Friday, October 20, 2017

Time for 33!

I never had a chance to write my usual birthday reflection. Every time I tried to sit down to type something out, I was pulled away from it for one thing or another. Work stuff, kid stuff, something better to do. And maybe that's it. The reflection itself. That blogging isn't the most important thing these days. There's so much more.

On this day last year, Jeff and I became landowners, the first step to a dream we shared: to start fresh together in a new house we get to create ourselves. I'm thrilled to be able to say that we've been preparing our land and our budget over the past year…and now we are ready to build! The fantastic architect plans have been reviewed countless times and are finally approved. The Arbushites House of Awesome, as it was written boldly above the original plans we poured over with our builder, is ready to go! Now we begin the process of gathering township approvals, breaking ground, and picking all the glorious things that will make our house our own!

The other night, over steamed clams at Stahley's, Jeff said to me, “I love being married to you.” I told him I hoped so, considering we have been married for 4 months now, but I know he meant more than that sentence stated. He clarified. He meant he finds this life to be fulfilling, fun, and solid. He meant that he feels content in this life with me. He meant that he finds it to be a true partnership. We joke about being team mates and co-captains. This is not something he felt before…and neither did I. When I picture us in my mind’s eye, I see us walking hand in hand towards the next hill, the next horizon, the next adventure life has in store for us. That picture in my mind always makes me feel good. 

I became a wife again in my 32nd year. I became a stepmom in my 32nd year. As I embark upon my 33rd year, I feel very positive. I'm excited about a new home my family and I can enjoy together that will be the new beginning we have envisioned for ourselves. I'm hopeful that there are more milestones in store for Jeff and me. I'm grateful that 33 has presented itself as a gift and a joy. 

Tomorrow I run my first 10K. I'm excited and proud of myself. I've trained well and have accomplished something new and challenging. I listened to many chapters of my favorite books while running on the trail near my house these last few months…I’ve processed through long work days of death and dying…I've made mental to-do lists and planned events. I have enjoyed pushing myself to do this 10K. I am ready…for the race… and for my 33rd year ahead.  

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Lesson in Legacy

Working in hospice really makes a person think about things that aren't part of traditional every day life. Last week, I attended a Hospice Social Work conference with a couple of colleagues. I spent the day listening and learning. One presentation in particular was of great interest, and during it, we were asked to think of someone in our lives and keep that person in mind as we answered questions about them. 

The purpose was both to practice asking specific and emotion-based questions (as we would ask patient families) and to feel what it was like to be asked such specific questions about a loved one as though my loved one were a dying patient. 

In my mind, I chose my "person" as my husband Jeff and prepared to answer honestly all the questions I was asked, imagining that I truly needed to paint a clear and vivid picture of him as I would in a situation like the ones I enter every day, situations in which people really, really want to tell you about their most loved person.

"What does he love about life?" I was asked.

I smiled widely, using my hands to gesture in an animated fashion. "He loves his kids. He loves when they go on and on to tell a story about something THEY love. He loves his massive dog and all the funny things she does. He loves wrestling and football and baseball and golf and having a good time. He loves to have fun. He loves cooking! He loves to be a host. He loves the presentation of it all. He loves building things himself, whether they are literal or figurative things. He loves to be right! He loves me."

"What do you love about him?"

"I love his smile and his laugh and the way he always makes me laugh even when I want to be irritated. I love his zest for life and how he understands exactly what I mean most of the time. I love his big personality. The way he can make a new friend in 10 seconds. He's not arrogant, but he's cocky! I love that. He wants to be the best at everything. I love his big dreams and his persistence. I love his humor and the way he holds me in a bear hug at night. I love his protectiveness for his family and his heart."

"What have you learned about life from him?"

"I've learned a lot. He brought the joy back to my life. He helped me laugh again in a real way. He showed me that a relationship can be equal and healthy and that true love doesn't need qualifiers or conditions. I have learned that I can come first in someone's life. I have learned about parenting. I learned about sports! I have learned about specific food ingredients. I have learned that fear has no place in life! That if I want something, I should keep going after it."

