The Mommy Rush

Learning, Exploring, Creating, and Growing.

Archive for the category “Life Lessons”

100 Days of Summer to Explore the 100 Languages of Children

We made it! It’s Summertime. It seems this past school year has been especially grueling for the Rush Family for many reasons. With a graduating senior, a graduating 5th grader and a graduating Kindergartener, all of the children have grown leaps and bounds from where they were last Fall.  Last fall, I went back to teaching and in so doing, in addition to all of the activities going on throughout the year, we all became stretched pretty thin.  So, we are all very ready for a recharge summer.

The big son is getting ready to head off to college next year so he decided to get a job during the summer to have spending money for the year.  But the younger kids and I decided that, in order to make the most of the summer time we have to recharge, explore, and create. To do this, we wanted to make a list of ALL the things we wanted to do this season.  When I began to map out the calendar, I realized that the kiddos will have just over 80 days, and I will have just over 100 days of summer with which to do whatever we want! It just happens that I’m re-reading The Hundred Languages of Children, the basis for the Reggio Emilio movement as I begin to plan out the new art / tinkering studio for the baby girl.  It struck me that our Summer 100 List during the 100 days of Summer could be a powerful, purposeful, family project, if we were to approach it with the goal of learning and togetherness.

So, today marks DAY 1 of the 100 days of Summer!

Every day we will do at least one thing on our Summer 100 list. Depending on how appropriate, I will try to share here and on Instagram and Facebook.  Stay tuned for some very exciting experiences!

The Hundred Languages Poem

 

 

 

100 Days of Summer List

100 Days of Summer List

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LEARN

1.  Go to the Library every week

2-11. Visit 10 new libraries

12. Learn to fold origami

13. Watch 5 classic movies

14 Read 3 novels,

one each set in Spain, France, Italy

TRAVEL

15. Seaside, Oregon

16. Walla Walla, Washington

 17. Spokane, Washington

18. Barcelona, Spain

19, Nice, France

20. Rome, Italy

21. San Luis Obispo, California

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EXPLORE

22. Create “Flat Stanley”-like character for photos all summer

23-32. Visit 10 new (to us) parks / playgrounds

33-35.  Take 3 Factory Tours

36-40. Visit 5 NEW (to us) museums

41-45. Visit 5 local farms

46-50. Visit 5 different farmer’s markets

51-60. Visit 10 Wineries or microbreweries

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CREATE

61. Do Sidewalk Chalk Art

62. Paint Rocks

63. Fingerprint Animals

64. Make an ABC book

65. Paint Pottery

66. Make Cards

67.  Sketch

68.  Make a collage with magazines

69. Make wind-chimes

70. Make robots

71. Make DIY Light Table

72. Make LEGO Movie

73. Mixed media canvas

74. Make Little Robot Friends

75.  Makey Makey Projects

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PLAY

76. Weekly Family Game Night

77. Do Jigsaw Puzzles

78. Play Twister

79. Go Bowling

80. Go Ice Skating

81. Go Roller Skating

82. Build a Fort

83. Squirt Gun Fight

84. Blow bubbles

85-94. Visit 10 different swimming pools / parks

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DOCUMENT

95. Create Art Journals

96. Take a Picture everyday

97. Write a sentence a day, in a journal.

98. Make a comic book

99. Write a book

100. Create a Time Capsule

Top 10 parenting lessons from Albert Einstein

In honor of Albert Einstein’s birthday, I thought I’d share some of the parenting lessons I picked up from one of the most significant scientists of our time.  Some you’ll recognize, others maybe not, but all apply to the “Science of Raising Children”.

  1. Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.  This explains why, despite a daily reminder from me, my 8 year old cannot remember to brush his teeth before leaving for school!
  2. If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself. This law is not specific to parenting, but one that becomes crystal clear once your child can form sentences.  The good news is that sometimes the 6-year old explanation is all that is necessary.  The bad news is that there are infinite numbers of questions that come from the mind of a 6-year old!
  3. If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.  Read to them, with them, and without them!  Reading is the key to knowledge, share it with them.
  4. Speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.  The kiddos are watching and they will imitate the behavior we model.
  5. Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.  I’ve always said that the only thing I want my children to learn is “how to learn”. Our job as parents is to make sure this happens…
  6. Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.  Don’t be disappointed if your child does not excel in something set forth for them.  Let them find their passion, the genius will follow!
  7. Never memorize something that you can look up.  After all, there is Google and Wikipedia for homework help, Allrecipes and Cook’s for recipes, HBR and Working Mother for business tips etc. Information is everywhere; don’t waste your time trying to remember it all…
  8. You never fail until you stop trying. I will get these chicks out of the nest, gosh darn it, if it’s the last thing I do!!
  9. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.  Don’t make life easy for your children.  Growth only comes from challenge.  This is the most difficult parenting lesson of all!  But your success as a parent depends on how well you learn it!
  10. A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?  Oh yes, it’s definitely me!  I have 3 kids after all.  That is the definition of crazy!

Need a new perspective? Sometimes it’s as simple as just stepping outside!

