just did some online digging on Jarrett, viewed his TED Talk, and put copies of 4 of his children’s books on hold at the library so Maia and I can enjoy them together.  Thank you Jarrett, and thank you Loudoun County Public Library!

I Tried and I’m Tired

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“Tried” becomes “Tired”

I never hesitate to praise the value of napping.  I napped excessively during pregnancy.  Even recently, I usually nap at the same time as my 2 year old – around 2-4pm EVERY DAY.  After a morning of toddler life, I recline on the couch with a book and read until I fall asleep.  If I have an hour and a half, I can enjoy a luscious nap and a bit of reading.  My kitty, Amber, comes and naps with me.  Then I wake up, often to an alarm, and, 3x a week, go to work for the evening.

If you know me, you also might know that I haven’t slept well at night for quite some time.  Since Maia started sleeping through the night when she was 5 months old, I just kept waking up, even though my services were no longer needed.  I was often hungry, so I would get a snack; ideally one I could eat while in a supine position, and read in bed.  Brian would turn on his side away from the light and often put the covers over his head.  I’d be up for about an hour, sometimes more.

So, about a year ago, I asked my doctor about sleep meds, and she proscribed one.  I was nervous about taking it while nursing, and then I was worried about being too groggy to practice yoga in the morning, so I often just took half a pill, or took a full pill when I knew I needed to get up for something in particular, like a quarterly Saturday morning when I had to work.  Nights when I went without, I was up even longer than an hour.  My nightly wake-up wasn’t particularly distressing.  I was reading books and enjoying them, not worrying at night, and then I recouped my sleep hours with my daily nap.  It wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t have a lot of motivation or energy to try to change anything.  It was not ideal, but it was functional.  It was “working.”

Last week, though, I decided I was done with it. My motivation?  My yoga practice.  Days when I could get up in the morning to practice were great days.  I was doing postures in the Ashtanga primary series that I never imagined would be accessible to me, and actually enjoying them.  I felt good about myself because I was exercising.  I wanted to feel that way every day, or at least several times a week.  I had tried having a half cup of coffee in the morning, and a full Starbucks Grande Vanilla Latte of deliciousness; even when caffeinated, I still wanted, and took the nap.

Last week I made a plan: Meditate before bed to calm down.  Meditation is supposed to help, right? I did it for a few days, just for about 10 minutes.  It was a nice was to wind down, but I would still wake up in the middle of the night.  I had never had a problem falling asleep, my problem was staying asleep.  So I started taking a whole pill.

UGH.  Sleep medication. I didn’t want to take it.  I do yoga.  I have a great life. I thought I should be able to crack this on my own.  But the truth was, I had tried, I had been trying for so long, and I was TIRED, quite literally.  In a late series episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (a show which Brian and I enjoy) the main character finally starts taking medication to manage her borderline personality disorder.  Her shrink said something like, “You’ve been doing so much work on your own, you’ve been trying, but you are tired, and this will help you.” Actually, I’m not sure who said it, but that was the general theme of the episode.  While watching it, I was like, “WHAT?!?! She’s not on medication yet?!?!  She hasn’t been on medication this whole time?!?!”

Then, I looked at myself.  I take antidepressant medication, and have been doing so for the past 3 years. If you have questions about my journey with depression and anxiety, I will gladly answer them.  I am a walking advertisement for Zoloft, and I should probably see if the company who makes it will sponsor this blog.  Before I started medication, I had done therapy many times, including several months of weekly therapy with an excellent therapist in 2015-16.  I had made progress, but it took a lot of work, every single day.  Once I started the Zoloft in 2016, everything fell into place finally, in a way that I couldn’t activate without the medication.  Now, my current issue was sleep.  I had been trying on my own for almost 2 years.  It wasn’t working.  I couldn’t do it.  I had tried essential oils, no caffeine, some caffeine, getting exercise during the day.  It wasn’t working.  Sure, there was probably more I could do, but really, I couldn’t do more.  It just was not going to happen.  What can happen, I realized, is that I can start taking the medication as directed (which is actually “Take 1-2 pills nightly at bedtime.”)