"How has he influenced who you are?"

"He let me be myself." I thought some more. There had to be more than that, even though that's it in a nutshell. "He gave me the kind of happiness I was always hoping actually existed. He showed me what real fun was like and encouraged me in every way. He never makes me ask for permission. He shaped my whole future by slamming into my life. I can't say he walked into my life or our paths crossed. I always feel like he slammed into my life and shook it all up, making all the best parts of me spill out. Finally."

I astounded myself with my answers, not because they were so easy to say (even though they were), but because they were so entirely true. No fabrication needed. No tweak here or there to make it a better story or help it sound good. I am actually just this lucky. And it was a good reminder to never take Jeff for granted...because one day, if I ever have to answer those questions for real, at the end of a life, I want to know that I recognized them all along, day after day, and won't have to "remember" them. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reception Confessions

This past weekend, Jeff and I had the pleasure of celebrating our marriage with friends and extended family. It had long been our vision to have a private wedding ceremony with just a select few at the beginning of the summer and then celebrate the marriage at the end of the summer by throwing a big outdoor party for everyone else to share in our cheer.

We had a gorgeous actual wedding day. Perfect. The reception day, however, was a bright spot we were anticipating the rest of the summer. When we planned all this for September 2nd, the weather was expected to be 85 degrees and sunny. Hurricane Harvey and his mates had other plans. This reception was a good lesson for me to keep things in perspective. As disappointed as I was that our gorgeous outdoor party would be overtaken by rain and much colder temperatures than anticipated, I constantly reminded myself that my problems were minimal compared to what people were dealing with in Texas and other states.

As the weekend began and we began set-up for our celebration, lots of little things started going wrong. Jeff and I laughed together for the most part, and it was a good test of the marriage. Ha ha. In fact, so many vendors kept saying apologetic things and I'd wave off their remarks with a good natured, "We're already married anyway!"

The day before the celebration, we had our huge bathroom trailer delivered to the site (my parents' beautiful backyard oasis). It was like a real bathroom: multiple stalls, heat, a mirror and vanity in each side, etc. The driver couldn't back it into the space behind the garage. He got stuck in the back alley. Jeff was trying to assist him. He'd back up. He'd move forward. Nothing worked. Finally, Jeff had to move a 500 pound boulder from the curve in the road so the guy had more room to maneuver. He worked and worked that massive rock...and split his shorts like the hulk much to my horror (and laughter). Finally everything worked out (except Jeff's shorts - they're irreparable.)

Then, the morning of our celebration, Jeff realized he'd lost an envelope with $400 in cash that was meant for the bartenders and other tips. He couldn't find it anywhere and determined he had lost it the night before while at the grocery store picking up last minute odds and ends. After looking everywhere (with the kids), we considered it long gone. I even called the grocery store and the Wine &Spirits store to ask if some good Samaritan had returned an envelope of money the night before. No luck. Crestfallen, we decided to count it as a loss and send up some prayers.

Then, in the course of the morning, between flower deliveries, cupcake deliveries, and more set-up, Jeff took the kids with him to the grocery store for something he'd forgotten. His littlest daughter FOUND THE ENVELOPE of money in the middle of the grocery store parking lot with TIRE TRACKS across it. It had been there all night long. (Hallelujah!)

The caterers set up their smoker and other equipment. The breaker blew. Mad scramble with everyone thinking that this reception totally would not work. Dad to the rescue. It got re-set. The cute little white dress I had bought for the occasion (when it was supposed to be a hot summer bash) threatened to freeze me to death in unseasonable weather. (I rocked it anyway. Too late to buy a different white dress!)

Then the guests came. But so did the rain. The power went out. No lights. No music. No food cooking equipment. No working toilet trailer. Dad to the rescue. Then the power came back on. 