I am conditioned to find examples of innovative technology and engineering, everywhere. It is just who I am. Whether I am in the grocery store ringing up my own purchase with a self-scanning machine, reading the newspaper about the new solar cell project, or simply evaluating the new gadget or app that comes out onto the market to make my life easier, as an engineer, and an engineering educator, innovation catches my eye. But recently, I’ve realized that as an engineer – someone focused on the study and creation of the human made world – I have been missing out on all of the science – the study of the natural world – that goes on right under my nose. And what a world it is…

I first recognized my lack of connection with nature after reading a very well-known book about the importance of nature in child development, by Richard Louv. The Last Child in the Woods lays out the author’s theory that kids today are suffering from what he calls Nature Deficit Disorder, not a clinical term, but one that is easily understood when described. As I read the book, I very quickly identified myself in Louv’s description of the consequences of being raised without a connection to nature. For some reason, this realization bothered me. How had I lived my life, up to this point without realizing and taking advantage of all that nature had to offer me, not only as an engineer or scientist, but as a teacher, a parent, A PERSON ??! (As a follow on, I’ve recently begun reading Louv’s latest book, “The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature Deficit Disorder”, that was inspired by adults who approached him after “The Last Child…” to insist they suffer from NDD, as an adult. Highly recommend both books, the latter is more current, though Last Child … is still very accurate)

And so when I came across the opportunity to apply for a local naturalist training program for adults interested in environmental education, I immediately jumped at the chance. Nature University, as it is called, is coordinated by the agency in Portland, Oregon Metro, which manages much of the natural resources in the urban area. Nature U is by application only – to be accepted you must have either a background in environmental or natural resource programming or experience working with youth in formal or informal educational settings AND a desire to share nature with the community. The program is structured very much like it sounds, a 10 week university level course that introduces and engages participants in all aspects of environmental and naturalist education. It is a free course, but in exchange, participants must commit to giving at least 40 hours of volunteer time, within 12 months, in the form of hosting and leading field trips at the local natural areas and parks managed by the organization.

To say that my eyes have been opened to a new world would be an understatement. In fact, the first skill we learned was how to increase our nature awareness through “Owl Eyes” (vision), “Deer Ears” (hearing), and “Fox Walking” (silent walking) – all intended to give us a better chance at observing nature in its, well, natural form. We’ve begun to learn to interpret Bird Language, the calls, postures, and behaviors of birds to determine what is happening in the nearby area, Animal Tracking, observing the imprints left behind by wildlife in soil, snow, mud, or other ground surfaces to tell the story of the animals in the immediate eco-region, and overall nature interpretation, using story telling to convey the interrelationships between all living species.

The experience has been amazing and inspiring, as it seems I am being introduced to my world through a new lens. In fact, I’ve been trying to document the experience through a literal new lens, the camera that I bought myself for my birthday, in January. I’ve included some of my recent photos below. Since beginning this course at the end of January, I’ve been to more natural areas, wildlife refuges, and preserved wetlands than I have in my entire life, all to try to soak in all that I’ve been missing. The bonus is, that these experiences are perfect for sharing with children, and have given me some wonderful ideas and excuses for spending time with my own children. I can confirm that spending time in nature is a perfect universal experience that allows for shared learning and bonding – exactly what a family should be doing!

The lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes we don’t have to look very far to find a new way of looking at the world, sometimes all it takes is the intention and desire to quiet our minds and take in all that is happening around us. If you are looking for a new perspective, a way to clear your head of the stress of daily life, or even just a way to connect with your own children and family, get outside, take a walk, look up and down, listen and learn! If you need help, the list below has some wonderful tips to get the most out if you experience in nature (excerpted from koransky.com).

Tips for Experiencing Nature

  1. Clear the mind of all clutter, worries accumulated during daily living. This can occur naturally during an extended stay in the wilderness.
  2. Let go of time. Live in the now, not the past or future. Don’t fret about the past, don’t worry about the future. You are not on a schedule out here.
  3. Walk slowly and see more.
  4. Sit down. (“If you were to sit under an oak tree for an entire day, you would have enough information to write an entire book.” – John Burroughs.
  5. Let go of worries. Identify what is worrying you and let it pass.
  6. Be alive. Pretend you only have a week to live and every moment matters.
  7. Be quiet. Silence in nature is the rule, noise is the exception. (example: walking through woods)
  8. Don’t analyze (I.E. calculating gallons/sec of waterfall).
  9. Try without trying. Can you get to sleep when you try to get to sleep?
  10. Don’t try to name things. Names can’t describe!
  11. Nothing is commonplace. Each plant is unique, each animal different.
  12. Follow your heart! John Muir was asked, where are you going? “Anyplace that’s wild!” If something looks interesting, check it out. Follow your instincts and urges and you will be surprised!
  13. What will people think? Who cares! Let go of inhibitions! Force yourself to do something crazy and you’ll find it easier to follow your heart.
  14. Let go of prejudices. You never know what is going to be around the corner.
  15. Immerse yourself. Jump into the swamp, get dirty, play in the mud! (example: hiking in rain with cliff)
  16. Ignore discomforts, cold, hot, etc.. (remember as children?)
  17. Become that child!
  18. Best teachers are plants and animals.
  19. Nature is everywhere! Why do we have plants? To remind us of our connection to the earth. There is much to learn from a single potted plant.
  20. Deep relaxation, meditation can help! See below. Stalking can also get you into this relaxed alpha mind set.