So, I’ve started taking one pill nightly.  I take it about ½ hour before I want to be in bed, and continue to fall asleep without any problem. The first night, I still woke up at 4am and took an hour to fall back to sleep, so I turned off my yoga alarm and slept until 8:30.  This was last Friday. I took Maia to her forest play group in the morning, we ate lunch at the park, and I put her down for her nap by 2pm.  My nap couch beckoned.  Amber the cat jumped on the coffee table, and looked at me expectantly.  Outside the sun was shining gently, and my deck had a nice shade cover.  I said, “I’m sorry kitty,” and I went outside and practiced, managing to complete the full Ashtanga primary series.  That day the fresh air, the view of the trees, and the mindful movement did me good, as it always does, and I had no problem staying awake for the rest of the day.

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Afternoon outdoor practice.

I decided then to continue taking a full pill and do my best to avoid my afternoon nap.  I am also following typical advice regarding sleep, which is outlined in this excellent article (scroll down the page for nice bullet points). I’m trying to wake and go to bed at the same time every day, get exposure to natural light, avoid caffeine after lunch, and avoid alcohol right before bed.

After the success of the first day, I slept through the night and on the second day, I practiced in the morning. During “naptime” I sat outside on the deck and read, which was relaxing and lovely, but I found myself quite sleepy.  I was guessing that Maia would wake soon, so I went upstairs, but ended up falling asleep on the floor of Brian’s office for about 30 luxurious minutes.  Oops. The third day, I decided I needed to move during nap time instead of just sitting, so I tinkered in the yard, “harvesting” some compost, adding some soil to my plants and picking some tomatoes.  And the 4th day, yesterday, I dropped off several boxes of donations (the result of my January “Marie Kondo-ing”) , went to the grocery store, and prepped a meal for dinner.  Then, around 5pm, I cooked this dinner for my family, AND THEY ATE IT, and mostly liked it (even though I used store-bought teriyaki sauce and it was salty as f#$&).

I can’t even remember the last time I cooked dinner for my family.  Or did the grocery shopping. Or, frankly, felt like a productive member of the household.  Usually I do my part to take care of Maia, take care of myself, try not to make disgusting messes, and manage to go to work and complete my notes 3 days a week.  Brian keeps the house clean, does the majority of the laundry (though I do manage to help occasionally), shopping, and cooking.

But now??  You know how everyone wishes for 2 more hours in the day?  Well, I ACTUALLY HAVE 2 MORE HOURS in my day now!  And, I have managed to practice in the morning for the past 3 days!!  I feel pretty amazing. I am drinking a caffeinated tea or about 4 oz of coffee in the morning.  Today, I actually felt a little tired so I drank both.  Today is the test – I have to work this evening, so I will have to be productive.  But based on the last 2 days, when I was very productive without having to be, I can’t imagine it will be a problem. It’s naptime now, and here I sit, publishing this post.

It’s a work in progress.  Yes, of course, I don’t want to take sleep meds forever. I am already temped to stop and see how it goes, but I’m going to give it a bit longer, get my mojo back, and then consider weaning off after a few weeks or more of success – depending on how I feel.  I’ll also probably ask my doctor what she thinks.  But I just wanted to report this recent struggle and tenuous success, to share it with you so you know that even though I might look like I have my s&^# together most of the time, I look that way because my husband does like, everything at home. So there.

How about you?  What are you working on?

By the way, have you seen my interview post on yoginikeys.com?  When you stop by, check out her other amazing posts about yoga-ing, mom-ing, and living.