The party hopped. The rain ceased for a brief time. We could walk between tents without getting drenched. Then there was water in the DJ's equipment. He couldn't play the song for Jeff's and my first dance. The dance we had practiced and practiced for weeks, taking lessons from my cousin who is a dance instructor. I rushed to get the DJ the back-up copy. That didn't work either, even though the DJ had tested it before coming. The rain came back. Dinner got pushed off an hour while the DJ said he was trying to get the song to work. Then he said it would take some time, so best to eat. Then he said it would work. Then he said JUST KIDDING. Then we ate... except by we I mean all the guests, but not Jeff and me because we were too frustrated we couldn't do our dance when and how we wanted to do it and because we wanted to talk to everyone so we didn't miss more of the night. And because we are both perfectionists it was making us crazy that dinner was disorganized.

Dinner food was super awesome. The cupcake tower was super awesome. Then it rained even harder. Then we finally danced! The DJ messed up the songs completely, but we powered through and had a good time. Then lots of people danced. Then the rain decided it wanted to win awards for Best Rain at a Wedding Reception Ever and rained even harder. (Thank God for a huge tent and a pavilion and umbrellas.) 

Then, finally, I was cold(er) and wore a wool poncho.

Then there were wet photos. And better music. And laughing. And slugs. Yes, slugs. 

It certainly won't be a party I'll ever forget. And to all the people who say, have said, and keep saying, "Rain is good luck!" --- WE HAD A FREAKING HURRICANE so we're clearly going to have the most awesome life ever. The end. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Life is My Runway

Ever since I was a kid, I've felt that fashion was important. Well, maybe not fashion exactly, but definitely how I present myself. There is a certain vibrance in appearance I was always searching for, a kind of zest that burst forth from the clothes and shoes and accessories I chose. In short, I dressed purposefully. 

[My first day of school outfit, age 6.]
I still dress purposefully. It doesn't have anything to do with the best clothes or expensive taste. I'm a social worker. I bargain shop. I look for the little pieces of awesome. I match and pair things together in a complimentary way, much like some folks pair a good meal with fine wine. It's a conscious decision about trivial stuff like earrings, pops of color, or scarves, but every little thing I put on, every little thing I carry with's like a message for anyone I meet. I dress purposefully...with intention...because I want everyone I see to feel like they mattered when I got ready in the morning. And I want to bring cheerfulness and joy with me when I walk into the lives of others. I feel like my outfits can do that.
[Bright necklaces can be talking points!]
I can't tell you how many times the bold necklaces I've chosen become fun topics of conversation with female patients in memory support units. They touch them as little children would...they comment on the eye-catching qualities...they talk about the necklaces they used to wear.

[Color and joy in living can show up in anything...including my clothes.]
There was a day a few years ago it dawned on me that I might be the most exciting part of someone's day. I think about that often now. My burst of energy through someone's door, my smile, and my outfit might be the best thing they see. What a huge responsibility, if you really think about it. What an honor and an awesome opportunity, if you think about it further. 

It's not a big deal, this whole outfit thing. But at the same's kind of a big deal. I remember a patient I used to have who looked forward to seeing what I'd be wearing every week. Where did I get it? She'd ask me. She'd really want to know. 

[I want my clothes to say: I like what I do. I'm happy to be here.]
I remember a patient who said, "Where did you get this dress?" 
"Stitch Fix," I said. And from that point on, it was like our "thing." She'd want to know what had come in my Stitch Fix package every other month. Silly? Maybe. Human? Absolutely. We're all curious, fun-loving creatures. And just because you're used to wearing pajamas and staying in bed all day every day doesn't mean you don't love clothes!

[Even my rain boots are fun. I wouldn't have it any other way.]
My rain boots are teal green. My winter coat is red like Little Red Riding Hood. I want even my outwear which has the primary purpose to protect from weather to have the secondary purpose to bring a shot of color and personality to the homes I visit.

I have a male patient who calls this my Pineapple Hair. Who knew that so much attention would be paid to whether my hair was up or down? That it could become an inside joke? 

[One of my favorite tops]

[In the cooler months, I love to rock a variety of scarves.]