A Creative Process: 7 steps to solving any of life’s problems

January is International Creativity Month, a perfect time to reflect on how to be more creative in our lives, to learn to recognize and act on opportunities for creative thinking, and to find (or thank) the muse that provides the inspiration for creating more great work.  According to Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love), in her very moving TED talk, “The big mystery is that creativity does not always behave rationally. […] This is one of the most painful reconciliations we have to make in a creative life. But maybe it doesn’t have to be so full of anguish.  If you never have to believe in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you.  … it starts to change everything.”


Creativity, or more specifically, the creative process, happens to be a passion of mine and has been ever since the year I first entered the workforce as an engineer, nearly 15 years ago, and was given an opportunity to lead my first design project.  I was thrilled at the opportunity, but at the same time, I was terrified because even though I had successfully completed a degree in electrical engineering, I didn’t feel quite qualified to lead a “real-world” design project from beginning to end.  So began my quest to learn about the  the creative problem-solving process. 

In any case, as one who doesn’t ever like to admit that I don’t know what I’m doing, I set to work on my personal study of the creative process and have been learning about it ever since.  During the years that followed, I’ve uncovered many very useful tools and suggestions that I use on a daily basis to solve problems, come up with ideas, make connections, etc.  My research on the topic of creativity is the main reason I often proclaim that “The best engineers are creative engineers.” when speaking or writing for STEM educators. I truly believe that without the tools necessary to add creativity to our work, we all become simple cogs in the system, keeping the status quo moving.  Innovation comes from the new ideas, the new processes, and all of this is made possible by the Creative Process.

In this post, I’d like to share my reflection on the very first book I ever read on the Creative Process, “The Universal Traveler:  a Soft-Systems Guide to Creativity, Problem Solving, & the Process of Reaching Goals”.  In my opinion this should be the guidebook for anybody looking for a way to think creatively.  For a long time, it was my crutch as I muddled through my first ever ‘cradle-to-grave’ design project (and I have the highlighted, dog-eared paperback to prove it. ) I’ve delivered many a presentation with only the knowledge I gained from the book and the application to my life as a professional engineer. 