Easy Homemade Granola

Since last December I have been making homemade granola. My food-savvy friend Jessika gave me the idea and showed me how easy it was! I gave some away as Christmas gifts and got lots of positive feedback. With a few basic guidelines from Jessika and after consulting a few online recipes, (and baking many, many batches) I have developed this recipe. Homemade granola has become a staple of my diet and I now make it almost every week. I used to eat lots of Life cereal as a dessert/snack before bed (breast feeding really kicks up your appetite) but now I just eat this and have stopped buying the cereal. It’s delicious and I have the satisfaction of knowing exactly what the ingredients are. And those ingredients are all natural, real food, which gives me yogi-hipster-y satisfaction.

Easy Homemade Granola

1. Whisk together in bottom of large mixing bowl:

1/2 cup coconut oil (I usually heat it for a few seconds in the microwave to liquefy it before trying to mix it in)

1/2 cup honey or maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4-1/3 tsp salt

After whisking the above, I pre-heat our oven to 300 degrees.

Also cover a cookie sheet (one with sides, not a completely flat one) with parchment paper.

2. Add to mixing bowl:

3 cups oats

1 cup desiccated or shredded dried unsweetened coconut

Raw/unsweetened chopped nuts. I use:

1 cup walnuts, chopped (we buy whole walnuts from Costco so I measure out a cup and then chop them. If you buy the walnuts already chopped you might use slightly less than 1 cup)

1 cup pre-sliced almonds

Mix all ingredients together. I can usually get away with just using a large metal spoon and not getting my hands all sticky.

 

Spread mixture evenly across the cookie sheet.

Bake in pre-heated oven for about 12-15 mins or until the edges and maybe a bit of the top are starting to look slightly browned and toasty. Your kitchen may also begin to smell delicious.

Remove from oven and stir, trying to rotate the parts that were on the edge into the middle of the cookie sheet and vice versa.

Return cookie sheet to oven and Bake another 12-15 minutes or slightly longer until mixture is getting lightly brown and toasty looking and smells fantastic.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on cookie sheet. If you don’t want chunks of granola, you can stir it now.

I usually store mine in an airtight Container in the pantry and I can tell you that it keeps for over a week (but it has never taken me more than 1-2 weeks to eat/give away all of it!).

You could change up the nuts if you like. I have stuck with these because I always have walnuts on hand (they are a cornerstone of my daily oatmeal breakfast) and because pecans seemed really expensive (but I bet they would be delicious).

Also, I have used both honey and maple syrup (and a combination of the 2 when I ran out of maple syrup). I don’t know what is “healthier” or better for the planet, but I like the maple syrup better. The resulting granola is less sticky/chunky and I guess I just love the maple flavor. If you like your granola chunky, the honey works well and if you really pack down/flatten the mixture with a spoon prior to the second round in the oven, you are likely to get some good, big chucks. I have read briefly online about making granola bars. Definitely sounds doable but involves more steps. If you figure out an easy way to do it that you like, let me know.

Ooooh and I almost forgot! If you really want the “granola as a cookie replacement” experience, you can mix in chocolate chips and/or butterscotch chips either after the granola is fully cooled or after it has come out of the oven and slightly cooled (if you stir in a few chocolate chips when the granola is still warm they will melt and the results are pretty delicious). I like both but prefer the butterscotch. Actually… it was a problem that I liked the butterscotch so much. I kept eating them on their own, so I stopped buying them. Really the granola is already sweet enough for me on its own. I just pour milk over it, like a bowl of cereal, and feel like I’m having a special treat every time.

“Ok, Rebecca/Becky,” you’re thinking, “This all sounds pretty easy and everything but HOW, pray-tell, do you manage to bake or do ANYTHING with a one and a half year old around?” Well… I have a really amazing small child. While I’m bustling around the kitchen she likes to pull out pots and pans and spoons and make soup on the floor with all her animal magnets. Or she climbs up on the step stool next to me – close enough that she can see what I’m doing but not close enough to physically interfere- and she plays in the sink with a large bowl and a little water, some measuring cups and spoons. She’s a little imitator, what can I say? I’m pretty confident that we will enjoy many baking experiments together in the future.