Some might call me crazy, say I'm putting too much stock in material items...but that's not what it's about for me. 

Sometimes I dress up, sometimes I don't... but no matter what I wear, I enter every home, every space, with a smile and as I say "Hi" and "How are you?" I'm also saying - with my clothes - "I'm present. I always look forward to seeing you. My job is important to me. I want to radiate joy for you. I love life. Let's enjoy it together."

And I will continue to dress purposefully.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Looking Back

It's my work-i-versary. 2 years ago today, I began my journey as a Hospice MSW, LSW. I took this photo on July 6th, 2015, before I left my house in the morning.

I had just left a job I enjoyed, people with whom I loved working, and a whole ton of elderly residents I was going to miss. Being the Social Work Director at a skilled nursing facility in Allentown was a stint I'll always remember with fondness, but I was ready to move on.

Still, I was scared. I had just survived the most difficult year of my life - my first year of widowhood. Before I even had a chance to really ride the second year, I was jumping into a new reality. I was leaving my Positivity Wall I'd created at the nursing home - a colorful mosaic of powerful and gratitude-filled quotes in art form - but I was bringing masses of positivity with me on my new journey (I hoped).

[my last day with my Positivity Wall]
From the beginning, I felt right at home at Hospice. It didn't take long for me to fit in with the amazing people I'd started calling co-workers. I became one of those women whom people would meet and say, "I don't know how you do that work." People would comment on the sad aspects of the job, never understanding the beauty. I began to perfect my response: "It takes all kinds of people to make this world work," I'd say. Sometimes I'd change it up by saying, "I love what I do." Both statements are true.

I'm so glad I made the decision to change jobs, to take a risk to move on, to listen to my intuition (which told me Hospice was the place for me). As I've lived and breathed this work over the last two years, I've realized that there's nowhere else I'd rather be. In fact, I want to to keep doing this work as long as I can. There is nothing tugging me in another direction. I'm in this for the long haul. I have dreams and plans and my Positivity Wall is now a private gallery in the quiet of my mind. I'm doing what I love and loving what I do. There's nowhere I'd rather be.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Vacation Contemplation

As I sit on a beautiful beach, sea breeze blowing through my hair, my new husband beside me, and the happy screams of my bonus kids filling my ears, it's easy to recall other vacations I've had over the years. While I wiggle my toes in the hot sand and set my book to the side, it's the funny stories and random little moments that really stick out, not the hotels in which I've stayed, the ice cream cones I've licked, or the hyped-up activities I looked forward to as a kid.

While I may have been on almost every pier ride at Seaside Heights, NJ for example, it's not the rides I remember most. What pushes itself to the forefront of my memory is my dad effortlessly playing the Frog Bog on the boardwalk and winning me stuffed animals. It seemed amazing to me at the time that he could win at a game so few could master.

I also remember, not the various hotel pools or the beach shops I loved, but the fact that my grandparents sometimes came along on vacations with my parents, my brother, and me. I remember standing in the pool with my Nana, realizing that the water came up higher on her than it did on me because she was little and I was still growing.

I don't remember much the shells I found or the castles I built in the sand, but I do remember laughing with my mom over countless trials - all but forcing her to go on a spinning ride with me, for instance, after which she could barely function due to nausea.

I also recall eating too much ice cream and needing to use a bathroom on a random street on Martha's Vineyard where my mom had to barricade the whole Ladies' Room so I could go without my public bathroom phobia. :-D

I watch my new bonus children frolic in the waves of the Jersey shore and laugh to myself. My new husband smiles next to me, pointing out the funny gestures his children make from afar. Today we instituted a new tradition we called "Family Nap." Jeff and I, having gotten approximately 4 hours of sleep, made the fleeting statement that we felt a nap was in order between our morning fishing excursion and heading to the beach. Shockingly, we heard the words "I could take a nap," uttered by 11 year old Mia, immediately followed by a shrug from 8 year old Julia and the words, "I don't care. I'll take a nap." Needless to say, Jeff and I did not hesitate to run upstairs and leap in the king size bed at 12:30 pm. Mia and Julia leaped on after us, and our massive dog Luna took up the only space left, leaping on top to complete "Family Nap." We may have exceeded the weight limit for the bed, but I consider it a great success. My only regret was not having another person present to take a photo.