  • Step 1 – Acceptance: When it comes to work and life, I have several quotes I use almost as mantras and one of my more common ones goes something like this  “The first step in solving a problem is identifying there is a problem.”    Or a more recent humorous derivative: “The first step in solving the problem is admitting you are PART of the problem…”  The key here is acceptance, defined by the authors as “self-motivation”. This is basically committing to devote time and resources to completing the 7 stages of the process to solve the given situation.  It is important to note, however, that the mantra I use really only covers part of this process.  I’m sure we all know that person who is identifying problems to no end:  aka ‘The Complainer’ who sees more problems than can be solved, or better yet, ‘The Critic’ who can point out the flaws in any situation.  Problems abound in their world.  Do not confuse these characters with a true Creative. Because in order to actually complete the 7 stages of the creative process, it is necessary to not only identify the problem, but to also commit to solving it.  A Creative does not identify problems for others to solve, but rather hunts for problems that only he or she can and will attempt to find a resolution.   This is so critical to the process and the ability to look at a problem and determine if it is something that should be and can be solved is the mark of a Creative. 
  • Step 2 – Analysis: Once a problem has been identified as something that needs attention, the next step is to spend some time researching and analyzing the problem to better understand the context and components involved. This is  also known as the “legwork” and is the process of taking a big picture look at the situation to see where there may be possible interrelationships with other subjects, to identify a list of attributes of the problem, and to follow the path of a similar problem.  The traditional method of analyzing a problem involves ‘looking it up’  (or the contemporary method, ‘googling it’) but a true Creative does not rely on one source or even one category of information.  Lateral thinking,( taking the wide view of a topic), morphological analysis (dividing wholes into parts), and making models of the problem (to examine a different point of view) are all creative ways to go about the analysis stage in the process.  A commonly used method in engineering, TRIZ, was developed by Genrikh Altshuller, and is defined as the “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving”. The process identifies 40 different ways to analyze a problem, which when utilized properly, is thought to be able to solve any problem.
  • Step 3 – Definition:  Didn’t we already define the problem in step 1?  Well, no, not exactly… In Step 1, all we did was determine there was a problem, and we committed to taking steps to attempt to solve it.  But during Step 1, we didn’t have enough information to actually ‘define the problem’.  In this stage, we set the expectations, for ourselves and anyone invested in the solution to the problem.  We have gathered lots of information during the analysis stage, now we need to extract meaning and awareness out of what we have gathered.  In this stage, we are ‘getting our bearings’, clarifying our objectives and establishing the criteria for a good ending and a successful solution.  The challenge is not so much in finding definition as much as it is selecting the single meaning that feels good enough to live with for the rest of the problem solving journey.  During this step, I often find myself flipping between several creative thinking methods such as prioritization (listing, categorizing, and prioritizing all relevant pieces of data) , essence finding (boiling down the many parts of a thin to capture its true underlying essence), and synectics (developing insight from the outside looking in). 
  • Step 4 – Ideation:  Although often confused with creative process, the ideation stage is not in itself a problem-solving process.  Ideas are ways; to go places and to do things. Ideas are options, ultimately to solve a problem.  But to begin the ideation stage before adequately ‘defining the problem’ (step 3), is a bit like buying a plane ticket without a destination.  Before we can develop a list of possible ideas we must be sure we have completed the definition stage.  Then and only then can we start the fun part – ‘Brainstorming’!  If you’ve ever participated in a good team brainstorming session, then you know how exciting it is to feed off the creative energy of a group.  The reality is, however, that brainstorming is only one way to generate ideas, albeit the most well-known.  Other strategies include using manipulative verbs or the SCAMPER method, analogical thinking through forced connections, and mind-mapping, all methods that can be used individually or with a group. (the video below is a great tutorial on mind-mapping, which is extremely helpful when teaching yourself how get your ideas out of your head and onto the page. )
  • Step 5 – Idea-Selection:  So, if ideation were the fun part of creativity, then idea-selection is the worst!  At least it always has been for me.  And I would venture to guess that this is true for most creatives, because in order to select an idea to try, you have to leave the rest behind.  Not an easy task if you think the list is any good.  Nevertheless, a prolific Creative knows that in order to solve a problem, something needs to be chosen for trial.  An experienced engineer will jump right in because he or she knows that ‘the first trial never  hardly ever works!’  (Sidenote:  I used to deliver this piece of wisdom to elementary students before I unleash them on an engineering challenge, because I’ve witnessed many a very dissappointed kindergartener who was sure his or her idea was going to work.  That was until I visited a class of 5th and 6th graders in this past year and observed a quiet, but brilliant pair of students attack the challenge using exactly this process.  While the rest of the children haggled about whose idea was best, these two very respectfully listened to the constraints, followed the instructions, and solved the problem in their first try, forcing me to re-evaluate my use of the word ‘never’.)  Strategies for selecting the best idea?  Well, that really is a personal decision, but for me decision trees, criteria-based ranking, and negative selection are my go-to methods for selection.  But, truth be told, there is no right way to do this.  At the end of the day, I’ve relied as much on my intuition as on any other method. (In my opinion, the strategies above are often more useful in justifying your selection when presenting or communicating an ultimate solution)
  • Step 6 – Implementation:  Now that you’ve picked a path to success, it is time to take action on your plan and ultimately begin the journey that will take you to your destination (a solution to the problem).  Theoretically, if you’ve followed the preceding 5 steps systematically, you will at least see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, it is not always a smooth journey.  And often this stage is the true test of how well you’ve accomplished Stage 1 (acceptance / committing to solving the problem).  In my work as an engineer, implementation is followed by several iterations of evaluating the solution against the criteria for success and then repeating Steps 3-6, until the solution is reached.  But in the context of an creative solution to a subjective problem, this stage could be as simple as communicating the idea to the stakeholders of the problem.  This could take the form of a formal presentation, a report, graphs, charts, diagrams, models and many more forms of artistic representation.  The key here is to be sure the product truly represents a solution and that the audience has enough information to understand it. 
  • Step 7 – Evaluation:  How often do we complete a project or solve a problem only to never think about it again?  Too often, in my opinion.  The evaluation step is critical to the development of your creative skills, whether you are an engineer, an artist, a business person, a teacher, or a parent.  How else will we know if we are meeting our goals, improving our world, or teaching our students?  At the very least we should take the time to reflect on the process we took to reach our solution -did we skip any steps? what was difficult?  what felt comfortable? – so that when (not if) we are faced with our next challenge we can be confident that we have the skills to solve it.  Truly, this is how we develop our creative muscle, and how you can have a Creative Life!

As Ms. Gilbert says, “Don’t be afraid.  Don’t be daunted.  Just do your job!  Contine to show up for your piece of it, whatever that may be. […]  If the divine cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, then, ‘Ole!’ to you.  But if not, then do your dance anyhow, and ‘Ole!’ to you, nonetheless.  Just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”  Yes, that is the secret to a creative life! 

 

2012: My Year of Balance and Knowing the Fish

Yesterday morning I visited the Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland and was truly inspired. I decided to finally visit this landmark in my hometown for 2 reasons, 1) the rain had let up and the weather was somewhat conducive to a walk in a garden, and 2) it was FREE! As a way to generate local interest in the Chinese culture and to prepare for the Chinese New Year celebration later this month, they have opened their doors for the Great Eight Free Days, because, as you may know, eight is a very lucky number in Chinese culture.

In anticipation of the visit, I expected to see some beautiful plants, architecture and design and to learn a thing or two about the garden. But what I left with was so much more. I was fortunate enough to arrive just as a tour was beginning, and there was just one other person in the tour so I pretty much had a personal tour from a very knowledgeable ‘Chino-phile’ (his word, not mine) and come to find out he is a published author of two books about Taoist principles, The Tao of Now, and the philosophy of tea, The Hut Beneath the Pine: Tea Poems.