Library Book Recall/Roll-Call

I’m still doing lots of reading, and I try to remember to take a quick photo of each book before I return it to the library.  Here are a few of my relatively recent reads. Now available at a Loudoun County Library near you!

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The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret

I quickly grabbed this book (and the one next to it) off the memoir shelf at Sterling library while I was also watching Maia, so I didn’t look at it much before I took it home.  I got home and realized that Keret is Israeli and the book is translated from Hebrew.  I usually avoid any books that would force me to learn anything (i.e. about other cultures, world events) instead preferring to keep my mind narrow and just read about people who do drugs and stuff.  But the book, focused on the years between his son’s birth and his father’s death, is written and translated beautifully.  Keret doesn’t TRY to teach us, but I did learn just a little bit about what it is like to live in Israel and be Jewish without getting at all annoyed.  I enjoyed his writing style so much that I picked up his book of short stories (which I’m currently reading).

An Extraordinary Theory of Objects by Stephanie LaCava

I also checked out this book, a memoir about the author’s turbulent adolescence as an American in Paris, without realizing that its many footnotes are a huge part of it.  The footnotes explain the history behind many of her collected objects, which provide a backdrop for the story.  I skipped most of them.  I don’t like footnotes, because I feel they pull me out of the story, and I don’t like to multitask (see also The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao).  Also, as I previously mentioned, I try to avoid learning anything historical while reading for pleasure.  But I enjoyed LaCava’s personal story and it stands alone as an honest and unique memoir even without the factoids (and it won’t take you more than a few days to read if you skip the footnotes). 🙂

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The Possibilities by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Just like her other novel, How to Party with An Infant, I had a hard time ever putting down this novel, set in and around Breckenridge, Colorado.  The narrator, Sarah, has just lost her young adult son, Cully, and begins to learn more about him through Kit, a young woman who knew him.  As I expected, Hemmings eloquently and honestly writes about grief and imperfect relationships with a bit of levity and irreverance.  On a road trip to a memorial for Cully we get to know Sarah, Kit, Lyle (Sarah’s father), and Billy (Cully’s father), all memorable and enjoyable characters.  Two Thumbs up from me.

Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir by Nicole J. Georges

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I love graphic memoirs and discovered this one while I was trying to find a memoir written by a doctor.  I’m so glad I found it and enjoyed every second of reading it.  Great illustrations, beautiful, painful story with enough humor and quirkiness mixed in to keep you from being miserable.  Nicole deals with uncovering her father’s true identity, as well as coming out to her mother, and negotiating a challenging relationship.  She is brave and admirable for writing this!  I found joy in the portions of the book where she writes and illustrates her dogs and pet chickens. Ticks all the boxes.

Let me know if you have any recommendations for me!  I still have to review a few other books which aren’t library books — I’ll try to get to those soon!

 

Why I Love Lake Anne: and a little Name Dropping for My Favorite Reston Small Businesses

Maia and I met Car at Lake Anne this morning.  I took Brian’s car so I could use our new little stroller which has a more subtle profile for smaller outings. I couldn’t figure out how to open it at first, so I called tech support (i.e. Brian), and Car found us in the parking lot and came to help.  We were greeted at the coffee house with a “hi! I haven’t seen you guys in forever!”  from the Barista, and I ordered my usual – a gratuitously large fancy latte.  It has become my practice to make up for the falling frequency of my coffee shop visits by getting gigantic drinks every chance I get.  I also got a Nordic Knot Pretzel, my guilty pleasure addiction since I discovered them at The Bike Lane Coffee Shop after my Sunday morning class at Beloved Yoga. We ordered our breakfasts and found a table. Maia eagerly sat in a high chair and ate a lot of the pretzel and not nearly as much of the egg and black beans from my breakfast tacos. She’s getting to be a much pickier eater lately; while I used to be able to shove most any food into her mouth, now she shows a clear preference for carbs.  I suspect this is normal toddler behavior, and I’m mostly just happy she eats.  Then she wanders around the coffee house, which was ok to do today because it wasn’t nearly as busy as it often is when the farmers market is running and the weather is warmer, so I didn’t have to worry about her being trampled. She made fast friends with a little dachshund who was tied to a chair just outside the window, and I chatted with his dad, who I recognized from yoga.