I smile remembering that last night, on the 4th of July, we were all so tired that we unanimously opted to stay inside and snuggle in our pajamas rather than go watch the nearby fireworks.

My experiences with family vacations used to be reserved for my own childhood memories - arguing, singing, laughing, eating, playing, and planning. Now I get to experience my own family vacations, high on life and excited about all the future events yet to come.

I'd choose a family vacation over a honeymoon any day. I've longed for this family.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Holding Space

Every morning, I feel the pulse of the day as I slide into the driver's seat of my car and turn my thoughts to the patients I'm about to see. I look through my sunglasses at the streets before me, paying attention to stoplights and signs, but already preparing for what lies ahead. I take a deep breath, silently accepting the tasks at hand as I turn up the dial on my radio, letting the country music fill my car and get my soul ready.

The sun shines, the trees sway in the breeze, the sounds of the passing cars break my reverie at times, but I am focused on the here and now. I glance at the small note cards I have shoved into the upper portion of my inside windshield. One says: "The place you are in needs you today." Another reads: "Follow what you love and it will take you where you want to go." The last one proclaims: "It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich."

These are the things I believe. These are the things that fuel me and energize me.

In between those note cards are the funeral memorial cards of some of the amazing patients I've known and loved. The stack grows monthly, but I keep it in my car, shoved into the dashboard so my eye can catch it regularly as I drive around Northampton, Lehigh, and Berks counties in the "office" that is my car. I remember them. Every time I add a new card to the pile, I leaf through them all, smiling a separate smile for each name, remembering the faces, the families, the jokes, the tears, and the homes. Most of all, I remember the lessons. 

[a cemetery I pass regularly in my travels near Topton]
Every day, I'm learning. Every day, I'm humbled to be part of these stories. If confidentiality was not an issue, I'd have a blog for all the beautiful and fascinating stories I've experienced and seen along the way. My heart is full.

There are times the scenery around me pulls me in and I pull over to ponder the situations into which I have been thrown. I let the last place go and prepare to face a new one. I hold space for the difficult circumstances I've witnessed and breathe out the pain I've seen and felt. I process. I problem-solve. I worry. I wait. I let scenarios play out inside my head. I thank God. I laugh. I let my eyes tear up. I sing along to the radio. I look up at the sky. I let go. And I hold on.

What a day this is! Every day. How tiring this is! Every day. How amazing this is! Every day. 

The 90 year old woman who tells me I'm her best friend. The man who wants to see every last wedding picture I can show him. The woman who shared with me some of the most horrific past experiences I've ever heard. The family who welcomes me in their door like I'm one of their own, joking that they will adopt me. The woman who tells me, "This might sound odd, but it's been fun" when she tells me good bye. The man who kisses my hand in a gesture of sweetness. The tough nuts to crack. The stubborn. The complex. The vivacious. The funny.

Funerals are part of the tapestry of my life. I attend. I show up to hold space for the stories I know and the people I met. I wrap families in hugs at the viewings and calling hours. I remember. Sometimes, just for myself, I write my own obituaries for people I especially connect with, because I hate the generic form of most obituary notices. I talk about the things I learned from them, I mention the human aspects of their life, and I talk about who they really are - not just a list of where they went to school and where they worked. And then I move along, back in my car to travel to enter the homes of those who allow me to share precious time with them. 

I see art. I see family pictures. I see gardens. I see farms. I see workshops. Grandchildren. Dogs. Cats. Grand mansions. Run down homes. Books. Love. Anger. Pain. Joy. I see so much. I hold it all. It's beautiful and mystifying and special. It's all in a day's work. It's all in a day. It's all. It's everything.