What struck me most about the experience was how much the Taoist principles on which the garden design is based would resonate so strongly with me and where I am in my life.  The first pavilion we stopped in is known as the Knowing the Fish Pavilion and as we stepped into the square pavilion that overlooked the fish pond that spans the garden, Dan, our tour guide told the story of the two ancient philosophers, that the pavilion is named for.

One day Chuang Tzu and a friend were walking by a river.

“Look at the fish swimming about,” said Chuang Tzu, “They are really enjoying themselves.”

“You are not a fish,” replied the friend, “So you can’t truly know that they are enjoying themselves.”

“You are not me,” said Chuang Tzu. “So how do you know that I do not know that the fish are enjoying themselves?”  

The moral of the story is that the fish are in their element, so they must be at peace. And when one is at peace, they are happy.  Then it follows that if one is in their element, they must be happy.  Chuang Tzu saw the fish in their element and knew that they were happy. 

This year, I’ve committed to live with intention, to stay within my element, and to ensure every moment that passes is spent in alignment with my values and within my element,  and more specifically to capture these moments here on The Mommy Rush.  But what are those values and where is my element?  These questions have been on my mind over the last 3 month ever since I left my full-time, very demanding position as a product manager for educational publisher, Learning.com

It’s funny the way life works, isn’t it? I think back to my life at the beginning of last Summer, and I remember feeling like my stress level was at its max and that if I were given one more thing to deal with, life would fall apart.  And then the news, the surgery, and my view of life shifted dramatically.  I recieved my wake-up call and I decided to re-evaluate what I was put here to do.

Reflection

Even before our family medical crisis, my inner voice was very quietly whispering that I needed a change, but it wasn’t until I had to face such a difficult challenge, that I realized what this meant.  I was off-track.  I was spending my very precious time on earth, on work and things that were out of alignment with my true purpose, my true spirit.  So, at the end of September, when my company began evaluating budget reduction options, I made it known that I was open to a change.  And on September 30, I parted ways with my full-time employer and since then I’ve been reflecting on what it is I was meant to do with my time on earth.  After several weeks of reflection there was at least one thing that I knew for sure, that, until now, I was not living life with any intention and I was not really living.

Living Fully

What does this really mean? Living Fully?  This was a big question that I knew would take a while to answer and so instead of jumping to my next project, I began to take note of moments when I felt like I was ‘in my element’; when I was enjoying what I was doing, learning a lesson, or creating a memory.  These moments were my clues to developing a list of values that define how I want to spend 2012.  In order to live in my element, like the fish in the pond, I’ve decided I will only spend my time and energy on activities that fall within my list of values.  As a means of simplifying the list, I’ve summarized each in one word and have described below what each means to me and what it will mean in 2012. 

  1. Purpose: In 2012, I will live with intention and accept my obligation to serve my purpose.  As recently as 6 months ago, if you were to ask me to describe my purpose, I would have had no problem.  This year, I would like to be less rigid about what this purpose is and to live each day within my present purpose.  Each day, I’ll ask myself, ‘what can I do today to live my life with intention, within the framework of my list of values?’  I imagine this year, I’ll continue to reflect on this concept and with any luck by next year, my purpose will be clear to me and all those around me.
  2. WisdomWhen I began to reflect on what types of activities make me feel most alive, one activity rose to the top of the list as very important to me: lifelong learning.  Not from an educator perspective, even though my career is focused on encouraging students to embrace lifelong learning, but rather a desire to learn for learning’s sake.  As a voracious reader, I want to be more purposeful about applying the lessons I learn from reading and from life itself.
  3. Connection:  It’s no secret that I value my family to no end.  Though my offspring are often the source of my craziness, they are also the source of the majority of my joy – capturing this joy was the original intent of this blog!  I also heavily value my relationships, with my husband, my immediate and extended family, and longtime and recent friendships.  This year I will dedicate my efforts to developing these connections and allowing them to enrich my life.
  4. Spirit:  It is hard to put into words how critical inspiration is for me; when I am inspired there is no stopping me.  However, when I’ve lost my inspiration, or have allowed my spirit to be depleted, I find myself trying to dig my way out of a deep ditch – which often involves a day at the spa or a solitary retreat.  This year, I will make a conscious effort to feed my spirit, to avoid the need to retreat from life to recharge.  I’ve heard the term “Sharpen the Saw”, and that is my goal, this year.
  5. Journey:  I have a deep and significant desire to travel the world, to experience life in different parts of the world.  This year, I will design my life to include opportunities to make regular journeys that enrich my life, whether they are international adventures or local field trips to expand my horizons and to continue my quest for wisdom.  Yesterday’s visit to the Lan Su Chinese Garden is a perfect example of a local journey that has impacted me through inspiration and exploration.  More and more of these journeys, this year!
  6. Energy When I began to think about when I feel most alive, I most certainly know that eating healthy and being fit are important not only for my physical health, but for my mental health as well.  When I look back at 2011, I’m pleased that I managed to accomplish at least one goal I had for the year – to lose much of the weight I’d hung onto since my last 2 pregnancies.  I accomplished this through a simple routine of adding 2-3 easy runs to my week.  As a lifelong runner, this baby step in improving my health and fitness did wonders for my mental fitness as well.  This year, I will continue with this routine and consciously care for my energy levels through the health and fitness of my body.
  7. Simplicity:  This concept of simplification has been calling to me for some time.  2011 found me taking some steps to purge our home from unnecessary clutter.  However, there is so much more to do, and I’ve learned that the effort towards simplicity requires a wholehearted dedication to a simple living mindset.  This year, I am committed to living simply, mainly to make room, literally and figuratively, for the many new experiences and joys I plan to focus on, in the near future. 
  8. Nourishment This value comes from my love of good food and the process of preparing good food from whole foods, something I love, but with a busy household and demanding career, rarely have had the time to incorporate into our lives.  This year, I will pay close attention to how we nourish our bodies with food, and will focus and reflect on the meals and foods our whole family puts into our bodies.  In addition, I will allow myself to explore, enjoy, and learn about the foods and drinks that I absolutely  love: wine, tea, chocolate, and cheese.