We then decided to head outside so Maia could continue walking around.  She strolled out into the plaza just like she owned it, and in the distance, by the dormant water fountain, I saw that a man had fallen and 2 people were helping him.  I approached with alacrity to see if my CPR/First aid skills were required, but by the time I got there I could see that a lady from the cycling studio was calling the paramedics and a handful of other people were approaching to help.  The man was responsive, but shaken, was helped to a sitting position and was urged to stay seated. Situation was under control, and tons of people were being helpful. I handed him his hat and helped him get his shoe back on, and then left him in the capable hands of his friends and neighbors who knew him by name (no need for more of a crowd). During the commotion Maia was unfazed, enchanted by the smooth moves of two older kids on scooters. We continued our leisurely stroll around the plaza, off toward the concrete boat and wooden horse on the corner.  With Maia leading the way, we caught up to our dachshund doggy and yogi friend.  I could see that the firetruck and paramedics had arrived and parked.  Car soon departed to go meet up with knitting friends, and Maia and I continued walking.  She lead me all the way across the arched bridge, up the sidewalk toward the townhouses, and up several small stairs like a true explorer. She would have gone further, but I suggested she not walk in the street, and she agreed to turn around. Continuing to refuse my efforts to put on her gloves (By the way, some other time let’s talk about gloves for a baby and how ridiculous they are!), she agreed to hold my gloved hand as we walked back down the steep hill.  I imagined what would happen if she fell and I let go of the stroller to catch her.  “And that’s how our stroller ended up in Lake Anne!” I would tell people at parties.  But that didn’t happen – we maintained our footing, all the way back to the concrete boat play area.  It was cold, but quiet and peaceful, besides the constant honking of geese. I very slowly herded her back toward the plaza – the longest walk ever—because I know that soon I would have to pee.  On the way we chatted with two young boys who were using walking sticks and waved to a couple sitting beside a fire pit at the brewery.  Maia pointed at the water and honked like a goose.  I knew we were right where we were meant to be.

By the time we were FINALLY in front of the community center, the couple from the brewery was walking by with their small fluffy dog that we got to pat and exclaim over.  Finally we made it through the community center, into the bathroom and back out.  We quickly looked in the Cat clinic window, meowed, and made our way back to the car.

It wasn’t magical, but I feel peaceful after our temporary sojourn to our local utopia, after feeling the warmth of those around us on a cold and cloudy February day.  Thanks, Universe.

Also, you’d think Maia would be ready for a nice nap after THE LONGEST WALK EVER but she is still lying awake in her crib chatting to herself, no doubt about dachshunds, geese, and yummy, yummy pretzels.

Downsize, simplify, savor.

Recently I listened to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, Happier, where she and her sister, Elizabeth, introduced the idea of coming up with a one word theme for the year.  I like this idea, but I tend to be a bit long winded (as you know, dear readers) and I came up with 3:

Downsize, simplify, and savor.

Downsizing and simplifying go hand in hand.  My tendency to accumulate comes from a good place, frugality, a value I learned both from my father and my aunt and uncle. I don’t tend to buy a lot of stuff, but if I get something for free, and it has a conceivable use, it is hard for me to throw it away.  Half-used legal pads?  Great for writing notes/reminders/lists!  Free t-shirts and sweatshirts from the return bin at CustomInk, where I worked EIGHT YEARS AGO?  Good quality comfortable garments, and I can cut them into workout shirts! Who cares what random things are printed on them?  I can’t throw away the endless piles of notes from staff meetings, continuing ed classes, and mentoring sessions.  They could be SO useful, I just have to compile, organize and maybe type them up!  And let’s not forget to mention the ENDLESS, IMPRESSIVE quantities of letters I’ve saved, received from friends and family, some dating back to ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.  They are so fun to look at, and maybe I should send some of them back, as a “Hey, here’s what you were like back then” historical compilation for the writers, many of whom I have lost touch with.