Balance

To sum up my focus for 2012, I’ve decided to focus on BALANCE, which was a key principle used in the design of the Lan Su Chinese Garden.  Balance, depicted through the concepts of Yin and Yang are infused throughout the garden, as well as the philosophy of the Tao.  I will maintain Balance; of work and life, energy and spirit, wisdom and simplicity.   I will maintain Balance and through Balance I will Know the Fish.

God will never give you more than you can handle! (or “It could’ve been worse!”)

I’m not sure I would have had another opportunity to learn about how fragile our health is without experiencing the events of the last 3 months…

It was almost 3 months ago that we first learned of my husband J’s heart condition and if that were all the medical issues we had to deal with, we would have had our hands filled. Looking back on everything that’s happened, I’m reminded of a quote I regularly share with friends and family when they face what seems insurmountable crises in their lives. Except now it is me that I’m counseling.

“God will never give you more than you can handle.”

Well, it seems He has some unbelievable faith in J, in me, and in our family unit. If you aren’t yet up to speed on the initial situation, I encourage you to read up and come back another day – to read the rest of this may be more than you can handle in one sitting.

For the rest of you, I apologize for the delay in the online update. I have spent most of my time keeping a busy household running and maintaining sanity during a very trying time in our lives. I finally feel comfortable sharing all that has happened, considering J just had his follow-up appointment with his surgeon yesterday, that has cleared him to return to what the rest of us would consider ‘normal life’ – i.e. driving, working, exercise with limits, etc. I am truly amazed at the determination J has shown in recovery from his procedure and medical complications.

As it turns out, there are many risks that come with undergoing open heart surgery to replace a defective valve. Even before the procedure, in addition to the risk of aortic rupture or dissection from the aneurysm, because of the condition of J’s valve, he was at increased risk of a heart infection, endocarditis, which is extremely rare in the general population, but not so rare with defective or mechanical valves. Endocarditis presents with symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, and overall fatigue, all symptoms that J began to recognize almost immediately after his diagnosis. The primary symptom, fever, is one that will prevent any surgeon from operating on a patient, barring an emergent situation. And so, we spent 3 weeks waiting for J’s low grade fever to break. During this time, we spent 4 nights in the ER and J had too many tests to count, trying to get to the bottom of the origin of the symptoms. Fortunately, endocarditis was ruled out early, but on October 24, when J finally was cleared to have his surgery, we still did not have an explanation for the fever and ill feeling; we all (doctors included) chalked it up to a seasonal flu-like virus and braced ourselves for a very trying recovery.

J was wheeled into the OR on the Monday morning, October 24, and that afternoon, his surgeon met me in the waiting room at Providence St. Vincent Heart and Vascular Institute to report that the procedure went exactly as planned and that J was recovering well in the ICU. The next 2 days were a struggle for J, but a relief to me to see him on his way to recovery. I remember laughing as he reported his fantasy football reports coming out of his morphine fog, and then when he continually referred to his amazing nurse, Erika, as Nurse Jackie. It seemed even in the toughest times, J kept his sense of humor.

Unfortunately, the relief was short-lived. The day after the surgery, J reported a strange feeling, or non-feeling in his left leg. After 2 days of continued numbness, J’s surgeon called in a neurologist who ordered an MRI and confirmed that he had suffered a minor stroke during the surgery.

To say that this was a blow is an understatement! But for the purposes of brevity, I’ll say that J dealt with the news with amazing courage; I agreed wholeheartedly with his resolving statement that day, “Well, it could’ve been worse.” I have no doubt his determination was somewhat due the reassuring words from the wonderful doctors, nurses, physical therapists and specialists who reinforced their belief that J would recover all of the functionality of his leg. This began J’s mission to relearn how to walk and to build up his strength to get out of the hospital.