With herculean emotional effort I recently downsized the amount of boxes in our under-the-house storage by about 1/3 (this involved our pool table being covered with junk for several months).  I couldn’t even begin to broach the large quantity of letters. But I did get rid of many of the less significant items. I also managed to frame and hang a few photos so Maia can now point enthusiastically to her cousins and grandparents.  But this is just a start.

After watching a few episodes of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix, I’m inspired to tackle my clothing and jewelry, and from there?  Who knows.  Hopefully develop some organizational system for my PT related notes.  We’ll see.  Hopefully find some more space in which to live our lives and enjoy, savor, what we have.

I want to savor and simplify. I want to continue enjoying the people and activities I love.  I don’t want to use my energy on activities that are too complicated, not important or enjoyable, or purposeful. I want to continue investing in satisfying relationships. I’ve reached a point now where I am not focused on growth.  I am here. I have arrived.  Those things I wanted, I have.  That life? I’m living it.  Is it perfect?  No, not by any stretch of the imagination.  Am I perfect? No, I am still me, flaws intact.  But I’m ok with it.  I have a wonderful husband, a baby who is absolutely a dream in every way (I’m not biased at all). My career is where I want it to be for the foreseeable future, growing at a slow and comfortable pace which I have set.  We have enough money, cars, a cat, a house. We have friends, yoga, community.  Though I’m a bit of a self-improvement junkie, life is so good right now that improvement isn’t a priority. There is always room to improve, but I feel that in my case, life will only get better as I learn to relax and enjoy it. As I simplify, savoring what I have, rather than pushing to do more, have more, go further.

As a great yogi once said, I am here.  This is now.

My routine is weird, great, and hard.

My routine is weird.  I suppose there is the potential for feeling isolated any time one is in a situation unlike the one faced by those around her.  No matter how good the situation is, there is a quiet loneliness.  It is isolating because it is very specific.  For those of us, like me, who like to feel we are part of something – a group, a cohort, etc., its challenging.  I commute in the afternoons.  I am with Maia in the mornings.  When I work, in the evenings, I am working in 2 different offices.  Maia goes to bed at 8:30/9pm and wakes up around 9am, which is different from a lot of babies, but works for us, because I can put her to bed after I get home.  I guess when you have a family, that is how things go – you create the life that serves you and your loved ones. No one else will do it quite the same way.  Others listen.  They say “Oh that sounds great” or “Oh that sounds hard.”  It is both.  I guess that is just life.

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Maia is doing amazing things now.  She is beginning to know her colors.  She almost says “car” and says “eye” very clearly and points, sticking her finger into the eyes of new friends.  She started walking about a month ago (at 16 months) and now LOVES walking – returning her shakers and toys at the library, walking circles around the car after we get home.  She likes to kiss and feed her favorite stuffed animals, Bunny and Bear.  I am so proud of her and thrilled every day to be her mom.

It is hard, but not the way life used to be hard before Zoloft.  It is normal-hard.  Very doable-hard.  Even in the hard and lonely parts, I love my life.  Yes, it is a bit isolating because no one else has quite the same thing going on.  It’s a weird feeling, hard to pin down and articulate.  I guess that is what we moms have in common – we are all isolated in our own circumstances.  From the time you get pregnant, you are the only one with your specific circumstances. No one else is on the same schedule, then no one else has the same pregnancy or birth experience.  No one else negotiates the same family life or work-life as you.  It requires bravery, and a strong sense of self.  We must hold fast to our identity, our priorities.  We must share what we can with others, lean on each other, and be leaned on.  We must keep close the people who, though they can’t live our lives, get us, understand us.  I am so thankful for my husband, my parents, my dear friends who are beside me – not with me every moment, not living my life, but living with me.