We were thrilled when J was released on Saturday following the surgery – day 6 post-op – just in time for him to watch the USC/Stanford football game on his own flat screen TV. (He informed his surgeon of this goal even before he entered the OR and he did it!) And so began the slow path to recovery at home that included walking, breathing, tracking medications and appointments with specialists. All was looking well until 2 weeks post-op when J recognized his resting heart rate was elevated, between 110 and 130bpm . His cardiologist requested he come in that day for an EKG and immediately referred him to have an Echocardiogram to check for pericardial effusion, or fluid buildup around the heart, another common complication of open heart surgery. This condition when severe would cause elevated heart rate and could ultimately damage the heart function left untreated. (As if we didn’t have enough to worry about…) The echocardiogram showed only slight effusion which did not concern Dr. Beckerman, though he recommended J come in for a follow-up echo in 2 weeks. His reassurance was only slightly helpful, until 2 days later when J reported his fever had returned along with his difficulty breathing.

Long story short, J’s cardiologist referred us to an infectious disease specialist to get to the bottom of the fever of unknown origin (FUO). He was honest in saying he had no other explanation for the symptom and felt it was critical that we get to the bottom of it. It was a week and a half later when Dr. Cameron Cover discovered that J had a rare strain of the Epstien-Barr virus – aka “Mono”. It turns out he likely contracted the virus while we were in Mexico 5 months prior and was fighting it throughout the whole episode of dealing with his heart condition. Looking back, J remembers the original reason he went in for the physical was because of feeling run-down and tired, classic symptoms of mono, but because he was dealing with a rare strain, the traditional mono spot and blood cultures were unable to pick it up.

At the end of the day, I am so relieved to at least be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. J is still very tired and by no means back to where he was prior to the surgery. But having witnessed his metamorphosis over the last 12 weeks, I can only be truly amazed at the state of medicine today! We are so lucky to have access to truly the top doctors in the Portland area, arguably in the country. I’ve listed the doctors we’ve worked with in case any of you are in the situation of needing a particular medical specialist.

Dr. Jamie Beckerman, Cardiologist

Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, Cardio-Thoracic Surgeon

Dr. Ted Lowenkopf, Neurologist

http://ercastblog.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/brain-attack-controversies-in-acute-stroke-management/

Thanks to all of you for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers! It certainly is appreciated…

College Search in the Information Age

About 3 weeks ago, I told the Big Son that I wanted him to start to research colleges. All of the kids in his 10th grade class had just taken the PSAT and I figured it was time for him to start planning for his future.

So this afternoon, he and I were on our way to the grocery store when I pulled off at the library to return some magazines. As we pulled in, I asked him how his college search was going and he said he hasn’t really done much because of his homework load.

‘Well we’re here at the library, now. Do you want to pick up a book to get you started?’

‘A book? Why would I need a book? I have a computer…’

It is a new day!!!

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have left.

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have left.” – Scott Dolezal

I read this quote in a magazine I flipped through yesterday in the waiting room of one of the leading cardio-thoracic surgeons in Portland, Oregon and it sums up perfectly the lesson I am still learning from the events leading up to today.

It is less than 2 weeks  from the day our family boarded the emotional roller coaster that I have come to know as our current reality. On Friday, September 9, I came home from work to find my 38 year-old husband (J) laying down on our bed staring blankly at the ceiling.  This in itself is not something to be concerned about considering we both work fairly demanding jobs and often just need time to decompress at the end of a day or week.

Nonetheless, it did warrant a check-in so I asked if anything was wrong.

“I’m just a little freaked out about something.  Last week, at my physical, Dr. Lam (my new hero!) suggested I get an echo-cardiogram, which was this morning.  It turns out they found something… well 2 things actually.”

And that’s how it all began… for me at least.  For J, I can’t even begin to imagine what was going through his brain that day, but I think he was in a state of shock and disbelief.  Truth be told, he is still dealing with the emotions that come with facing your own mortality.  By then, he had already spoken to a cardiologist from our clinic about the diagnosis, and though he couldn’t articulate the clinical terms to me, what I learned that day is that he had a defective heart valve which had caused swelling of the heart.

So much has happened since that Friday, and we now at least have a better picture of what we are facing in terms of treatment and proper diagnosis.  It turns out that J was born with a condition called Bicuspid Aortic Valve (BAV), which means that the valve that controls blood flow from the heart to the aorta has only 2 cusps, whereas this valve is typically a tricuspid (or 3 cusp) valve.  This condition is fairly rare (<2% of the population) and in and of itself is not a concern.  Except when it is not diagnosed and monitored from childhood.  In our case, J and his family had no idea he had this condition and because of this, his heart has been compensating for his entire 38 years of life.  Common scenarios for BAV include valve regurgitation, and aortic stenosis or aneurysm.  In our case, we’re 2 for 3 – J has severe aortic regurgitation and a 5 cm aortic aneurysm – both of which have put him down a path that requires… gulp… open heart surgery.

Pause… I want to be sure that everyone who reads this understands that, while extremely serious, neither condition is uncommon, incurable, or emergent. Which means there is not only a clear path to fixing the situation (a cure), but because it was found in time, we have the time to make informed decisions about how to correct it.  (J’s new cardiologist, Dr. Beckerman suggested we send his primary care physician, Dr. Summer Lam, a very nice Christmas card, this year, because she likely saved his life!)   Valve replacements are procedures that are done everyday and in a patient of his age, have a near perfect survival rate, nearing 99%.  But it doesn’t make it any less scary, for J, for me, or for any of the family and friends who care about him.

And so, for the last 2 weeks, we (most of J’s immediate family and I) have been madly learning as much as we can about BAV, aortic aneurysm, and the procedures necessary to correct them, because we are facing some very big decisions in the coming days – timing of surgery, choosing a surgeon, valve replacement type, etc.  As I sat in Dr. Storm Floten’s waiting room yesterday, I happened to pick up a copy of Heart Insight Magazine, whose cover story was about a 19 year old boy, who had already survived 4 heart surgeries. Though our situation is not even close to that in Scott Dolezal’s story, I drew a little inspiration from his closing quote, which is exactly what is keeping us all moving forward, right now.

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have left.”

That’s my Lesson #2, in my advice to a younger me.  And likely the theme of any posts in my near future…

Advice to a younger me… Lesson #1: Face your fears!

I had a moment of clarity, last weekend as I flew from Portland to San Jose, CA to attend my 20 year high school reunion. It started when I began thinking about what the event really represented.  20 years! 20 years?  I was 17 when I graduated from high school, which means that I’m more than twice as old as I was that June afternoon in 1991, when they handed me my ‘ticket to freedom’. 

As I thought back to that time in my life, it struck me how much I had to learn, though, at the time, I was sure I knew it all.  The summer after graduation is still a blur, but I do remember dreaming and thinking about all that I wanted to do in life, what I wanted to learn and to experience.  I remember feeling like the world was mine to conquer.  If only I had had the wisdom of an older me to warn me of the challenges I was to face, and to prepare me for the obstacles and  heartbreaks I now know were part of life.   

I started thinking and decided that I wanted to try to document the lessons I’ve picked up over the past 20 years.  What would I tell that younger me?  There really is so much… much more than I can fit in one post.  So I’m going to begin a series, “Advice to a younger me…”, about the lessons I’ve learned throughout my life, in the spirit of Gretchen Rubin’s “Secrets of Adulthood” from The Happiness Project.  This way, I can give myself some space to explore and share where the lessons come from and how they’ve impacted me over time. 

Please feel free to comment with thoughts about your life lessons or to suggest any I should add to the list.  The lessons are in no particular order other than that in which they came to me as I created the list.  It may be safe to say that the most important are always top of mind, so Lesson #1 is surely somewhere in my Top 3.

Lesson #1: “Fear is good.  Face it!”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear.” -Nelson Mandela

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt 

Thinking back to that summer of 91, I would say there were so many things that I was afraid of, many of which I didn’t even know, at the time.   To begin with, until I boarded the plane to Boston, MA, in August of that year, I had never traveled alone. This meant that to take that very first step onto the American Airlines flight from San Jose to Boston, I had to summon up some serious grown-up courage pretty early. And for the most part, it was all a sham.  I think this lesson comes first because very soon after that first flight, I began to recognize that when I faced my fears head on, I became more confident and in turn more willing to do things that, well, were downright scary.

I would say that the biggest fear I ever faced in my life, was my fear of public speaking, which manifested itself through a panic attack I suffered while delivering a speech to my university capstone class, in the fall of my senior year of college.  Until that point, I had never had a panic attack and quite frankly had no idea what it was.  Throughout my presentation, I remember the dialogue in my head going something like this…”I’m going to die. What is happening? Must be a heart attack. Oh no, I’m going to die!” 

Isn’t it funny the moments we remember, so vividly?  It’s during these moments that we are given the opportunity for growth.  I am convinced the moment I had that first anxiety attack, was a turning point in my life, because it put me on a mission to face that fear head on.  Because, I could no sooner see myself continuing in life without speaking in public, than I could imagine living without eating.  It was not a question of if, it was a question of how.  And it was my responsibility to figure out the how.

What I soon came to realize was that this fear was not one I could conquer easily.  True phobias, I’ve learned, are subconscious, meaning they induce a physiological response to a stimulus. In other words, I couldn’t think my way out of this fear.  So I began a multi-year effort to give myself as many opportunities to speak in public, as possible.  I registered for a graduate course on delivering speeches, I joined the student government, as a Senator for the College of Engineering, a position which was often vacant (I know, shocker: not a lot of engineers campaigning for a chance to speak to and for others…), I even wrote and delivered a speech to an audience of ~4,000 of my graduating classmates and families.  While the anxiety didn’t go away immediately, delivering speeches and presentations over time, began to become bearable.  And what kept me going, was the satisfaction I felt, each and every time I stood in front of an audience, felt that fear… and, well, did it anyway. 

It’s possible that this lesson is most important to me because the process I went through to learn it defined a large part of my career.  Or perhaps because it required so much of my effort to overcome.  But it is true that I now deliver between 50-60 presentations a year which is a pretty healthy portion of my professional life.  If I had accepted my fear of speaking and moved on to other things, who knows what I’d be doing, now. 

What fear have you faced, and how has it impacted your life? 

Tomorrow, I’ll share Lesson #2… stay tuned!

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